By Tara Cavanaugh
The Scarlett Middle School cafeteria was overflowing for Scott Turner.
It overflowed with Turner’s middle school students, returning college and high school students, parents of those students, and his current and former colleagues.
It overflowed with memories of Turner and his ripped jeans, his brightly colored notes, his math equation sing-a-longs, his wicked skateboard tricks, his fierce and quiet dedication to his students, his humility toward his unmistakable gift.
The Tuesday night memorial took place a week after Turner passed away from a battle with esophageal cancer. The 42-year-old is survived by his wife Kelli, his son Austin, his mother Sharon and his siblings.
He is also survived by 18 years’ worth of adoring students and colleagues who hugged one another, laughed and cried as they shared their memories of the math teacher.
Current and past students painted a colorful picture of Turner, recalling his casual clothes, his creative lessons, his patience and his persistence.
“His energy jump-started my day,” “He made math fun,” “Math was the new game show,” “We were never dumb to him,” wrote his students in a slideshow presentation that played during the service.
Krystal Adams, now a sophomore, recalled how Turner noticed her depression even before she did and before it was diagnosed. “He would be there if I needed someone to talk to, and even if I didn’t want to talk, he would just be there, be support and comfort,” she said. “And he was like that for everybody. I know for a fact that he’s one of the reasons some kids passed middle school. He just got kids to do their work and to focus and to do well.”
Colleagues admired Turner for his success with students –– although many admitted initially, they only noticed his quiet demeanor and rumpled clothes.
“My first thoughts were: This skinny, skateboardin’, Boston-Red-Sox-lovin’, Levi’s and t-shirt-wearin’, unkempt-lookin’, Northville-residing white dude has worked here for how long?!” said Ben Edmondson, Clemente principal and former principal of Scarlett.
“My assumption that this suburban, hippie-lookin’ dude did not connect with this population of students couldn’t be more off,” he said. “Scott was among our greatest teaching assets that the district had to offer.”
“Underneath his appearance was a humble teacher with a sophisticated mind and a passionate heart,” said Bill Harris, principal of Eberwhite Elementary and former Scarlett assistant principal.
Harris remembered watching Turner in action. “In this one lesson he rattled off over 90 questions. He asked questions to the class as a whole, but even to the individual students who would ask him questions: he would answer with a question of his own, guiding them to new learning.
“As a student, I probably would have found this frustrating or annoying. But not Scott’s kids. They came to expect this demand from him. They responded with more thinking, more problem solving with one another. He expected the best and challenged them every day.”
After watching this lesson, Harris said Turner had no idea how many questions he’d rattled off. “That’s the humble, natural side of him. He didn’t even know that he was practically Socrates.”
Turner was determined not to let his cancer diagnosis get in the way of his teaching. “When his doctors told him that he had a one percent chance, the first thing he said to me was: I’m the one percent,” Scarlett Principal Gerald Vazquez said. “And I knew he believed it. Because in the midst of that battle, he stayed courageous, and he stayed firm in being the best he could be every day that he was here.” Turner taught up until the month before he passed away.
“There was always something special about Scott and now I know why,” Turner’s mother Sharon addressed the audience at the end of the service. “I want each and every one of you to know that he loved you the same way you loved him. And I just thank you so much. and after all of these wonderful words I’ve heard, I don’t have anything left to say!
“I thank you very much. And I love all of you too.”