She led the way to one of five double-wide trailers set in the school parking lot. Her classroom is one of two in the trailer, and while it is clean and new, it's feared that having students trek back and forth through the snow--and other issues--could cost the school its accreditation. "It's hard to teach out there sometimes," Ray said. "I keep my heat on high, but I don't tell anybody that. But it's cold coming back. There's no bathroom. There's no place to wash your hands. It's a hard thing."
But if a bigger school is a pipe dream, it doesn't intrude on her teaching. Weller and Principal Peter Doak lauded Ray's enthusiasm, organization, commitment to the students and contagious love of books and writing. That day, one of her classes had just finished The Crucible and was heading into The Great Gatsby. The discussion was about censorship and challenged books. The students fanned out to cull the shelves of the classroom for books they thought might have been challenged in the past. The conversation leapt from Maya Angelou to Yertle the Turtle to the television series Boston Public.
"We don't come up with a firm answer but they do a lot of thinking," Ray said.
She does, too. She talked of finding just the right book to hook non-readers and of the college-search program she recently introduced as part of the curriculum at Narraguagus High. Ray and the students explore different colleges and talk about ways for students to tell which college is right for them. She invites parents to bring in their financial aid paperwork so she can help them through the process. "They're frightened to apply to colleges with high tuitions," she said. "I really want to get the message out that my senior year at Colby I went for under $300 that my parents could contribute, and the rest was my own and scholarships. I want them to know that in the end, going to an Orono or to a Colby or a Bates might be the same financially. I like to really push thinking about a junior year abroad because, again, they'll say, 'We'll never have the money to do that.'"
Ray is concerned about a tendency for local students to leave college after a semester or two and is trying to come up with ways to lessen the culture shock some Washington County students feel when they go away to school. She also is concerned that outcome-based school reforms (testing to see if students have reached a certain level of information or proficiency) will continue to whittle away at the opportunity her students have to be inspired rather than taught. "I think the outcomes are important but I'm not sure if the process of getting there is something that should be told to a teacher, because how can you be excited about doing that every day? You need to be excited about what you do."
That excitement can overcome daunting obstacles. Ray's husband, Ron Smith, teaches in a nearby elementary school that recently was selected as one of five outstanding schools in the country. Narraguagus High can't claim that sort of notice, but Ray said she hopes her students benefit from their time with her. "I hope that for some of them, I can be a person they look back on fondly and say, 'Oh, you know we really did learn something.' . . . I hope that I make a difference. That's all I can do, I guess."
And that the torch will be passed?In the class that day, junior Sarah Snider of Harrington said she felt her career path being set already. "I know for a fact that I'll be a teacher," she said.
HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
Small Triumphs: Alex Quigley '99 finds reason for both hope and despair in the Mississippi Delta
A Ray of Hope: Brittany Ray '93 inspires where she found her inspiration
An Education CEO: Robert Furek '65 brings accountability to Hartford public schools
Charting Success: James Verrilli '83 directs charter school turn-around in Newark
Perspectives on Reform: Colby experts discuss reform and the purpose of education
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