Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ode to Joy (Beethoven)

June 16-23

Just when my visit to the White House was beginning to seem like just a dream, I got this in the mail on Monday.  It was right after this picture was taken that my mind blanked out and I can't remember what was said until I was walking away and managed to gain control of the awe that had rendered me temporarily speechless and without a functioning brain.  I still can't stop staring at this picture.

It was a slow week, mostly spent in my pink cubicle at the DOE.  However, since my sabbatical was only the duration of my school contract, this week I packed up and moved out of the DOE.  This doesn't mean that my job is done... far from it.  In fact, I will be working straight through the summer.  It just means I don't have to report to Trenton anymore.  In reflection, it is a shame that the sabbatical is only six months, (although it was closer to five for me because I tried to hang in with my students until the end of the semester) because learning how things operate and the new language of bureaucracy and policy making takes time. Not to mention it seems like everything takes six months to get accomplished.  Just as I have learned how things operate, it is time to go.  If the TOY had a full year sabbatical they would actually be able to dive in and tackle a particular project. 

Before I received my picture with POTUS, I had an interview for an article being written for the NJ Council for the Humanities newsletter about a Civil War project I am working on with my students and the Burlington County Historical Society.  Since the NJCH gave me my first award, I have a special affinity for them, and I am at heart a humanities girl.  If you are asking what are humanities, the humanities encompass subjects that help us to explain and understand the human experience.  I like to think of it as the view of who we are as human beings from 30,000 feet.  Art, history, literature, law, religion, archaeology and languages are all encompassed by the humanities.  It helps us to critically think, understand, and  hopefully become a little more accepting of the things which makes us unique. 

I spent the week preparing for a teacher institute that I would be presenting a session in this July and by Thursday I had packed up the cubicle and moved out.  It didn't help that it was 100 degrees that day and I almost melted between the building and my car.  Whew!

By Friday, the hectic schedule was back.  I started the day with media training for the new crop of 2012-13 County TOYs.  This exemplary group of educators have done some amazing things in their schools and I am looking forward to seeing what they will do this year.  I was supposed to give them a look at what it is really like being the STOY, so I gave them a copy of my calendar.  27 speeches, 13,000 miles on the car, 5 committees/panels, 52 meetings, 9 media interviews, 10 conferences etc. and that only takes us to the end of June!  In short, this position is not just some ceremonial thing where you shake hands and kiss babies.  There is a lot of work involved.   One of the bonuses of the day was that I got to see my former student who is interning with Classroom Close up.  So proud! 

As soon as I was done with the CTOYs I had to scoot up to NJPSA for a meeting about the Common Core and some upcoming PD opportunities.  It was a productive meeting and I am looking forward to working with this dynamic organization that is trying to deliver cohesive and comprehensive information that will be beneficial to teachers. 

My last meeting of the day was with NJCTY, the group which comprises CTOYs from the last two years.  We have been doing some great things around the state with our message of positive communication for education, but it appears we have come to a crossroads and have several choices to make about the future of the organization.  Right now, we are in desperate need of organizations that will promote teacher leadership on a state level.  Teachers leading teachers is the only way we are going to combat the negativity facing educators today. 

I ended the week at a graduation party for one of my colleagues. A few people from work were there and people keep asking me if I am coming back to school in September, which I thought was strange. My reply... of course I am!  I think that people have the wrong idea of what I have been doing because it was always my intention to go back to my classroom in September.  People also seem to think that I am making tons of money with everything I am doing.  Let me just say that other than earning my regular salary (being paid while I am on sabbatical by ETS- Thanks!) I have made no money beyond my salary (which is also stuck because my district has been without a contract for a year now)  and will earn no money this summer for the two months I will be working, but I consider it my moral duty to do this job to the best of my ability and that means working all summer and even doing this at the same time I am teaching when September comes.  I have not been paid for any of the 27 speeches, appearances, or writing I have done.  I am actually not allowed to accept any money as long as I am the STOY, and this is not a job that simply runs from 9-5 Monday to Friday.  It is just like teaching, you do the job until the job is done, and that requires far more than punching a time clock.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

She's a Lady (Tom Jones)

June 4-16

These last two weeks have been the end of school slow down.  I wasn't asked to speak at any commencement ceremonies, so I finally have some room to breathe.  I did manage to take a day or two to catch up on backlogged things, like cleaning my apartment (although it needs a serious deep cleaning at this point) and doing laundry.  It doesn't help that the teachermobile had to go in to have its steering column replaced after the power steering went out while moving at a rather high rate of speed while on I-295. 

