Sharing the love of language in all its beautiful forms
by Margaret Dabbs
Jun 01, 2011 | 2697 views | 0 0 comments | 49 49 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In the last several weeks the lives of communities as well as individuals all over the country have been turned upside down and inside out. In a time when almost nothing seems certain, we search for symbols of stability and continuity as families and communities rebuild their lives from scratch.

Bevill State Community College-Walker College Campus proudly sits at the top of the hill off Gamble Avenue in Jasper and offers us one of those symbols. In spite of undergoing several transformations in identity, loss of some of the characteristic old trees in recent storms, and the shedding of athletics in budget cuts, this college survives and maintains its dignity and integrity with a tradition of bright, dedicated, and extraordinary instructors.

In her easy, heartfelt manner, Marcia Adkins comfortably talks about her 28-year career as a full-time instructor at the college. She is one of only a few remaining instructors who came to the college when it was Walker College. Her home community is Cordova, but Marcia grew up a city girl in Norwood, a downtown Birmingham neighborhood. Her mother worked at Pizitz Department Store and her father worked at Hayes Aircraft Corporation. She smiled as she talked about riding in to town with her mother on Saturday mornings and then spending the day enjoying the Birmingham Museum of Art, the public library, and the movie theater. Often accompanied by a friend, they would ride the bus home or walk if they had spent their bus fare on other ventures.

While Marcia was a student in the sixth grade at McArthur Elementary School, she had an English and Speech teacher who excelled in teaching as she engaged and motivated her students by reading poetry aloud, delivering speeches, and presenting excerpts from plays. By the seventh grade, Marcia knew she wanted to teach those same subjects and that desire “never changed, never wavered.”

After graduating from Phillips High School, Marcia first came to Walker College in the role of student for three semesters. She recalls that as a “non-traditional student,” widowed by the Vietnam War and the mother of an infant, she immediately felt at home on the campus. While reminiscing about those long ago days, Marcia remembers thinking, “That would be the most wonderful place to teach- how lucky they are.” Coming back to the present she added, “I never dreamed I would ever have a chance of teaching here because I lived in Birmingham at the time.”

However, as if destined to return, after graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), Marcia moved to Cordova with her family. Her first teaching job was Title I reading teacher at Redmill Junior High School and she went on to teach English at Walker High School for several years. Marcia took a few years off after her daughter was born and then revived her teaching life as an adjunct instructor at Walker College, moving in to a full-time position in 1983.

From the viewpoint of someone who basically found her career niche as a child, Marcia stands firm in her assertion that as a teacher, “I feel that I have spent my life doing something important… I know I have made a difference in lives.” The nature of her subject matter, American Literature and Speech, allows her to get to know her students very well and to teach skills that will remain with them all their lives.

Finding beauty and comfort in reading, Marcia has a remarkable passion for literature and the doors it can open for her students. In enthusiastically sharing this passion, she explains as she introduces them to authors they might not choose to read on their own, “Not every voice is going to speak to you. But if you read, you will find the voice that speaks to you and touches your soul.”

Marcia sees literature as a way to “shed light on what it means to be a human being trying to make your way in this world.” Her class discussions often head in directions she never anticipated as her students begin to see the connection between what they are reading and their own lives.

In explaining the essence of her teaching, Marcia notes, “To me, education is all about opening the mind.” As she exposes her students to new ideas and guides them in looking at issues from other perspectives, she encourages them to attend plays and lectures, to question, to think for themselves, and to think critically as they learn to appreciate the beauty of the world around them.

Marcia Adkins has invested a major part of her life in Bevill State Community College and its predecessors. She takes great pride in recognizing that being an instructor at this college is an integral part of her identity.

“It has been a wonderful career, a tremendous career- and not just a career- a huge part of my life. You don’t leave this job at school.”

After growing up in Brookside and playing basketball at Gardendale High School, 6’8” Jeremy Bearden headed to UAB in the early 1990s on an athletic scholarship to play basketball for Gene Bartow. Excelling in mathematics, his original plan was to ultimately become an engineer. However, during his freshman year, he had an English professor who set him on a completely different track by presenting the subject in an unusually pleasurable and fascinating manner. Even though math was easier for him, Jeremy gave it up and never regretted that choice. He majored in English as an undergraduate, taught composition and literature at UAB while he completed his master’s degree, and was an assistant athletic director for NCAA compliance for about seven years.

For the last six years Jeremy has taught literature and composition at Bevill State. In his gentle, unassuming manner, which quietly speaks of abundant energy, he explains, “I am living my dream job.” Always open to his students’ questions and concerns, instructing at the community college level allows him to have a significant influence on their lives and to inspire them to excel in whatever discipline they choose since his standards and expectations are high. Jeremy’s career gives him the opportunity to continuously learn more about his subject matter, consistently get better at what he does, and share his knowledge and ideas with his students while actually teaching them to think as he teaches them to write. His grin speaks a thousand words as he asks, “Who could ask for anything more?”

Jeremy maintains the deep family roots in Brookside as he lives there with his family in his great- grandparents’ home. He describes this tiny, culturally diverse community as a “hodgepodge of nationalities” brought together at the turn of the century by the coal mining industry. His Bearden family came to Brookside with that industry and his maternal grandfather moved his family there from Kansas in Walker County in the 1920s to work as an electrician for Dupont.

Jeremy’s father was the manager for an insurance company and as he provided a model for an unquestionably powerful work ethic, he also encouraged Jeremy to focus on enjoying whatever he chose to do in life.

While Jeremy’s love and inherent joy for his teaching are quite evident, his other interests are diverse and clearly add to the depth of his teaching and his wonderful ability to relate to his students. He writes poetry and short stories and has a novel in progress. Performing his own songs at local venues and for small groups of friends, Jeremy plays the acoustic guitar and harmonica. He has also mastered his great grandfather’s fiddle, continuing the family tradition of involvement in down home music.

When time allows, Jeremy scours flea markets and estate sales for first edition books written by British authors. He finds great pleasure in the outdoor life as he hikes, canoes, and continues to bike in spite of receiving a significant shoulder injury after being hit by a delivery truck while riding several years ago.

Marcia Adkins was a child and Jeremy Bearden was a young adult when an elementary school teacher and a college professor stepped into their lives and presented the path to sharing an incredible love of language in all its beautiful forms.

We can take comfort in the thought that each time Marcia and Jeremy walk into their classrooms at the top of the hill, they are showing the path to others who will eagerly follow them on a similar journey.

Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 387-2890.