School Notes: Commuting Educators Go the Distance for Their Jobs
Custodian Brian Sullivan sweeps the floor as health teacher Lynn Bates of Campton, N.H., heads to the door for her long commute home from Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
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Lynne Bates sets out from Mascoma Valley Regional High School, where she works as a health teacher, for her hour-long commute to an exercise class in Plymouth, N.H., then home to Campton, N.H. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Health teacher Lynne Bates helps her students set up game of Jenga after a lesson about good decision making at Mascoma Valley Regional High School. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
When Lynne Bates left her job as a medical technologist 12 years ago to become a high school health teacher, she probably didn’t anticipate how far she would go in her new career.
Between the Campton, N.H., resident’s first teaching job and her current position at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, the Campton, N.H., resident has logged more than 300,000 miles on two different vehicles, and has never had less than a 50-minute commute.
The long drives have been due in part to the scarcity of jobs for health teachers. “They don’t open up all that frequently,” Bates said. “But that’s the case in all of teaching. It’s cyclical, how positions open up.” Lengthy treks to teaching jobs were not uncommon among Bates’ peers at Plymouth State University, where she earned her masters degree: One classmate traveled from Laconia, N.H., to teach in Winchester, N.H., about 90 miles away near the Massachusetts border.
Neither the New Hampshire nor Vermont departments of education track the commuting patterns of teachers and administrators, nor do the chapters of the National Education Association in each state. It’s hard to tell whether long commutes are a trend, but many in both states can name at least one educator who makes a significant trip, perhaps an hour or more each day.
Where urban commuters usually have heavy traffic to blame for prolonging their trips to work, teachers in Vermont and New Hampshire are often separated from their jobs by long distances. The interstate highways don’t reach all regions, making travel on secondary roads necessary. “By all measures, we are the second or third most rural state in the country,” said Darren Allen, communications director at Vermont-NEA. “In this neck of the woods, you’re in your car a lot to accomplish what you need to accomplish.”
Typical of schools in rural states, districts throughout Vermont and New Hampshire are also coping with declining enrollments, and educators are competing for a smaller number of jobs, said Scott McGilvray, president of NEA-New Hampshire. He’s known of teachers who move to the town or area where their job is located, only to accept a better-paying job that’s farther away, or purchase houses in outlying areas where the cost of living is low, and commute distances to jobs in better-paying districts.
A longer commute may not faze a teacher who’s new to the profession, or one who no longer has children at home, but “it interferes once people start to have a family, and an hour or more away from your family is a sacrifice,” McGilvray said.
One of the more extreme cases of commuting among Upper Valley educators is that of Tunbridge Central School Principal Rick Talbot. He lives in a South Royalton apartment during the week, and on weekends returns to his home in South Berwick, two-and-a-half hours away in southern Maine. He previously worked at a middle school in Saco, Maine with 800 students. “I decided I wanted a smaller school where I could have a bigger impact and get to know the kids as well as their parents and the community. Small schools are what Vermont is. They don’t have small schools like that where I’m from,” he said.
It’s an arrangement that works, Talbot said, because he and his wife are empty-nesters, and she plans to move to the Upper Valley soon. But when Talbot had a chance to take a job in Massachusetts earlier in his career, he declined. “It was more like being an absentee father and I didn’t want to do that. But now that they’re grown and gone, it makes it a lot easier,” he said.
Financial considerations are often what make an educator decide whether a long drive is worth it. After leaving his post as principal of Laconia (N.H.) High School, Jonathan Freeman was lured out of retirement in 2009 to take a position as interim principal at The Newton School in South Strafford, 55 miles and an hour and 15 minutes away from his home in Plymouth, N.H., in part to supplement his retirement income.
“When I went out there and found what a great job it was and how much I enjoyed working every day, I decided it wasn’t that bad of a commute to do for the foreseeable future,” said Freeman, who retired from Newton last year. Over his three years at Newton, he embraced the benefits of the scenic drive. He would listen to as many as three audiobooks per week, which “really made the commute disappear,” and he kept fishing equipment in the back of his car so he could pull over to the side of the road and fish at the end of the day.
The drive was less enjoyable when the weather was poor and when night meetings kept him at school late. And after a bypass procedure 18 months ago, Freeman began to reassess the 15 hours he was spending in the car each week.
“Until I announced I was not going to go back, the ride seemed to go by instantly,” he said. “As soon as I announced I decided I wasn’t going to go back, the ride became much, much longer.”
