Sunday, November 4, 2012

My City of Ruins- Bruce Springsteen

    

        I left Princeton last Saturday with a smile on my face.   The Forum and the events that followed reinforced my belief in the role of teacher leaders and the importance of having teacher voice in discussions about policy.  We had joked a little about the impending "Armageddon" and how people would panic and there wouldn't be any bread, milk or eggs left in the stores. 

Then Sandy hit.
 
    For two and a half days the storm raged.  A state of emergency was declared, everything was closed, two million people in NJ lost power and people hunkered down.  When things finally calmed down, people warily poked their heads outside and looked around like turtles emerging from their shells.  For those that had power, the images on TV that now resembled a war zone seemed too incredible to be real. The majority of the Jersey shore was washed away, towns flooded, and life came to a halt while we assessed the damage. Even Halloween was cancelled. 
 
 
     My first concern was for my loved ones, and I made sure they were alright,  but as I watched the news coverage, my heart broke.  I travelled to so many of the areas I saw on TV this past year as NJ State Teacher of the Year, and I knew teachers in every county.  The boundaries of my "school district" had widened to include the entire state, and I felt helpless in the face of this disaster. 
 
      In 17 years of teaching, I have learned a few things about the role of schools in our students lives.  First, schools are safe havens for many students.  I have had students who are homeless or living in terrible conditions; some don't know where their next meal is coming from.  Others are subjected to home lives that are filled with violence, neglect or abuse.  Schools are the one place where students can go where they can forget about all the other things they have no control over.  There is a routine, there are adults that care about them and there are warm meals.  School not only feeds the intellect and shows us that there are choices in life, it provides some stability in an unpredictable world. 
 
      For many students here in NJ, the stability provided by school is gone, because their schools have been severely damaged or destroyed.   Many are being used as emergency shelters.  Like balloons set adrift, these students are without anchor.  No homes and no schools.  In the short term, they will be bussed to places that are unfamiliar to them and placed in classes where they are strangers and the other students have already bonded.  They will struggle to get by as they live in shelters or the homes of friends and family, their routine completely disrupted. It is going to take months if not years to rebuild, and that thought is daunting.
 
      Then I remembered that a small band of determined people can make a difference.  I am only one person, but with a little help from my friends across the state and country, we can help get these teachers and students back on track.  Surely, if anyone knows the value of schools, it is teachers.  Classroom supplies are needed and libraries need to be restocked.  Imagine not only losing all the belongings in your house, but everything in your classroom as well.  Think about all the money you have invested over the years for bulletin boards, craft supplies, books, technology, resources etc. and then imagine starting all over again.  Towns are going to need to rebuild homes and infrastructure.  In NJ, schools are supported by property taxes.  How can we ask those who have lost everything to pay more?   We are going to need to adopt classrooms and schools and help them in their recovery.  The NJEA and NJDOE are in the process of compiling a list of schools which should be available next week.  For those of you not effected directly by Sandy, how much do you value other children's education?  What are you willing to do to help?
 
       Within NJ, I have been hearing reports from all over the state from county and state TOYs who have been helping their neighbors.  There are schools all over the state being used as shelters which are full of people who need supplies and showers because the power has been out for a week already.  And then there are places where teachers live which have been devastated.  They are not going to be able to care for other people's children in their classrooms, until they take care of their own families. Donating to the Red Cross is great, but it does not help people pull up carpets and remove appliances and furniture.  It also can't be that familiar face that shows up to say you are not alone and give a hug to those that don't know how they will start over again. 
 
      Inactivity and I don't go well together; I never have been good at 'down time'.  After helping some friends in Somers Point earlier this week, I was anxious to get back out there and put some of my archaeology skills to work.  A friend and excellent teacher leader, Michael Dunlea the 2012 Ocean County TOY was hard hit in Stafford Twp.  Once he got power back, he started organizing and finding out which teachers needed help gutting their houses after the flooding that hit Manahawkin,which is just inland from Long Beach Island.  A few people turned into an army of volunteers.  One of the first houses that was gutted volunteered to be the meeting place for all the volunteers to come and have some food, get warm and use the bathroom.  Mind you, this neighborhood still has no power, so all the food is donated and getting warm simply involves coming out of the draft.  This morning, temps were in the mid 40's and the crowd was dispersed to multiple addresses that had been texted to Michael. Despite the gasoline shortages effecting 2/3 of NJ, I  had travelled to Ocean County to be one of the volunteers.  When we finished cleaning out the homes of Stafford Twp. staffers and their families, we freelanced and helped anyone who needed it. 


