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Teachers Need to Share Their Stories

Jim Moulton

Technology Integration and Project-Based Learning Consultant
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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

Comments (64)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Kim Moore's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Just wanted to say thanks for the story that you shared. I think it is invaluable to be able to meet new people and strike up conversations impromptu. I too have met many interesting people that way and it's amazing what you can learn about life, people and even understand more indepth some of your own life experiences. Talking to others can sometimes allow one to know that everyone has some of the same experiences, struggles, doubts and successes. I think as an educator, it is even more important to have an outgoing personality and to not be afraid to take what in some instances could seem like, a leap of faith, and break the ice with a colleague or student. I am currently managing a language department at a university in Mexico. I have the opportunity to work with about 30 teachers that make up the team of instructors for the department. We talk on a daily basis, sharing insights, challenges, etc... I think also the culture here is somewhat different than others, in that, the students and educators seem to be willing and available for conversation and communication. I think that is a big plus especially in the field of education. It's all about PEOPLE. My name is Kim Moore and it was nice to post a comment on this topic.

Maureen Brittingham's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree Connie. As a relatively new teacher, I have seen the same actions of "lone ranger" types who hurry away to their teaching world. I also try to make a point to smile and say hello to fellow teachers, students and especially support staff. I worked as a secretary and an educational assistant for a long time while I was working on my teaching degree. I sometimes felt that teachers acted superior to me because their position seemed more important. I vowed that I would never treat people differently because of their "positions." Education seems like a field where people are appreciated and recognized by "degree" and not by the hard work that they do. I am glad that I had the experience of being one of the "cogs in the wheel" that keeps the school running before I became a teacher. I can appreciate the work behind the scenes as well as all the work that goes into teaching. The most important message is that people matter, no matter the job they do.

Connie McMahon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Maureen-
I also try to show appreciation and respect to the support staff. I think that they do so much for our kids and the teachers and they do not get recognized for it. Unfortunatley there are teachers who think that they are too good to say thank you or show appreciation because they get paid more or think that they are smarter. Unfortunatley I have seen first hand how a support staff person can be more effective than the actual teacher. Nice talking with you Maureen.

Janet Hoffman's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Kim
Education at the University of Mexico must be very different, but no matter where you live and teach, the principals seem to be the same. Yes, the story is valuable in that it reinforces the importance of interacting with many different people. Everyone has incredible life experiences to share, and just taking the time to talk to people and listen to their story gives them the opportunity to tell of their wonderful experiences. I work teaching middle school students health education as a school nurse and I also work with adult patients in a local hospital. My students share many great stories, as do my hospital patients. As an educator, the stories can be told and retold to bring valuable concepts to a lesson and hearing about real live hospital stories is always entertaining for middle school students.

Jeannine C.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Although I am relatively new to teaching (this is my second year), I couldn't imagine not sharing stories with students (and colleagues). My students love to share their stories and are also always asking to hear relevant stories about my life. Past students still keep me up to date on what's going on in their lives: who they are still friends with, how they are doing in class, which of their current teachers they don't feel quite comfortable with and ask for advice. Sometimes I'm not sure how much I should share and how much I should let my students share in return (we can get sidetracked when everyone needs to tell their story), but your post has reminded me that it is okay and even important to make the connection.

Dan's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I completely agree with you. In fact, It made me think about "real" collaboration with my co-teachers and the lack of it taking place in my school. Not because of the teachers but everyone else in education who take up our time to feed us more and useless nonsense about things that do not coincide with our classroom or even the real world.(But that's another topic altogether.) In short, I find it so important to share our experiences both personal, professional, and beyond. Sharing stories is certainly a great and "natural way to start.

Kate Jorgensen's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim,

As teachers we do need to be more open. It's as easy as leaving your door open during a free period and going to after school activities. Sometimes schools can be a cold place and we need to remember that we are all in this journey (the school) together. We should be a team and a team can not succeed without communication.

Thank you for sharing!

Sandra Brost's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Jim,

My name is Sandra Brost, and I am from Pendleton, Oregon and thank you so much for sharing your story. I too think that a smile is very contagous and small talk can lead into extraordinary conversations. It is important to open up and share with a colleagues, students, family and friends a like. I love being "shocked" by a new insight into someone dears life that I hadn't known previously. It is unfortunate to find the few with the hard outer shell that is almost impossible to pentrate. There really should be more "George's" out there!

Thanks again and take care!

Melissa Perez's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thank you for that great story and reminder that we all need to include fellowship into our lives. Whether it be with our fellow colleagues or our neighbors down the street. I can't imagine what life in a new school would be like if every teacher and colleague never opened themselves up to reveal whom they truly are. Like Sonia Nieto says in her book "What Keeps Teachers Going?"(p.24), that we bring our autobiographies with us when we enter into the classroom. The reality is is that we bring our autobiographies with us wherever we go, and what a shame if we didn't share ourselves and our experiences with others. We might be one to inspire or on the flip side be inspired by someone else's autobiography. We are all called to fellowship by our creator. Not to stand in the wayside of life. That's not living! So I say get out there and do what teacher's do best just listen and love!!!!
Nieto, Sonia., (2003). What Keeps Teachers Going?. Teachers College Press: NY,NY.

Katie Gordon's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim,
I really enjoyed reading about George. He obviously made an impression on you. I am a teacher in Southwestern Ohio and this is my third year. I think that it is very interesting that you compared teachers to a lobster fisherman, but it totally makes sense to me. You are right. We do tend to keep to ourselves with the exception of our really close colleagues. I work in a building that has over 50 teachers and other staff members. So being really close with each one of them, especially after being there for only three years, is near impossible. I will usually grin or nod my head at those whom I do not know that well whereas others might get a "Good morning!" or "How are you today?" I feel that it is reciprocated in the same manner as well. However, I will admit that I love it when one of my not-so-familiar colleagues asks me about my personal life or asks about my classroom specifically. I feel that if more teachers took the 15 seconds to say their "Hello, my name is George" statement, then the "rugged" days of teaching may not seem so bad. I also think that it is important to build more meaningful relationships with students. I am very close with my students, but I feel sort of lucky in that sense. I only have 6 students because I teach a self-contained, multiple disabilities classroom. Therefore, it is much easier for me to connect more with my students because obviously it takes a lot less effort to get to know 6 students than 26. I also feel that my students respect me a lot, and I like to think that my relationships with them have helped with that.

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