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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

Candice Smith's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim,
I enjoyed reading your story. I also nod to many teachers in the building without ever saying a word. As an educator this reminds me of collaborating with not only my team members but other colleagues in the building. I teach in a K-8 building and the most honest relationship remains with the other first grade teachers on my team. There has been numerous situations when we had to lean on each other for support professionally and personally. I think it is important to establish new relationships to learn from others. I know that our team has great ideas, but if we find out what works for other colleagues in the building we could make the school successful as a whole. I believe that sometimes teachers become too competitive and as a result forget what's most important. Teachers need to share their stories for a variety of reasons. Teachers stories can inspire, help others through a situation, or lift someone up.

Sincerely,
Candice Smith

Jennifer Libby's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello, I am Jennifer Libby and I am intrigued by Jim's story. In my experience of being a novice teacher and now a more experienced teacher I have learned that colligiality is key to staff learning, student learning and professional growth. I have always gone the extra step to say hello to colleagues. Sometimes though, it doesn't go father than that. I believe that a team approach and learning from one an other is vital to becoming a better teacher. I have reported priviously that when I took a graudate class a fews years back I was astonished by the comments of teachers in my school district. They reported that they don't have opportunity to talk with teachers and "get" out of thier own classroom. I couldn't believe this because I have been the type to barge in on others just to share, ask questions or join a conversation. There a many teachers who feel isolated in their classrooms. How nice would it be to pull those teachers in and learn from them.

elizabeth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Candice,
I couldn't agree with you more when you talked about getting to know what other teachers, not just your teamates, were doing. What worked for them, and what didn't work for them. My school offers time for horizontal grade level planning, but not vertial planning. What I mean by vertical planning is that for exmple, since I teach grade 2 I would meet with first grade to learn what they are planning and what I should be able to build on and then meet with third grade so I can give them this same advice. This way I think that teachers would also be able to "step up" the curriculum and teach more complex subject matter.
You are correct that teachers are stressed out, espically after giving the state assessments like my school just did. You can see it on the teachers faces, but like you suggested, if we had the time to meet with other teachers and find out what they are doing, then we could bump up the curriculum and hold the school accountable instead of individual teachers.

Elizabeth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Jennifer,
I agree with you 100%! I have always been a team player and feel that I work best in that atmosphere. My colleages and I often bounce ideas off of each other until we get it just right and the end result is often very energizing and exciting!
I think that teachers the teachers that you talk about that stay in their rooms would probably (just a thought here) enjoy getting out, but most likely feel the pressues of getting things done. I know that sometimes I do. I know that I go in to work at least an hour early to get things done and get ready for the day. By the time my planning period comes around I want to make sure that I can be planned for the next day so that I don't need to take as much time away from my family. As we all know a teacher never stops working when the bell rings. I think that there is a pressure that teachers feel that confines them to their room and if there was more time allotted for teacher planning that they would use it wisely.

Elizabeth 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jennifer,
I am a first time blogger and tried to submit this earlier, but I can't find my submission. I have always been one to wear a smile on my face and greet people. Along with that, I am also always thank those in the service industry. The person who rang up my order or bagged my groceries. I think that everyone should feel appreciated and sometimes all it takes is just a little acknowledgement!
Something that you wrote really struck a cord with me though. You mentioned that you have spoken to some teachers who feel trapped or stuck in their rooms. I have a theory on why. As only a second year teacher with a family at home, I have not fully developed into the expert phase of teaching (if one so exists) yet. What this means for me is that I am busy constantly, there is alwasy something to do. I go into work at least an hour early everyday to get ready for the day and to try to work ahead as much as possible. By the time my planning period rolls around there are papers to grade, curriculum to look at, tests to assess, and the list goes on and on. I personally would love to get out of my room more, but the demands of teaching coupled with the 50 minutes of planning time a day make it very hard sometimes.
I feel that my students are an extended part of my family and I have obligations that I need to uphold for them. But at the same time I have obligations that I need to pull through on for my family. It is a very tricky balancing act and I don't think that I have perfected it. I would love to hear any advice that more "expert" teachers may have.

Elizabeth 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Candice,
I am a first time blogger and tried to submit this earlier, but I don't see it posted yet...so here it goes again.
I couldn't agree with you more about communication being key. It will really make or break a new teacher. In undergraduate and graduate we are "taught" how to be professional and talk to parents and studetns, but there seems to be little to no emphasis on how to communicate with colleagues.
I was recently in our faculty room when a different grade level team came in for lunch. They had just finished giving the state assessments and were talking about how stressed out both they and the students were. A great conversation came of this.

We discussed how each grade level meets to plan curriculum (horizantal planning) but that different grade levels do not meet to discuss what is going on in their classrooms. We discussed how this vertial meeting would give the teachers more insight as to the knowledge that their students will be bringing with them as well as what stragegies have and have not worked for them.
It would work like this; I teach second grade so I would meet with the first grade team, see what they are teaching, discuss different approaches and so on. I could also let them know what is expected of me as a teacher in second grade so that they could bump up the level or intensity of their instruction if need be. I would then meet with the third grade team. Then I would do this again with the thrid grade team.
This vertial planning would give me the needed insight to bump up my teaching, help out the grade levels both above and below me and help take the stress off the teachers that teach tested grades. If all grade levels were in synch with each other the accountability would be on the school and not on individual teachers. Just a thought.