What I did have to accomplish this week was the scoring of another 65 applications, which took me THREE DAYS!  It felt like I was grading final exams. 

In the meantime, I had our final EPAC mtg of the year where we hashed out a lot of details.  It has been a lot of learning, analysis, debate and thought provoking conversation, but I am glad I have been a participant.  We need to have the teacher voice heard more often in policy decisions. 

My other big events happened on Saturday.  I got to give a short speech at the NJEA and NJ12 Scholar-athlete luncheon.  NJ12 had done videos on all of the students, who had been featured as the scholar-athlete of the week on TV. The video clips showed their amazing accomplishments and how many were giving back by working with young people.  When asked what they wanted to be, or what they were studying in college, almost all said business.  Oh no!  My talk consisted of warning them about life was about juggling, you have to know which balls bounce and which balls shatter.  They were about to go into the great unstructured universe and they would be tempted.  I also told them that they needed to surround themselves with mentors, because you never get too old to get good advice, and we teachers never stop caring.  Lastly, I warned them that they had better be ready to fail because it was a matter of when and not if.  Most of these kids had never failed at anything, and when it finally does happen what matters is how they handle it.  Do you give up, take it out on others, or learn and adapt?  I then made a plug for education, because from what I saw, these kids would make great teachers someday, and they already love working with young people!  Education may not be as sexy or appealing as business, but they will get a lot more out of education than just a paycheck, so I encouraged all of them to take at least one education class in college.   I was working hard to advance the profession!

I have put some miles on the teachermobile this year, (before it broke this week) but I thought that the mileage on the odometer was funny.

After a quick change into cocktail attire in the ladies room, it was off to the NJ Hall of Fame ceremony in Newark at the NJPAC (but only as an observer).  It was a star studded evening and I even got to walk the red carpet and do some interviews.  Michael Douglas was there being inducted, as was author Joyce Carol Oates, and the first African-American decathlon gold medal winner Milt Campbell and famed high school coach Bob Hurley.   Several NJ greats were inducted posthumously including, Annie Oakley, Sara Vaughn and Christoper Reeve.  We saw prior inductees like Buzz Aldrin, Michael Graves, and a great performance by Bucky Pizzarelli.  Most famous of course were the 2011 and 2012 NJ STOYs looking fabulous and having a great time!

NJPAC - A beautiful venue

Two NJTSTOYS - with 2011 Danielle Kovach

Buzz Aldrin
Michael Douglas

With fellow teacher after the show.

The Reeve children - as gracious as their parents.

The Sopranos - Added this one for Dad

Bucky Pizzarelli
Yes, that is David Cassidy.  He thinks he loves me. :)

Happy Birthday (the Altered Images Version)

May 29 - June 3

Returning from Atlanta, I hit the ground running.  Still working on several projects at once.  I had to get ready for three more speeches this week.  Now all of this running around does take its toll on a girl, and every so often I wake up feeling like I have been hit by a truck and need to take a day to regroup. Also, being a single girl means that nothing in my house gets done unless I do it, not the shopping, cooking, cleaning or paying my bills.  However, even when I am home, I am constantly working responding to emails, writing, completing applications etc.

I worked out of Trenton on Tuesday, trying to catch up with everything I missed while out in rural Georgia, but managed to have dinner with a friend who took me out for an early birthday celebration. 

By Wednesday, I was back at Mercer County College, this time for a teacher evaluation conference sponsored by NJEA and NJPSA which discussed, in detail, each of the four evaluation models NJ is focusing on.  It was a great opportunity to learn the nuts and bolts and make some informed decisions.  Each district is supposed to be convening a committee to decide which model is best for them in the upcoming year.  I was expecting the room to be full of administrators since this meeting was not offered to the general membership.  It was about 3/4 full of teachers all itching to know more.  It was nice to see them with their administration having productive discussion about the pros and cons of all the models.  My first reaction was that these conferences need to happen all over the state...and fast!

Thursday was my 41st birthday, and in 1971 I was born on Memorial Day.  My family usually celebrates with a BBQ over that weekend, but with my schedule, it was going to have to wait until the following weekend.  I had been gone the whole of Memorial Day weekend and today I had a speech to give in Cumberland County!  I did make a stop for some cupcakes on the way home though. Yum!