 

      The devastation I witnessed was horrible.  There are many people, including local teachers, police and firefighters who live in these towns year round.  Imagine everything on the first floor of your house that touches the floor or is lower than three feet having to be thrown out.  Dresser drawers are swollen shut with moisture and furniture is waterlogged.  Imagine the water from the bay soaking your home so that the carpets are still sopping wet and the sheet rock, floorboards and electric are destroyed.  Imagine having to throw out all of your appliances and food.  What if your home is only one story?  Where do you go and what do you do with the items you have managed to salvage?  After 5 days of water, imagine the mold. 




You can see the high water line.


Stuff we pulled out of a house.



That boat is not supposed to be there!


You can see the spray painted symbols.



The carpets still soaking wet.
 





 





















      

      I saw houses with boats lodged into them, houses where you were able to look right through from front to back because walls had been washed away, houses that had been lifted off of their foundations with the deluge of water and had landed off kilter.  There were houses that had been spray painted with yellow symbols to show that they were condemned. These are not all summer homes of the super wealthy, there are a lot of shore dwellers who live there year round including teachers, police, firefighters and EMTs. I helped a widow who had lived in her house for 30 years who had no family nearby and had lost everything.  Despite the devastation in Beach Haven West where we were, the reality was that there was even worse waiting on the other side of the bridge in LBI.  A few folks were allowed closer today and they said that  besides all the water and wind damage, everything is covered in at least two inches of muddy sludge.  There are also two schools on the island. 
 
      I was back in a classroom this week doing some guest teaching so that I can complete my National Board Certification. My first day with my students was their first day back after the storm. Many were still without power and before I could even begin to teach, we had to have a discussion about what had happened and I had to make sure my student's basic needs were met. Empathy is an important part of teaching because you can't teach them until you reach them. I applauded the students who came to school despite having no power, but I understood exactly why they were there. But how do you learn when you are cold, hungry and don't know if you have a home to return to?  It reinforced the idea that you can't address learning until you address the other socioeconomic needs of our students. Students need wrap around services to support them so they can succeed. 
 
     I returned from my day tired, sore and smelling of stagnant bay water.  I took a warm shower, had some dinner and realized how lucky I am because there are so many people who are still doing without.  We are on gas rations up north, there are still 500,000 people without power and there are many people who have lost everything and had their lives changed forever.  In my travels this week, I saw several caravans of electric trucks on their way up north to help from Texas, New Mexico and Mississippi.  They were a beautiful and most welcome sight.  Everyone is good at something and has a special talent, which is why it bothers me to see others go on with life as usual when things are so desperate for others.  Get out and help!  If these people running marathons today would take their physical strength and go help clean out houses, we could get the job done much faster.  Time is of the essence, because the temperatures have dipped to freezing and there is another Nor'easter on the way for Wednesday.
 
I am one person and alone my contribution is negligible, but as a group of people working together we can make a big difference.   Everyone seems to be talking about the boardwalk, no one is talking about the schools yet, and they will be low on the list of priorities for these towns that have been hard hit.  But teachers all across the country know the role that a school plays in a student's life.  Let's do what we can.

We will try to fix you.     



A symbol of hope?






 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Defying Gravity- Wicked

Katy Smith...this one is for you!  Time for a change of music and attitude. Time to defy gravity!
 
 
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I'm through with playing by the rules
Of someone else's game
Too late for second-guessing
Too late to go back to sleep.
It's time to trust my instincts
Close my eyes: and leap!
 
It's time to try
Defying gravity
I think I'll try
Defying gravity
And you can't pull me down!
 

The Educational Forum of NJ

       Here in NJ, the NJ State Teacher of the Year (NJSTOY) attends and speaks at many events throughout their reign, but one of the most rewarding for me has been the Educational Forum of NJ. Once tasked with this event, my historian training kicked in and I wanted to find out why and how this event came to be, so I started digging.  Begun by NJSTOY Katherine Bassett in 2000 along with a group of County Teachers of the Year (CTOYs), the event was organized for teachers, by teachers, in order to recognize our honored educators and give them the time to come together to discuss, learn, and creatively problem solve around some of educations most topical issues.  It has emerged as the capstone program for the Teacher of the Year and is sponsored by ETS, the NJDOE and NJEA.  Think about that; business, government and the union coming together for a day run for teachers, by teachers.  In NJ that is about as rare as Haley's Comet. 
 
