When talking to a semi-retired schoolteacher and public education advocate, Marleis Trover, it’s evident that she has the freedom to teach wherever she chooses. A retired superintendent with multiple advanced educational degrees and a track record of impressive accomplishments, she’s a shortlist candidate for any opening in education. She could also enjoy the solitude of retirement and the spoils of her pension from the porch of her home in the Shawnee National Forest. It’s because Marleis could teach anywhere or do anything, that she teaches English at Meridian High School.
One Piece of the Bigger Picture
Marleis briefly walks me through her impressive history as an educator. Her grandmother wanted to be a teacher, but as a coal miner’s daughter in 1927, it wasn’t possible. She married a coal miner and raised three daughters. Marleis fondly remembers watching her grandmother, the first in her family, graduate with a teaching degree at fifty.
Considering her grandmother a ‘genuine inspiration,’ Marleis graduated from SIU-Carbondale with a bachelor’s degree in education. In her first year of teaching, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, teaching sixty-five kids out of the Johnston City Methodist Church. The school was shuttered due to mine subsidence. Marleis also returned to school and became a superintendent when men dominated the industry. “When I was superintendent. There were eight-hundred-ninety school districts, and thirty superintendents were women,” she says with a smile.
Eventually, Marleis left Johnston City and accepted a position as superintendent at Vienna. She worked in Vienna for fifteen years and retired from the district to teach at McKendree College.
Marleis answered the call four years ago when a friend and colleague was ‘audacious enough to ask’ her to return to teaching. Assuming he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, he suggested Marleis teach English at Meridian. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Marleis quickly said yes.
At the time, Marleis had spent twenty-five years fighting to level-set public education in Illinois, leading multiple coalitions that pushed for evidence-based funding. Evidence-based funding, signed into law in 2017, changed how school districts received the bulk of their state-level financing by focusing on business costs rather than property values. Because of Marleis’ work, under-resourced regions statewide receive more financial resources to ‘provide a safe, rigorous, and well-rounded learning environment for all students.’
Marleis shares that while policy changes ensured that schools like Meridian have the money to hire quality teachers, a nationwide teaching shortage has shifted the bottleneck. She says, “School districts have more money to hire quality teachers but don’t have the teachers to hire.”
After spending most of her career making an impact at the policy level, Marleis is spending her retirement returning to her roots and making an impact one student at a time. She says, “Mr. Trover and I are working because of a teacher shortage. With local, regional, state, and national shortages, we’re just one piece of a much bigger picture.”
Marleis shares, “A teacher is the most important thing because they prepare the next generation. If we don’t prepare them, then society falls apart. The efforts being made to get students into education are so important. I’m here teaching. I wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a teacher shortage.” While Marleis is, by trade, a teacher, she’s also a fighter. Just as her grandmother inspired her to be a teacher at a pivotal age, she’s in the trenches, inspiring kids to become teachers. She spent twenty-five years fighting to ensure schools like Meridian can attract and retain quality educators regardless of property tax levels. Now that she’s leveled the playing field, she’s leading by example, fighting to inspire today’s youth one interaction at a time.