‘Distinguished’ Rock Island teacher gives thanks for her mentors, students

Debbie Marlier works with a group of seventh-graders on punctuation and grammar drills at Jordan Catholic School in Rock Island. She said interacting with the students keeps her young at heart, even after 46 years. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

ROCK ISLAND — Debbie Marlier is being recognized as the Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the Office of Catholic Schools, but she knows that what she has been able to accomplish over the last 46 years at Jordan Catholic School and its predecessors is due to the outstanding teachers and mentors in her life.

“My mind was made up in fourth grade. I had a great teacher who I loved and one day I told my parents, ‘I’m going to be a teacher,’” Marlier shared while sitting in her classroom and waiting for her seventh-grade language arts students on a recent Monday morning.

Standing in her prayer corner, Debbie Marlier holds a palm cross the students pass around the classroom as they remember people in need of prayer. “I like to think of all the hands that have touched that cross,” she said. (The Catholic Post/Jennifer Willems)

She had attended St. Pius X School and then Alleman High School, both in Rock Island, and was “bound and determined” to go on to college

When Al and Nancy Roels told their daughter she would have to find a way to pay for it since she had five siblings, she did and graduated from Illinois State University in December 1977.

Marlier could have gone anywhere, but she returned to the Quad Cities and worked as a substitute teacher at her alma mater and area public schools. When a full-time teaching job became available for the following school year, she jumped on it and never looked back.

“Had I thought about going to the public school? The only reason would have been, maybe, to make more money,” she said, but thought about whether she would really be happy doing that.

“You have to make that decision — what’s going to make you happier? Being happy every day coming to work or making more money? I chose having a great day every day that I get up and come to school,” Marlier said. “I don’t think there’s ever been a day that I said, ‘I wish I didn’t have to go to work today.’”


While she’s always come to work at the same school, it has been located at the former St. Joseph Parish and then Sacred Heart in Rock Island. The middle school would be housed at St. Ambrose in Milan for two years until new construction at the Jordan campus brought all the students together in 2012.

“I have no retirement in my future planned yet because I just love this place so much and I love the students. I just can’t see my life without it.” — Debbie Marlier

Marlier started teaching when Sister Mary Catherina Walsh, BVM, was the assistant principal, and Sister Mary Paulina Sullivan, BVM, was the math teacher. They took her under their wings and after 20 years, she succeeded Sister Mary Catherina as assistant principal.

She remained in that role for 15 years.

Guiding her seventh- and eighth-graders through reading and creative writing forms the basis of her days and time has not dimmed her satisfaction in watching their brains working hard to figure things out.

“I enjoy teaching literature because we read a story and the students can connect their own personal life with what we’re talking about,” Marlier explained. “It lets me get to know them and how they’re thinking, so that’s fun.”

The creative writing part of English gives her insights into a whole different side of her students, she said.

In addition, she has offered a book club this year. One unit was about the Holocaust and had the students reading “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl” in class and “Night” by Elie Wiesel as the book club selection.


Of all the words the English teacher uses, “retirement” isn’t one of them.

“I have no retirement in my future planned yet because I just love this place so much and I love the students,” Marlier said. “I just can’t see my life without it.”

And the students keep her young at heart, she said, noting that many of them are the children of former students. “The joke on the hallway is ‘How many of the grandparents have you taught?’” she said.

In addition to the family atmosphere, religion been a major factor keeping Marlier at Jordan Catholic. Just within the last year, she was asked to be an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion for school Masses — something she said she never felt worthy of before.

“I am honored to be able to get up every other week and give the Eucharist to our students,” Marlier said.

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