Saturday, December 31, 2011

Do They Know Its Christmas? (Band Aid)

December 1-30
 In December, things slowed down a bit.  Sort of.  While I didn't have any days out for TOY events, I did have a research paper due, a final exam (another 15 pages), grades to catch up on and Christmas shopping to do. 

        The first big event of the month was when the Acting Commissioner, Chris Cerf, came to BCIT to co-teach a class with me.  He made the offer back in October at the State Board of Ed meeting when I was named NJ TOY, but the provision was that there would be no cameras, video or press.  I took him up on the offer.  I was a little nervous because the lesson was on political philosophy of the Enlightenment, but I laid out a plan and we really co-taught the class.  All the kids knew was that this was my friend Mr. Cerf from Trenton who used to be a history teacher.  They actually liked him and by the end of the day, my students were asking why an earlier class had the good guest speaker and they didn't.  I asked the class the next day what they thought and they genuinely liked him and thought he could relate.  No easy task with my kids.   

      The next night was a dinner meeting with the ladies of Delta Kappa Gamma, a honor society of professional women educators.  They had come recruiting me for membership before I had really won any awards, so I hold these ladies in high regard.  At the meeting, they voted to let me join and so I would be inducted in March. 

       The following Monday Classroom Close-up came in to film my Teacher of the Year episode and featured the Civil War Letter Project that I have been working on with the Burlington County Historical Society.  The kids were great, as usual, and the video turned out well. 


Check out the episode here

That same day, I was on a panel discussion about National Board Certification at ETS.  I recently got my Take One! score which was a 3.5 and I am anxious to complete the process.  Unfortunately, that will have to wait until next school year because there is no way I will get it done before I leave on sabbatical in January. 

       All the while, I had some revision to do on my research paper (18 pages) and a final exam to complete (15 pages, 2 questions) for my History of American Education class.  My goal of pursuing that doctorate is going to have to be placed on hold for a while too.  By the time I got to Christmas, I was so exhausted I didn't want to do anything but sleep.  I found that I would fall asleep while typing papers, hands on the keyboard.  Thank goodness I would be out on sabbatical at the end of January, because trying to keep up this sort of pace would have taken its toll shortly. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ain't that Peculiar (Marvin Gaye)

November  1-30

 Looking back on November now, I wonder how I managed to do it all.  I was teaching full time, going to grad school and I had 13 TOY events and two conferences to speak at.  I was busy, but happy to be doing my part to improve the state of education in NJ.  I didn't just want to be a ceremonial TOY shaking hands and kissing babies, I wanted to get in there and make a difference.  I was energized and ready to go, but things were not as easy as they appeared.
      I was particularly stressed about my first big event, the NJEA Convention, where I would be introduced to the state and roll out my platform in my first substantial speech.  Grad school was killing me with a paper due every week, I had the normal work of school (and I would not allow my students to slack because I was busy), and I had started to experience push back from some of my colleagues in what I could only term "mean girl syndrome" although it certainly is not restricted to women.  Snarky comments in the hall, while making copies, at Board of Ed meetings, or at Professional Development workshops.  Really?  I have been told by others in my position to never read the comments at the bottom of articles because there are lots of haters out there in the world who just don't understand education.  I just didn't expect my haters to be people I knew.  I have spoken to other county, state, and national teachers and they have all experienced "mean girl syndrome" to some extent.  Some have colleagues that the moment they were named as winner, the colleagues would not speak to them again.  I can tell you this, no matter what level of TOY you are, being in a position of leadership is not easy.   Most of us did not nominate ourselves for the honor of Teacher of the Year.  You work harder than ever because now you are expected to be and speak at all sorts of events, you are under the microscope all the time (and anything that can be misconstrued, will be), and are all of a sudden the resident expert on all things educational.  You must be dressed and ready for pictures and interviews at all times.  I have had days where I was told during 2nd block that the media was coming in during 4th block.
     The point is, that this honor requires a lot of hard work, and we need all the support we can get.  Now, more than ever, we need to band together and celebrate the good things going on in education.  These teacher-leaders represent you, and do it with a smile, grace, and poise.  If you are a hater, keep it to yourself.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."

