About Terry Lee Marzell

Terry Lee Marzell holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Cal State Fullerton and a master’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies from Cal State San Bernardino. She also holds a certificate for Interior Design Level 1 from Mt. San Antonio College. She has been an educator in the Corona Norco Unified School District for more than 30 years.

History teacher Darrell Jones: US Veteran and Chalkboard Champion

On Veterans Day, the entire country pauses to express appreciation to our nation’s heroic veterans for all they have done, including laying their lives on the line, to protect our American freedoms. One such veteran is Darrell Jones, a middle school history teacher in Mississippi.

As a younger man, Darrell served in the United States Air Force for 20 years. On active duty from 1991 to 2011, he was deployed over two dozen times, including stints in Iraq. During his years of service, the now-retired Technical Sergeant E-6 worked as a crew chief and as an aircraft mechanic.

Darrell grew up in Buffalo, New York. After he graduated high school in 1988, he enrolled in college, where he completed three years of study. He interrupted his studies to join the military, but once he retired from the Air Force in 2011, he used his GI benefits to complete his degree. He earned his bachelor’s in secondary education from Mississippi State University in 2014.

This valiant veteran now works as a 7th grade history teacher at Armstrong Middle School in Starkville, Mississippi. “People ask me all the time why I became a teacher after working hard in the military for 20 years,” says Darrell. “I say…I want to continue to serve my country and take care of our children.” He is as dedicated to his work with students as he was to his work in the military. “My goal is to show my students the difference between Veterans Day and Memorial Day, without taking the joy away from the holiday,” asserts Darrell. “I want them to remember we can honor those who have given their lives for our country and appreciate what they have done while also cherishing the fact that we get to spend the day with friends and family.”

Here is the American hero and Chalkboard Champion with some of his kids. Thank you for all your service, Darrell!

America’s Wild West tamed by frontier schoolmarms

America’s Wild West was tamed in part due to the talented and dedicated women who served as frontier schoolteachers. The pioneering women who became teachers during this period of our nation’s history were indeed a special breed. At the turn of the century, females were expected to be dependent upon their husbands, fathers, or other male relatives. It was extremely unusual, and not at all encouraged, for a woman to support herself and function independently. Nevertheless, many intelligent and self-reliant women in search of personal freedom and adventure joined the Westward movement as schoolmarms.

The stereotype of a frontier schoolteacher was that of an unattractive spinster or a prim and proper young miss. In reality, she was often neither of those. Many of these ladies came from influential and affluent Eastern families. A few were filled with burning ambition, and others were seeking a better life, and perhaps some were seeking a husband of like mind. In general, though, they were dedicated practitioners of their profession. Despite primitive working conditions, uninviting classrooms, low wages, and overwork, these stalwart women introduced literacy, culture, and morality to the roughneck communities they served. A few of these teachers became missionaries, others became suffragettes, and one of them—Jeannette Rankin of Montana—even went on to become the first woman to be elected to the United States House of Representatives!

Our society owes these frontier schoolmarms a great debt. Read more about pioneering teachers in my book, Chalkboard Champions, available through amazon.com or Barnes and Noble. Click on the link to find out how to get a copy of the book. Enjoy!

Susan Mills: The science teacher who founded the first women’s college in California

American history offers many examples of extraordinary educators. This blog spotlights just a few of them. Today’s focus is on Susan Tolman Mills, a secondary school teacher who established the first women’s college in California.

Susan Tolman was born in Enosburg, Vermont, on November 18, 1825. One of eight children, she was the daughter of homesteaders who operated a thriving business. Her father owned a tannery and her mother was a homemaker. Susan’s mother was especially insistent that her six daughters become educated, and after the family relocated to Ware, Massachusettes, all the daughters attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Following her graduation, Susan taught classes in science and theology there for three years.

In 1848, the young educator married Cyrus Taggart Mills, a Presbyterian missionary. The adventurous newlyweds traveled to Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. Cyrus became the principal of a seminary for boys, while Susan taught domestic skills to girls in the local schools.

