Face Time: Christopher Fletcher — Lisbon instructor brings many cultural experiences to his digital classroom

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As a Peace Corps volunteer in Grenada from 2006 to 2008, Christopher Fletcher of Lisbon taught computer skills to students at the Chantimelle Roman Catholic School there. Submitted photo

Born in Brunswick, Christopher Fletcher was just three months old when his parents set off to sail around the world. This early experience was the first of many international adventures for Fletcher, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Grenada and later became an ordained monk in Thailand. After traveling and teaching around the world, Fletcher returned to Maine in 2020, settling in Lisbon. He currently teaches high school social studies for Maine Connections Academy, an online public school.

Surname: Christopher Fletcher

Age: 40

live: Lisbon

What is it like to travel the world by boat? Sailing is an exciting sport, and ocean cruising is a wonderful lifestyle. I was blessed to be born into a sailing family, and when I was 10 months old, my parents and I embarked on a 2 ½ year cruise in a Westsail 32′ named the Christopher Robin, that carried us from Maine, down the East Coast , across the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, to the Marquesas Islands, and further across the Pacific Ocean to French Polynesia, to the Cook Islands and all the way to American Samoa. The trip certainly left a lasting, indelible mark on my later development. Since then I’ve also participated in several exciting Marion-Bermuda and Halifax ocean races, crossing an Atlantic Ocean, a breathtaking cruise from Scotland to Norway, and cruises Down East along the rugged Maine coast.

What kind of skills do you need for that? Sailing demands sharp situational awareness and continuous decision-making abilities. It also requires self-reliance, as you’re completely on your own out on the water. Finally, strong teamwork and clear communication skills are also essential.

What is one of your most memorable stories from the time you spent traveling abroad? One especially beautiful experience that comes to mind involves celebrating a multinational and multicultural Easter Sunday Mass in Marrakech, Morocco. Nestled in the heart of the Gueliz neighborhood, down along wide, French-era streets, is the Saint Martyrs Church. Its location directly opposite an equally stunning mosque is often seen by local Marrakechis as a symbol of inter-religious tolerance in modern Morocco, a theme highlighted in this particular Mass. The service was conducted in five different languages, the Ugandan choir brought me to tears, and during the liturgy of the Eucharist, where all of the members of the congregation are asked to exchange a sign of peace with their neighbors to signify one family in Christ , it seemed like every time I shared handshakes and a nod while saying “Peace be with you,” I’d receive the same reply in an entirely different language. Such a moving example of universal fellowship!

You served in Grenada as a Peace Corps volunteer. What did you do while you were there? I began Peace Corps training on July 25, 2006. The intensive seven-week training program included an orientation to West Indian culture, familiarity with government and ministry operations, familiarity with educational systems, technical skill acquisition and training in Grenadian dialect and customs. During this period, all trainees lived in local home stays so as to be immersed in local culture. After being sworn in as a Peace Corps volunteer in September 2006, I was assigned to the parish of St. Patrick as a community development specialist and attached to the Grenada Rural Enterprise Project, a poverty alleviation initiative. I assisted G-REP in creating a community IT center at the Chantimelle Roman Catholic School and then proceeded to work there as the primary IT instructor.

Christopher Fletcher meditates at the Dhammakaya Temple in Thailand. Submitted photo

Can you describe an average day for you while you were living as an ordained monk in Thailand? Being a monk is a simple life, but not an easy life. I briefly ordained at the Dhammakaya Temple, located about an hour north of Bangkok, which, at over 1,000 monks, is the largest temple in the country and one of the largest in the world. Thailand is a Buddhist society, and it was incredible to be on that side of the cloth, so to speak, as the sangha (the monastic community) occupies the top echelon of society; indeed, even the king bows down to a monk.

A typical day would involve waking up at 4 am to roll up my bamboo sleeping mat and carefully fold away the overhanging mosquito net. Then morning chanting and meditation for an hour. Next we’d grab our begging bowls and go on a barefoot, 4-kilometer bindabat (alms round) in neighboring villages, rain or shine. Then a group breakfast, followed by chores, then an hour of guided meditation, followed by study time. Before noon, all the monks gather to eat a light lunch, which is the last solid food they are allowed to consume until sunrise the following morning. Around 1 pm we might engage in classes in Buddhist teachings, and most afternoons were spent in any number of activities that required our attention. Around 6 pm we’d begin a one or two-hour session of chanting, meditation and prayer followed by daily confessions (which included a blanket apology to any insects we may have accidentally killed), and finally retire around 8 or 9 pm Each day was full, long and rewarding.

After all your travels, you became a teacher. Why? A lot of my adolescence and 20s were spent engaged in youth programming, starting with being a sailing instructor at the Orr’s Bailey Yacht Club in Harpswell during summers in high school. After graduating from Hampshire College, I was initially interested in pursuing a career in community economic development, but time and time again I kept finding success working with youth in experiential education, from teaching basic seamanship and life skills with the World Ocean School, to teaching animal husbandry and organic fruit and vegetable production at the Virgin Islands Sustainable Farm Institute. But it wasn’t until I began teaching high school social studies at my alma mater in St. Croix that everything truly clicked, and I realized that what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My career since then has led me to teaching opportunities in a rich variety of public, private and international schools around the world.

I find it exciting to work in a rapidly evolving industry that is adjusting to the ever-changing social and economic landscape. Despite the familiar challenges faced by most educators, I also know deep down that the thrill received from students’ “aha” moments beats any other professional reward. To witness students take ownership of their work and learning, and to recognize the critical role that I played in that transformation, means everything to me. In short, I want to communicate that the greatest honor of my life continues each day when the development of young individuals is entrusted to me by their families. That trust and expectation is what motivates me to give my utmost best every single day, because anything less would be more than simply a disservice, it would in fact be an injustice. As summed up by Henry Adams: “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”

What has been your experience teaching for a virtual charter school? It’s very different from a traditional brick-and-mortar school setting, but as I round out my second year here, I’ve found that I’ve actually come to prefer it! At our school, staff and students alike have a wide degree of control over how they want their typical day to proceed. While there are several fixed-schedule events each week, the rest of each school day is free to schedule as I see fit. I’m afforded significantly more time to offer structured support for students in need in order to bolster their skills, to check in frequently with each of my advisees, or dive into an impressive amount of student performance data to craft more personalized and responsive lessons. This scheduling flexibility also applies to families and significantly benefits my students, some of whom have jobs or internships, run their own businesses, or are elite athletes. They can fully engage in these pursuits without missing school or falling behind in their studies. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, we really put our students in the driver’s seat of their education, from more accommodations for different learning styles, to being able to access our public school education from anywhere in the world. How cool is that?

Christopher Fletcher stands for a photo with students studying economics at the English Modern School in Doha, Qatar. Submitted photo

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