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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Teachers Need to Share Their Stories

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant

I am going to connect a couple of dots here in thinking about personality and teaching. Stay with me -- and please let me know what you think.

Early last Sunday morning -- as in 4:15 a.m. early -- I had just gone through the security check at my home airport in Portland, Maine. I was booked on the 5:38 a.m. flight to Atlanta. I settled into one of the rocking chairs scattered throughout the departure area and pulled out my book.

Jim Moulton and George Johnson (right)

Credit: Jim Moulton

Soon after I sat down, an older couple came along. The man nodded to me in passing, and I nodded back. Experience has taught me that 4 a.m. at the airport tends to be a time and place when and where folks are most comfortable staying within themselves. This makes communication -- beyond the nod I had shared with this gentleman -- rare, and I reasonably assumed the nods would be the end of it. But when his wife headed for the restroom, this fellow strolled over to me and said, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine," or something pretty close to that.

Suffice it to say, within 20 minutes I knew that George had been fishing lobster for 64 years and is still, between his boat and a nephew's, fishing over 1,000 traps. I knew that his first wife had died of cancer 15 years ago. I knew that several years after his wife's death, he had headed out of state to track down his current wife -- a former flame from high school days who had been widowed -- and that they had been married some seven years ago. I was told about his home and that the property had been in the family for generations.

I soon knew that he was recently featured in Esquire magazine as one of its "What I've Learned" voices. I knew that the location of his house has drawn more than a few folks from far away, who, having driven as far as they can toward the Atlantic, are bold enough to ask if they can take a look at his view of the rocky Maine coast. This, in fact, is how he ended up in Esquire. You see, a certain editorial type from the city stopped in uninvited, was met with hospitality rather than hostility, and, like me, received the gift of getting to know George.

Arriving home, I was thumbing through a current edition of a magazine belonging to my wife and I saw an article that began with something like, "If you want to go places in your job, don't simply bear down harder on the tasks at hand -- try being more friendly and smiling more" -- and that reminded me of George.

Here was a man who has lived a long and rugged life. Trust me; lobster fishing in Maine for 64 years would wear most anyone down. And yet, he was outgoing and cheerful -- not Pollyanna-ish, but clearly upbeat and positive. He was willing to come right up to me, smile, and say, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine."

Classroom teaching makes for long and rugged days. String a bunch of them together and you'll have, like George has had, a long and rugged life. And schools, just like airports at 4 a.m., tend to be places where teachers, like bleary-eyed passengers, keep within themselves. Besides friendships with close colleagues, the only connections we often have to other teachers are those nods in passing as we move through the halls en route to class.

And what about your student-teacher relationships? Are they limited to little more than nods in passing, or do you, from time to time, stop and say something along the lines of, "Hello, I'm George Johnson, of Bailey Island, Maine"?

Hello, my name is Jim Moulton, and I'd like to hear your story.

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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Comments (64)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Art La Rue's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This year I transitioned my 136 students from tradional paper journals to journaling via wiki. The results have been exceptional.

I invite you to take a look at our wikispaces "homepage." wikispaces is so very much better than paper and pensil; I don't tote home 136 journals every evening; my students get to write; they are charged to read and respond to the work of others, and they're more apt at keeping up with the work when they miss class.

Next year, I'm moving on to Moodle; plus we've also built a web based middle school student news blog using Word Press.

We're just getting started!

Art La Rue
Anchorage, Alaska

Cathy McDonald's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I use two different blogging sites. One is blogspot which is a google site. The other is Gaggle.net. It too is free, but it is specifically designed for school use. It is easy to set so that noone views it but people in your class or your school. There is a version of Gaggle can be purchased. Both have safety features in place so that your district may be more likely to approve them. Blogspot can be blocked for by invitation viewing as well.

If you are interested in threaded discussion, I highly recommend TappedIn. It is free. It has an area set up specifically for student use. The staff will walk you through everything you need to know to set up a classroom. It also has chat capability within the your classroom or collaboratively with other classes if you want that. My students like the threaded discussion because they can give thought to what they want to say before putting it in.

Janet's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

My perspective on this topic might be helpful in that I am a counselor for a distance education high school. We enroll students from all 50 states, and have both a program for students whose local high school enrolls them to take a subject or two with us for credit recovery or enrichment, and our own diploma program. The latter program is used by home schooled or homebound students.
One comment we see all too often on exams from our students in both programs is that they feel we have done more to connect with them than the teachers and staff at their (present or former)high school. Since all of our contact with them is either in the form of instructors' comments and corrections on exams, or our phone and letter contact with them, this seems pretty sad. It is obvious that many students really want more personal contact with their teachers and school staff, but feel they only get a minimal amount of attention.
It is good to see this discussion and the ideas that many here have given for increasing personal contact with students.

Jim Nealon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am a middle aged man who is only in my second year of teaching, and I see a lot of validity to sharing with my students. I teach Carpentry/Construction, but I feel that I really am teaching them "life" so to speak. I share quite a bit with them about myself and I offer up lessons that go way beyond the classroom. I show genuine concern for their future by encouraging them to succeed in all of the their classes, and by getting to know them more intimately. If possible, I get to their extra curricular activities and sports games whenever possible. If I can't make it, I always ask about them and I always encourage them and "cheer" their accomplishments, often to the whole class. I know of some of my peers who just stand up and lecture, and don't get to know their students. I honestly don't know how they can be effective without investing more in their lives. I once heard someone say that people don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. I could not agree more!

Kelly's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love to incorporate information about my experiences with my students. It gives them a sense of reality. This also shows them that I am creditable to teach them the information. I teach business managment and have a lot of stories about when I was in industry.

Karen Herrera's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This journaling through Wiki sounds amazing. My school district is supposed to have this next year. Thanks for the idea.

Karen Herrera's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Love the wiki journaling idea as our school system will have this next year.

Keya Clay's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I believe it is important to share with your students. Students seem to think their teachers live in a bubble. I can recall seeing my students out in the community and remembering the shock on their face. They seem to always be surprised to see me at the grocery store or the movie theater. Sharing your experiences with your student, in my opinion, gives a more human dimension to the student teacher relationship. Students should know when you are having a bad day. Students should know when something wonderful has happen in your life. Our experiences shape who we are. I agree that the student teacher relationship should be more than a nod in passing!

Courtney Carpenter's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What a great story to illustrate the importance of communication! Teachers and students can connect so much more when students feel they know a teacher as a person. The more comfortable they are around educators the more they may be willing to share and participate. At the beginning of each year I give a quiz about myself. The students answer questions about some of my favorite things. It is amazing how many of them will comment throughout the year about the quiz. Not only is it important for teacher and students to have good communication but also for teachers to share a rapport with fellow staff members. A smile and a friendly gesture can make all the difference in a building climate. As Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler state in their book "On Being a Teacher: The human Dimension", "It is the warmth and nurture of human relationships that we all long for and that children most easily respond to" (p. 48).

Courtney

Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J. & Kottler, E. (2005) On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press

J.R. Moulton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am sorry to have to report that George Johnson passed away on June 25, 2009 at the age of 82 years. He had lead a rich life, and I am glad to have had the chance to get to know him, even briefly.

Jim

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