In 1860, the couple moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where they took charge of the Punahou School. There Susan taught geography, geology, chemistry, and botany. She introduced physical education to the female students. She also dedicated her energy to improving the food choices and other amenities provided by the school.

In 1864, Susan and Cyrus relocated to California, with ambitions of establishing a school of their own. Their goal was to provide equal education and opportunities for women. The year after their arrival in the state they purchased a girls’ seminary in Benicia, just east of Vallejo in Solano County. They named their institution Mills Seminary. The couple spent several years improving their school by expanding the number of course offerings and recruiting qualified teachers. In 1871, they sold this property and moved their school to Oakland, on the eastern shore of the San Francisco Bay. This new facility, with four-story buildings, dining halls, and a high central observatory named Mills Hall, was long considered the most beautiful education building in California. Eventually the girls’ school established by the Mills was transformed into Mills College, the first women’s college in the state. The college still serves young women as a liberal arts college to this day. After Susan’s beloved husband passed away, Susan continued to serve as the principal of Mills College, expertly performing her administrative duties.

In 1901, Susan was awarded an honorary doctorate from her alma mater, Mount Holyoke, recognizing her extraordinary contributions to education. At the time, the trustees of Punahou commented that Susan, “met and overcame obstacles with equanimity; she accomplished great work with poor facilities; she drew her inspiration from the dull routine of a busy life.”

Susan Mills retired in 1909 at the age of 84. She passed away three years later, on December 12, 1912, in her home, the Vermont cape house she and her husband had built on the Mills campus. This talented and industrious educator was interred at Sunnyside Cemetery, located on the college grounds.

Flossing and the Frustration of Undone Homework

Homework. Hmmm…yeah. The topic is as controversial today as it was when I began my teaching career 36 years ago. Although I am now retired, this exasperating subject surfaced the other day when I was veritably blasted by my periodontist for failure to floss. Let’s just say I really got schooled. In a nutshell, he said he was a highly trained professional, and furthermore a very busy man, and if I couldn’t be bothered to do my share of the work at home, then I should not come back. Wow. I mean double wow.

So let’s be honest. Hasn’t every teacher run those same thoughts through their head when confronted by a recalcitrant student who refuses to do their homework? Educators everywhere have wrestled with this problem for decades. Every teacher knows that there are some students who will do all their homework, some students who will do some of it, and some students who will do none of it. And in my experience, unless you’re teaching an honors class, the amount of homework that doesn’t get done is greater than the amount that does.

So what strategies can the teacher use to increase the amount of homework that gets turned in? We’ve all experimented. Here are a few I tried. First, I increased the weight of the homework category so a student could not pass my class unless they completed at least a large percentage of it. The result? The students still didn’t do their homework, and tons of kids were failing. Then I tried reducing the number of assignments from four nights a week to two nights a week. That helped with their grades, but it did not increase the number of assignments that got turned in. Next, I tried giving assignments that couldn’t be quantified, such as, “Your homework tonight is to study for your test tomorrow.” And then I just hoped they would do this, although I was pretty sure they wouldn’t. Finally, I gave them classwork assignments and told them if they didn’t finish in class, they should finish for homework. And then I gave them enough time to finish in class.

I can’t say I felt very professionally satisfied with any of these strategies. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that if I had given voice to my frustration in the same way that my periodontist did, if I had pounded them into the ground for their errors, I could add another failed strategy to my list. Even if my students showed up empty-handed, I was always glad to see them come back the next day. Because every day a student shows up to class is a new opportunity to guide them, to help them be more successful, and to lovingly plant that suggestion one more time that, yes, homework is an important part of continued progress. And seizing these opportunities is never a waste of time or energy, even for a busy, well-trained professional.

I understand full well my periodontist’s exasperation. I empathize. I am truly sorry that my failure to floss provoked such an angry outburst from him, and I forgive him for losing his temper. After all, I’m not a kid. I know the man is right. Since that day I have attempted, in New Year’s resolution fashion, to mend the error of my ways. But I also found a new periodontist.