40 Years and Still Running Strong
with Dan Hickey ’04 | Director of Communications
This fall, Jim Hansen ’77 began his 40th year of teaching young people in the New England area. After studying economics in his first three years at Wheaton College, he changed to a Christian education focus. After graduation, he went to grad school part-time twice a week while student teaching. His first job was in Brockton, MA, where he taught all subject areas to 7th graders for six years before moving to Mount Pleasant Elementary School (Nashua, NH) where he taught 4th grade for the next 22 years. He is now in his 12th year at New Searles Elementary in Nashua, where he teaches 5th graders. In 2020 he won the National University Award for the state of New Hampshire.
When did you know you wanted to go into teaching?
It was my junior year of college. My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and I was always interested in kids and the phases of learning. When I was at Wheaton, I asked myself, ‘How am I going to use my life? How am I going to add value to the world?’ To me, there was no greater calling than training up the next generation.
What do you remember from your first days of teaching?
I had no idea what I was doing. My teaching education had been truncated, and I only had the basics. I winged it. But I figured if I’m bored, they’ll be bored, so I tried to make the classroom experience fun for my students. On day one, I felt the weight of being the guy in charge. I was young and was a quiet kid at Stony Brook. I had to grow a mustache to differentiate myself from the students.
Who were your most impactful teachers at Stony Brook?
Coach Marvin Goldberg. I was not the best runner, not like the Lockerbies and Whitneys, but I ran my heart out and he recognized that. I was only going to be at SBS for one year. My parents couldn’t afford to keep sending me. Coach Goldberg had a call with my dad and told him to pray. SBS lowered my tuition, and my church covered the rest. God delivered. Coach Goldberg also talked me up to the Wheaton College coach when he visited campus. He paved the way for me in a quiet, unassuming way. He looked out for the whole person.
Mr. Harrison also stands out. He was my AP European History teacher. I was an observer. I watched people. I thought about the people who were around me and who I wanted to be like. Mr. Harrison was one of those people. He connected things outside of the textbooks.
How did Stony Brook prepare you for teaching?
It made me think deeply. It was never about material coverage in the classroom but making connections to life. The faculty strove to get us to think and get excited about learning. They did the serious work of helping to expand our world and show us the part we could play in it.
Where do you see Character Before Career penetrating your work as a teacher?
I was taught that it’s not about making money in your career, but about your impact. It has allowed me to give my life to serving in places like Mount Pleasant, which has some challenges. “Character Before Career” has helped me see the underdogs. I had role models at SBS, and I try to be one for my kids. I pray for wisdom every day about how I talk and what I say, that I would be a model of character.
What has kept you going as a teacher for four decades?
It hasn’t gotten boring. Every day is different, and I’m still having fun learning along with my kids every year. I can’t think of a more interesting or impactful job than working with kids.
I’m most proud of being able to help my students self-regulate. I have students who struggle with ADHD, math anxiety, and other things, so in my classroom, there are balance boards and a spin bike. Students are free to use them when they need to. For some kids, movement helps them relieve stress and think better.
Running has been a huge part of your life. When did you start, what was your experience at SBS, and where has running taken you in your life?
I started running the year before I came to SBS, during the road running boom of the ’70s. I ran in the third Falmouth Road Race in 1975, which has become one of the signature road races in the world. At SBS, I made the varsity my senior year and loved it. I used to get headaches from stress, and those went away when I started running. It was always the capstone of my day.
Now, the running is slower, but it feels the same. I’ve run 50 marathons and five Iron Mans. About 12 years ago, I had to stop running from hip pain, but I moved to a plant-based diet and got off of sugar and processed food, and I’m back to running about 40 miles a week.
Kenya became an important part of your life in the last decade. Talk to me about how that came about and why it’s become such a passion of yours.
When I had to pull back on my running about 12 years ago, I was looking for something else to do. My church traveled to Nairobi, and I went along to help with some teaching. I fell in love with the kids at the school and the vibrant community I was welcomed into. It became my favorite place to go. I made five trips there in 10 years and began to connect the school in Nairobi with my students in New Hampshire. I would bring poems to Kenya that my students had written and take poems from the Kenyan students back home. I always left refreshed and inspired. 2019 was my last trip, but I hope to return. I built relationships and learned so much from them.
To me, the object is not to beat someone, but merely to live up to your potential. If you do, then you will end up winning a lot.Jim’s yearbook quote in Res Gestae 1977 from runner Frank Shorter