By Linda White
Ask 10 of your closest Bedford friends if they would enjoy being a public school substitute teacher and my guess is they would respond, “Sorry, it is not on my bucket list.” Unless, of course, your friend’s name just happened to be Marion Bryan, Bedford’s longest-serving substitute teacher. Mrs. Bryan, the mother of seven, began subbing in the 1970’s. At 4 feet, 11 inches “tall” and 89+ years “young,” she is a vibrant, recognizable figure with a megawatt smile that lights up a room, and who genuinely loves working with BHS, JGMS and Lane students.
“When people ask me what I teach, I say Life, mostly. I share ideas with the students on the value of learning and how to get the most out of their education by telling them they are their own best teacher. I stress the pleasure of dictionary use. When students say they are finished, I say “review it to retain it.” I speak of their wonderful brains and say, “Pack it in.” You never know when you will need what you learn this very day at some time in your future. So pack it in. You are preparing your mind for life’s journey. It’s like packing your suitcase with what you will need for a trip.”
Regarding how her experience has changed over time, Mrs. Bryan responded, “These days with the iPads, I do very little actual subject teaching. It’s mostly presiding. Pre-iPad days, I would refer to the text to help a student. I frequently search for books to help when a student needs a more detailed explanation. Sometimes the technology differences from room to room presents a challenge. It helps to find one of the many very knowledgeable students to help out. I’ve learned a great deal from the students! I don’t think students have changed that much over time but their attire has certainly changed.”
Kevin Tracey, JGMS Principal, commented, “I am so glad you are writing a piece on Marion. I have known and worked with Marion for almost 10 years. Her commitment and support of ourschools and children is incredible. She never appears to have an off day.Her smile and kindness is infectious and the JGMS staff truly value her as a colleague and friend.” BHS Assistant Principal Christine Larimore added, “Mrs. Bryan always arrives at school with a smile on her face and a willingness to help in whatever way she can.”
Seeing Mrs. Bryan interact with her students, you quickly notice how positively they respond to her and feel connected to her. As former students and now parents, many of us can probably recall an occasion with a substitute teacher where students did their best to put one over on the sub. When JR White, a 2013 BHS graduate, was asked if Mrs. Bryan is subjected to such behavior, he replied “Students respect Mrs. Bryan because she is just awesome and kids do their best to act accordingly when she is in the classroom. If a student in the class does act up, it is not uncommon for other students to tell that person to knock it off because she does not deserve it. Mrs. Bryan is also pretty good on her own dealing with a student who is out of line. We all looked forward to having her fill in when necessary because she had a good sense of humor, lots of life experience and stories to share and was sincerely interested in us as people.”
Justine Molloy, BHS 2013 commented, “Mrs. Bryan is a wonderful woman with an infectious smile. She was everyone’s favorite sub. She would play games if the teacher forgot a lesson plan or she would tell us stories about her life and it was always so interesting. Both of my parents grew up in Bedford and remember having her as a teacher so whenever I would see her, she would ask how my family was, and you could tell she really cared about what I had to say. I can’t say enough good things about her. Honestly, she is just someone who has the ability to leave a mark on someone, she has that special something. I am very lucky to know her!”
Mrs. Bryan has subbed in all areas with the exception of the gym where she thought she “might be a little useless.” One of her favorite experiences to date was being asked to be a judge for last year’s Mr. BHS competition. Other highlights that come to mind include “the day I was brought to a class by a staff member from Guidance. When we arrived the students applauded. That was special. Basically, every day is special when you have made a connection with a student, offered a bit of encouragement or even lightened their spirit for a time. One of Mrs. Bryan’s talents is her ability to rap. Students frequently request that she perform a rap she composed for a disengaged student who had a stronger interest in rapping than studying. She is able to recall the rap from memory and reminds students that it is a prime example of her “pack it in” philosophy for recalling knowledge you have packed in your brain for storage at a later time and use. If you are fortunate enough to hear her rap, you will still detect a hint of the softness of her Alabama accent and upbringing.
Born in Key West, Florida and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama by a mother who was a speech teacher and a Baptist minister father, Mrs. Bryan took naturally to the role of a “PK” (preacher’s kid) and found herself at ease speaking to groups. In hindsight, she found that skill proved to be very useful in a classroom situation. Her University of Alabama degree in Home Economics that focused on Clothing and Textiles provided opportunities over the years for creativity and increasing her family income.
Mrs. Bryan moved to Bedford in 1956 when her husband, Ray, an engineer and aspiring opera singer, accepted an engineering position in Wilmington. The next 15 years saw the Bryan family grow from four to seven children and Marion found time to be actively involved with the American Association of University Women (AAUW), the Bedford Woman’s Community Club rising to the presidency and a Federation position, the Bedford First Baptist Church as choir director, and the Bedford Historical Society, where she nourished her love of history and also found an outlet for her Home Economics degree skills by making early Bedford Minute Man costumes. When the Burlington Mall first opened, Mrs. Bryan managed the Singer fabric department until one of her customers suggested to her that she use her skills and teaching ability to apply for a substitute teacher position.
“During the 10 years of the 1970’s I was an almost teacher with Social Studies and Home Ec certification. I did semester fill in, variously teaching cooking, sewing, psychology, history, early childhood [education] in the junior and senior high schools. I was a daily sub during that time. When teaching history at the junior high in 1976, I served as a chaperone on the first Washington field trip. It was absolutely delightful!” recalled Mrs. Bryan. For the next 17 years, Mrs. Bryan was employed in high tech with start-up companies Apollo (as their 15th employee), Synernetics and Avid.
After retiring for about four years which allowed her time to function as the Bedford Historical Society President and to make the canopy for the antique bed at the Job Lane House, she returned to subbing in 2001. Her current schedule generally includes four days a week in the classroom with an occasional day off. When she is not in the classroom, her extended family of seven children, 10 grandchildren and three great grandchildren, her husband, her church and many activities within the Bedford community keep her busy. Her 90th birthday is in March. Retirement was not a word that came up in conversation. Thank you, Marion Bryan, for your many contributions to the quality of our lives in Bedford!