Following in her family’s footsteps, Mary Beth Rowland Barber is leaving a legacy at Bevill State.
By Suzie Walton | Image by Blakeney Clouse
She wants to make a difference. It’s that simple. Three generations of her family before her pursued the educational field, and Mary Beth Rowland Barber has chosen to follow that same path in hopes of making a positive impact on students’ lives.
“So many people have told me stories of how my grandfather helped them when they were students at Walker College,” she recalls. “That is my inspiration. I want people to say the same about me. I want my students past and present to tell my children and future grandchildren how I helped them succeed at Bevill State or Walker High School.”
Since 2006 Mary Beth has been a fixture as a Bevill State Community College English instructor. Each day she purposefully enters her class anticipating the lesson with her students and holding high expectations for herself.
After just three short years in college, Mary Beth earned her bachelor’s degree in comprehensive language arts, never changing her major, though she contemplated switching to speech pathology. She then went on to teach at Walker High School before accepting a full-time position with Bevill State Community College, and she has not looked back.
“I guess you could say I have come full circle,” she laughs as she recounts her high school years at Walker High School and the college classes at Walker College she took while still in high school. Even as she attended The University of Alabama, Mary Beth still enrolled in summer classes on the Walker College campus of Bevill State.
However, Mary Beth’s first recollection of Walker College is not that of a student but childhood memories enjoying the rolling hills of the campus. She cannot recall her first memory of Walker College, but that is because she cherishes so many times on the campus that she once called her playground. “I grew up on campus here,” she said reminiscing about picnics at the gazebo or breakfast with her mom and dad in the college cafeteria before school. As a little girl “I would emcee my own Stars and Bars beauty pageants in the Walker Hall Rotunda. I would even ‘teach school’ in a classroom inside Glen Clem Gymnasium as my parents ran inside the gym on cold mornings.”
Mary Beth’s imaginary classroom was only a foreshadowing of a time to come because teaching is in her blood. Not only are her mom and dad educators but also her grandfather was president and then chancellor of Walker College and her great-grandmother was an educator. “I believe God gives everyone gifts,” she mused. “For me, that gift is to be a teacher; I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
Mary Beth’s face lights up as she talks about her students, her experiences in the classroom, her family, and her travels. “I am blessed to be an educator, but I have also taught many students who have been blessings,” she says confidently. “I love for former students to come by my office to update me about their lives or sit through a specific lecture just because it was their favorite piece of literature.” This is an accomplishment only the best instructors are fortunate to enjoy.
“There are so many fantastic jobs, but I have to say teaching and watching students grow and succeed has to be one of the most rewarding,” she said. “I pray every night that I make a difference in at least one student’s life, but sometimes someone comes along and makes a difference in mine.”
As Mary Beth strives to encourage her students in their critical thinking, she will often reference her favorite quote from To Kill A Mockingbird when Atticus Finch says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view—until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
And she doesn’t want to just talk about literature in a boring way, but she hopes to bring it alive in class. One way she seeks to lift the setting and characters from the pages is by traveling to places that are educational or provide a backdrop for the literature she teaches.
As she shares photos from a recent trip to Cuba and a five-hour tour of Ernest Hemingway’s estate, the excitement radiates from her. She is as giddy as a little girl embarking on a wonderful journey, which is somewhat the story of her life. “My love of traveling comes from my dad,” she admits as she laughs about how her own daughter, Scout, a fourth-grader at Maddox Intermediate, may be following in the family footsteps.
Some afternoons when Scout is out of school, she will conduct class in a room within Walker Hall with Dr. Allen Rowland, her grandfather, as her only student. “There may be a future teacher in our midst,” Mary Beth laughs. Since her dad is on campus daily, Mary Beth and Dr. Rowland eat lunch together every day, sometimes outside her office at a nearby picnic table.
For her students, Mary Beth is approachable, and though she may not have considered it in the beginning, she is leaving a legacy on the Walker College campus of Bevill State, where teaching for her is more than just a career. 78