For Bates, her days educating Mascoma’s ninth-graders about sexual health, nutrition, and drug and alcohol abuse begin long before the first bell rings. She wakes up around 5:30 a.m. and sets off for Mascoma about an hour later. Her duties as a class advisor require her to be at school by 7:30 twice a week, for student council and prom committee meetings. After the school day is done, she tries to leave around 3:30 p.m., though home is not always her destination, as she teaches a class at Plymouth State University two nights per week.
It’s a taxing schedule even before the time Bates spends in the car round-trip, but the commute has its rewards, she said. The morning drive allows her to mentally prepare herself for her day, and on the way home, she can de-stress and review what did and didn’t work in class that day. What makes the drive worth it, she added, is the ability to do work that’s fulfilling.
“When you say you work in health care, in people’s minds, you’re a nurse or a doctor. There was no upward mobility in that career,” she said. “There’s not a lot of upward mobility in teaching, either, unless you want to be an administrator … but at least I get recognized as doing a job that matters.”
The New Hampshire Department of Education is accepting nominations through Feb. 14 for the 2014 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year. Anyone may submit a nomination, but candidates must be a K-12 teacher at a state-accredited or approved school. To nominate a teacher, contact Lori Temple at (603) 271-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Teachers may also download an application at www.education.nh.gov/recognition/toy.htm.
At Anderson University: Shelby M. Newcomb of Lebanon.
∎ Bates College: Kristin M. Kelliher of Norwich.
∎ Bryant University: Simone Chuda, Charlestown; and Nima Zhaxi, Lebanon.
∎ Colby-Sawyer College: Erin M. Adley, Lebanon; Katie L. Broughall, Grantham; Sarah L. Cornelius, Hartland; Alexander J. Drost, West Windsor; Siara R. Dunham, Lebanon; Kaitlynn M. Fish, Newport; Christina L. Fulford, Orford; Karley J. Hamilton, Bradford; Enoch M. Holu, Grantham; Jessica Johnson, Norwich; Jillian V. LaPlante, Claremont; Jill C. McKenney, White River Junction; Kelsey E. Monahan, Newport; Ian T. Moore, Lebanon; Jessica L. Ruel, Enfield; Lindsey M. St. Louis, New London; and Devin R. Wilkie, Cornish.
∎ The College of the Holy Cross: Catherine Stern of Norwich.
∎ Endicott College: Alexander T. Dodds, Hanover; Joel Harris, South Strafford; Lindsey K. Head, Norwich; and Sarah E. Robinson, Norwich.
∎ Lakes Region Community College: Casey Washburn of Orford, president’s list, and Bonnie Brand of White River Junction, vice president’s list.
∎ Lasell College: Natasha Wood, White River Junction.
∎ Quinnipiac University: Abigail Airoldi, South Royalton; Caroline Pettinato, Randolph; and Jill Underwood, Hanover.
∎ Roger Williams University: Elizabeth Valliere, Grantham; Danielle Colburn, Lebanon; Ryan Monahan, Newport; Clara Moses, Thetford Center; and Shaelagh Shields, Wilder.
∎ Sacred Heart University: Barbara Smith, Claremont.
∎ Saint Michael’s College: Janet Bazzell, Haverhill; Casey Bonoyer, Randolph; Peter Burgos, Randolph; Brittany Cantore, Quechee; Megan Deschaine, Claremont; Logan Estes, West Lebanon; Kaitlyn Giles, Randolph; Colleen Gilliatt, Grantham; Hannah Hudson, White River Junction; Nattassia Marshall, Wells River; Colin McCusker, Canaan; Hannah Mollmark, Hartland; Andrea Nelson, Lebanon; Karleen Richardson, Thetford Center; David Robbins, Orford; Willow Smith, Bradford; and Jon White, Bethel.
∎ Siena College: Alicia Rydjeski, Lebanon.
∎ University of Connecticut: Katelyn G. Boel, Sunapee; Garrett J. Fontaine, Lebanon; Kayleigh M.S. Kangas, Claremont; Hannah K. O’Neill, Windsor; Sarah A. Roger, Randolph Center; Emily K. Seamans, Canaan; Parker D. Sorenson, Lebanon.
∎ University of New England: Hannah Arnold, Orange; and Dylan Guerin, Grantham.
∎ West Virginia University: Tyler Hagen, Norwich.
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