March 5, 2014

Quarles always saw the full potential in students

I had some amazing teachers in my years in the Murray County school system.

I had some of those “legacy” teachers, the ones several different generations can reminisce about. The ones that make you ask, “Now when you had him, was he still jumping up on the desktops in excitement while teaching Shakespeare?” (The answer was always yes.)

Unfortunately, there was one of those legacy teachers I missed out on at Murray County High School — Peggy Quarles. I was deeply saddened to hear of Ms. Quarles’ death over the weekend.

As an honors and AP English student in the late 1990s, my courses never took me into her classroom. (Though she did teach honors English courses at different times in her career, it wasn’t while I was in them.) I always hated that I didn’t have her as a teacher, but I’m fortunate I got to know what a beautiful person she was.

You respected Ms. Quarles because she first respected you. She didn’t demand your respect like some people; she didn’t have to. She earned it the moment she spoke to you in her genuine and kind manner.

She was poised and graceful and was always professional.

With a mom who works in the school system, you often get to know teachers really well. You hear of their successes and their struggles in class.

Mom began working in the discipline office at Murray when I was in the 11th grade. When I was in mom’s office and Ms. Quarles came in, all I heard was success. I heard her talk about pushing students to do their best. I heard how she always saw the good in students, always saw their full potential and always encouraged them to do their best.

Ms. Quarles taught 26 years at Murray County High School and went on to teach nine years at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. She was the Murray County Teacher of the Year twice and was Georgia Secondary English Teacher of the Year one year.

“I love the way she encouraged us to think and to share our ideas,” said Cynthia Wilson, a 1992 graduate of Murray, who now works for the American Cancer Society in Dalton. “She used a method called the Socratic Circle, I believe, that really allowed us to discuss books at length, and I was hooked. I loved to read, but she made it more interesting and worthwhile.”

Wilson once wrote a letter of recommendation for Quarles to attend a conference in Florence, Italy.

“She sent me a postcard from Florence and that meant so much to me,” Wilson said. “I kept it for years, and when I traveled to Florence with my husband a couple of years back, I remember thinking of her. She was a special, kind teacher, and one that I will never forget.”

Gina Headrick, a 1999 graduate of Murray, will never forget the first day of Ms. Quarles’ class. Ms. Quarles was assigning students seats.

“As everyone groaned about not being able to sit with friends, she said, ‘You never know. Your future spouse may be next to you,’” Headrick said.

And for Headrick, that was the truth. Next to her sat Jeremy Headrick. It was the beginning of a friendship for the two of them, which eventually led to marriage.

“I always remember (Ms. Quarles) being kind and helpful, and I think she always taught that in her classroom,” Gina Headrick said. “I always felt that she could find what each student’s strength was and build on that throughout the school year.”

Ms. Quarles was an outstanding person, who made our little corner of the world a much better place to live.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com, facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN and on twitter, @mistydwatson.

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