Nantucket Portraits

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Barbara and Mark White

Rob Smith

You must run into old students an awful lot, having been teachers for so long.

Mark: Yeah, a lot... I love our students. The year that Barbara and I retired, we drove 14,700 miles and we tried to just hug the coast. We went all the way down to Key West, and to New Orleans, and to San Diego, and then all the way up to the Canadian border, so we tried to cover the perimiter. I think, on that trip, we met maybe ten different students..."
Barbara: "We tried really hard to make contact, to meet them for breakfast... from all classes. Teaching is such a rewarding profession in that respect. Especially with Facebook, to be honest with you. It's opened up a world. People with whom we hadn't kept in contact will suddenly pop up and we'll go 'Oh my gosh, I remember them, they graduated in 1975!' And it's a wonderful feeling."

What inspired both of you, respectively, to become teachers in the first place?

Mark: "That's hard to say, you know? That's just a hard thing to say. I had no intention of becoming a teacher, but I grew up with teachers in my family (my mother and father), and it was easy to fall into. I got out of school and I was working one job. That job was building boats, and it was only a year-long job, and then I had nothing to do. And then, by chance, by sheer luck (I got a job teaching)... you know, it's always luck. There's more luck involved in success and happiness in life than people wanna believe."

Barbara: "I think I loved teaching from the very moment I started. I had so few good history teachers. I had some, but so many of them were so boring. I think that history is such an alive thing. When I think about Anna Gardner and Cyrus Peirce, and the people that I research, I feel like I know them. Their stories are alive, and I always wanted to make history alive. Because I think history is such a critical subject, knowing, you know, not just the past, but how things work, and about our rights, and our responsibilities. And I like kids. I like kids a lot."

Can you talk a little about life since having retired?

Mark: "It's wonderful when Barbara's doing her research downtown, at the NHA... I do photography work for her, you know, and I go to the NHA and get old photos for books and stuff... and I'd be in there for a week or so, and I would come out and Nantucket is still so old looking that you're not really sure whether you're in 2015 or back in the 1890's..."

Barbara "...Especially in the winter, and if it's dusk and there's no one on the streets... I can walk around and I can feel like I'm walking where these historical figures walked, and it's really real to me."

Mark: "I had been helping Barbara with some of her research about two years ago, and I came out of the NHA and they were paving that area right across from the Post Office... that little road that goes into the parking lot right behind there, and they had grated it all up. And I was so in that world with Anna Gardner in the 1840's... I happened to look down at the dirt as the tractor went by, and he rolled over a three cent piece from 1873... and I felt even more of that historical presence around me."

What advice would you give to students, and to new teachers?

Barbara: "For teachers, I would say find some good mentors. Because teaching can be overwhelming, and you have to seek out those who are gonna help you with your style of teaching. You have to figure out your style of teaching and how you're gonna reach out to the kids, and not be too uptight. Be firm and fair. If you're firm with kids, but also fair, they'll pretty much go with you anywhere. But for kids who might be graduating, that's tough... things are so different than they used to be. I would say be patient with yourself, and just because another generation had their career at 21 doesn't mean that you will. Yours might not be 'till you're 31, or 41."

Mark: "... it's hard to give advice from the past when the present and the future are so different nowadays. I don't think the world is the way that it used to be, where you could do an apprenticeship for eight years, and then become a journeyman and then two years later maybe become a master at something. We don't have lives like that anymore. But I do think that young teachers are very hard on themselves. It takes eight years to get a blackbelt in Karate. It takes eight years to become a doctor. It takes eight years to become a good teacher. It really does. Even if you count the last two years of your schooling, it's still gonna take five or six or seven years before you really hit a stride and become a good teacher. And I think an awful lot of teachers who could become good teachers leave after two or three years, because they just figure it's not for them. And I think we could have more of them stick around if the stress, pressure and the criticism of them wasn't so intense in the beginning."

Barbara: "And keep networking."
Mark: "I love that idea, keep networking. Because Nantucketers have a real advantage with that. Just by the simple fact that we live on an island, and that we have to rely on each other... and we are travelers. So we know how to reach out and identify when we're away from home."
Barbara: "And find a good partner. It's better go through life with a good partner than alone."

Subjects: Barbara and Mark White
Location: Bartlett's Ocean View Farm
Date: December 12th, 2015

Humans of Nantucket, modeled after the famous Humans of New York, intends to portray various members of the island community who share with us their lives, dreams and hopes.

Robert Smith is a local landscape and portrait photographer. He will soon begin building a website to feature his work, and will also shortly provide links to his Flickr and Instagram accounts. He can be reached at 508-221-6926