Theory of Knowledge (TOK) and IB Anthropology teacher Mr. Jamie Scharff has taught at Mason for the same amount of time that the majority of the seniors at George Mason High School have been alive. And as the Class of 2017 graduates, Mr. Scharff is retiring from teaching.
Mr. Scharff is known for questioning anything that could possibly be debatable, and then questioning that again, but he is truly renowned for the boundless tangents he goes through each class regarding the most divisive political or environmental controversies.
This passion is what led him to be a teacher after years of practicing law.
“I thought what I really wanted to do was become a student, but I knew I couldn’t make a living of that. With kids you realize you can do these sort of things,” Mr. Scharff said.
With the TOK curriculum, Mr. Scharff is able to keep in touch with the different areas of knowledge such as science, math, history, ethics, and religion, and share them with students during class and in conversations outside of class.
His work coaching the quiz bowl team has also allowed him to keep in tune with his passions.
“It’s a virtuous circle of students coming and getting a kick of knowing the answer to a question they’re asked, but then wanting to learn more about the things they don’t know,” Mr. Scharff said. “As a teacher it’s been an ideal situation because you get students who want to learn things- we mutually enjoy learning things.”
Through his 18 years at Mason, Scharff and the quiz bowl team have advanced to the VHSL State tournament 17 times, the past 16 being consecutive. They have won seven VHSL State Championships and fives runners-up recognitions, 17 Bull Run District Championships, and 10 2A East Region Championships. In 2011, the George Mason quiz bowl team was named as national champions in the small schools division of the NAQT High School National Championship Tournament.
Scharff’s impact on George Mason has been put forth not only through the record-breaking awards for the quiz bowl team, in addition to the philosophical questions he inspires through the hallways and the “Scharffington Post”, a Facebook page made specifically for the purpose of sharing documentaries, book recommendations, links to articles, and ideas with former students.
Scharff has remained in contact with a number of former students, and occasionally hosts get-togethers to share and rekindle with them. This Spring, the reunion included alumni from the class of 2008, including some who drove down all the way from Boston.
“[He] was a teacher there who saw education not as the pouring of the previous generation’s knowledge into the next generation’s empty heads, but rather as the sparking of our curiosity and moral imagination,” former student and quiz bowl athlete Peter Davis said in a Falls Church News Press tribute to Mr. Scharff.
“Learning for life” is something that Scharff always touches on in his famous tangents, and is something he hopes to continue after retiring.
“The more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. I’m not really sure what’s next,” Scharff said. “I do know that it will involve learning; taking formal classes, reading about subjects that interest me, and finding new ones.”
Whether his studies include an unknown civilization in the mountains of southeast Asia or the Arabic language, Scharff’s future is ambiguously exciting. He also looks forward to spending more time with his daughter and carrying on the knowledge and relationships he has acquired through his time at Mason.
“I’m going to miss the relationships I’m able to build with students and interacting with them on a daily basis, especially in what I like to call teachable moments when it seems like the most learning goes on and the lightbulb goes off so they drive the discussion,” he said.
(GMHS Class of '18; Lasso Staff 2014-18)
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