Drawing teachers into the circle
Rick Johnson ’95 suspects that if he were in a room with Jim English ’73 and Tim Pillsbury ’10, he might not recognize them. Still, they would have a lot to talk about.
“It’s funny, the sort of impact we have on one another and sometimes people don’t even know,” says Johnson, founding head of The Beech Hill School, a small, independent middle school in Hopkinton, N.H.
Johnson was a Hamilton senior and public policy major leaning toward a career in education when he met English. As a high school student at Choate Rosemary Hall, Johnson had encountered some impressive teachers — well-rounded individuals with fine minds, athletic talents and a knack for advising. A career in education could give him the chance to aspire to their stature and to stay involved in football, which he loved and played at Hamilton.
Hamilton’s career center pointed him to an alumnus who was head of the upper-school at Moses Brown School in Providence, R.I., and who was willing to speak with students interested in education. It was English, who had gone on from Hamilton to earn a master’s degree in Spanish from Middlebury College and a master’s degree in education from Harvard University.
Johnson spent a week at Moses Brown. As he remembers it, English created opportunities for him there, then stepped back and let him reach for them. A seventh-grade American history teacher let Johnson take over her class, and although he had to bone up on Shays’ Rebellion, the teacher noticed that he had a natural ease with students. The whole experience clinched his decision to pursue a career in education.
“I had no idea. I’m delighted,” says English, who now teaches Spanish and French at the Community College of Rhode Island. “Education needs good people like Rick, and it’s so interesting because you just don’t know who you will influence, and when, and where.”
When Johnson was established in his career (he earned a master’s of arts and liberal studies from Wesleyan University), it was his turn to pay it forward. He let the career center know he was available to any Hamilton student pondering education. When Johnson was dean of students at Tilton School in New Hampshire, he got a request from Pillsbury, a Hamilton senior majoring in creative writing and Hispanic studies, to shadow him for an afternoon. “He basically said, ‘I’ll do you one better,’” Pillsbury recalls. He spent a night in a guest suite at the school, helped a beginning teacher write a lesson plan and did dorm duty with him. Pillsbury left feeling more confident he would do well in the field.
When Pillsbury attended a hiring conference in Boston, the dean of faculty at the Trinity-Pawling School, in Pawling, N.Y., spotted his Hamilton pedigree and arranged an interview. The dean at that time was Maria Buteux Reade ’86. Trinity-Pawling hired Pillsbury the spring of his senior year to teach Spanish. Johnson, meanwhile, hadn’t thought much about Pillsbury since the visit at Tilton, and he hadn’t realized it had made such an impact.
The circle of support continues to expand. Pillsbury has volunteered with the Career and Life Outcomes Center to have Hamilton students job shadow him. And he and two other Tilton staffers, Todd Hoffman ’90, dean of faculty, and his wife, Connie Rafferty ’88, director of communications, conducted a videoconference through the center with Hamilton students who are pondering careers in education.