Monday, January 30, 2012

No More Drama (Mary J. Blige)

January 24-29


The big time, how would I handle it?  My frame of mind was not the best, but I decided on the plane that this was no time to be miserable and shy. I had started to gain some confidence and "own" my title right before I left and I was determined to force myself to be outgoing and power through any issues I might have.  I made a new BFF on the way home from the airport when Katy from Minnesota and I were squished next to each other in the van.  After a few wisecracks, I knew we would be fast friends.  In the van were also Pat from South Dakota, Brenda,from North Dakota and Adam from Massachusetts.  From the time I landed at the airport, I was Jeanne from Jersey.  More than just a place, it's an attitude.  I was the outgoing, personable, character I always wanted to be, but were to shy to become in my own life.  Don't get me wrong, I definitely have a strong character, and I can be very outspoken, but I guess I had become so comfortable at school that I had lost some of my oomph. 

With Tyronna from NC

With Cara from Alaska
Hanging out after hours with Katy and Bethany

Dave and Katy

Our teacher homeroom - by region

I had to Skype in to my kids on Wednesday, the first day of our meetings.  My kids were stressing over their upcoming finals the next day and they needed to be reassured and tell me they loved me.  Honestly, I needed to hear it too, but it added to my already growing guilt.  By the time I finished with them I was late to the first session and of course every chair in the room was filled except the one right up front.  This did not add to my mood. 

We had SMART technology training on that first day, and we all had to come up with a notebook page describing ourselves.  I wasn't scared because I had nothing to lose.  I found out that day that there were some definite characters amongst our group.  Some just had the ability to command a room.  They had presence, charisma, and in many cases, a wicked sense of humor.  The more I got to know these people, the more I liked them.  The more I talked to them, the more I found out that many of them were going through the same things as me.  It was refreshing not to have to deal with "mean girl syndrome" and the other petty crap back home.  We genuinely supported each other and when you got us together in groups, the energy was palpable.  I am telling you, if given the power, the room of us could fix everything that is wrong with education. 

We went to the Texas Book Depository for a dinner one night and were given scholarships from the University of Phoenix to give to a deserving student.  I was just trying to stop myself from ugly crying.  Giving someone the gift of an education can change their lives and give them options they never knew they had.  What an opportunity!

Our final night's dinner was a little fancier than usual and so I decided to bust out the gold dress and sparkly shoes.  A little old school Hollywood glam never fails.  I felt like a different person by this time who was newly energized, full of ideas, and ready to take over the world (of education anyway).  I also knew that I had a new family, a support system that would cheer me on in my TOY activities and encourage me to make a difference.  Thank goodness I met them when I did. 

What a week.  I can't believe I have to wait until April to see everyone again.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Don't You Forget About Me (Simple Minds)

January 3-20

January- Named for Janus, the god of beginnings.  The month of changes.

Little did I know when I started this month how transformational it would be.

Back to school I went after the break because I wanted to hang with my students as close to final exams as I could.  After everything we had been through with me winning NJ TOY, it was the least I could do. 

I started the week with an Evaluation Pilot Advisory Committee meeting at Rider, which I have had at least once a month since September.  What made this month different was that afterwards, I was meeting with my fellow NJ STOYs in Princeton for dinner.  It has become a tradition that they take the new STOY to dinner and impart a few words of wisdom, warning, and fashion advice.  We had a lovely time and they got me the makings for a scrapbook to help keep track of the year.  I am not very crafty, so I know I am going to need some help, but I have been saving everything in a box.  It was good to sit down with them because I was also feeling a little anxious about Dallas, coming up in a few weeks, where I would meet STOYs from all over the US. 


The week after, I went to the Burlington County Education Association meeting and was given an award for my TOY recognitions.  They asked me for some brief remarks and I felt a lot of love in the room from my former district, Willingboro, which is also where I grew up.  Isn't it a cute apple?  It was nice to be recognized by my hometown peeps.     

     The following day, I decided to try my hand at running some professional development.  My topic was the achievement gap and my purpose was two-fold. First, I wanted to invite the NJ  County TOYs to my school to see what a real Career and Technical Institute is all about.  Second, I wanted to get people engaged in a discussion about the achievement gap.  Both objectives were met.  The CTOYs were incredibly impressed with BCIT and I think their visit in the morning gave them a new point of view.  The achievement gap presentation and round-table in the afternoon was brilliant.   I managed to get my friend Prof. Clement Price to come and give a talk about how we got to this point, and then we mixed up the tables so that there were current teachers, retired teachers, students, college, union or other organization members(PTA) at tables. We had them visualize, discuss, recommend and the day was brilliant. 

That weekend, I was invited to the NJEA- MLK Awards.  My brother was my date, and we had a pretty good time.  The guest speaker, Dr. Adolph Brown,  was fantastic, the choir was exceptional, and the band was good, but the big hit was my shoes.  No teacher sweater and sensible shoes here!  Why can't teaching be glamorous?

 The following week was my last at BCIT, and it was gut wrenching.  I tried so hard to keep it together, and even the principal caught me in the hall and told me there would be no crying.  It was so hard to pack up my room, make room for someone else, bring them in and train them, and then walk away.  I miss the kids terribly, but I look at this as the opportunity to effect change on a different level.  I could not keep up the pace I had been because I probably would have collapsed.  Would I like working on policy?  I had no idea.  I was very comfortable doing what I did in the classroom, and I am not ashamed to admit I am really good at it.   But, no growth happens until you step outside of your comfort zone.  Still, I was miserable and I cried all the way home, especially because that day someone sent me a sappy video about how much difference a teacher can make in the life of a student.  Sobbed like a baby. 

With all this on my mind, and the recent news that I was not a finalist for National Teacher of the Year after pouring blood, sweat and tears into that application,  I set off for Dallas three days later feeling pretty guilty, rejected, and disappointed. I was determined to make lemonade out of the lemons I had been given and leave my mark, finalist or not.   Little did I know that I would shortly meet some of the most incredible people I have ever had the privilege to be in a room with. Not only would they turn out to be wonderful human beings, they would understand exactly what I was going through.