Ashley Spence's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Elizabeth,

I am a third grade teacher in Pennsylvania. I completely agree with you that vertical teaming can be helpful in giving us ideas of the expectations in other grades. My district has recently adopted the Everyday Math program at all elementary grade levels, and for one of our professional development sessions, we met with vertical teams- a teacher from K, 1, 2, 3, and 4 on every team. We discussed different aspects and expectations of the curriculum, and, although many teachers were hesitant to participate at first, it ended up being very enlightening. It is especially helpful, as you say, to know the expectations of the grades on either side of my own.

I never thought about using this experience as an exercise in accountability, but I like your idea on that. I think it would be great to relieve some of the stress and pressue on teachers (especially surrounding state testing) and place the burden on the curriculum and the programs we use.

Good luck in your experiences with vertical teaming,
Ashley

I also want to say that I just started visiting this Blog site and I have enjoyed the posts immensely. I love the blend of wisdom, intelligence, and practicality. I really enjoyed this piece about George from Maine. It is true that too often, we (I) are drawn into ourselves, and we (I) assume others are, too. Perhaps if we shared our stories, we could learn a lot from each other, improve student learning, and gain new friendships too.

Jessie Benjamin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim. I love how you were able to compare two such diverse jobs such as teaching and lobster fishing. I think that everyone would be better off and live happier lives if we did such simple things as smiling at one another and taking time go get to know our co-workers. As teachers we are pulled in so many directions that it is difficult to find a spare moment alone, let alone time to really sit down and get to know other teachers in your building who you don't work with directly on a daily basis. I find myself often times exhausted while teaching and I like to compare myself to an actress. No matter what class of students is in front of me, I need to put on a show and look as if I'm happy, excited, and full of energy even when that is not the case! I live in Connecticut and often hear how "uptight" and "rude" people on the East Coast are compared to down South for example. When I talk to friends or family who visit the South, they often are amazed at "how nice" everyone is. Although I believe they are many nice people in CT, I do understand the notion that some people get stuck in social norms. Why do most people stand silent and stare at the floor numbers on an elevator? Why do most people find it absurd when someone they don't know says hello or asks how they are? These social norms seem to be passed down from generation to generation, and I always find it enjoyable when people break those norms and start up a conversation with someone they don't know.

As teachers, we need to be good communicators in order to do our job effectively. Something as little as saying hello to an un-known student in the hallway can make a child feel important or just seen. I found it funny because most of the time when I do travel in the hallways at school, I take part in the head nod action to fellow teachers. Usually it is due to time restraints and rushing to get to a class or meeting, yet the more I think about it, I am going to try to do use this less and really take a dew seconds to say hello to other teachers. Staying upbeat and positive is definitely a challenge to do all day as a teacher, but it is a goal I will strive to meet. For if George could survive 64 years of lobster fishing and still be cheery and outgoing, than who is to said I can't do so as well as a teacher?

Jessie Benjamin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Jim. I love how you were able to compare two such diverse jobs such as teaching and lobster fishing. I think that everyone would be better off and live happier lives if we did such simple things as smiling at one another and taking time go get to know our co-workers. As teachers we are pulled in so many directions that it is difficult to find a spare moment alone, let alone time to really sit down and get to know other teachers in your building who you don't work with directly on a daily basis. I find myself often times exhausted while teaching and I like to compare myself to an actress. No matter what class of students is in front of me, I need to put on a show and look as if I'm happy, excited, and full of energy even when that is not the case! I live in Connecticut and often hear how "uptight" and "rude" people on the East Coast are compared to down South for example. When I talk to friends or family who visit the South, they often are amazed at "how nice" everyone is. Although I believe they are many nice people in CT, I do understand the notion that some people get stuck in social norms. Why do most people stand silent and stare at the floor numbers on an elevator? Why do most people find it absurd when someone they don't know says hello or asks how they are? These social norms seem to be passed down from generation to generation, and I always find it enjoyable when people break those norms and start up a conversation with someone they don't know.

As teachers, we need to be good communicators in order to do our job effectively. Something as little as saying hello to an un-known student in the hallway can make a child feel important or just seen. I found it funny because most of the time when I do travel in the hallways at school, I take part in the head nod action to fellow teachers. Usually it is due to time restraints and rushing to get to a class or meeting, yet the more I think about it, I am going to try to do use this less and really take a dew seconds to say hello to other teachers. Staying upbeat and positive is definitely a challenge to do all day as a teacher, but it is a goal I will strive to meet. For if George could survive 64 years of lobster fishing and still be cheery and outgoing, than who is to said I can't do so as well as a teacher?

Richard Rarick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

First of all I have never blogged before. I am more of a face to face person when it comes to communication. However I had to respond to this story. The "passing nod" is simply not enough at times. Too many of the people I work with keep most of their thoughts to themselves. On the other hand I am always trying to break down the barriers they put up to keep others out. I am very out going and friendly, what might start with one colleague as a smile and a nod will turn into a good morning and then eventually more. Having an open communication with the people you work with is paramount to a good working environment. So everyone make sure that you just don't nod to your co-workers, greet them with a good morning and a smile to brighten everyones day.

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