 
        Anyone who knows me knows that I have a lot of big ideas, but for me the devil is in the details, and there were a lot of details associated with the organizing and running of this Forum. I have to say I called in major favors to get things done, and despite the obstacles and stress, it was a most amazing day. 
 
       Two people I could not have survived without were Dani Kovach and Katherine Bassett.  Dani helped me put the party favors together and actually came down a day early to help me set up for the Forum.  We were in the Barn at 10:00 on Thurs night stuffing folders and hanging posters.  Having run the Forum last year, she kept me sane and was a huge support throughout the event, helped organize registration, took over the dispersal of PD certificates and even got people to sign a poster for me.  Katherine, I can never say enough about.  Not only did she help me to see the vision for the Forum, she helped me focus when the stress seemed overwhelming.  By the time I came out of my 8am meeting with facilitators on Friday, she was already manning the registration table.  On top of registration and facilitating, she also managed a beautiful introduction of Charlotte Danielson.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
      After returning from several of the big events I attended this year, people kept asking me how they went.  I remember telling people over and over that the awards were nice, but I wished that other educators could feel as honored, respected, and heard as I did, even if it was only for a day. There are so many teachers who are amazing at what they do and never get recognition.  My goal  for the Forum was to make these educators feel like the rock stars they are and give them the opportunity to meet other amazing educators and share ideas, thereby widening their perspective. Meeting other passionate and innovative educators was one of the best things about my journey this year.  Hearing what was going  on across my state and across the country opened my eyes, widened my perspective, and made me dream of what could be.  My hopes were that by promoting each other, we can begin to help elevate the profession by reaching out and pulling each other up.  We are stronger and work better when we work together. 
 
       I used the Singapore model of educators as gems to illustrate the theme for the day.  Tough, brilliant, multi-faceted, an inner heat and value beyond price, these were the ideas I wanted to get across.   I didn't have the money to bestow lavish gifts on everyone or have the ability to introduce them to the President, but I could allow them to network, be heard, valued, and gain a perspective wider than the four walls of their classroom. 
 
 
 
       So many PD days are spent simply lecturing teachers, and I didn't want that to be the case.  We began the day with an idea that I called evaluation speed dating.  The idea came from Peggy Stewart and so an idea turned into a vision and with a little help from NJEA in making the posters, came to fruition.  The idea was this, have people gather around 1 of 15 pictures of geographic features such as a beach.  The posters say, Evaluation is like a beach because.....  People gather around a poster, introduce themselves, exchange business cards and then brainstorm for three minutes about the poster.  After 4 minutes they switch to another picture that captures their eye and start all over again.  This was done three times.  It was refreshing, at 9:30 in the morning, to see everyone up and enthusiastically discussing the topic.  There was a palpable vibe of positive energy in the room.  The ground rules were simply this, positive gripes but no sour grapes.  It worked!
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
    
 
 
 
     
 
 
 
 
     We managed to get Charlotte Danielson to be the keynote speaker for the Forum, which was nothing short of miraculous.  She was simply wonderful, and had the group hooked with her humor and stories of when she was a teacher.  At the end, people lined up like groupies (me included) to get a picture.  Then it was off to the break out sessions.
 
 
NJSTOYs with Charlotte, L-R Jeanne Muzi 2009, Jeanne DelColle 2012, Charlotte Danielson, Bob Goodman 2006 Diane Cummins 2004
 
 
 
 
 
      So the one thing I neglected to say was that this Forum had about 140 people in attendance.  It was award winning or honored educators who were invited to bring a guest, preferably an administrator. With 140 people, that made 14 groups of 10 people each, but we only had enough room for 12 groups.  Details, details.... I needed some help from my friends.
 
        I called on all of the veteran CTOYs who would be attending, a few NJSTOYs and a committee member to be my facilitators.  I knew they were good, most of them had been facilitating forums with NJCTY for the last year, and I trusted them with not only my reputation, but the reputation of the Forum.  I was not disappointed.  More importantly, I needed their help.  In the past, training for the new CTOYs took place the day before the Forum and so the new CTOYs would facilitate.  It is important to give people a chance to lead, particularly outside of their own districts, where it can often be difficult.  I wanted to include them too.  So, I created a buddy system, a veteran facilitator with a new CTOY.  I designed the pairs as having something in common, but they were not from the same county.  The point was to get people talking to people they didn't already know.  Step outside their comfort zones.  In true teacher style, we did modeling.  The veteran ran the first session, the CTOY took notes.  In the second session, both the veteran and CTOY shared.  In the third session, the CTOY ran the session, the veteran provided guidance.  Each breakout session was 25-30 minutes.  I am telling you, I had to go around and break up the groups to get them to move on, even to lunch!  They were so involved in their discussions, I didn't want to break them up.   The breakout session were based on questions that dealt with the role of teacher leaders in shaping the evaluation process, and each hit on different domains of the Teacher Leader Model Standards so that we covered them all.  It was awesome! 
 
