“WMS students are also always trying new things, and this is incredibly inspiring to us.” Meet WMS teachers Rachel (Arts Department) and Jim Norton (English and Philosophy and Religious Studies Departments).
Rachel and Jim Norton took time recently to share details about their experiences as professional educators and teachers here at The White Mountain School. The insights below make clear their passion and excitement for teaching and learning. We hope you enjoy getting to know them.
Degrees and honors earned:
Northfield Mount Hermon (High School Diploma)
New England Conservatory of Music (Bachelor of Music in Classical Vocal Performance)
University of Massachusetts Amherst (Master of Music in Classical Vocal Performance)
Rachel is a member of Pine Hill Singers, and she is a soloist with North Country Chorus which are both community choirs. Additionally, she is the Music Director for the Upstage Players, a local community theater group.
Choate Rosemary Hall (High School Diploma)
Oberlin College (Bachelor of Arts )
Harvard Divinity School (Master of Theological Studies)
The Breadloaf School of English (Master of Arts in English – expected graduation 2018)
Jim is a member of The Frost Place board.
Professional background prior to WMS:
Graduate Teaching Assistant at UMASS Amherst
Private Voice Teacher
Teaching Apprentice/Assistant at New Canaan Country School
English Teacher at Newton South High School
English Teacher at Newton North High School
English Teacher at The Besant Hill School
Outdoor Education Teacher at The Hyde School
Years at WMS?
Rachel – 4 years, Jim – 3 years
Where do you live on campus and with whom?
We live in Upper Burroughs with their dog Zooey.
What are your Roles at WMS?
Rachel – Art Department Chair (Music and Theater teacher)
Jim – English Teacher, Department Chair (Philosophy and Religious Studies),Religious Studies/Philosophy Teacher, Upper Burroughs Dorm Head, Soccer and Lacrosse Coach, Community Service Director
Why did you choose to come to WMS?
“We both attended boarding school, and because we both had such positive experiences, we wanted to provide a similar experience for our own students.
We welcomed the opportunity to live in an incredibly beautiful place since we have a true love of the outdoors. We were also attracted to some of the unique programs here at WMS. The intentionally small community, the ability to connect with students in many different ways, and the philosophy of the school were all reasons that WMS was such an appealing place to be.”
Rachel writes, “I was particularly excited about growing a music program – focusing on vocal and choral music; and Jim was interested in having the opportunity to teach Religious Studies and Philosophy in addition to English.”
Why do you love working in education?
“Teaching is an extraordinarily rewarding experience, and being able to instruct my students in the art forms that I love is truly my vocation and my passion. My learning process, just like my students’, is never over and I look forward to growing professionally in my teaching career. I believe that being an excellent teacher means challenging and supporting students intellectually and being willing to be challenged and inspired by them in return, and this is truly an incredible thing.
As an educator, I strive to cultivate learning, promote authentic inquiry, and encourage students to improve their critical thinking skills. My goal as a music teacher is to support students in pursuing their musical passions. Ultimately, my objective is to encourage my students’ to follow their own interests with a critical eye and a joyful mind.”
“I have engaged in the study of literature and language with students of diverse backgrounds and ability, and done so in a setting that is intellectually vibrant, emotionally engaging, and appropriately demanding. My classroom is dynamic, stimulating, and student-centered, where knowledge is created collectively and students connect literature and art to their own lives and experiences. Almost every day, students surprise me with their insights; a poem I have loved for years can take on a different meaning when a student sees it with new eyes. In my classes we debate, analyze, workshop, compose, deconstruct, and devour literature, and students remember what they have learned in my classes years afterwards. There is little more rewarding to me than sharing my passion for words with students.For as long as I can remember, I have taken pleasure and inspiration from exploring the outdoors. Mountains, rivers, and trails have all provided me with innumerable gifts and insights. I guide young people in wild places to share the joyful experience, but more so for the lessons we can all learn about our place in the world.
Similarly, when two teams face off on an athletic field, there is more at play than just the score; you don’t have to have spent over a decade teaching English to understand the metaphors of athletics. The outdoors and athletics are two areas in which I have formed considerable, lasting bonds with my students, I know these relationships develop in the sometimes unexpected, but often routine, and lived experience of sharing a meal, a joke, and our lives at a boarding school.
Living, teaching, and coaching at a boarding school is a rich, tremendously fulfilling experience. Since I have returned to this life, I have recognized, once again, how transformative the boarding school experience can be. In the years that I have spent in boarding schools, I have been connected to communities and people who both shared my passions and helped to encourage and expand mine. I find that it is in places in which committed adults seek to foster the whole student that we find our whole selves. By never ceasing to learn and discover who we are, we show our students how to do the same for themselves. I am most at home in a school where this ethic is embraced by the whole faculty.”
(Outside of school responsibilities, Jim and Rachel enjoy many of the same hobbies and passions. They are both avid readers, skiers, hikers, and love traveling together. They are both dog lovers, too. Some of Jim’s other hobbies are cooking, mountain biking, knitting, boat-building, and writing – and he introduced Rachel to fishing this past summer.)
What have you learned from WMS students?
“WMS students have taught me about different artists and composers who I would not otherwise be exposed to; we have a nice give and take of sharing our musical backgrounds with each other.”
Jim and Rachel:
“WMS students are also always trying new things, and this is incredibly inspiring to us. Learning something new can be challenging and at times frustrating, but watching our students persevere through these obstacles gives us the courage to do the same.”
Describe a particularly memorable experience with WMS students.
“There are so many memorable moments that I have shared with WMS students that it is difficult to choose only one. The best experiences that I have had with our students are typically those that happen spontaneously. I love when my theater students drop by my classroom to share something with me, or to work on their lines for our play, or to talk about different actors and acting styles – or when my voice students ask to stay after class to practice a solo, or to work on holding their harmony against the melody part in a piece that we are working on in A Cappella. Also, because I live in the dorm, we often times have impromptu jam sessions after check in. These are the moments that I cherish most, because they are genuine and meaningful.”
“When I get to see students connecting with others outside of the community on a community service project, I am always impressed with their compassion and grace. I was also really excited about the boat building project on Field Course, and it was wonderful to see all of our students so engaged in something that I am passionate about.”
Rachel’s website: www.rachelnortonvocalstudio.com
Thank you for sharing your stories with us, Rachel and Jim.
To read more WMS faculty profiles and news from our classrooms, please click here.