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When one woman is on crusade to honor teachers, lives and careers are changed forever

How the Harvard Fellows Program helps strengthen MCSD teachers

Marquette McKnight, executive director of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, and Superintendent David Lewis talk about the importance of the Harvard Fellows Program. MeeF announced the 2019 Harvard Fellows at a press conference.
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Marquette McKnight, executive director of the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, and Superintendent David Lewis talk about the importance of the Harvard Fellows Program. MeeF announced the 2019 Harvard Fellows at a press conference.

I’ve been writing this column for almost four years. That’s 53 columns a year for a total just shy of 212 columns! I’ve written them in an Arkansas gas station parking lot off Interstate 40, scurried to meet a deadline using a McDonald’s WiFi in Oklahoma, and penned some lines in a remote cabin on top of a Montana mountain — anything not to miss an opportunity to write about what I esteem so highly: teachers.

In a world so focused on emphasizing the misfortunes, the misfits and the misled in education, it has been my mission to highlight the truth about the teaching profession. I’ve spilled the ink of almost 130,000 words to recalibrate the conceptions of my readers, but within all those words, I’ve never mentioned the name Marquette McKnight.

That’s because she’s not an educator, not technically. Marquette doesn’t teach colors to kindergartners or times tables to third-graders. She doesn’t share knowledge with the seventh grade or teach science to sophomores. Her degree on the wall says nothing about education, but her life’s mission does. Her heart does. And for that, she deserves some ink.

Countless lives have been altered because of her mission and her heart. Careers have transformed from existing behind the shadows of the lectern to thriving in the light of duly noted acknowledgment. She has the power through word and deed to uplift a teacher and the entire teaching profession from the mire of pretense to the pedestal of prestige. Her work rights the helm of community mindsets and directs our city’s perceptions toward the direction of Wow! instead of Whoa!.

As the guiding force behind the Muscogee Educational Excellence Foundation, she seeks out and then spearheads countless opportunities to recognize teachers. From the platform of appreciation and wonderment at what teachers do on a daily basis, Marquette is a steadfast staple of good news in our community. With the same vivaciousness as her red hair, Marquette champions the accolades teachers so often deserve, yet so infrequently receive.

Once she fixes her eyes on excellent teachers, she envelopes them in rewards such as the Teacher of the Year program, the Gala and the Harvard Fellows. The list goes on with even more sight-unseen tokens of appreciation for jobs well done in our city’s classrooms, all at the mighty hands of this do-gooder and her army of foundation supporters.

But Marquette doesn’t work her magic from the comfort of her leather chair behind her mahogany desk. She doesn’t wisp a pen across a piece of paper to proclaim her respect and admiration for teachers. Her devotion to teachers isn’t willy-nilly or occasional. It is steadfast and unbroken. It is well-defined and loudly proclaimed, as consistent as the sunrise.

She walks among the treasured, rubs shoulders with the revolutionaries, and runs beside the rock stars she calls teachers. Not because she identifies with their struggles to match state mandates with student needs, or because she understands how teachers help students balance home life with their classroom ones. And not because she knows what it’s like to work under the microscope of public opinion or has felt the pressure of willingly assuming the responsibility to mold an entire generation.

But because she cares that teachers know, teachers can, and teachers do.

I’ve never met a stronger supporter of teachers, and I am a testimony of a life, a career that has been forever changed because of her. Marquette McKnight has certainly hoisted me out of the obscurity that teachers often exist in, and for that, I am forever grateful and forever walking in the truth of who I am: A TEACHER.

Sheryl Green is a secondary educator in Columbus. Email her at sherylgreen14@yahoo.com.

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