 
 





 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
      The end of the day found us back in the room known as the Barn, for reporting out and closing.  Remember I asked a while ago what would make educators feel honored?  Most of you said having something from the kids.  Well, I couldn't make that happen, but it gave me a brainstorm.  I asked all the award winning educators to send me a picture of themselves either with their students or winning their award.  Most of them did.  I made a video which first had their name, school, award and year, followed by the picture they sent.  Throughout the whole video was an Olympic fanfare followed by Josh Grobin's You Raise Me Up.  There were applause at the end of the Forum.  Applause...how often does that happen at the end of a day of PD, on a Friday?  Not only did we leave everyone with some valuable PD, but a little memento from the day.  A little bag of mints with a gem inside.  On the tag, it said, Thanks for you commit"mint". You are a gem. 
 
 
 
     I also managed to get my first NJDOE initiative approved for roll out.  NJ will be setting up three regional Teacher Advisory Panels to discuss policy issues just like we did at the Forum.  Topics will change every month, but the fact that teachers will have an open dialogue with the NJDOE delights me more than I can say.  Anyone who is interested in an application should contact me at jeanne.delcolle@doe.state.nj.us.      
 
      I have had nothing but positive feedback from the Forum and several people have told me that they cant wait to get back to school to start these conversations with their own people. 
 
2011-2012 CTOYs My friends and some of the best facilitators EVER!
 
       The evening was followed by a dinner for the newest group of CTOYs and you could see that their confidence has already grown.  There were smiles for days and many friendships cemented.  I couldn't have asked for anything more.  I am honored to know and be able to work with such an amazing group of educators. 
 
CTOYs and STOYs old and new.  Quite a family!

 
 A weekend of success, because of the teamwork of some amazing educators and friends.  This is only the beginning, it is time to defy gravity.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 



For Good - Wicked

 
 
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you...
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes a sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew youI have been changed for good
 
 It well may be
That we will never meet againIn this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made from what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend...
 
 
One of the things the STOYs did in NYC was go see Wicked.  I hadn't cried the whole weekend, which I considered miraculous, and then I went to this play.  It was the final song in the show and as I listened to the words tears streamed down my face.  I tried to keep it to a trickle, but the more I thought about it, the uglier the crying got and I couldn't stop.  By the time I got outside, the mascara was gone, but the sentiment remained. 

I ended my last blog posting reflecting on the journey of how I got here.  As a historian, I have a need to know why and the how of everything,  not just the what.  It's difficult when you feel like life is happening to you, to step beyond and begin to process the enormity of it all. I had to let go of a lot of the preconceived notions of what I thought my life would become, and I felt like a balloon floating aimlessly for a while.  The lesson I've learned is that I am a work in progress, and I hope to continue that growth in whatever direction it takes me.  I had not realized how stunted my growth had become. 

My STOY peeps have been instrumental in my growth in the last year, but they are not the only ones.  I can't tell you how many times my Mom has come over while I was out and about and I came home to find my cats fed, homemade cupcakes on the cupboard, or that the sink full of dirty dishes had been cleaned.  When I call, or come over for dinner, she just lets me ramble and get it all out of my system even if she doesn't know what the heck I am talking about.  My brother has been my date to events on several occasions and can speak truth to me like only a family member can do and get away with.







Jane, my humanities guru, keeps me grounded and always reminds me of the bigger issues in education including, social justice, civic engagement, and finding that which brings us together rather than tears us apart.  She has been instrumental in keeping me sane and helping me keep my eye on what is important.







Katherine, the unflappable matriarch of the NJSTOY program, whose patience and wisdom, not to mention excellent fashion sense, has provided guidance and a model to look up to.   I am in awe of her for many reasons, but most of all am inspired by her kindness. Without knowing me very well, she answered my distress call, reached down to offer a hand,  pulled me up and showed me a set of new possibilities I never thought possible.







