There are many traits of a good teacher. Some say it’s attributes such as adequate knowledge, high test scores, and not just the ability to transfer knowledge to students, rather encourage students to discover the knowledge for themselves.
I think the traits of a good teacher are characteristics like enthusiasm, love of kids, interest in the student, and the drive to make things happen after school, such as extra curricular activities that are valuable to the student and to the community.
This is where I take the time to write about my former teacher, Frank Marcum, who has all of these attributes.
I first met Mr. Marcum in the late _0’s (I will leave the year out as it makes me feel so old) at Roosevelt Junior High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I was a student in junior high school. Yes, that is what we called it back then. Everyone wanted to be in Mr. Marcum’s class!
He was my teacher for civics and economics. What a great class! But more than that, what a fabulous teacher! I always knew everyday was going to be great in his class. He had such enthusiasm for his subject matter, but more importantly, he had a genuine enthusiasm and interest in his students.
I remember one day as we were sitting in class, he received a phone call from the office. The call came through on one of those phones with the push buttons that attached to the wall, too big to carry in your pocket as we do these days. But if you did carry it in your pocket, you couldn’t have walked too far from the wall. “At any rate”(Mr. Marcum’s favorite go to sentence starter) he answered the call. Soon after, he ran from the room yelling “My wife is having a baby!” He was gone and we just sat there finishing our class work. Can’t do that these days! Leaving kids unattended, that is.
He was also student Council Sponsor, Photography Club Sponsor and so much more. I was fortunate enough to be Student Council President under his sponsorship. I also was a member of the photography club. I learned techniques to take better pictures, but also learned how to develop those pictures in the dark room (before and after school). What a blast that was! Might I mention Mr. Marcum still has many of those photos today. He has shared several of them with me over the years.
He sponsored several trips to Washington DC for his students. I was fortunate enough to get to go on one of those trips. He warned us of buying things from the “moonies” who try to sell fake items to tourists on the street. He gathered a great group of chaperones (his wife, Sherry and other teachers) to join us for the trip.
For the most part, this particular group of students from Roosevelt Juior High stayed pretty close for the past many years since junior high. Mr. Marcum called this school “Tulsa’s unknown secret.” This particular school didn’t have the best reputation and others warned him of taking a position at this school. He loved the Roosevelt Roughriders, and he loved us. You can tell when a teacher has a genuine interest in the students’ well being and education. He was THAT teacher.
Our last year at Roosevelt resulted in the closure of the building with all of it’s students and teachers being dispersed across the city. What a sad day that was for us. Over the years, however our little group has stayed together and met several times at Mr. Marcum’s house for a barbecue and just to catch up with each other. How many teachers do that?
After the closing and dispersement of our beloved school and teachers, Mr. Marcum went on to teach at a local high school in Tulsa where he touched the lives of even more students.
During this timeframe, he was nominated as one of the finalists for the “Teacher in Space” program. These teachers spent most of the summer of 85’ in Florida training for their mission to space. In then end, NASA cut the list and our Mr. Marcum didn’t make the cut. Though, I remember telling all of my friends that my former teacher was one of the finalists for the “Teacher in Space” program. I was so proud of him. Another cool factor in my book.
Fast forward to January 28, 1986 and the ill fated mission of the Space Shuttle, Challenger. Mr. Marcum was so excited to be sharing this piece of history with his current students at BTW High School as they all sat and watched the lift off of the first civilian to enter space, a teacher, his friend, Christa McAuliffe. A mere 70 plus seconds after lift-off, the unthinkable happened. The Challenger broke apart in space and all crew members were killed. From what I heard and recall, Mr. Marcum ran for the second time away from the classroom, but this time he was devastated as he watched the Challenger disintegrate over the Atlantic Ocean. I was so thankful Mr. Marcum had not been on that shuttle, but was sad for him, and destroyed for all of the families who lost their loved ones on that mission.
This is one of those moments I have always remembered “where I was that day” when I was watching lift-off on TV. I wanted to call him, but figured I might should wait a while. I can not remember how long I waited to phone him. It wasn’t too long. I talked with Sherry on the phone and asked her to let him know I had phoned to express my condolences.
Several years passed before we saw each other again. But I had spoken with him right before I decided to move to China to teach at an international school in Shanghai. I remember he had told me he was going to an airshow in Reno that September.
As I was watching the news in China that September, there was a story about the 4th deadliest air show in American history; in Reno. I gave him a call just to make sure he had not been a part of that disaster and was still up and kicking. He was fine.
Three years later, I returned from teaching in China and began a new teaching position at a school in Tulsa. Guess whose granddaughter went to this school? YES! Mr. Marcum’s granddaughter, Allison. It was so great to be able to see him and Sherry when they came to school for Veteran’s Day, grandparent’s day, special assemblies, etc. One day, he and Sherry came to school and brought one of the pictures he had saved for so many years, and gave it to me. He also had our group photo (black and white) from our Washington DC trip, which he also gave me. What a special day that was. Still, what a great teacher!
The impact he has had on my life and that of the children who I have taught over the years is immeasurable. Everything I do has been based on what I learned from him.
I was recently asked to reflect on a teacher who had an enormous impact on my life and why. Immediate thoughts flashed to all of the great things Mr. Marcum had provided to his students. A genuine concern and involvement in our lives has proven so meaningful.
I have just always thought that is what a good teacher is all about, not just reading, writing and arithmetic, but one who has a true genuine interest in their students’ lives.
I can only hope I am half the teacher to my students, that he was to me, and to all of the students he has taught over the years. Everyone I know who ever had Mr. Marcum as a teacher, just raves about his classes.
Recently, this past July I returned to China to teach again. Prior to my departure, I went to visit the Marcum’s. I could not believe the news that was unfolding before me. He had been diagnosed with a rare disease, amyloidosis. (I think that is it) It is an abnormal protein that builds up in your organs. I was so shocked and saddened. Such a true, wonderful man, dad, husband, grandpa, teacher and all around good person is fighting the battle of his life.
I returned home at Christmas just a few months later and one of my few stops was Mr. Marcum’s house. My friend Melissa and I went to pay a visit. His condition had worsened as notably there was a chair lift installed in their home so he could get upstairs. He seemed in good spirits and I knew I would see him again July.
Recently he has been admitted to Clarehouse, which is a wonderful hospice facility that was created to provide palliative care so that the family can be family and not the caregivers. It has only been three weeks since I last saw the Marcum family and I am stunned that he is now in hospice care. Mr. Marcum, I am still praying for a miracle cure and still plan to see you in July.
I thank you for your encouragement and support over the years. I thank you for taking an interest in our lives. I thank you for letting me fly your plane. I thank you for taking us to Washington DC. I thank you for your work on behalf of NASA, I thank you for your service to our country, I thank you for sharing your life with us, I thank you for your wonderful family. I thank you for being the role model that so many youth need today.
Praying for a miracle.
Your former student,