Making the grade
Alumnus earns nod for national lifetime teaching award.
It’s not often you learn in sixth grade what you’ll do when you grow up. But that’s precisely what happened with Dan Marcus.
It was then – back in the mid-’60s – when Dan’s little brother, Scott, came home distraught one day from second grade. When Dan asked what the trouble was, Scott said he was supposed to do a show and tell the next week and that he had no idea what he was going to share.
“I wanted him to have something unique to share, something no other second-grader would ever think of, so I told him I was going to help him memorize all the presidents of the United States and recite them in order,” Marcus says. “At the time, Lyndon Johnson was president, so that meant he had to memorize 36 presidents.”
Marcus admits he had no idea whether a 7-year-old could tackle that much memorization in a week. “I sat him down in front of a miniature toy blackboard I had in my bedroom, and I taught him the names of all the presidents and made him recite them over and over and over again,” Marcus says. “So, instead of taking a new toy into school to show off, my brother stood up and recited all 36 presidents, in order, to perfection.”
The next day, Scott’s teacher called Dan into her room and said, “Dan, because you were able to teach your little brother to recite all 36 presidents in order correctly, that tells me you have a gift for teaching.”
“From that day on, I decided that teaching was the career I was going to pursue,” he says.
And the rest, of course, is history – math, science, English – and all the rest of the classes Marcus would end up teaching. After finishing his degree in elementary education at MSU Denver in May 1977, Marcus began teaching that August and never looked back.
Today, he’s amassed 40 years in the profession. And, no real surprise, he’s excelled at it. Marcus has won numerous state, regional and national awards and grants for mentoring, teaching, audio-visual productions and community service.
One of his projects, “You Are Beautiful,” a film on eating disorders, won nods from the Colorful Colorado Film Festival and the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Center in 2013. In fact, Marcus and his students were guests on NBC’s “The Today Show” as a result of the film and its worldwide impact.
Earlier this year, Marcus was nominated for one of the country’s most prestigious educator honors: the National Communication Association’s Wallace A. Bacon Lifetime Teaching Excellence Award, which recognizes those who have demonstrated a lifetime of outstanding teaching. The winner will be announced this month.
Marcus says he thanks MSU Denver for preparing him so well to enter teaching. “The most important thing MSU Denver did for me was to allow me to learn from actual professors (instead of teaching assistants),” he says.
While studying at Stanford University, he had only one class that was taught by a professor; all the rest were taught by teaching assistants. “Plus, many of my classes at Stanford had over 200 students sitting in a large lecture-style auditorium; MSU Denver’s classes had just 15 to 20 students. And we had close interactions with our professors. If I had it to do all over again, I’d choose MSU Denver again over Stanford, in a heartbeat.”
Marcus says being nominated for the Bacon Award made him realize that teachers “do in fact make a lasting impact on those we teach.”
In fact, a former student, Troy Craig, whom Marcus taught in sixth grade, spent several months helping Marcus compile his 29-page nomination vitae for the award, including a comprehensive survey from former students, parents, administrators and colleagues he’s worked with over the years.
“When a teacher hears such compelling testimonies of the impact they’ve had on so many lives, it confirms that their life choice of teaching was absolutely the correct career choice,” Marcus says.
“Whether I end up winning this award or not, I feel like I have already won, thanks to the wonderful students, parents, administrators and colleagues I have had the pleasure and honor to work with over the past 40 years.”