Mary, my DKG Eta sister and friend, who listens and asks thoughtful questions.  Not only has her positive encouragement helped me to focus, but realizing this journey is more than mental growth, she likes to feed me and remind me to take off my roller skates every once in a while to enjoy the rest of life.










Lastly, I lost my last grandparent this past week to Alzheimers.  I got the news the night before the big Forum, but had to tuck it away until later so that I could deal with it.  Grandma Lola and I didn't become family until later in life, but our bond was instant.  She was thrilled she had grandchildren, even though my brother and I were grown, and I was happy to have such a wonderful lady as my Grandmother.  We climbed mountains together, talked about boys and life, and she made one mean pecan pie.  I used to visit often, and it was about six years ago that I noticed something was wrong and alerted the rest of the family.  She declined quickly.   Alzheimer's is a cruel disease to those that have it, but it is just as cruel to those who are the caregivers and love the victim as they are erased from memory.  I have been missing her for a while as she lost who she was, but death brings a new level of mourning.    







I could not be where I am without all the people who have supported me and fed me body, mind and soul.  I am eternally grateful and will do my best to pay it forward and help others like you have helped me.     

 
Now to continue with the news......


I returned from my last conference with my STOYs and hit the ground running, not that I ever really stopped.  The NJ Council for the Humanities was having its 40th anniversary and I got to introduce the new Humanities TOY.  I also got to talk to Assemblyman Troy Singleton, who not only grew up in Willingboro in the same park at the same time I did, but he also was at my high school!  Small world. 



That weekend I got to give the keynote address at the NJ School Counselors Conference.  It was a beautiful morning down the shore, and in the light of the current hurricane raging outside, may be a scene we don't see again.  My keynote for the conference was a little different from my usual talk.  I dove head first into brain research and hormone levels of adolescents in my keynote.  Not exactly a pithy title, but aren't you curious?  I had lots of positive feedback and several counselors I need to get back to.  One thing I noticed was although there are few teachers involved in task forces, advisory committees, and panels, there are NO school counselors.  This has to change.  They are such an integral part of the school climate and culture and often know more about our students lives than we do.  We need them involved in our discussions about education.   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Later that night, a tradition was upheld.  We veteran NJSTOYs had a dinner for Lauren Marrocco, the 2012-2013 NJSTOY.  It was time to welcome her to the family and give her some helpful hints to get through the year.  She is an excellent 4th grade teacher from Perth Amboy and I have the utmost faith that she will do an excellent job representing the teachers of NJ.  She has all of us behind her as a support network, and she will find that she can't fail with such a strong net ready to catch her.   
 
 
 
 
The rest of the week was filled with planning, meetings and preparing more speeches because the upcoming weeks would be crazed.
 
On the 22nd, I was asked to speak at the Delta Kappa Gamma dinner for Pi chapter down in Gloucester County.  The topic was Women Working in a Man's World.  I got an article from the Atlantic, called Why Women Still Can't Have It All and was both fascinated and  disturbed, by what I read. Kind of like when I watch Mad Men.   Of the 190 heads of state only 9 are women.  Of all the Parliaments in the world, only 13% are women.  Of all the Boards of Directors for corporations, only 15% are women.  Why such small numbers? Inflexible scheduling is part of the reason, but another has to do with what we value.  When women say that they are leaving their job to take care of their family, they are seen as failures.  This flies directly in the face of the family values that we seem to care so much about.  Why is it that when men sacrifice their family lives, they are hailed as heroes because they are working for the greater good?  Why do we applaud leaders who promote family values, but don't actually value them personally?  Seems a bit off. 
 
 
I was agitated after reading the article to I reached out for some other info and was directed to the book Tripping the Prom Queen; The Truth About Women and Rivalry.  It was brilliant, and explained what I have described in the past as Mean Girl Syndrome.  We know that women don't fight fair; it is never just about the job, but also how their kids are doing, what their man is like and how they look from hair to shoes.  We women have a problem with rivalry, and it needs to stop. Loving movies as I do, I immediately thought of one of my favorites, Working Girl with Melanie Griffith and Sigourney Weaver.  Weaver has Queen Bee Syndrome, she is a woman that has made it through connections and privilege, and does not want to compete against other women.  She is content with being the only woman at the top.   If you haven't seen this oldie but goodie, do so immediately.  Not too much has changed since the 1980s.  It was a good speech, and I admit I laid into the ladies a bit, but much of the time we hold ourselves back.  Studies show that when women compete for a job, they don't compete against the men at the top of the profession, they compete against the other women for the few slots they believe are allotted to women in top echelons. 
 
