For 46 years, Marvin “Marv” Smith has had students around him at Iola High School. He doesn’t need to be in a classroom or coaching cross country or track. Young people gravitate to Marv. Smith is an IHS institution. Years ago when the school purchased a Mustang mascot costume, students named it Marv the Mustang. Wednesday was Smith’s final day in an Iola High classroom with students. After 46 years at IHS, Smith – after one or two false starts – retired from teaching. On Thursday, Smith was hosted and roasted at a faculty reception. Smith’s children will host a retirement reception July 14. “I have the same feelings right now walking into the classroom each day that I did that first year. I’m not burned out with teaching or with coaching. This summer I’ll be 70 and I realized it was time for the students to have some youth in front of this classroom,” Smith said. “I always loved school. If you could make money going to school, I’d be in college classes now,” he laughed. Smith grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and went to Bixby High School. One of the most educated people he knew, said Smith, was his father, who “only had an eighth-grade education but he took the eighth grade twice because he enjoyed learning so much.” Smith said his father quit school to work because Smith’s grandfather died. “Dad was the best-read person. He never stopped reading and learning. Our parents really encouraged us to do well in school. I didn’t get good grades because of competition with other students. It was just what we were taught to do,” Smith said. History and current affairs influenced Smith and pointed him in that direction – until he discovered chemistry.
“Chemistry is so intriguing. I love problem-solving and chemistry is like a big puzzle to be solved,” Smith said. “I was hooked.” Smith received his undergraduate degree in chemistry from Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, Okla. He got his master’s degree in chemistry from Pittsburg State University. “I was going to college during the space race and the National Science Foundation was throwing money at students in science. I liked school so much and I knew if you couldn’t make money going to school that teaching was the natural progression. I could stay in school,” Smith said. His teaching career began at Galena High School. There he met and married wife Sherri, who he described as the “prettiest girl in Galena.” “I wasn’t really looking to move but back then the teaching profession was very mobile. You’d spend a few years in a spot then move on. I found out Iola had a chemistry teaching position open and we talked about it and decided to interview,” Smith said. The rest is history – the chemistry was right between Smith, his family and Iola. Smith is not a typical classroom teacher. He has his own methods developed over the years. “Guess you can call my style sweet sarcasm. When I started teaching here there were several Mr. Smith’s teaching in the district so the students calling me ‘Marv’ grew out of that. I don’t see it as a sign of disrespect. Actually, there are some students who have to earn my respect to be able to call me ‘Marv’. Smith said he uses his “stand-up routine” to help inform students. He isn’t a fan of the block scheduling, the pace is fast at times for chemistry I. “There’s a lot of information and sometimes the students think its boring,” he said. “That’s where I throw in the sarcasm and jokes. In chemistry II, students are more relaxed.”
Smith takes pride in having students prepared for chemistry and science when they advance to college. “I wasn’t a very good teacher until I began helping with the Kansas Governor’s Academy at KU during the summers. I became a much better teacher. I helped with that program for at-risk students in the summers from 1989 to 2000,” Smith said. The first summer he was a mentor teacher with two students from Iola. It was a pilot program and he gave some constructive criticism that the program director of the program took to heart. Smith was asked to come back as an instructor. “It was about teaching students strategies to study and learn in classrooms. I incorporated those strategies in my teaching here for at-risk kids in our district. I never had trouble reaching the better students but this made it better for all students,” Smith said. “Students need to learn good study habits. We have groups working together on handouts during classes. The students form study groups outside of class. I encourage all of that. I even encourage copying by students – if they can understand the material better and move forward in it, sure why not copy. I know if they just copy and are not learning the material.” Smith admits he’s never looked at how many Iola High students from his 46 years had gone into science and education professions. One, Dana Daugharthy, is the new Iola High chemistry teacher. Smith has been involved with Iola High’s “Saturday school” for years. Students knew he was in the classroom on Saturdays, and flocked in for help. Then he was asked to take over Saturday school for all students. Smith has the reputation of being on call for his students. “I love those ah-ha moments for students. That’s what makes me feel really good. Not just when a student gets that from me but when students help each other in groups and I see one explaining it to another and ‘ah-ha’ happens.”
Over the years, Smith has seen the changes in education. In chemistry more safety procedures have come into the lab. “That’s great but also not so great. It has taken away a lot of the hands-on process away from the students. I like having computers but I still keep my grade book the old way. Having Dana take over, I hope he will have more on the classwork and tests on the computers for the kids to access. I still use a lot of handouts,” Smith said. He said some students have made him nervous because “they were so far ahead of others in science and math.” With a chuckle, Smith said he just hoped his test key was correct when he began grading those students’ papers. Smith taught earth science for 19 years and physical science and physics. Earth science allowed Smith to discover New Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Utah and Montana. “I took earth science classes through Emporia State and had funds to go to those states to do field work during summers. We spent summers exploring. I’d take my family with me and it was a good way to have a vacation and learn,” Smith said. A few years ago, Smith was ready to retire and leave the classroom and coaching behind. But, his wife and both parents died. “A big part of the reason I was retiring was gone. Teaching and coaching are my hobbies. So I stayed. Now, it is time,” he said. Smith’s children, Craig, Iola, and Kerri, Pittsburg, are educators. Smith is not sure what he will do in retirement. Smith does plan to spend more time with his grandchildren. They are his fishing and golfing buddies. “That’s the only time I do those two things,” he said. “I’ll miss the students. I’ve had great administrators, fellow teachers and support staff here. I’ll miss the interaction with other teachers. I just love education. The puzzle of chemistry still intrigues me after all these years and I’ve wanted to teach it to students so they’d love it.”
COACHING sports has been a big part of Smith’s career. He coached football at Galena High for two years and was a football coach at IHS for 13 years. After becoming head track coach, Smith said Dennis Harper had taken over the cross country program after the death of Dale “Doc” Stiles. “Dennis did a great job with the cross country program but then got out of it and I didn’t want to see the program go down. So I became the cross country coach but I liked coaching football,” Smith said. Smith will coach IHS cross country and track for the 2012-2013 season. After that … “we’ll just have to see how things play out,” Marv said with a smile.