Sorry for the little rant, now back to my November.

      The convention went well, I gave a presentation at High Tech Hall on how to incorporate technology into your history classroom, did a round-table discussion on diversity and the achievement gap, and finally my speech at the Celebration of Excellence.  I was nervous and for the first time, I had a teleprompter, so I felt like doing some presidential impersonations while up at the podium.  I am a little goofy after all.  I have since discovered that my best speeches are those that I don't write down, but I hadn't gotten to that point yet.  The first law of the teleprompter, it will move as fast as you do.  The second law, if you go off script, it just stops.  I have a REALLY hard time staying on script, and this was a speech delivered from the heart so of course I strayed in a few spots.
 Towards the middle of the speech, I got an "Amen!" from the back of the room and that just spurred me on even more.  It was a good speech, and people were impressed.  When the convention was all done and after three days of being under the microscope, I needed a release and so I went shopping at the outlets which were right across the street. 

       The following week I had a conference in San Francisco for the American Schools of Oriental Research.  I am part of the Educational Outreach Committee and so I was presenting my famous pottery lesson. 

Ready to present


 The following week was Thanksgiving and I was looking forward to some quiet time, but mostly so I could get research for my grad school paper done.  No rest for the weary!  However, before I went home for the long weekend, I was honored by my Freeholders with this lovely proclamation.

     While I am the NJ STOY (NJ State Teacher of the Year), I travel to many of NJ's colleges and universities to talk to the pre-service (student teacher) students in the teacher prep programs. After seeing me on Perspective NJ with Nora Muchanick on ABC earlier in the month,  Larry Fieber of TCNJ called on me to give a talk the last week of November.  At first, I couldn't believe that a college would actually want me to talk to their kids.  After I thought about it a while, I realized that there were a lot of lessons about education that you don't learn in college, so maybe I could impart some wisdom, and also that some motivation was needed in this current climate of budget cuts, disrespect, and job shortages.  The TCNJ students and staff were wonderful, and I had a great time talking to them.  They made a big deal out of me being there, and I was honored.    My students back at BCIT were also grateful for the leftover cookies from the night before, and began to realize that me having speaking engagements might be a good thing. 

Larry and the crew were wonderful and I have worked with the students in his programs a few times since.  I am the keynote speaker for the Future Educators Conference next October.   

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What a Diff'rence a Day Made (DInah Washington)

October 1-30

I began October with a huge secret that I wasn't allowed to tell anyone.  It was agony!  Small confession though, two of my kids found out.  One of the things I was going to have to come to grips with was that I was going to have to leave my kids at school to go on sabbatical from January until June.  At BCIT, we are on block scheduling and we are on a semester system like college.  I have one group of kids from September until the end of January and another group from February through June.  I teach all grade levels, but my specialty is world history and I had two classes of honors, the highest level we offer.  If I left in January I would leave my kids with 3 1/2 weeks left in the semester, an eternity in block scheduling.  I was telling my coordinator that I needed to stay until as close to the end of the semester as possible when two of my students walked in the room after school.  As teenagers do, they were eavesdropping and trying to figure out why I had gotten my hair done, (I needed to take some pictures) and figured it out.  They were sworn to secrecy and to their credit managed to keep it under wraps.
       I even had a local event for the NJEA the evening before my award ceremony where I attended as the Burlington County Teacher of the Year.  It was so hard to keep a straight face! 

At school I had everything arranged.  I wrote my department members and a few close friends at school about my news in a letter where I showed them my new business cards from the Department of Education.  I explained that I was sorry I couldn't tell them, but was sworn to secrecy.  I left the letters which said on the front not to open until 10am (the time of my ceremony in Trenton) with my school secretary, a good friend who knew everything and assured me she would get them out. 

     October 5, the day of the State Board Mtg where I would be announced.  My life would change forever.  I took a deep breath, looked over the speech I had tweaked as recently as that morning, and I was off to Trenton.  I was happy to have a few close friends and most of my family with me, although recent surgery kept my dad in North Carolina.  The day was a blur, full of interviews and people and I went from a practically anonymous teacher to someone whose phone rang constantly and email was full of invitations.  It seemed like everyone wanted 15 minutes, and I was having a difficult time wrapping my head around it. How do you go from 15 years of normal to this?

