When we were starting a new school, in 1994, one of my first tasks was to hire the teachers who would join us in this adventure of a lifetime. We projected how many students we would have, the subject areas we would focus on and then worried later about where it would be. I put out the word that I was looking for creative, innovative, bright, spirited teachers, and the kind who would relish spending their days with 6th and 7th graders. We were very big on creativity and innovation 21 years ago.
We advertised widely, described the vision for our school, a place that was ready “to prepare young men and women to become lifelong learners with the highest character values and academic goals in a natural New Mexico setting with strong family and community involvement.” We wanted our teachers to be role models and we wanted a curriculum that was comprehensive, integrated, developmentally appropriate and performance-based.
The applications started coming in and I began interviewing people whom I believed had the potential to join this team of pioneers working collaboratively to provide an exceptional educational experience. I talked with almost 100 of these people and ended up hiring 8 talented and dedicated teachers – one each for Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, Science, Spanish, Art, Music and Physical Education. Each one of these people made distinguished contributions to our early growth and success with precious few resources and a makeshift environment for those first 60 students.
All of those teachers had a can-do attitude, were confident and courageous in their use of original sources with few textbooks and hardly any technology in those early days. The story of the school is interesting in itself and today it is a thriving community of some 550 students, grades 6-12, where the graduates continue to make their contributions to the world at large. (www.bosqueschool.org)
One teacher in particular, the science teacher who is still there after 20 years and going strong, used the local outdoor surroundings as his primary classroom, teaching the students how to conduct field studies in a thoughtful, systematic and meaningful way. One parent, coming into the school where students were organizing and interpreting their findings asked this teacher what text he was using and his response was: “Mrs. X, we are writing the books that other students will read to learn about science.” As a university professor she was both amazed and favorably impressed.
This teacher’s work, and that of his students, fed data into several local, state and federal agencies making multimillion dollar decisions about how to allocate their resources. Students had the opportunity to not only learn but also to experience first-hand how their work made significant contributions to the community where they lived and beyond. That program expanded into the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program (BEMP) that now involves over 5,500 students up and down 300 miles of the Rio Grande, far exceeding the water that flows in the river.
The point of this story is that there are few limits to what you can do if you have the right people in the right seats on the bus, a la Jim Collins. It’s also important that the bus has a capable, competent driver who knows where he or she is going and what it will take to get there. Equally important is that the bus is in good operating condition and adequately fueled for the journey.
The impact of one teacher influences his or her students to consider how they want to contribute to the world to make it better. The power of that teacher extends far beyond the classroom and laboratory to the farthest reaches of the globe. My response is enormous gratitude for the talents, skills and commitments of these kinds of teachers, doing what they do every day, year after year.