 
 
Wednesday, I spoke at Rider University.  The president of the student teacher organization on campus asked me to address the students, my favorite group,  but she had already heard me twice!  I had to write a new speech for that one too, but it was received well. The more I talk to college preservice students, the more I want to work with them.  Hmm....
 



 
 
 The rest of the week deserves its own entry, so that will be forthcoming.  Let's just say that it was AMAZING!   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


 
 
 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reach Out (I'll Be There)- The Four Tops

     Now if you feel that you can't go on
Because all your hope is gone
And your life is filled with confusion
And happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is tumblin' down
Darling, reach out
Reach out, for me.

  Einstein said that you always get your best ideas in the bed, the bath, or on the bus. 
 
      He was absolutely right; it is when you stop thinking about a problem that some subtle idea manifests itself in your brain.  I usually get my best ideas in the shower in the morning, which I am guessing is because it takes so much effort for me to wake up that focusing on something else helps you to process ideas about the day.   It also helps that I usually have a cup of coffee in me by then.  However, today the idea hit me as I was drifting in and out of sleep, as I have for these last few days in Princeton while at my final conference with all of my 2012 STOYs here at ETS.  It is bittersweet, because we have bonded so deeply these past nine months as we shared our ideas, joys, and pains and became a support system for each other, but the reality is that this is the last time many of us will ever see each other.  While difficult, the truth of the matter is that we needed this conference to begin to process the enormity of what has happened to us, as we begin to formulate our plans for the future. And yes, for many of us it feels like this year has happened to us rather than with us. 
 
With TOY besties Katie (NY) and Katy (MN) in the chapel at Princeton Univ.
 

     Michelle Obama said during the Democratic National Convention that, " A title doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are."   Never truer words were spoken.  Many of us TOYs have found that as you began to peel away our teacher layers, (much of them covered in whiteboard marker, chalk dust, and hand sanitizer) we had grown and evolved to the point where we didn't quite fit into our old habitat.  In my case, the Jeanne had been let out of the bottle, so how do you put her back in? Did I really want to?
  

   Who was that person last September who got that life changing phone call from the Commissioner?  I was a person who was a reluctant leader, didn't like public speaking, and was content to stay in my classroom with my door closed and do my thing, which I did very well by the way.  It was a way of maintaining the status quo in order to keep the peace among my colleagues and administrators back at school, but it meant that my growth had become stagnant.




 
 
     I was reminded of my journey when honored by Richard Stockton College, my alma mater, with a Professional Service Award this Saturday.  Strangely enough, it was not my education degree that they were celebrating, but my political science degree, earned in 1993.  I had a few free hours in the conference schedule and kidnapped STOY besties Katy and Katie to serve as my family and witnesses for this event.  As besties do, the Kat(y)ies scoped out the room looking for a potential mate for me, their socially awkward friend.  In the meantime, I asked the lady in charge if I needed to make any remarks.  I had been so concerned about the conference in Princeton, I hadn't even thought about whether or not I had to give a speech, and besides, there were several honorees so surely just a smile and a wave would do, right?  Wrong.


     
      I scratched out some ideas on a napkin and then found a piece of paper.  Of course with any speech you need to thank your hosts, open with a hook, tell a story and then close with a lesson or moral, often with something that everyone can do to make the world a better place, then close the deal. I had to talk about my time at Stockton and my political science degree, which I hadn't thought about for years, but considering the conference at ETS and the hard reflection I had been doing, I was able to come up with a few ideas. 

       After thanking my most gracious hosts for the honor, I began by saying that it was nice to be able to come home.  When I started my political science degree, I began to investigate how governments were designed, what their purpose was,  the role of democracy and security, and how civil rights and the real meaning of freedom changed the course of history.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to act on that knowledge.  I felt a calling to promote social justice, inform people of their civic responsibility and engage in something meaningful.  I wanted people to know they could make a difference and that they had choices, but my degree left me with a void.
 
      It wasn't until a few years later, after going down a few of the wrong paths, that I discovered the joys and exhaustion of teaching.   As a history teacher, I was able to deliver on the core values that had been driving me.  I loved it and I was very good at what I did, being named NJ Teacher of the Year, but my growth had stopped and it was beginning to burn me out.  I was running out of oxygen and one of two things would happen.  Either my flame would extinguish itself, or I would burn so bright I would consume myself in trying to light the way for others.  Neither was looking very appealing. 
 
