Reflections of an educator

BY DEXTER MCCREE, Feature Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — At 6 a.m., the sun begins to peek through the sky and part the shades of Marilyn Bell’s window. The sound of the alarm alerts her that the mission field of students await her arrival. With true diligence and commitment, she rises up to freshen for the day’s journey. Not sure of what the day will bring, her only assurance is that she is prepared.

As Bell finishes up breakfast, she heads to the car for her daily commute to school. It is her purpose to educate the children today so that they become productive citizens of tomorrow. It is a passion that spans many years in the Pinellas County School system.

Now, after 36 years of teaching, Bell doesn’t have to set her alarm. She is retired!

“I love teaching and I’ve always known that I would be a teacher,” said Bell. “There are three generation of teachers in my family. My grandparents were sharecroppers and they worked hard. They were adamant that their children be educated. I feel like I’ve had the best of two worlds. I’ve done what I love to do, which is teach and I make a difference in whom I teach and that is the children.

Bell started her teaching career at Starkey Elementary. For her, the first day of school is always an important one. With excitement, she made an immediate impact. She entered the school dressed for success paying special attention to every piece of garment being in place, matching colors and every crease laying flat. The look sets the tone; the attitude sets the atmosphere. That has been her routine for 36 years.

For six years, she learned the craft of teaching under then Principal Winifred Halstead, known as the “Little General.”

“Principal Halstead was tough and she ran a tight ship,” said Bell. “But she taught you how to be a professional. She believed in training, basic fundamentals and being on time. She was also big on handwriting, which is a lost art today. We worked hard, but the children loved their teachers. For this reason, it made it all worthwhile.”

Bell spent the next 10 years teaching at Maximo Elementary, which reduced her commute travel time. With the population being upper-middle class, she found tremendous parent support. The teachers had volunteer room moms who helped in the classroom and afforded the teachers opportunity to focus more on the academic progress of the students.

After leaving Maximo, Bell transferred to Lakewood Elementary where she was introduced to Ray Tampa, the ultimate school principal.

“What an experience!” said Bell. “The success of the school can be attributed to the administration under Ray Tampa. He has outstanding people skills and he genuinely cared about his staff. He made sure that you had what you needed to be successful and to gain student achievement. But he cared about you as a person and he knew how to make the staff feel that they made a difference. He knew the right things to say and at the right time. If he could bottle his skills, he would be a millionaire.”

Bell’s final track covered one year at Melrose Elementary and her last six at John Hopkins Middle School.

In her 36 years, she has seen quite a bit. She is inspired by the growth of her last principal, Barry Brown, and hopes that he gets the support from the district, community, parents and his staff to be the leader that he is. She believes in him so much that she will volunteer at John Hopkins and ensure his success.

After many years of trials, tribulations, challenges and success, Bell’s key for today’s teachers is to build relationships with the school, kids and their families. She said relationships have nothing to do with testing and discipline. Good relationships help you in all areas.

From here on when the sun splits the darkness of the morning and her alarm beings to ring, Bell’s movement might suggest that she is heading on another traveling adventure to Washington, D.C., for the opening of the African American Museum; it might alert her that it is time to tour Africa, a trip she desires to take to the motherland. It may even signal her to reach over and turn the alarm off because she doesn’t want to do anything or go anywhere. It’s her choice because she’s retired.

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