One word describes Faye Hanson Hall: vibrant. She is a professional storyteller and when she talks to you, she grabs your attention and doesn't let go.
In her 20s she worked in theater, improv, and radio, and she uses the skills she learned there to keep her teaching innovative and exciting. She says improv, in particular, gave her an edge on teaching, because she learned how to think quick on her feet. After more than 20 years in education, that might explain why she says she's in no danger of burnout.
“I’m always looking for new ways to do things and I have never been one to follow the teacher manual,” Hall, 55, says. “I’m always learning. I don’t ask my students to do something I wouldn’t want to do. I want it to be fun for me and them.”
Hall is the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for the Jaffrey-Rindge Cooperative School District in New Hampshire. A National Board Certified teacher, she began her career in the Little Rock School District in Arkansas and advocates for high ability students from rural areas.
“High ability kids come from all around,” she says. “It’s not easy to have an uber bright kid. You have a 10-year-old who is already doing calculus, so what do you get that kid for Christmas? How do you deal with this super cognitive ability, but they are still nine?”
At 30, married with a baby, Hall decided that she needed a new career away from theater. Looking at her list of accomplishments, she realized that the gigs where she taught various classes were the most enjoyable. Teaching, she decided, was what she wanted to do. She attended college in St. Louis and finished her degree at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Hall, who also earned a master’s degree in reading, ended up in many schools around central Arkansas but loved the inner-city schools the most. She left the classroom for several years and worked with teachers around Arkansas in an “arts integration” program that tied storytelling to writing.
“We have a lot of kids who can talk,” she says. “If we can build on that, then their writing becomes livelier.” She worked with various districts to create model lessons to bring that idea to life.
Teaching is a creative outlet for Hall, not some bureaucratic job. “There are a lot of things that teachers have pressed upon them, procedures, rules, testing, curriculum,” she says. “When it comes down to it, I do what’s best for kids. This is what I’ve been trained for and if there is a teachable moment, I’m going to do what’s right for the kids.”
To prevent boredom, she’s constantly searching for innovative projects and learning opportunities for herself and her students. She doesn’t rely on a teacher’s manual for inspiration. Instead she thinks effective teaching happens when you look within and around your world. Hall will capture a big idea and make her students think creatively about it.
“We have a bunch of kids who don’t see the mystery and possibility of the whole big world,” she says. “They think everything has already been discovered. A part of my job is to spark that thought and help them find that treasure.”
She asks them what is a treasure, what is valuable, and if there was a fire, what would they take? Explaining that there are hidden treasures everywhere, she uses examples such as the recent story about ancient coins worth $300,000 that a family recently found on the Florida coast.
In that way, she says teaching is an art not just a job. “I have these great canvases—the students—to experiment on,” she says. “When it works, it’s awesome. There’s nothing better than seeing those light bulbs go off. If it isn’t working, I am the first to say, it’s not working. I really try to create a work environment that I am happy to go to and my students are happy to be there.”
This article was created as part of the social action campaign for the documentary TEACH, produced by TakePart's parent company, Participant Media, in partnership with Bill and Melinda Gates.