Nominated by Joshua Potter
Mrs. Marsha Smithwick retired in 1999, after having served for 30 years in the Bertie County Schools, in eastern NC, teaching at the elementary, middle, and high school levels simultaneously for the duration of her career. Her concert ensembles at Bertie earned consistent "Superior" ratings at MPA in Levels IV and V. Her marching bands earned consistently high rankings and ratings throughout her career as well. She developed a solo and ensemble program that performed local recitals as well as at district events.
Mrs. Smithwick served as president of the NCBA Eastern District for two terms, as well as President-Elect, and Past President for each term. She served as the Senior High All-State Honors Band Auditions Chair for many years as well. She was recognized in her teaching career with the NCBA Award of Excellence, the Bertie County Young Educator Award, and an Award of Excellence from the Bertie County Board of Education. She was an elected member of the American School Band Directors Association. She has conducted many all-county honor bands as well as the Eastern District Senior High All-District Concert Band.
While most of her students could not afford private lessons, Mrs. Smithwick worked diligently with each of them individually to help them prepare for honor band auditions. Her students consistently earned spots in All-District and All-State Honors Bands. She had two students participate in the Sousa National Honor Band. Many of her students went on to become music educators as well. She was able to bring out the best in her students because they knew she would accept no less.
Mrs. Smithwick served as cooperating teacher for many student teachers and served as the President of the East Carolina School of Music Alumni. She took an interest in so many of the young band directors and was always interested in helping others further their careers. As someone who was a bit of a pioneer for women band directors, she was always ready with a funny story and a supportive comment when the young women musicians needed it.
Mrs. Smithwick instilled a love of music education and the arts in the hearts of her students. She helped to bring culture to students in a very rural and socioeconomically disadvantaged area. She not only taught at Bertie High School but also at all the K-8 schools in the county. There were no middle schools in the county during this time. There were seven different K-8 schools spanning all hours and distances from one end of the county to the other. She began teaching students in 4th or 5th grade, often teaching in cafeterias, media centers, storage closets, or wherever she could have space. One evening a week, she would have some of the older students from all the different schools meet and rehearse to prepare for MPA. She would take these students from all the different schools to MPA and achieve top ratings, while being compared to other middle school programs who met daily.
Perhaps the greatest testament to her work is that she used music and the arts as a venue to bring empowerment, a sense of worth, and pride to her students. Her students attribute the work ethic and sense of pride that she instilled in them to meet goals and challenges as major contributors to their success today as music educators, regular educators, and with careers in many different fields.
She provided so many of her students with a “safe place” to be in a high school environment that didn’t always seem so “safe”. Still today she keeps up with and checks in on her former students. A couple of years ago, a reunion was held with all the students she had taught invited. The turnout was astounding with hundreds of former students showing up to honor her career.
One of her former students says, “On the days when teaching feels too hard, I press forward because I know that I just might be that teacher for a student in my classroom. And that teacher is the kind of teacher that Mrs. Smithwick was. The one who touches your mind and heart in an unforgettable way and gives you the skills and beliefs to help you become all that you’re meant to be. Having had her for a teacher feels like I was given a gift that I will never be able to reciprocate, but I will strive to do so by being the best teacher I can for my students.”