This week I am focusing again on retired school teachers and their students. The Clay County Historical Society is still continuing the project of compiling a book on retired teachers and it should be very special.   Much material has already been gathered and has been typed by Johnny Coulter for this book.  I am still encouraging people to write about members of their family that has been in education.  I approached Barbara Jarrett Holcomb recently who is the grand-daughter of Madalyn Hughes and explained that I did not have anything at all on her grandmother.  I ask her if she would please write something about her.  I think you will be impressed with this article that Barbara has written?

Woodrow Morris and students 1948
Woodrow Morris and students 1948

On a personal note I have known Madalyn for many years and have always heard what a wonderful teacher she was.  I never had the privilege of teaching with her but I am sure I could have been a better teacher if I had.  I have always talked with her at length about her reaching the cast off students, the drop- outs and some that just did not care about being educated.  I have stood in amazement at the results that she got out of students trying to get their GED’s.   The students that other teachers had given up on Madalyn molded them with encouragement, caring, and love through this experience like someone working a piece of Clay into something beautiful.   I really do not believe that she ever gave up on one of her students that had been entrusted to her.  I have talked to her students and they would be so proud of themselves that they had gotten their G.E.D.  I believe with simplicity and grace she molded some of these students into being the successful people that they are today.

When I stop and think about the single person who has taught me more than anyone else, I immediately picture my grandmother. So when I was asked to write an article about my grandmother’s career in teaching, it seemed a natural fit. However, when I asked to interview my grandmother about her career she responded, “Why would anyone want to know about my career? I didn’t do anything great. I just did my job.” So, encouraging her to tell me about her education and work, I discovered that her idea of “doing the job” went well beyond what most people consider “having a job.”
Madalyn Hughes, or “Miss Used” as addressed by her classes of First Graders, was born Madalyn Holcomb and has lived all of her life in central West Virginia, county of Clay. Madalyn grew up in the Fola area of Clay County during the 1930’s and 1940’s and, after graduating high school, proceeded to get married and raise a family of four children. As was common for women in the 1950’s, she didn’t have any aspirations beyond her family. However, as her family grew and the financial demands increased, she began to look for a job and became a teacher’s aide while in her late 30’s. She continued as a teacher’s aide until age 47, but dreamed of one day becoming a teacher.
She was only in her mid-40’s when her husband died of a brain tumor and she was faced with supporting herself and her younger children. She decided to pursue her dream of a college education and a degree in teaching. Madalyn obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Early Education (K-6), while continuing to work as a teacher’s aide, becoming a teacher at 47 years old. It was then that she began to “do the job.” She continued her education, obtaining a Master’s Degree in Reading Education while still teaching her First Graders at Clay Elementary School. Madalyn taught First Grade until retiring at the age of 64. She states that she tried to go to school every day because she “didn’t want other people teaching her classes.” She remembers how “her kids” would slip behind when there was a substitute and she found that unacceptable. Madalyn said that through all of her years of teaching, she enjoyed teaching First Graders and GED classes the most because they became the most excited about learning. She explained that “doing the job” meant teaching kids that they can learn, and helping them to become excited about learning. One of Madalyn’s dearest memories is of a little boy who had problems in school, who was also described as a problem student, and the day that he beamed up at her exclaiming, “Readin’ is fun!”
Madalyn remembers her hardest year in teaching as the year that she had 17 of the most advanced students in the First Grade. She states that it was extremely hard for her to “keep up,” let alone keep ahead of these students. She remembers going to other teachers in higher grades for suggestions and then creatively developing lesson plans to keep the children interested in learning. She directed the children to put on a play for other students and the PTA – including making costumes, learning voice projection, and adding the appropriate emotions to their lines.
Madalyn recalls her best year in teaching as the year that she had the least advanced students in the First Grade because they were all so excited to learn. She explained that her goal was to show them that learning was fun and to help them feel good about their abilities. She relates how she would read books to the children and “act them out” with voices and emotions to make it entertaining and interesting. Madalyn believes that she “did the job” every time a child realized that they could learn.
Having retired at age 64, she continued to substitute teach for a year until she was asked to teach GED classes in 1995. She says that teaching GED classes was nothing like teaching the younger children, and the program included subjects with which she was not as familiar. So, she had to learn how to teach all over again because, as she said, “I don’t like doing something if I’m not doing the job right.” Madalyn taught GED classes for another 15 years, until 2010, when the class was closed due to low enrollment and the beginning of a new program at Valley Fork technical school. She states, “I wasn’t ready to retire,” but – with the class moving to another location and her own reduced mobility making it harder to get around – the choice seemed made for her. During the last few years she remembers having to use a chair with rollers so that she could move around the room to help students when she could no longer walk unaided.
These days, Madalyn spends most of her time at home with her pets, reading, and embroidering quilts. She says that she is satisfied with her many years of service as a teacher whether it was within the school environment, teaching neighbor kids and family to read, or raising a family. For Madalyn, she was “doing her job.”  Submitted by: Barbara Jarrett Holcomb, proud granddaughter.
I would like to ask if there is anyone in your family that you are proud of?  If there is someone will you please write a story about them and send it in and especially one that could be used in a book.  If you could provide us with a good picture of them and one especially with their students we would appreciate it.  A story does not have to be about a teacher but it could be about anyone in your family!
The two pictures we are providing this week come from the Leatherwood area of Clay County.  The first picture is of the Leatherwood School and the teacher is Clarice Shamblin.  The second photograph (this one is blurred some) we believe was taken on Leatherwood Creek also and the teacher is Woodrow Morris.  If anyone can provide us with the names of either group of students we would love to hear from you.  If you have information or a story about either of these teachers we would like to hear it.  Next week we hope to have more on the Morris family that Woodrow was part of!
Thank you so very much for reading Can You Identify and we do hope that you enjoy seeing these pictures.  Please send your comments to Jerry D. Stover, PO Box 523, Clay WV 25043 or  We again thank the Clay County Free Press for allowing us to publish these pictures.  You can also call 304-587-4316, and if I am not available please leave a message and your telephone number and I will try to return the call.