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December 1, 2007
Vol. 65
No. 4

Voices: The Teacher / A Little Help from My Friend

      When I met Vince Long, we didn't have much in common. He was a technology education teacher and resident computer guru at Billings Senior High School in Billings, Montana; I was an English teacher and cross-country coach. I wasn't interested in computers, and he didn't care much for writing or running. All that would change—and our careers would take turns we never expected.
      "Could you explain what e-mail is?" I asked the first time I walked into Vince's classroom more than 10 years ago. He could, and did, and a few minutes later I had sent my first electronic mail. We talked from time to time after that, and I realized that my ignorance of technology was hurting my teaching. I signed up for a class at the local college, and after the first session, realized I was in trouble. I asked Vince for help.
      The class centered on multimedia presentations. Vince steered me through PowerPoint and HyperStudio, but he really showed me the potential of this technology when he convinced me to create my final project on Macromedia Director. To my surprise, I finished a project that included sound, photos, graphic enhancements, and an interactive front page.
      The class was the first in a series leading to a master's degree in educational technology. I was so excited now about using technology in my teaching that I signed up for the program. When I showed the program description to Vince, he decided to join, too. As we took classes together, Vince answered my tech questions, and I reviewed his writing projects.
      In the end, we fulfilled the program's internship requirement by spending five months creating an interactive Web site to teach Six Traits Writing (http://senior.billings.k12.mt.us/6traits). We combined Vince's background in computer technology and my experience teaching writing into a project that has now been used by schools across the United States and as far away as Russia, Pakistan, and Lebanon. In the process, I learned to create Web pages using HTML, and Vince learned "more about voice and sentence fluency than any other shop teacher in the country."
      Vince also learned about writing from our conversations about my own experiences writing articles and books and editing a corporate newsletter on seismic processing. One day, he volunteered to become the newsletter editor for the Montana Council for Computers in Education. Just as Vince had helped me when I took my first steps into multimedia presentations, I now helped Vince edit the first several issues and watched as each time he applied more concepts he had learned from his Six Traits Web site work.
      A few months after we graduated from our master's program, Vince asked, "You know what we should do next?" After all those graduate hours, I was hoping it would be something easy, but he said, "National Board certification." I had previously served on the National Board's Standards Committee for Adolescent and Young Adult/English Language Arts. Although the work for that committee had been satisfying, I left it thinking I had done my part with the National Board and that I wouldn't attempt certification myself. But at about the time Vince made his suggestion, our district and state instituted financial bonuses for National Board–certified teachers. The time was right.
      We soon learned that three other teachers at Billings Senior High were interested in board certification, so the five of us formed a Wednesday afternoon group in which we discussed our videotapes, read one another's papers, and shared the intense emotion involved in the certification process. Today, all five of us are National Board–certified teachers.
      My collaborations with Vince have even extended beyond the classroom. One day during cross-country season Vince asked me how I could tell whether I was having the runners train hard enough. I explained how I designed their training program, and he asked if I would help him with a walking program. Eventually, he started jogging and even showed up for cross-country practice. Today, he has run for more than 2,500 consecutive days, has finished two marathons, and is the assistant coach on the cross-country team.
      Vince and I have learned from experience that teachers are more successful working together than when we are closeted in our classrooms. Our collaboration has changed our teaching, and our lives, in ways we never expected when we met as two colleagues with little in common. Our differences have enabled us to learn from each other. It's been productive—and it's been fun.
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