Marty returns to the classroom after 12-year sabbatical

Monday, October 30, 2006

"You can never go home again," Thomas Wolfe once famously wrote.

Luckily, Dr. Wayne Marty didn't heed that advice. The longtime director of Natural Sciences for Westmar University has returned to the academic world for the first time in more than twelve years.

"Morningside College had a last minute resignation," he explains, "and they needed someone to teach two microbiology classes for their fall semester and they needed that 'someone' to start pretty quickly."

In August, Marty received a frantic call from a former colleague.

"Jane Hey, the chairman of Morningside's Science Department, and I go back a long ways," he recalls. "We shared an office at the University of Iowa in the summer of '64. She was doing her graduate work and I was teaching a class in Zoology."

After some soul searching and much hemming and hawing, Hey persuaded her happily retired friend to make a return to the classroom.

"I guess there was a part of me that wanted to know if I still had what it took to engage a roomful of kids," he admits. "I wanted to know it for myself as much as I wanted it for the students."

On his way to class the first day, Marty was immediately struck by a revelation:

"I received my Ph.D. in 1962," he laughs. "Now, I'm used to teaching students who are younger than my own children but I suddenly realize these kids may have parents who weren't even around when I first got my Ph.D.!"

"That was a bit disconcerting," Marty smiles.

Though he had left teaching in 1994, Marty was struck at how casual the collegiate community had become.

"When I was teaching at Westmar," he remembers, "the clothes the kids wore were pretty casual. Nobody thought anything of it because it evolved over time. But at Morningside, the professors are dressed just as casually as the kids."

That surprised the shirt-and-the-tie wearing Marty.

"Sometimes it was hard telling the professor from the student because everyone was wearing jeans," he notes. "That was okay. When I started teaching, wearing a suit was something that was not only required but also something I enjoyed."

Marty was also startled by the changes in the tools of his trade.

"When I left Westmar, it was with a piece of chalk clamped in my hand," he chuckles. "The first thing that I noticed at Morningside was: no more chalk boards."

In place of the familiar chalk and chalk board were a white board and markers.

"Other professors were also giving lectures with PowerPoint presentations," Marty says with a sigh. "I though: 'Nope, I'm not gonna do that. I'm not gonna go that far.' I can live without a chalkboard but I can teach without resorting to something as pushy as PowerPoint."

Getting past his "old school" ways, Marty was struck by how little his students have changed over the years.

"They are just as lively today as they were when I was teaching," he maintains. "We've certainly had some interesting conversations."

"That's what makes teaching fun," Marty offers, "being able to engage kids in an intellectual way."

He's also aware of the fact that students must know more history than he did when he was their age.

"Watson and Crick discovered the structure of the DNA molecule in 1953," Marty offers. "That was the same year Edwin Krebs came up with the Krebs Cycle."

"And ironically enough, that was also the same year I graduated with my degree in Mathematics from Westmar," he sighs. "We don't know what hasn't yet been discovered. My knowledge of DNA didn't come from a textbook as a student simply because DNA hadn't yet been discovered."

"It's amazing to think how the field of science has changed over the course of my lifetime," Marty remarks. "I can only imagine how much it'll change over the course of the lives of my students."

Technology has not only impacted the world of science, Marty says, it definitely changed the way his students study.

"Kids don't have to go to the library anymore because they have a library at their fingertips," he says, referring to the Internet. "The only limitation they have is a matter of personal drive. The information is out there already. But the students must be willing to seek it out."

One thing that'll give the kids pangs of anxiety is something that is also keeping Marty up late at night. And that's mid-term exams.

"Believe it or not, mid-terms are just as tough on the teacher as it is on the students," he confesses. "Since I've been back in the classroom, I haven't been sleeping as well. I'm always thinking to myself: 'Why didn't I say this?' or 'Did I even remember to mention that?'"

"Mid-terms, finals and grading," Marty mentions. "Those things are proving themselves to be a lot harder this time around."

"As a professor, your life becomes centered by the semester," he admits. "Once you fall out of that pattern, it's tough to get it back."

Even though Morningside has been very supportive of Marty, he says this semester back in the classroom will be his last.

"I enjoyed going back to teaching," he contends, "but I enjoy my freedom more." "Teaching two courses of microbiology and conducting labs three days a week is really a full-time job," Marty says, "and, at this point of my life, I don't want a full-time job."

"When you're teaching, you have schedules and deadlines," he maintains. "When you're retired, you do not."

After the fall semester ends, Marty plans to continue his work with the Plymouth County Historical Museum, having more time for friends and family, and spending time at home.

"My wife June has grown accustomed to having me around the house," he smiles. "So have I."

Through the years, Marty has kept a running tally of the numbers of courses he's taught and the number of students who've attended his class.

Between 1959 and 1994, he's taught microbiology a total of 42 times and a total number of 663 students.

As his semester back in college draws to a close, Marty will add two more classes to his microbiology total and increase the number of students by 71.

"It's been good being back in a classroom," he says, "but it'll be even better going back to my regular life."

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