Saturday, July 21, 2012

Fly Me to the Moon (Frank Sinatra)

July 14-20

Fly me to the moon
Let me sing among those stars
Let me see what spring is like
On jupiter and mars...

  I seem to be spending a lot of time in airports this month.  After the recent success of Atlanta still fresh in my mind, my week began with a trip to Omaha, Nebraska, although at times I thought I would never get there. After being trapped in the purgatory known as the Atlanta airport, I finally made it. You see, this time of year we have extreme heat and humidity which leads to some wicked thunderstorms and lots of travel delays. I was traveling to the NNSTOY Conference (National Network of State Teachers of the Year) to meet the extended family. The bond you develop with the STOYs in your year is deep, almost like a duck imprinting (or a werewolf for you Twilight fans), and they become a lifeline throughout your year of recognition. Just when things tend to become too stressful at home and no one seems to get it, the STOYs are scheduled to meet and it is like a breath of fresh air to be able to talk to people who are going through some of the same things you are. I was curious about whether that same bonding would happen with STOYs from other years. I certainly hoped so. Dave Bosso and I (2012 CT STOY) and I went as representatives from our class to see what this group was all about and what roles we could play in it.  It was going to be a tight squeeze in our schedules because we would only have a day between Omaha and Space Camp.  I hoped that the trip was worth it.     

The hotel was very cool and had a running stream, complete with koi, in the center of the hotel.  The view from my window wasn't bad either.


 It was a little awkward at first, as STOYs tended to congregate with those in their class or region, but I soon met STOYs from all over the country going all the way back to 1975.  What a wealth of experience and knowledge were in that room!  Dave and I also had lots of warnings about Space Camp and the awful coffee, plastic covered beds, and abundance of tater tots.  After the group warmed up to us a little, we were welcomed with open arms to the extended family and we jumped right in.     

     The NNSTOY organization began as a way to help STOYs as they went from their year of recognition to their years of service, and primarily focused on charitable work.  More recently, STOYs have signed on and realized the potential of this amazing group of educators.  They have incorporated, received a grant from the Gates Foundation, and are setting out to advocate for the profession and elevate the teacher voice through teacher leaders.  The future is bright for this organization and within a few years, I think it will be the go to place for anyone who wants teacher leaders to be a part of their task forces or policy making groups.

     We had some great speakers including Jeremy Burrus from ETS, Molly Lasagna from the American Institutes for Research, and Peter Cunningham from the Dept of Ed, but it was the speech by Katherine Bassett, 2000 NJSTOY and the new Executive Director of NNSTOY, that caught my attention and showed me the vision and future of the organization as outlined in the strategic plan.  I expect nothing but great things with her at the helm.  We Jersey Girls get things done!

We did a lot of work in groups to tackle a number of issues.  Here I was nominated to do the share out for our table.

     Although the heat was awful, we managed to get out in the evenings to get some food and a sense of downtown Omaha, which is adorable.  It was just our luck that the 2012 NE STOY Luisa Palomo Hare happens to live in town and showed us the spots for good food.  Although she couldn't make it to the conference because of school obligations, she and her husband, Mark, joined us for dinner one evening.


     Little did we know that while we were out catching up with Luisa, the other STOYs had hatched a plan for us newbies.  They asked Dave and me to give the closing remarks of the conference, and we were happy to do so. Dave and I talked about why we came to Omaha, what we saw as the potential for the group, and I left the group with a challenge to reach out to their current STOY, as many of them are going through a time of transition right now and could use some guidance.   I can only speak for myself, but I know this is an organization I want to continue working with.

     Right after the closing session, it was time to hop on another series of planes and come home.  More bad weather delayed flights, but this time I went through Detroit rather than Atlanta.  Things could have been really bad had I missed my connection, which was also delayed, because all the shops in the airport were closed.  As it was, with the delays, I managed to roll in at home by about 2:30 am.  I would have a little over 24 hours before I had to take off again.

     Luckily, I have people who keep an eye on me.  Being single means I eat a lot of take-out and have a freezer full of food I can microwave, but on occasion my friends feed me.  I was feeling like an overcooked piece of pasta for a large part of the day, but I was invited to dinner with my DKG President and friend, Mary Zaccardi, and her husband Frank.  He made a great meal of mussels and pasta and the smells alone had me salivating.  While he was cooking, I got to debrief with Mary and let her know some of the things I had been up to.  It was a short visit, but necessary one, because she also had part of my costume that I would need for Space Camp.  I promised to bring her some astronaut ice cream when I returned.  Notice how clean my plate is.  Thanks Mary and Frank!

The next day it was off to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, but a series of delays meant that I didn't roll in until almost 2am.  I couldn't wait to see all the STOYs again, so much had happened in just the 10 days since I had seen them.   What a week it would be! 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Georgia On My Mind (Ray Charles)

July 7-14

 My kids. 
     I am a single gal with no children of my own, but I refer to my students as "my kids". This makes dating a little strange because when I start talking about my kids, inevitably the gentleman with me will ask how many children I have.  My answer is about 120 a year or close to 2,000 throughout my career if you count my classroom students and all the clubs/sports/activities I have been in charge of. Is it strange to call to my students "my kids"?  I don't know, but I like to think that it helps me remember exactly how important my role as a teacher is.  For some, I am the adult that they spend the most time with, and after 16 years of teaching I realize the impact that I have on some of my student's lives.  I try to remember that not only are these students the hope for the future, but eventually they will be in charge of me when I am old and infirm and karma will get you every time.       

