June 19, 2018
By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools
The year 1968 was one of new beginnings for Marvin Donnell Odom.
On July 26 of that year, he married Mary Ann, they took a short newlywed trip to Florida, and on Aug. 1, he officially became a teacher for Rutherford County Schools.
He had initially double-majored while studying at Middle Tennessee State University and was pursing degrees in mathematics and industrial technology. But he decided to follow in the footsteps of his mother, Cuma Lee, who was an educator in Lascassas, after he discovered his true calling.
“When I was doing the math, I enjoyed it, but I enjoyed more of the application of it and how to help kids understand how to apply it,” Odom said. “The application of it intrigued me and teaching was a place to do some of that.”
Odom spent the next 50 years dedicating himself to students and education in Rutherford County.
He served as a teacher, a department head, a longtime principal, and the leader of the district’s instruction department. For the past six years, he has served with distinction as the director of schools for Rutherford County.
Starting out, he never imagined he would rise to the director’s position, but throughout his many positions and accomplishments, he always tried to do what was in the best interest of children, he said.
“My love was still really teaching kids,” Odom said.
As his retirement approaches on June 30, Odom agreed to an interview to reflect on some of the highlights of his career, to discuss public education and to encourage those who are drawn to the profession of cultivating our next generation.
Do you remember what it was like your first day teaching in school and during your first year?
ODOM: I started at Kittrell, and at that time, I was pretty much the only math teacher for high school and actually taught some middle grades math also.
The thing that is so different from what it is now is, you found you had to make your own connections. A lot of times beyond the school, you were always thinking, “Am I pacing this correctly for the kids? Am I covering the content I need to cover?” and that sort of thing.
Teachers today in some of our larger high schools have the opportunities with their professional learning communities within their buildings to get feedback more easily than it was at that time.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in your career as an educator?
ODOM: You know, students are still students, and they’re still going to do a lot of the same things they always did. From a student standpoint, certainly with social media, the way they reach out to get information is different.
But really, the biggest change I’ve seen is probably more from the family side of it.
People are so busy with kids involved in so many things now, finding family time to help kids with homework, to follow their kids in that, is a challenge for parents. There wasn’t two people working in the family, it was more, mom would stay at home.
The challenge to the family and the way we prioritize time has been a bigger change than really content and kids and that sort of thing. It’s the demands of this age and this time on families.
Do you have any accomplishments, either as a school district or personally, in which you are exceptionally proud?
ODOM: I really go back to the Professional Learning Communities.
I’m not necessarily the one who started it, but I was certainly one who pushed it. The reason is, it’s a collaborative model where people who are practicing this profession and this skill get together and look at how we’re doing, how we can change and how we can get better.
Bob Eaker was at MTSU and he was one of the developers of it. He actually came to (former Director Hulon) Watson initially, and we did a little of it at that particular time. Trying to get everybody to buy into it and decide this was going to be our model wasn’t that easy because it was still new.
But it’s one of those things that makes sense.
You know, lawyers collaborate on particular cases. If doctors have a difficult case, they collaborate together. … It just made sense for educators to come together and elaborate, like other professions were doing, to be better at delivering their services.
That is still the strongest part of it, that you’re not alone in this.
What advice do you have for new teachers or those who are considering a career in education?
ODOM: It’s a wonderful profession that gives you an opportunity to impact individuals where they are and society and our country as a whole.
You can change the future.
You can help people see a vision that they may not necessarily have for themselves.
Are you going to make the most money ever? Probably not. From that standpoint, it’s not a profession you enter to make a lot of money.
But if you want to impact the future and what children and youth mean to us, then you can become a teacher.
And again, everybody looks back on teachers who have made a difference in their life and that they admire for what they are doing. There’s not many people that can’t talk to you today and say, “I remember this teacher and they said something positive to me.”
Most everybody has those teachers, when they are asked.
That’s what you hope, is that you’ve made a difference in somebody’s life somewhere along the way. That’s important.
What’s the philosophy you’ve used to guide you through your career?
ODOM: I like to think I am a man of faith and so the Bible guides me. You know Micah 6:8, to me, is still the one that I kind of like.
“He has shown you, O man, what isgood;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?”
It’s about how you get along and treat other people — fairness, justly. To me that is one of my favorite philosophies and that spills over into your job as well as your day-by-day life.
PHOTO / JAMES EVANS
Director of Schools Don Odom stands with his granddaughter Anna during his retirement reception on June 19, 2018. Odom is retiring from the district June 30 after 50 years as an educator with Rutherford County Schools.