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
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.