First big speech.

Keys to the new Teachermobile

Four NJ STOYs!

From L-R  Dr.Donald  Lucas- BCIT Superintendent, Arcello Aponte-State Board President, ME,  Chris Cerf - Acting Commissioner, Joe Venuto- BCIT Principal, and Peggy Nicolosi- County Superintendent

My family with my new Teachermobile.  I have to give the car back in a year, but check out the world's largest magnet on the door.  That is all mine!  Now, what to do with it?

      Just as I got used to being able to tell people that I was the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, I had to face what I thought would be my toughest crowd.  The County TOYS.  The week after I was named I had a conference with my fellow TOYs at ETS.  I didn't know what they would think of me and I admit I was nervous.  These were some awesome teachers.  I didn't know who the other finalists were and decided that I did not want to know unless they felt comfortable enough to reveal themselves to me.  They were all wonderful and congratulated me but I ended up sitting at a seperate table during the morning session. I was a reluctant leader.  After a pep talk from a few friends, I was faced with a few harsh facts.  First, if I was the NJTOY then people were going to look to me for leadership.  Second, it was going to be up to me to give this group a direction.  I went back to my room to change for dinner and as I changed my clothes, somehow I developed a backbone.  After a look in the mirror I asked myself, "If not you, who?"  "If not now, when?"  and then made my way down to dinner.  I made it a point to talk to as many people as possible and reassure them that I was not going to be able to do the job of NJTOY without their help. (It was the truth!)  In the movie SpiderMan Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker that "With great power comes great responsibility." My new responsibility was to represent these fellow CTOYs and all teachers with pride and honor and to work tirelessly to make a positive impact on public education in NJ. It wasn't going to be easy. 

On top of all this, remember I was still teaching full time, taking a graduate course in education which required extensive reading and a written paper every week, giving interviews, attending events, and I was working on my National TOY application, which was another 16 pages.   I also had my first major speech coming up in a few weeks at the NJEA convention and I needed to develop a platform.  I was about to experience exhaustion on a whole new level!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dancing in September... (Earth, Wind and Fire)

September 1-30

September found me beginning the school year  at BCIT and a class at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.  There were a few things I wanted to complete this year and I didn't know how I would do it.  First I wanted to finish my National Board Certification.  Ten of my colleagues and I took the Take One section and we would have to wait until November to get our scores.  Second, I really want to get my doctorate, so I decided to take a class at Rutgers in New Brunswick on the history of education.  I love learning, but New Brunswick is a hike so I wasn't sure how I would handle the travel and the work.  Little did I know when I started the class that both of these dreams would have to be put on hold for a while. 

I had completed my interview for NJ TOY which I thought went well, but I tend to talk a lot, and I can never judge how I do in interviews.  Everyone just kept nodding and writing on their score sheets.  Besides, I was sure that there was no way I had won.  I was the reluctant leader who was happy to be Queen of her classroom, but unsure about leading others.  Sure I had ideas, but would anyone be crazy enough to follow me? 

My interview answers got me a place on the new Evaluation Advisory Pilot Committee for teacher evaluation.  As one of a handful of teachers on the committee, I was honored, but thought it was just because when asked what I would want to work on with the Commissioner, I answered teacher evaluation and talked about my valuable experiences with National Board Certification.

I got a cryptic message from my principal for a meeting on September 15 at 1:30.  This wouldn't be strange except it was in the middle of one of my classes and after being in school just over a week in, there is no way he would pull me out of class for something that could have been dealt with after school.  Then they wouldn't tell me what the meeting was about, but I tend to be a troublemaker, so it could have been anything.

