The Difference a Teacher Can Make: J. Ernest Martin Lifetime Service Award Winner

Ernie Martin speaking in chapel '05. File photo.
Ernie Martin speaking in chapel '05. File photo.

J. Ernest (Ernie) Martin’s distinguished career demonstrates the positive impact a dedicated teacher can make in the lives of students. In three Christian schools spanning 42 years, Ernie’s remarkable legacy stands as an example that has inspired many students and influenced the work of a host of teachers. In celebration of that legacy, Ernie Martin is being recognized with the Eastern Mennonite High School (EMHS) Lifetime Service Award for 2018.

2008 Ember Yearbook photo.

Ernie attended EMHS when classes still met in the Administration Building at Eastern Mennonite College. His high school teachers included Jay B. Landis, Vivian Beachy, Jesse Byler, and Norman Yutzy. He graduated in 1963 before teachers and students moved to the new and current high school campus on Parkwood Drive in 1964.

It was while attending Madison College, Harrisonburg, that Ernie was practically thrust into a teaching career. One of his professors noticed his gifts and insisted on recommending him for a scholarship toward a master’s in English at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

Before graduate school, however, Ernie and wife Judy served at an Anglican Missions School in Malawi, Africa. From 1968-1971, Ernie served in the Teachers Abroad Program, a branch of Mennonite Central Committee. From Malawi, Ernie gathered stories that he told throughout his career, and that fostered his world missions outlook, launching such programs at EMHS as the Global Education program.

In 1972 Ernie accepted a position at Central Christian High School, Kidron, Ohio, but only after he had been offered a teaching position at Turner Ashby High School, Rockingham County, Virginia. Shortly after Ernie began at Central in Ohio, he was offered another position in the Fairfax Schools system as writing instructor and supervisor, but Ernie and Judy remained in Ohio for five years.

It was in Ohio that this writer took research writing class from “Mr. Martin.” Already sporting his legacy mustache and flaring sideburns, Ernie began developing a trademark class that many students still say is one of the most important courses they took in high school. Exacting, demanding, and precise, Ernie taught students how to write, and to write well. This writer eked out a C+ in Mr. Martin’s senior level class, and wrote a paper on the contemporary movement of the 1970s, “The Charismatic Movement,” marked up with Ernie’s ubiquitous red pen.

In 1977, Principal Samuel O. Weaver needed help to develop the curriculum at EMHS. With the school moving toward independence from the college, and seeking state accreditation, Ernie received a call to move back to Virginia and work at EMHS. With three growing children, and wanting to be a closer to family, Ernie and Judy moved to Harrisonburg.

The Teaching Difference

What made the difference in Ernie Martin’s teaching? Was it his position as assistant principal or his work as director of curriculum? Was it the fact that he stayed in one school for 34 years? Was it that he was known in the community, and parents trusted him to teach their children?

Ernie Martin (right) with long-time colleague Sherm Eberly during the 2007/08 school year. Teacher “trophy day” photo by Lucas Schrock-Hurst ’08.

All of these mattered in Ernie’s career, but it was his open hand of mercy rather than judgment, his consistent encouragement of students and teachers, and his Christ-like character that made all the difference.

Curriculum Committee, every other Monday afternoon during the school year, was where Ernie directed and shaped the academic program at EMHS. As a member of the committee, I attended twenty-one years’ worth of such meetings. These were teaching and curriculum sessions where Martin explained his educational theories, led the school, encouraged teachers, and prayed at every meeting.

Ernie freely admits that it was “the hand of God” that brought him to EMHS in 1977 and guided him until he retired in 2010. His is a lifetime of service, an open hand of mercy extended to his students and faculty, not a vindictive hand of judgment or threats. Student papers came back marked up, evidence that Ernie worked hard at his job. Students respected and recognized the caliber teaching Ernie provided.

Ernie Martin is my educational mentor and hero. His lifetime service in Christian education has demonstrated the positive difference that a teacher can make, for students and an entire community.

Editor’s note: Martin will be recognized during Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 19-21, 2018. He will speak and receive his award during Sunday morning worship beginning at 10 a.m., EMHS Auditorum. All are welcome.

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