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Teachers Need to Share Their Stories

| Jim Moulton

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.

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Comments (64)

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Beverly A. Gonsalves (not verified)

ESOL Intermediate Level

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Hi,
I teach an intermediate class of ESOL to adults who have lost their jobs and who need to learn English based reading, writing and speaking skills - I teach at a community college.

Are there any ESOL instructors out there who teach to adults? Do you teach basic math? If so, do you have resources that have web sites that allow FREE printable worksheets for MATH? I am told that my MATH must only have word problems, and that has been a big challenge for me. I am looking for all the help that I can get. Thanks.

Jaki Day (not verified)

blogging with students

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I would agree with Mrs. McDonald also that blogging would be a great way to take issues and discussions deeper with our students. I read once that we don't need more "gifted students, but rather more deep thinkers." How can they think deeply unless they are allowed to converse freely. And the unfortunate thing is, many blogging and wiki sites are blocked and forbidden by school systems. Any suggestions for that?

mary keller (not verified)

Thank you for your your

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Thank you for your your thoughts. When I have been the most authentic w/ my students, it almost always becomes mutual, and launches a real relationship. As a friend and fellow teacher said, "Once they've become MY kids, they will always will be my kids.' We both teach special education. i plan to get the book you recommended.

mary keller (not verified)

I am stronly in favor of the

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I am stronly in favor of the tactile experience, as well as the chronological permanence of, students writing in their journals daily. When they want some interaction w/ their teacher, they can leave the journal in a special and safe place. Teachers may write responses, if invited, or just read and reflect on what has been shared. I have had some amazing results and responses over the years, Over time it develops such depth and disclosure, that to hold the journal in hand feels like a gift.
(Note: I never do any correcting of the writing in these books. We can talk about changes, if mutually agreed upon.)

Diane Evers (not verified)

blogging

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Cathy - I saw your comment about letting your students blog - how do they do this? Where have you found these blogs, or what site? I have never tried this, obviously, and I'm thinking with my students enthusiasm for emailing and texting, this would be the ideal way to let them express themselves.
Thanks to all for their comments. I've been teaching 6th grade for 5 years now, and there is not a week, sometimes a day that goes by, that I don't learn something not only new, but wonderful!

Tyrone Santiago (not verified)

Blogs

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I agree with Ms. McDonald. Making our students write texts through blogs and journals is a good way to make them express themselves and share their points of view with each other!

Ana Rico (not verified)

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jim.

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Thank you for sharing your story with us, Jim.

I totally agree with you on the importance of taking the time to build stronger relationships with our students. Definitely, the affective factor does make a difference in learning. Our energy and eagerness to get actively involved in a project is boosted when we feel noticed, cared for, and loved. After all, as Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler (2005) explain “it is in our relationships with children that we earn their trust” and once students feel that way “they will follow us wherever we might wish to lead them” (p. 46). Definitely, we only trust those who we know.

My 6thgrade teacher once told me that if we gave a smile we would get a smile back. I think this is the first step in getting closer to others. But now, in my classes, I will be proactive. I will remember George’s example when looking at my students and will say to myself: “Hello, my name is Ana, and I'd like to know you better in order to help you better.” This will encourage me to learn more about them.

Ana

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

Alison Driekonski (not verified)

Hi Marcie! I agree with you

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Hi Marcie!
I agree with you that we often overlook the need to be authentic in the classroom. Sometimes it is much easier to just smile and nod and keep going on about your business without even realizing what you are doing. We must make a conscious effort to create and nurture meaningful relationships with our colleagues and our students. We will all benefit from it.

Alison Driekonski

Marcie Soltesz (not verified)

English

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Hi Jim. Like so many other readers have pointed out, it's so easy to overlook the daily impact we have on students' lives within the classroom. We are all too familiar with the simple nods or "Hi. How are you?" greetings that we exchange with fellow faculty on a day-to-day basis, and it's too easy to fall into the routine of such daily exchanges with our students, too. After reading a text entitled "On Being A Teacher: The Human Dimension," by Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler, I'm convinced that we, as educators, often overlook the necessity of being authentic in our relationships, especially those relationships we have with our students. To have meaningful relationships, we must be genuine and trusting in our encounters, going so far as to "risk being ourselves in the relationship, sometimes even being vulnerable in our interactions" (51). With this in mind, may we strive daily to create and inspire more "George Johnson" encounters.

Thank you for your story, Jim.

Marcie Soltesz

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

Marcie Soltesz (not verified)

English

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Hi Jim. Like so many other readers have pointed out, it's so easy to overlook the daily impact we have on students' lives within the classroom. We are all too familiar with the simple nods or "Hi. How are you?" greetings that we exchange with fellow faculty on a day-to-day basis, and it's too easy to fall into the routine of such daily exchanges with our students, too. After reading a text entitled "On Being A Teacher: The Human Dimension," by Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler, I'm convinced that we, as educators, often overlook the necessity of being authentic in our relationships, especially those relationships we have with our students. To have meaningful relationships, we must be genuine and trusting in our encounters, going so far as to "risk being ourselves in the relationship, sometimes even being vulnerable in our interactions" (51). With this in mind, may we strive daily to create and inspire more "George Johnson" encounters.

Thank you for your story, Jim.

Marcie Soltesz

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