Educators may retire, but the teacher in them rarely gives up the craft entirely.
Two teachers who spent their lives in classrooms, Douglas McDonnell and Lena Gibson, found a post-career niche in Tacoma museums — he at the LeMay-America’s Car Museum, she with the Museum of Glass.
What they found, to their delight, was work that called upon their talents.
“As an educator, I know the delivery of facts is enhanced by entertainment,” said McDonnell, who spent his last 20 years at Peninsula High School in Purdy. “The museum is a very visual medium, and you can’t be professorial talking about it.”
Gibson spent her teaching career in Colorado, the last 20 years in Silverton. Once retired, she moved to Tacoma to be near two of her three grown children, and found she was missing something.
“A friend asked if I’d join her at the Museum of Glass,” Gibson said. “One of the first books I read as a child was the story of glass-making. It’s always fascinated me.”
Each applied for a scholarship last spring to the National Docent Symposium in San Francisco, an annual gathering of experts from museums across North America. The competition was fierce — more than 75 applications for eight spots.
Two of those eight scholarships came to Tacoma, to McDonnell and Gibson.
“I think that speaks to the Tacoma museum scene and how it’s being seen in the country,” McDonnell said. “We have so many fine museums here, and people are taking notice.”
The symposium, which is in mid-October, offers a wide spectrum of sessions — taught by curators and representatives from the most prestigious museums on the continent.
Want to revolutionize how music can be used in a museum setting? That’s covered in a seminar hosted by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Interested in creating an interactive website? The Philadelphia Museum of Art sponsors a class on that.
Trying to learn how to partner with corporate sponsors? The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia has a session called “Hooking the Unhookable.”
There’s a course on reaching at-risk teens, sponsored by the Smithsonian, and a “Successful Strategies for Refreshing Tours” class run by the Dali Museum.
“I look at it as the opportunity to go to San Francisco, talk about Tacoma, learn what I can and bring it back to the LeMay and share it with others,” McDonnell said. “I’m just now getting involved with helping train docents, and I’ll be looking for ways to help blend our program with the curriculum in public schools.
“We need to get kids out of the classroom environment, take advantage of community programs.”
Gibson has a master’s degree in education and technology. Not surprising, then, much of her interest in the symposium is aimed at technological innovations for museums, from websites to how to become a cutting-edge docent in the digital age.
“I’m looking forward to learning about how to make the experience more interactive for kids, and how to train docents just coming in about technology,” she said.
“When I was teaching I’d go to conferences, and always came home energized. You get a new perspective sometimes. You talk with others who do what you do, and you learn from them.”
Gibson and McDonnell will dive into networking with other museum docents, making new connections.
And, McDonnell said, he wants to spread the word on Tacoma.
“I’ve probably wanted to leave this city two or three times in my life and never come back,” he said. “But the changes over the past 30 years are overwhelming. I want to be an ambassador for Tacoma, for its history and the rich museum scene here.
“Being a docent has allowed me to do what I do best. I go to the museum and can be a teacher again, though not in the traditional classroom.”Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638