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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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Adam Terwilliger (not verified)

great idea!

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Jim,

I love the idea of getting to know my students and colleagues better! I am a 5th year teacher of high school mathematics. This is my second year at the school I'm at currently and I feel I know very little, if anything, about most of the other faculty...especially outside of my department. I think learning about each other will really help build a sense of community at my school. I think I'm going to try to start an email or online survey where teachers can answers some basic questions about themselves and share with the rest of the faculty. I know we all have great stories to tell! Thanks for the great idea of sharing them!

Melanie Yoder (not verified)

Thanks so much for sharing

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Thanks so much for sharing this! I really appreciated it! My name is Melanie Yoder, and I am in my second year of teaching Title 1 Reading. I teach in two elementary buildings in rural Ohio. Thank you for reminding me of the importance of relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. Teaching is rough sometimes, but it is important to remember that we need each other. We need our students and they need us. We need the help and support of the students parents and our coworkers. It all starts with the way we communicate nonverbally. A simple, friendly smile can be a start of a great learning experience if we are open to that. The communication lines will be opened and that relationship of leaning from each other can begin.

Jean Holzenthaler (not verified)

Hi, I'm Jean Ann, a retired

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Hi, I'm Jean Ann, a retired public school pre-k teacher who has been teaching since 1967. I still am teaching, every chance I can get, but not in schools anymore. I teach about staying positive and finishing your dreams. By example, I teach about being an artist with arthritis. I use the internet to connect and work at staying young as I get older. I enjoyed discovering Edutopia today and had a fleeting wish to be back in the classroom again to be able to teach using all these new wonderful tools in addition to the classic ones of art, music, drama and dance.

Carolyn Stanley (not verified)

friendly smiles

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Dear Jim,
I loved your story. My husband worked at the Lobster Pound at Bailey's Island when he was a college student. So many wonderful stories are out there. I will have to see if I can find an on-line link to Esquire and look up Mr. Johnson's story. We have a national treasure in Ralph Stanley from Southwest Harbor, Maine. He has fascinating stories to tell of his life as a boat builder. Just think of how many untold stories our students have that we teachers, with the grueling day to day pace of covering curriculum and preparing for mastery testing, never get to hear. Your article has inspired me. I am going to see if I can institute a "what I've learned" or a "who I'm becoming" story telling opp at our middle school. For example, one young lady spent her winter break visiting with relatives in Taiwan. I mentioned her doing a PhotoStory3 of her trip, and she liked the idea. Now I've got to follow up on it - and encourage her.
Thanks again for all of your inspirations.
Carolyn

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