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!

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