I arrived at the office at the appointed time, ready for whatever.  At two weeks into the school year, I had contracted a case of what felt like the Plague and had basically lost my voice and coughed every time I talked.  My principal told me to read an article in that day's paper and left the office, which left me dumbfounded.  When he came back in, he kept looking at his phone.  Not usual behavior.  When it finally rang, he put it on speaker, something else he never does and all I heard was "Please hold for the Commissioner".  It dawned on me what was happening and I was really hoping that they weren't calling with bad news.  Chris Cerf got on the phone and said he said," I have good news and I have bad news.  the good news is that you are now the NJ Teacher of the Year."  All I could squeak out was a "Thank you", but honestly, I couldn't find my words.  You know I am shocked when I am speechless.  He then continued " The bad news is that you can't tell anyone until we announce it."  I thought, ok, a few days maybe, I can handle it and so I asked when that would be.  He said "October 5".  That was two and a half weeks away and all I wanted to do was run down the hallway cheering.  I told the Commissioner that I was more scared of my mother than I was of him and if I didn't tell her there would be consequences.  He agreed I could tell my family, but that was it.  So for two and a half weeks only 6 people knew, my mom, dad, brother, principal, secretary and superintendent.  You have no idea how hard it was to keep that secret.  People who had been checking in every day just stopped asking because they thought I hadn't received any news. 

That afternoon, my coordinator from the NJ Dept of Education (NJDOE) called to get me prepped for what was about to happen and sent me several documents, including the National Teacher of the Year Application that I needed to fill out by Oct 15.  No problem, it was only 16 pages!  It didn't hit me until later that day when I was in New Brunswick eating dinner before going to class.  It was then that the magnitude of it all hit me and the blood drained from my head and if I would have been standing, I would have passed out.  I will be honest, I don't remember what class was about that night, and I think I floated home on the Turnpike.  But how would I hide my smile for the next two weeks?

I got phone calls from the DOE, NJEA and current state teacher of the year, and I was overwhelmed with the plethora of information.  I needed to just stop and digest it all for a minute.  I found myself at the NJEA and DOE within the next week and the whirlwind had begun.  I was told that my life was about to get very hectic and so it would be a good idea to put National Board Certification on hold and defer my plans for my doctorate.  I would finish off the class I was taking, but that would be it for a while. 

CTOYs and I am glad that I did not take from anyone else's moment.  My big question was then, how would I face them all again in three weeks when they knew I was the winner?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Suddenly, last summer... (The Motels)

July and August 2011  

  I began this blog in February, but there is a lot of back story to tell before you get there.  I will attempt in these first few postings, with the help of my journal, to go back and give an accurate portrayal of what actually happened on my adventures as the 2011-2012 NJ TOY. 
     September 2011 began as most of my Septembers do, preparing for the opening of school.  However, the summer had been different.  I had attended some life-altering professional development with the NJ Council for the Humanities (see picture below) and made some friends that I knew would become a permanent part of my life.  I also got the opportunity to work with the Burlington County Historical Society in a project transcribing letters from a local Civil War soldier to his sister.  I was also taking a class at Rutgers New Brunswick in the hopes of eventually getting into their doctoral program.  Busy, busy, busy...  I was excited about the possibilities as I prepared for my history classes at the Burlington County Institute of Technology (BCIT) where I teach.

     However, the elephant in the room was the fact that I was one of the five finalists for NJ Teacher of the Year.  It was hard not to think about it, but I had so many other things to do.  The process began the May before when I was the TOY for BCIT.  I then had a roughly 16 page application to fill out by February for the county level.   Over spring break I found out that I beat out eight other candidates and won County Teacher of the Year (CTOY).  Was it possible?  Who, me? 
     Once you win CTOY, by May you have to produce an unedited video of you teaching a class with a blurb in the beginning introducing yourself and a blurb at the end talking about your leadership roles.  I can tell you it was painful to watch.  I had a trusted student help me put it all together and we breathed a sigh of relief once it was in the mail, until we realized that there was a typo on the menu screen.  Aarrgh! We managed to recall the package before it was delivered, swap out the discs and send it again.  Whew!  Then you wait, and wait, and wait.
     In June the CTOYs got to meet for  a day of media training, and to size up the competition.  I was having what could only be described as a disastrous hair day,  (End of June, bad humidity, and hair that had decided to curl after a lifetime of being straight.)  but I put on my game face and went to work.  The CTOYs I met were all SO good at their jobs and their range of expertise spanned from elementary to AP Calculus and Physics.  Everyone was unique, and although I am a pretty good history teacher, I didn't know if I even stood a chance.  After all, you never know what the judges are looking for.
    The summer began and I decided I needed to study because if I was going to represent teachers on any level, I needed more information.  As a teacher in a classroom, like most, I was isolated from the outside world of education.  I read everything I could get my hands on and throughout the summer had conversations with educators both in and outside of NJ where I really started to listen and learn about the concerns in NJ and beyond.  I learned about the Common Core Standards (thanks Aunt Barbara), ed reform, teacher evaluation, and realized there are some concerns that are universal in this time of educational change.

