“I am so ready to retire,” said Mary Jo Marker.
It was 1 am, and she had just arrived at the Salt Lake International Airport with 80 eighth graders in tow after spending a week on a tour of Washington, DC. It was one of numerous trips Mary Jo has taken with students over her 27-year tenure at Rowland Hall. This trip was different, though, because it was her last.
Mary Jo is, in fact, retiring.
Mary Jo’s tenure at Rowland Hall began in a strange way. She was taking education classes at the University of Utah and had to present a US history lesson plan in the classroom of her professor, who was also a teacher at Rowland Hall. The next thing she knew, she was being asked to teach a full section of the course to a group of Rowland Hall 10th graders.
From the very beginning Mary Jo wanted to improve her skills and never stopped pushing herself.—Alan Sparrow, former head of school
“The teacher quit, and they needed someone to step in,” she said. “It would never happen now, but I don’t think I even had a contract for more than a week after I started teaching.”
That trial by fire experience shaped the teacher Mary Jo would become. She started learning on the job and hasn’t stopped since. She is a teacher who doesn’t believe in coasting, but instead has always been up for a challenge—and is always ready to learn something new. “From the very beginning Mary Jo wanted to improve her skills and never stopped pushing herself,” said former Head of School Alan Sparrow. “She was and is an outstanding teacher. It was a joy and a privilege to work with her.”
Mary Jo’s pursuit of excellence is something she has pushed for her students as well. US history can be a difficult subject, and there are many parts that can be uncomfortable or difficult to comprehend, but Mary Jo doesn’t try to sugarcoat hard truths or dumb down complicated material. She believes in the abilities of her students. “Ms. Marker is very matter of fact when she talks to us,” said eighth grader Meg H. “She lets us know exactly what she expects from us, and that she knows we can do it.”
It's been more than two decades since he was in her classroom, but Nate Kogan ’00 remembers Mary Jo the same way. “She had high expectations of us as a class and left a lot of responsibility in our hands,” he said. “She empowered us to rise to a higher bar of intellectual challenge.”
Nate now teaches history at Rowland Hall—in fact, he teaches the same course once taught to him by Mary Jo, and her methods made an impact on him. When he was first teaching at a school in Texas, he remembered, he went back through his high school materials to try to “reverse engineer” lesson plans and emulate Mary Jo.
“She demonstrated how important it is to have high lofty goals for your students and know that they are totally capable of reaching them. That confidence in students is a really empowering thing to provide,” Nate said. “It’s something I felt from her and something I have tried to convey in my own classroom.”
She demonstrated how important it is to have high lofty goals for your students and know that they are totally capable of reaching them. That confidence in students is a really empowering thing to provide. It’s something I felt from her and something I have tried to convey in my own classroom.—Nate Kogan ’00, Upper School history teacher
Mary Jo’s teaching hasn’t only happened in the classroom. She’s led kids on adventures all over the state and the nation, and these are some of her favorite memories. She has been on multiple class trips filled with long bus rides and rainy campsites. She’s taken part in Interim trips, including sailing in San Diego, golfing in Palm Springs, or the “Tour de Tooele,” which had her and Paul Christensen leading a pack of kids on bikes through Utah’s West Desert. “These were the experiences that became grand stories for the students later,” she said. “The best were the ones where I came and thought, ‘This is hell, and I love it.’”
Mary Jo’s other treasured memories from her time at the school don’t come from big events, but from little moments such as student interactions in the hall or small talk in the faculty lounge. She also recalled the impact of having her own kids attend Rowland Hall. “I had to learn to keep my professional hat on and let them have the experience of other kids, not rush in and be a mama bear,” she said. “I also got to learn a lot by seeing my colleagues as my kids’ teachers.”
Now it’s time to make memories beyond the campuses of Rowland Hall. Mary Jo says she plans to travel and will be taking lots of trips that she won’t have to plan around events like parent-teacher conferences and Back to School Night. She says she will enjoy being the master of her own calendar. “I am looking forward to not having to be somewhere at 8 o’clock if I don’t want to be somewhere at 8 o’clock,” she said.
After all, that’s what retirement is all about. And Mary Jo Marker is ready for it.