This past year has found me in a strange place, as I became an expert overnight on a vast series of topics.  I spoke to student teachers at many of the universities around the state, and I liked it, but I also found myself working with policy makers.  I was able to teach policy makers about the realities of what was going on in classrooms all over NJ, and I was good at it.  I have ideas, and this past year I have found a sense of confidence I never had before and I am not afraid to advocate for educators and students.  I stand straighter, act with more certainty, and I am no longer afraid of public speaking.  I have met an echelon of people who learn, evolve, have a deep sense of social justice and a desire to make the world a better place for students through education. 

      When you do the same thing for 16 years, it is hard getting used to a new routine.  Growth is difficult and I have been in a dark place these last few months.  At times I thought the deafening silence that entered my life would drive me insane, and I was somewhere between sadness and anger as I mourned the loss of my students from my life.  I even yelled at my cat for no logical reason (darned hair balls).  After working for years and constantly evolving, I didn't feel worthy to be standing among the people I had worked so hard to be in the presence of, and truthfully I was scared.  I was scared that I would fall flat on my face and really suck at anything outside of the classroom.  I had grown up as an average student that people didn't expect very much of, and I suppose that we always hold on to those insecurities.  Emotionally, I had curled up in the fetal position and couldn't get out of it because I was afraid that people would look at me and realize I wasn't as smart or confident as they thought I was.  In short, I felt like I was a fraud.  This fear and doubt took over my life as I have been trying to adjust to a new normal.  It was not going well, but I still had those big ideas, and I still had that desire for social justice and civic responsibility.
 
        My brother called me and as only a family member can, helped me climb out of the deep end of the pity pool, pull my head out of my ass and see reality.  Yes, my new path is scary, but there is such incredible potential that I know if I continued to remain an emotional blob, the opportunity to really help students and teachers would pass me by.  Inactivity is a decision too.  Those questions that had guided my year once again resurfaced and bit me in the ass.  If not me, who?  If not now, when?  Thanks to my brother, and the people who have loved me and see in me the potential for great things, I emerged from my pity party and my true self was revealed.  I am going to kick ass, take names, and I am not going to stop until teachers have a say in what happens them and students are shown that they have choices in life and are held to high standards so that they can do great things. Anything less is unworthy and betrays the ideals that form the core of my being.   
 
      I realized by the time I arrived at the conference that I had come full circle and have been able to put both of my degrees to use as I continue to strive for social justice and engage people in helping to understand their civic responsibility and the value of good education.   It was truly a revelation, thanks to a little help from my friends. 

   


I'll be there to love and confort you...(tell me baby)
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through
Now when you're lost and about to give up
'cause your best just ain't good enough
And you feel the world has grown cold
And you're driftin' on your own
When you need a hand to hold
Darling, reach out
Reach out, for me.
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there to with the love I'll see you through
I can tell you the way I hang your head
Now with out of love , now you're afraid
And through your tears you look around
But there's no peace of mind to be found
I know what you're thinking
Witout love, now you're alone
Baby, reach out
Reach out for me
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the Love I'll see you through
I'll be there to love and confort you ...(tell me baby)
I'll be there to always see you through...(i'll be there)
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Viva la Vida- Coldplay




I am supremely uncomfortable.

It has been a rough week, full of reflection, that has left me feeling a bit fragile. 

First of all, let me say THANK YOU to all the people who have made this last year one of the most amazing of my life.  My family and friends, you have been there through the highs and lows and have supported me as I started to grow wings and step outside of my comfort zone.  It has been an absolute rollercoaster of emotions and I have always known that no matter how scary the drop, you were going to be there cheering me on. I could not have done this without you.
 
 
   

Growth does not come without growing pains.  All of a sudden, or so it felt, a series of things hit me at once and I'm just not sure how to handle it.  The end of my reign as Teacher of the Year is this week, Wednesday in fact (The Queen is dead, long live the Queen.), and I am just exhausted.  I have done my best to represent NJ education and put over 17,000 miles on the car as I have travelled all over NJ to talk to students, teachers, parents, politicians and anyone else who will listen.   

 
 

 My magic coach turned back into a pumpkin and I had to give back the teachermobile this week. I have been able to put off buying a new car for a year, but the time came last week to face the music.  It took six guys to sell me my new car and although I like my new ride, I am not looking forward to a car payment for the next five years.   
 