It was nice to be in South Jersey for once, driving through the countryside on a beautifully sunny day to get to the Cumberland Co Vocational School where the TOY ceremony was being held.  As with most CTE (Career and Technical Education) schools, everything was done in-house. The food was great, the floral arrangements stunning, and each teacher got personalized notepads from the print shop.  Even better, I got to share the stage that day with fellow CTOY Tara Cotton.  Unfortunately she had to go after me.  It was a great morning/afternoon and it was easy to see that Cumberland County is proud of its educators. 

With fellow CTOY Tara Cotton

The next day I was off to the Hunterdon County TOY ceremony with fellow CTOY Sean Chappe.  Once again, we were at their CTE facility, only a share time (half day) program.  Once again, a great program with some stellar food.  The teachers were given gifts of clocks, a nice touch. 

With fellow CTOY Sean Chappe and new 2013 CTOY Mary Woods

After that, it was back to the office to make final preparations for Saturday's speech on Leadership.
It was off to Sayen Elementary School early on Saturday morning where I was to give a keynote speech at a DKG Leadership Conference on Leadership.  I had data, anecdotes and was ready, but was a little unsure.  DKG is a group of outstanding professional women educators and I had just been inducted this year.  There were 150 leaders from around the state in the room, most of whom had far more teaching experience than me.  I had only 30 minutes and I squeezed as much in as I could celebrating, advising and at times even chiding the audience.  It worked because I got a standing ovation, not easy when you are sitting in cafeteria tables with benches.  Thanks ladies! YOU ROCK!!!

Going to the Chapel...(The Dixie Cups)

May 21-29
I was excited for the start of this week. I was coming home and speaking at my own Burlington County Teacher of the Year awards.  I gave it my best shot and left it all on the floor, but the audience reaction was a little subdued.  Puzzling...these were my peeps, where was the hometown love?  Did it say more about my speech or about the state of education in Burlington County? I had to leave before it was over because I had to get to a meeting about those monster applications I had finished scoring on Friday, so I did not get the chance to talk to chat at the end of the ceremony.   However, I did get a lovely message from the Superintendent of the Year (SOY?), Chris Manno of Burlington Township, who loved my speech and wants me to come address his faculty and staff on the first day of school. 

Tuesday, it was back to Kean University for their Intern Recognition program.  It was great to see not only the outstanding students honored, but also their cooperating teachers and supervisors.  It really drove home the idea that teaching is a collaborative process.  Sorry no pictures of me here, but it was a hot, humid day and my hair developed a mind of its own.  I am not putting evidence of that online!

After the last two days, I was feeling a little funky about things and decided to do some retail therapy.  I was hunting for a pair of shoes, which always make me feel better, when I got the email congratulating me on winning NJ History Teacher of the Year from Gilder Lehrman.  What an honor!  I worked hard on the application and came up with what I thought were two dynamic lesson plans.  Not only do I win, but my school gets an archive of materials and my school becomes an affiliate school where they will now have access to all sorts of lessons and primary sources.  Huzzah for us!  Many thanks also to all of my fellow STOYs from around the country who wrote to offer their congratulations.  Such a gracious group of educators.  

By Thursday, it was time for an EPAC meeting about teacher evaluation at Rider University, but after lunch I was off to the airport.  I was a to be a bridesmaid in a friend's wedding, in Atlanta GA!  I was good friends with both the bride and groom, (Stef and Bob) and was very happy they were finally tying the knot.  It was boiling hot, but the happy couple just glowed (or maybe it was the perspiration).

With Becky - Bob's youngest and my buddy.
With Bob, the groom

With my travel buddies Brenda and Ellen after the reception.  We had melted!

My Old School (Steely Dan)

May 12-18

Ok, I admit I have been negligent in my postings. Where has the time gone?  People ask me often how things are going and my response is "Well...I think".  It seems like an odd answer, but I have been so crazy busy that I have not had the time to properly digest anything.  At this point in the TOY schedule, we shift into high gear because it is awards season.   Problem is, I feel like I have been running in high gear since October.  Read on and you will see what I mean.

