Many of the 4th grade boys at Carrie Downie Elementary School, just outside of New Castle, DE, wanted cool Mr. Metzo as their 5th grade teacher. First, there were not that many male teachers at the school, and second, Mr. Metzo sported a flat top, great in 1958, and played ball with his students during recess.
When I saw at the end of the year that I had been assigned to Metzo’s class for 5th grade, I was ecstatic. Imagine my disappointment when I was pulled from Metzo’s class a few days into the new school year, and transferred to the classroom of Mr. Marshall. Mr. Marshall was older and to my 10-year old self looked like an old fuddy-duddy. To top things off, the class was made up of half 5th graders and half 6th graders; an arrangement I never understood.
I fretted for a while, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that teachers as well as books should not be judged by their cover, no matter how worn they appear to be. Mr. Marshall was amazing. I had disappointed my 3rd and 4th grade teachers, both young women, with my laziness. They seemed to want my success far more than I. I could find the most amazing things to daydream about, both in class and at home, when I was supposed to be doing my homework.
Mr. Marshall was the first person to call me “Roberts,” as in “Holy fudge, Roberts.” I’m not sure what’s holy about fudge, but that was his classic line. Though he was now in Delaware, I remember him being a die-hard Iowa Hawkeye fan. He celebrated when his Hawkeyes looked to qualify for the Rose Bowl. Like Metzo, Mr. Marshall also joined us in games of football and softball at recess, depending on the season. He was always the quarterback and I once caught a touchdown pass from him that a buddy was fumbling and pushed my way. Mr. Marshall made me feel like a college receiver that day, telling me I could play for his Hawkeyes; a dubious honor in my mind.
My work improved immensely under Mr. Marshall because I wanted to please him. He was the first teacher and, perhaps the last, to talk to me about doubting myself. We would have spelling bees and, although I usually did well, I would spell the words as if I was asking a question. Mr. Marshall once said, “Roberts, if you ever get confidence in yourself, who knows what you will accomplish.”
Mr. Marshall was a gifted storyteller. On days without outside recess, he kept us mesmerized with stories of Horacio Higgenbothem and Zelmo Zickafoose. His invented characters were always battling some form of horror, most notably the gruesome “green slime.” He was a master of the cliff hanger, getting his heroes to an exciting point and then saying, “Okay class, let’s open your history books to page 167.” Oh, the humanity! We would moan and whine, but history always would win the day.
At the end of the year, I found I would be moving on to George Read Middle School for 6th grade and that Mr. Marshall would still be my teacher. I was delighted. Sadly, due to my step-father’s death, I had to leave George Read about half way through the year and return to Marion Station, where I would finish my elementary and high school education. Mr. Marshall wrote me once and told me he missed me, but that he knew I was doing well in my new school. He said, “The bean soup, a shared delight for him and I, just doesn’t taste as good with you gone.” He sent me a picture of himself that I still have somewhere in my belongings.
It’s been 60 years since I last saw Mr. Harold Marshall, but his gruff though good-natured demeanor is alive in my memories. He played a significant part in how I viewed myself by demonstrating his faith in me and making me feel I was special. I’m sure Mr. Marshall has been gone from the world for some time, but during Teacher Appreciation Week, I am remembering him with fondness. He was a superior teacher whose memory I will always cherish.