“If you can hear me, clap 3 1/2 times.”
Three claps, these eighth-graders can deliver. But some of them look around, wondering how to execute a half-clap.
Tacoma teacher John Prosser is testing their listening skills, along with their sense of humor.
“Give your attention to Mr. R, please,” he says.
“Mr. R” is Ryan Prosser, John’s team-teaching partner at Giaudrone Middle School – and also his identical twin brother.
“There’s a lot of talking,” Ryan tells students, reinforcing the pay-attention message. “I want to see writing, pencils and paper.”
Together, “Mr. R” and “Mr. J,” as their students know them, team-teach social studies and language arts at the school in Tacoma’s South End. They arrived at the start of the 2010-11 school year, the latest in a long line of tandem career moves for the pair.
Technically, John is the social studies teacher and Ryan is the language arts teacher for about 150 students at Giaudrone, which emphasizes team teaching in the humanities schoolwide.
Both brothers are qualified to teach both subjects, and there’s plenty of crossover as they move about their classroom – actually two classrooms with a divider that’s almost always open.
The brothers question, cajole and engage students, finishing each other’s sentences and bouncing ideas back and forth like ping-pong balls.
“We make no distinction,” Ryan said.
For those who must, there is a way to tell the Prossers apart. Just ask them to stand back-to-back. John is taller by about half an inch.
It’s possible for twins to be identical – meaning they both came from the same egg and share the same DNA – but have slightly different physical characteristics.
“There are environmental factors,” Ryan says. “It’s how the genes get expressed.”
“If we were science teachers, we’d know how to explain that,” John quips.
Ryan is older by about 15 minutes.
Their mom didn’t know she was having twins until John was born. Ryan explains that when she asked about the possibility of twins beforehand, her doctor scoffed.
“Everyone was surprised,” Ryan says.
The Prossers have an older brother and a younger one. The twins attended schools in both Tacoma and University Place, graduating from Curtis High School in 1998.
From there, they proceeded together to Western Washington University, where they earned their bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials. Then it was on to Boston College for master’s degrees and finally Seattle University Law School, where both graduated in 2007 with a goal of working in education law.
It was the perfect blended career choice for two brothers who come from a family of lawyers and educators. Their mom, Carol Costanza, has been a school counselor in Tacoma, and two great uncles were principals. Other members of their extended family have also been part of Tacoma Public Schools. Their uncle, John Miller, is a Fircrest lawyer.
While the twins were in law school, they interned with the Washington Education Association, the state teachers union.
Right out of law school, John went to work in his uncle’s firm, Miller Quinlan & Auter. Ryan worked at the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
When the economy turned sour, John was laid off.
He started substitute teaching. Then he heard about what was happening at Giaudrone Middle School.
In 2010, the school district received millions of dollars in federal grants designed to turn around three middle schools including Giaudrone, which for several years had posted some of the lowest test scores in the state. Part of the grant required that Giaudrone start over with a new principal and a faculty with at least half the teachers new to the school.
By this time, Ryan had also returned to the classroom and was teaching in the Lake Washington School District east of Seattle.
When they were offered the chance to team-teach as humanities instructors in the same school, the Prossers went for it.
At this point in the year, their students have moved past the novelty of having twin teachers. But they have noticed that, in addition to sharing DNA, the brothers share a working style that’s simultaneously relaxed and no-nonsense.
“They are always collaborating with each other,” says student Shelby Day.
“They’re different because they’re funny,” adds classmate Roberto Brito.
They have a sense of humor, acknowledges eighth-grader Avery Meyer.
“But in a sense that they want work to be done,” he adds.
The brothers are active outside the classroom as well. Both have helped write the school district’s anti-bullying policies.
They spoke out during last fall’s Tacoma teacher strike. And John is a member of the joint administration-union committee, charged with solving one of the thorniest issues during the eight-day strike: teacher transfers and reassignments.
Both brothers ran for local union positions this spring but lost to veteran educators.
The Prossers say they’re striving to have their students become discerning consumers in a world flooded with information.
“We are working on developing their skills, and trying to connect (classroom learning) back to their lives,” Ryan said.
Added John: “Our goal is to get kids ready with the skills they need.” firstname.lastname@example.org
Family: Wife Amy and two children, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl.
Family: Wife Jessica and two children, a 3-year-old daughter and a baby boy.
Fun fact: The Prosser twins were extras in the 1999 movie, “10 Things I Hate About You,” which was filmed partly at Stadium High School in Tacoma.