On the last day of the 2012-13 school year, staff members at Walnut Grove Elementary School sported pins imprinted with an eagle and the number 44 in honor of Marlene McPherson. The third-grade teacher, who was set to retire after nearly four-and-a-half decades, wore a T-shirt with “69”—the year of her hire—emblazoned on the back.
Forty-four years ago, the 22-year-old University of Portland graduate was hired by her former principal at John Rogers Elementary School. “I was over the moon with excitement,” McPherson recalled.
She set out on a career path that would take her through eight different classrooms as she taught first through third grades, including multi-age classes. More than 1,100 students. Eight different principals. Three librarians. Three secretaries. McPherson outlasted nearly all of them and never even entertained the idea of transferring to a different school.
While she says kids are still kids and want to learn, teaching itself is different. “The requirements are getting more and more stringent. The creativity is not as key as it was back in ’69. But it’s still all good for me because I had to push away from teaching techniques and welcome what is valid and what is being asked of us in 2013—new standards that all teachers will have to meet and work with,” McPherson said.
But she didn’t resist change, saying, “I would do anything to meet whatever the district or my principal asked of me. That was my attitude. It still is!”
“I wanted to be the best I could be for these kids no matter what. That was really important to me. So I’ve grown,” she said.
And even after 44 years, McPherson claims, “I’m still green and growing.”
But Walnut Grove’s storied educator was a fountain of knowledge for staff. “She’s a great team player; she always jumped in. She would help new teachers and anybody with questions. She was part of the family here,” said Walnut Grove Principal Bobbi Geenty.
Despite the difficulty of deciding that the time was right to retire, the last day was joyful for McPherson. Just before students sprang from classrooms, she tolled the old Walnut Grove school bell, ringing in both summer and the end of her time at Walnut Grove.
And now retirement, rich with hiking trails, books, and relaxation time, has arrived. As long as she’s healthy and happy, McPherson will be satisfied. “I know that I’ve done my job here,” she said. “I’ve done my very best.”