I am also in the middle of planning a Forum for award winning educators and their administrators.  It is looking like registration will hit 150 people and most of all, I want these educators to feel like the rock stars they are.  I don't want to lecture at them, I want them to be able to network, share best practices, and show their administrators what can happen when you put a group of dynamic educators in a room together.  Of course, I am trying to do this while I will be at a conference.  Yikes! 
 
I had dinner with the 2013 Teacher of the Year this week, who is just wonderful and a real dynamo that will represent NJ education well.   However, it is all still top secret until Wednesday, so you will have to wait for details.  One tradition I can tell you about that I worked on this week is that we NJTOYs get together and take the newest member of our family out for dinner so we get the chance to meet and share some words of wisdom. 

Anyway, the ceremony (Coronation Day) is on Wednesday is followed by my last National TOY conference on Thursday.  As usual, it is just in time and I can't wait to see these people who have become my extended family.  But this time, the joy that I get in seeing them will also be tinged with sorrow because this is our last official gathering.  It is a sad truth that I will never see some of these people again.  
 
I am currently on loan to the Dept of Education and it is difficult adjusting to the quiet life of a pink cubicle.  I am having issues because unlike a classroom where you have extreme highs and lows every day, sometimes in the same class period, a cubicle is remarkably calm.  There is no routine or structure to my day, no chaos, no group of people all demanding your attention at the same time, and most of all, no way to know if you are making a difference in the world. Silence can be deafening sometimes and I miss the noise.  I know I made the right choice to work with the DOE, but it is an adjustment I am making one small step at a time. I wish I could do both teach and work with the DOE, that would be a dream job. 
 
One of the things that got me thinking was an assignment for the upcoming conference where they want us to share best practices from our classroom. It has been hard enough adjusting to life without students, I am afraid this reminder of how much I miss them will leave me an emotional wreck. 
 
This gathering of TOYs and the arranging of the NJTOY dinner to welcome our newest family member got me thinking.  I began to reflect on what I have accomplished this past year and thinking about what other NJ TOYs have done.  In just the last 12 years of TOYS we have an Executive Director of a national organization, someone who created their own successful math and physics program that is now being used around the world, prestigious national and state award winners, teaching ambassador fellows, Smart board experts, administrators, NBCTs, leaders of major educational groups and a whole host of other things too long for me to mention.  Then there is me feeling woefully inadequate in relation to this pantheon of giants in education.  I feel unworthy to be counted among them because I don't feel like I have accomplished anything of substance.  I give a great motivational speech, but that only gets you so far.  I am hoping my best and most lasting work is yet to come as I transition from my year of recognition to my years of service.

 

All these things began to manifest themselves in me by the end of the week.  It was not about handing over the title, like I said, I am very happy for the new TOY and couldn't be prouder.  I was tired, and the person staring back at me when I saw my reflection in the mirror looked old.  I became easily agitated and snapped at a friend and I even yelled at my cat.  I felt like I was fraying at the edges and set adrift without direction.  I knew that this was not normal for me, but was this normal for a TOY?  Only one group of people could tell me.
 
It turns out I am normal (debatable, but thank goodness!) but growing does not come without considerable frustration and discomfort.  I'll be fine, it is just going to take some time. 
 
Just as I was trying to wrap my head around all of this, I came down with a cold that knocked me out all weekend.  All of this stress to deal with combined with an illness means that I am one big emotional blob.  Not a pretty sight.         
 
 

     I ended up at my Mom's on Sunday for some much needed TLC.  My family is not very demonstrative when it comes to emotions, but I know they are always there to support me.  Mom asked if I had read an article in the paper that morning, which I hadn't yet, because it reminded her of me.  Curious, I checked it out.
 
The piece, written by Lisa Scottoline for the Philadelphia Inquirer, finally made me smile this week. Lisa was talking about watching her daughter give a speech and said this,
Someone said to me, "She's her mother's daughter."
And I said, "Thanks, but she's herself, and she's amazing."....

It was that kind of weekend.
Stars collided, then aligned. And I got to see my own special star shine, bathing me in her light, leaving me blissful and blessed.
There can be no greater pleasure, as a parent, than watching your child come fully into her own, taking all of her God-given talents and putting them to their most perfect use.
That feeling?
It's Mom Heaven.

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/entertainment/20120930_Chick_Wit__The_stars_align_in_Mom_Heaven.html#ixzz2865ndifC
Watch sports videos you won't find anywhere else


  
I realized after reading it that someone had been paying attention this year and she is very proud of me.
I love you too, Mom