Being an island teacher has some unique challenges and benefits.
On the one hand, as the only music teacher in North Haven’s one-building district, I have total control over the scope and sequence of our K-12 music classes. I’ve been able to build a program that ensures most students are ready for middle school band when they hit fifth grade, and build trust and confidence in my musicians, with whom I will work at least through the end of eighth grade, and hopefully into high school through music elective courses.
But it can be lonely. Less so, now that I’m married to the music teacher on that other Fox Island, but before that, there were few opportunities to network and collaborate with other music teachers in the area, not that there are even that many of us.
That’s why the annual Island Teachers Conference, organized by the Island Institute, is so valuable. Once a year, teachers from the Casco Bay up through Mount Desert Island assemble in the Hutchinson Center in beautiful Belfast to trade stories, offer expertise, and commiserate and celebrate life as an island teacher.
Another terrific—and necessary—aspect of the conference is that mainland organizations come a-wooing.
This year, I learned about the Telling Room’s expansion to Rockland (so convenient!), the Maine Outdoor School (a perfect match for North Haven’s wilderness expeditions), and Brittany Ray’s work with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs are relevant to any population, but prevalent in areas of rural poverty or isolation).
Islesboro presented extensively on its Pathways program, providing individualized education to all students, and my colleagues and I are excited to visit their school soon and learn more.
I presented for the first time at this year’s Island Teachers Conference, and was excited to share the ukulele ensemble program I’ve started on North Haven with other teachers. While some were there for the fun of it, others expressed an interest in bringing ukuleles to their students.
My husband presented on integrating music and technology, and had some fun demonstrations of platforms like Scratch and Makey-Makey, including creating a human piano.
The worm bin workshop was very popular, as was the Telling Room’s presentation on strategies for engaging reluctant writers. Sue Campbell of OUT Maine expanded on the ACEs theme, sharing sobering statistics about adverse childhood experiences in LGBTQIA youth, particularly those in rural and isolated areas.
A trip to the mainland for any islander is a pretty big deal. Navigating the boat schedule, weather, even an overnight stay can be a barrier to visiting other schools and talking to other island teachers throughout the year. The Island Teachers Conference, by bringing us all together for a day in October, offers the streamlining we need to see who else is out there, sharing the same struggles and the same joy.
Courtney Naliboff teaches and lives on North Haven.