     We were told we would hear if we were a finalist in early August, which came and went with no word.  I accepted my fate and was determined to be the best CTOY I could be when I found out on Aug 11 that I was a finalist.  OMG!  I would have an interview in front of a panel of eight on Aug 25th.  I signed up for the last interview slot (wanted them to remember me) went looking for a summer weight, classic-yet-conservative suit (What teacher has summer work clothes?), and kept studying, listening, and working through my points of view on several issues I thought might be raised.  I was all ready to talk about Finland and test scores.
    The day of the interview was the day before Hurricane Irene and the weather was terrible.  I arrived early and was as prepared as I could have been.  I decided before I walked in that no matter what, I was going to be me.  No politically correct answers, just honesty, because they either liked what they saw or they didn't.  There was no point in pretending to be something that I wasn't.  I was nervous, to be sure, and hadn't been able to eat for days before.  When I am nervous I have two extremes, either I don't talk at all or I talk to much.  I definitely talked too much, but it was about education and I was hoping that the passion and enthusiasm I feel for the subject was evident during the interview. After it was over, I was walked to the door and told that they would be in touch sometime in mid-September.  The waiting began again, but in the meantime I had a school year to begin and a grad class to take.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon and Garfunkel)

  My name is Jeanne DelColle and I am the 2011-2012 New Jersey State Teacher of the Year.  It still seems strange to say it out loud.  My life has changed in so many ways, I hardly recognize the somewhat reluctant teacher-leader I was in early September when this all happened.  It seems like years ago now.  I wasn't going to keep a blog, but I realized that things in my life were changing so rapidly that I really ought to keep a record.  I certainly do not claim to be the best teacher in the state, but as the one chosen to represent public educators for the year it is my job to elevate the profession and illuminate the work that we do.  I can say without reservation that unless you are a teacher or you know a teacher as a close friend or family member, most people have no idea what it is that teachers do on a daily basis and how much talent, skill, energy, passion, patience, and dedication it takes to do the job well.   Teaching is incredibly rewarding, but it is really hard work. 

    I am currently on sabbatical working at the Department of Education (DOE) in Trenton.  Although I miss the kids terribly, I realized that this was the opportunity to effect change on a whole different level.  It is a steep learning curve getting up to speed on policy details and the nightly grading of  papers and writing of lesson plans has been replaced with studying white papers.  The new perspective I have gained in the few weeks I have been  in Trenton is invaluable, and the DOE has been very welcoming and eager to have teacher input in their desire for transparency.  The NJEA has been equally welcoming and provided enormous support. In order to gain perspective of education beyond my classroom and school, I have  been welcomed to the various events sponsored by the NJEA so that I have the opportunity to listen to the voices of  the many diverse educators I am proud to represent. 

    As Uncle Ben once said to Peter Parker in Spiderman, "With great honor comes great responsibility." I take this responsibility seriously and feel duty bound to do the best job that I can to honor my family, students and fellow educators.  In a climate where, lets face it, public opinion is downright hostile to teachers, it is my goal to build bridges and help restore respect to the profession. Communication is the key, both incoming and outgoing, and I will do my best to elevate the voice of the teacher in shaping policy in this time of transformation.  Although there are many different perspectives that weigh in on the topic of education, all have one central focus, the desire for our students to achieve success.