The week after Teacher Appreciation Week, I decided that I didn't know nearly enough about designing assessments.  Although I have been a teacher for 16 years and have been designing assessments all along, I will be the first to admit that I don't know the science behind assessment design and if what I have been giving my students has been valid.  This becomes particularly worrisome in light of the fact that a large portion of my teacher evaluation will now be based on scores for assessments in areas that do not have a standardized test.  We in the non-tested subject areas will have to create our own pre/post tests that have some validity.  I don't quite know how it is fair to judge a teacher-designed test by the same standards as the large state-wide tests in math and language arts, but they will be.  I knew I needed to learn more.

I gave my friends at ETS a call.  They are kind enough to sponsor my sabbatical and have purchased the laptop which has allowed me to give presentations all over the state.  I owe them a lot, but was now asking for even more.  I needed help getting to the bottom of this assessment stuff.  I had appointments where I talked to different groups of people about how tests are designed, the difference between testing for skills and testing for content, formative assessment design and PLCs (professional learning communities - they use student data to look back and figure out how to help the students), and the idea of a TLC (teacher learning communities) which focuses on teacher practice and looks toward the future.    I admit, ETS was great and loaded me up with information to help me answer the many questions I have.  I am hoping to get together with some people who specifically work on history assessments in the future.  Designing big stakes assessments for non-tested subject areas is causing a lot of angst in NJ right now and I am hoping to be able to help my fellow teachers in this area soon.  Stay tuned.

After ETS, it was down the shore I went to give a presentation to Richard Stockton College's (my alma mater) alternate route class.  When I became a teacher, I changed careers and went through the traditional route classes at Stockton, so I don't really have a grasp of what alternate route entails.  I called on some experts, my fellow County Teachers of the Year, many of whom are alternate route teachers.  I wanted specifically to work with some alternate route programs this year because they are largely ignored or looked down upon for not getting the same training as traditional route teachers.  I can tell you that the alternate route teachers I have met have been amazing educators. Often coming from another field, they make the conscious decision to leave their jobs and enter the world of education.  They are determined, focused, and often display a maturity not seen in traditional route students.  Because they have some real world experience, managing a classroom is not as daunting a task as it is for some traditional route students. 

This day, I coerced fellow CTOY from Ocean County, Michael Dunlea, to come with me and talk to the students.  He gave them some valuable advice and the realities of what they were about to experience.  Then I was on.  I like to make sure I can share some things with new teachers that they may not learn in their education classes.  Things I have only learned from years of experience in a classroom.  It went really well, and I have already been asked to return for next year. 

Michael Dunlea doing his thing talking to Stockton's alternate route students.

Michael, Me and some alternate route teachers from Stockton.

It was a great way to start the week.  I needed to rest because I still had the lingering effects of the flu, including losing my voice (especially in the middle of speeches) and an ugly cough, so the next day it was off to the doctor's I went.

Tuesday, before the doctor, I popped up to Mercer Co College for a workshop by the NJDOE's Holocaust Commission.  The workshop was on using primary sources to talk about the Holocaust as per the new Common Core Standards.  We heard how someone traced their family tree via primary sources and then we had Christopher Zarr from the National Archives come give a talk on sources and lessons for the classroom.

After getting prescriptions for antibiotics, steroids and in inhaler, I was back at the DOE for a meeting about an education think tank that was looking for members.  Of course I suggested the last two year's worth of CTOYs, a very capable group of award winning teachers who had already filled out 16 page applications and had video of themselves teaching.  Wouldn't it be great to have more of a teacher voice in policy making?

After working on model curriculum for world history at Hunterdon Regional HS on Thursday, I was up at the crack of dawn on Friday to get to Union County.  I was to be the keynote speaker at the Union County Teacher of the Year Ceremony at Kean University. 

I was terribly excited because one of my friends, Courtney Carmichael was one of the winners.  I got to speak to her at the lovely breakfast sponsored by the university.

I have to say that I was on fire that morning.  My voice even gave out at one point and I soldiered on through, inspiring and motivating to the best of my ability.  When I was done..... a standing ovation!  The superintendent told me later that in 15 years of TOY ceremonies, I was the first to get a standing "O".  Thanks so much Union County, YOU ROCK!!!!!! 

I had three more events that day, a meeting in Monroe, scoring some monster applications that needed to be finished by the end of business, and my own school's 50th anniversary celebration, but I was walking on air all day because of my reception in Union County.  I even managed to have two superintendents in the audience want to book me for their opening day of school in September.