Everyone who attended school knows what a teacher is – correct? The answer is a resounding yes. But what makes a teacher? What defines a teacher? Is the teacher the one who stands at the head of the class and lectures? Is the teacher the one who tells you what 12 times 12 is? Oftentimes that is a teacher.
There is another ‘teacher’ in the school system and Jackson County has been blessed with an awesome array of these other ‘teachers’. Back before political correctness became the way to go, these ‘teachers’ were called teacher’s aides which is exactly what they were and are today. But today they are tittled paraprofessional. Whatever they are called, they are indispensable in the school system. Two such paraprofessionals who stand out vividly in the minds of students who attended Marianna High School in the 1960s and 1970s. Marge Turnage and Eunice Martin were library aides during that time.
Mrs. Turnage could be seen making her rounds around the library, making sure everyone was studying and not talking or eating. She was always there to help you find just what you were looking for, whether it was a fun book to read or where you needed to look for something for a research paper. Mrs. Turnage’s smile radiated throughout the library. Sandra Riley has fond memories of Mrs. Turnage, “I can remember when I first moved to Marianna High School from Riverside, I was so scared. I walked in the library one day and I saw this lady with the biggest smile and she had on bright red lipstick just like my mom wore. She walked up to me and asked if she could help me. I was so scared I couldn’t even talk initially and she looked at me and smiled directly at me and said, ‘Honey, whatever you need we can find it right here, don’t worry yourself.’ I told her what I needed and I still don’t know how I got the courage to do it but she went right to what I was looking for. We went to the desk area, and she showed me how to check it out and stamped the back page. She reminded me of the due date and said if I wasn’t through with it by then, to come back in and check it back out again. The next time I went in she remembered exactly what book I had gotten. It made me feel so special that she remembered not only me but the very book she helped me find.”
Those sentiments were reiterated by Annie Sylvester, “I was new to the school after moving from Greenwood School that was much smaller than Marianna. Even though integration had taken place, I still worried that I wasn’t on equal grounds and even more so because of such a bigger school than what I was used to. I went in to check out a book and without thinking I had gum in my mouth. I had just walked in the door when this lady with bright lipstick came up to me and said, ‘Ladies do not chew gum in the library.’ It scared me so bad that I swallowed it right there. She looked at me and I guess saw that I was scared to death, smiled and said, ‘It’s okay, we can work on that, what did you need from the library?’ I told her I needed a book to read so she told me to follow her. She found me a book called The Problem with Forever. I loved that book so much that I bought a copy with my first paycheck and still have it. Both of my girls have read it and love it also. After that day, anytime I felt lost or scared, I would go in the library and Mrs. Turnage or Mrs. Milton would make my day all better. I remember she asked me about my sisters and brothers one day and then told me her family was just like mine, two boys and a girl. I felt special every time I was around her.”
Mrs. Eunice Martin was a soft-spoken lady much the opposite of Mrs. Turnage. She wore very little makeup and almost no jewelry. Her impression on students however, was just as lasting. Vivian Williams said of Mrs. Martin, “She had a way of scaring you when you walked in the library with her fingers to her lips and saying ‘shh, you’re in the library’ almost before your mouth was open. But she was the nicest lady ever. I was wearing a dress one day and went to the library and my hem had come out in the back. No one had told me about it but she noticed it and said something to me. I was embarrassed and she looked at me and said, ‘Child do not blush, it is just fine. Mrs. Knowles can fix this before you can turn that red face white again.’ That was so funny to me that I forgot about being embarrassed. She sent me to Mrs. Knowles home ec room and she was right, she hemmed it up without me even taking the dress off. When I left Mrs. Knowles said, ‘You make sure you thank Mrs. Martin you hear?’ I went right back to the library and told her thank you. She said, “Sweet girl, that’s what we do in life, we help each other out. You have a good day now.’ And I sure did. I read more books that year than I had ever read before because she always met me with a smile.”
Three students impacted by a visit to the library is a pretty sound testament to the job these ‘teachers’ did every day. Jackson County is truly blessed with the aides now turned paraprofessionals we have in our school system.