50 years and still going strong

September 15, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Margaret Marshall, 76, has seen the changing tides of education from segregation to No Child Left Behind. Photos By Greg Farrar

Margaret Marshall, 76, has seen the changing tides of education from segregation to No Child Left Behind. Photos By Greg Farrar

Across the nation, millions of children put on their best outfit, stuffed sack lunches in their backpacks and met at bus stops, near and far, to hitch a ride to school last week.

Despite color, gender or need, they filled desks and hallways, but it wasn’t always so, said former Issaquah teacher Margaret Marshall, who started her career in the late 1950s.

“Teaching was very different,” she said. “We’ve come a long way, baby, in 40-some, 50-some years.”

Today, Marshall, 76, spends her time substitute teaching for the Issaquah School District and traveling the world — still teaching children and seeking knowledge of the world around her, she said.

“I think people need to keep reinventing themselves to help live life to its fullest,” she said.On a short trip home between Europe and starting a van trip across the U.S., she recounted what led her to Issaquah and the years of change she’s seen.

A different time

When Marshall graduated from Sul Ross State College in Alpine, Texas, the highest paid assignment led her to a small town near the border of Mexico, along the banks of the Rio Grande.

After a trek through the desert, she came to the town of Presidio, Texas, where she was given a tour of a one-room schoolhouse for white children. Across the highway, was the schoolhouse for Mexican children.

It wasn’t the first time she had run into racism, she said. The first was on a Greyhound bus she boarded in Texas to visit a friend in a nearby city in 1956. When she got on, she chose to sit toward the back. The driver awoke a black man whom she’d sat behind and made him move, she said.

“I had heard of Jim Crow Laws, but had no idea they still existed,” she said of the experience, which happened shortly after she arrived in Texas from New York. “I felt awful and apologized to the gentleman.”

Driving away from the job interview in Presidio, she said a desert storm landed her vehicle in an arroyo. When she finally reached a main highway, it was closed and snakes and tarantulas were washing onto the roadway.

“Needless to say, I didn’t take the job,” she said.

However, she did take a second one, though it wasn’t much better, in Del City, Texas. “The only man in town who could give shots,” she said, “was a disenfranchised doctor serving as a veterinarian and he was a drunk.”

After a year, she moved to Pecos, Texas, then to Maricopa, Ariz., two years later with her husband Gene. Not much changed during that time.

“I couldn’t work with the white children,” she said. “Gene’s mother is Mexican, so I was considered mixed, which meant I couldn’t work with them.”

Despite the rural areas and segregation, those were the years she stretched her wings as a teacher. Having to establish discipline while teaching in trailers — once using an old fraternity paddle on a little boy who’d urinated on others — learning to understand different cultures and conserving paper bags as drawing paper, since she was allotted $25 a year for school supplies, taught her a lot, she said.

“It was always challenging,” she said. “But the cultures are so interesting and the children are so eager to learn, and there was a lot of respect for teachers from the part of the minority families.”

Winds of change

When the family moved to Sacramento, Calif., in 1961, the civil rights movement was in full swing, she said. School districts didn’t have the option to segregate by race, nor did they refuse to accept students with special needs.

By then, her marriage to Gene, with whom she had four children, had dissolved. The couple filed for divorce in 1967. But it was the same year she met the love of her life, Frank Marshall, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. They married in 1969 and divorced in 1980, but remained friends who only lived about a mile apart, until Frank’s death in May.

In 1970, they moved to Washington, where she pursued a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in special education; he worked at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma.

After graduating with her degree, she was hired by then-Issaquah School District Superintendent Kateri Brow to work as special-education team leader at Issaquah Valley Elementary School in 1972.

“When House Bill 90 was passed, everything changed,” she said, adding that before that, children with special needs were hidden.

That bill mandated special-education students receive services in the state.

Through the years, Marshall said she worked with special-education students in the district to provide a high-quality education that taught them basic life and survival skills.

“Our district, since it was a laboratory school that worked with the [University of Washington], and because it was one of the most outstanding districts in the country, people came to observe us from throughout the nation.” she said. “I’m proud of what we were able to do.”

“She was never afraid of special education,” said Karen Stockton, a former education assistant in Marshall’s classroom and director of substitute assignments for the district. “She was always so caring with the student I was there to help. She would go out of her way to make sure they had the right curriculum or tweak it so they could participate.”

Having been a substitute teacher for 14 years, Stockton said, Marshall is always ready to help out in any way she can and is still the first to take a special-education class.

Though, education, technology, tests and school books may have changed, Marshall said, children are mostly the same — there aren’t any more good or rotten ones than there have always been.

“But, then again, I’ve always had a soft spot for mischievous boys,” she said, smiling.

They, and students like the ones at Skyline High School she had as a substitute three years ago, keep her coming back, she said.

“They asked me how many years I had been teaching,” Marshall said. “I said, ‘I began more than 40 years ago’ and they all stood up and applauded. That makes you want to keep coming back.”

Chantelle Lusebrink: 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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