     July was going to be a busy month and I was going to be on the road for most of it, but before I set off on my travels, I had to reconnect with the reason I became a teacher, my kids.  I met two of my girls for lunch at the diner.  One had just graduated and would be going off to college shortly, while  the other was moving across the country.  They could not be more different, but I introduced them to each other a few years ago hoping that they could learn something from each other and they became fast friends.  I will miss the both of them terribly this year, and wanted to catch up with them before we all went our separate ways.  They were always in my classroom after school and were the first people outside of my immediate family to find out that I was the STOY. 

     The next day I was off to Atlanta for the Education Commission of the States National Forum with my fellow STOYs.  We were strangers in a strange land.  The conference is made up of primarily policy makers including state senators, congressmen, governors and Dept of Ed officials from most states.  They only started inviting the STOYs a few years ago, but who better to invite to a conference about making education policy than teachers?  I figured that the more we talked to the powers that be, the more they would find that we are a valuable resource whose voices should be taken into account when making decisions about education.  We have a different, but very valuable, perspective since we are in the classroom, whereas some policy makers never have.  We don't just want a seat at the table, we want to help drive the bus.  It is opportunities like this where we teachers can talk about the big ideas that might just make a positive difference in the lives of children around the country.  If we are going to elevate teacher voice, this is a step in the right direction.

Tim (OH), Adam (MA) me and Dave (CT)

Josh (MD), Kim (AK), Gay (AL), Angela (DoDEA), Rebecca (CA) and Pat(SD)

Paul (MI) unknown, unknown, Julie (RI)

     One of the exciting parts of the conference for me was that I was asked, along with Dave Bosso, the 2012 STOY from CT, to be on a panel to discuss the role of educators in policy making.  We were joined by 2007 NYSTOY Marguerite Izzo, a powerhouse educator who represented the US well at the International Summit on the Teaching Profession and the Celebration of Teaching and Learning in NYC this past March.  Moderating the panel was 2000 NJ STOY Katherine Bassett, whose knowledge, wisdom and grace I can only hope to aspire to. 

     It was a success by all accounts, and after each of us gave our talk on a specific topic (mine was teacher evaluation reform) the policy makers and STOYs in the room had a few minutes to discuss amongst themselves the information we presented.  The STOYs had to find a different policy maker each time and since our group is rather gregarious, they jumped right in.  I think great strides were made that day because the STOYs made an impression. Check out the pics and see what you think.

     The next day was a big one.  In the morning we got to hear an icon, Sandra Day O'Connor.  She talked about the importance of Civics Education, an issue near to my heart as a humanities girl.  Actually my Commissioner and I had just talked about her program about a week before and I didn't even knew she would be at the conference.  When Justice O' Connor finished, she stayed to hear our next speaker and several of us STOYs approached her during the break to introduce ourselves.  Thank goodness her security people didn't tackle us.  As a woman, to meet this incredible ground breaker was the experience of a lifetime.  After I introduced myself and told her I was a history teacher, she held my hand as we took the picture.  Wow. This one will be placed in a frame and hung on the wall.

As if that wasn't amazing enough, the next speaker was none other than Bill Gates.  We heard him speak in the plenary session, and then he did a Q&A with the audience and 2010 NTOY Sarah Brown Wessling.  She held her own and did us proud. 

      After lunch, Bill wanted to meet with the STOYs in a private session.  We started with a picture and then he asked some questions about how teacher evaluation was working in our respective states and then also asked about the role of technology and how to elevate the teacher voice.  He listened very respectfully and took notes the whole time.  For someone who has not always had the best track record with public school teachers, it appears that his opinion has evolved.  You never grow as a person until you move beyond your comfort zone and gain a new perspective, which includes opening your mind to new ideas and ways of thinking.  Bravo, Mr. Gates, for really listening to educators.  He actually stayed fifteen minutes longer than he was supposed to because he was so into the conversation.  They asked for volunteers to record some responses to a question at the end of the session and I passed.  I had my moment to shine the day before and my fellow STOYs deserved to shine too.  They are amazing people, each with their own expertise and perspective, and everyone deserves some time in the spotlight.  Besides, I am smart enough to know when I don't know something, and to ask for help to find the answer. 

      I returned from Atlanta floating on Cloud 9, but my week wasn't over yet.  After handling some business at BCIT the next day (more on that later), I had to run a best practices session for the NJ Council for the Humanities Teacher Institute down at Richard Stockton College, my alma mater.  I got to have fun with 25 teachers and show them how to take all the information they had learned about the Civil War that week under the guidance of the incomparable Dr. Clement Price and put it into practice in their classrooms.  They had completed a trip to Gettysburg the day before and were a little sleepy when we started but soon they were up and doing activities around the room.  All in all a great success, and I got to see my friend Courtney Carmichael, one of the participants.

      Dr. Price is one of my favorite people with a quiet wisdom and and unwavering determination for social justice which is unparallelled.  He is the ultimate gentleman scholar on a quest to help people find their better angels and I am proud to call him friend. 

It was a great week, but there would be no time to rest.  Off to Omaha on Monday!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Philadelphia Freedom (Elton John)

June 30-July 6

Oh, Philadelphia freedom, shine on me; I love you
Shine a light through the eyes of the ones left behind
Shine a light shine a light
Shine a light; won't you shine a light?
Philadelphia freedom, I love you; yes, I do

Never a dull week around here.

I began the week down the shore, as any good Jersey girl should in the summer, where I met my new nephew-dog, an 11 week old pug named Stoli who belongs to my brother, Rob, and his fiance, Mike.  Typically I am a cat person, but this dog is adorable and he loves his Auntie Jeanne. 

The family was very understanding of the fact that I needed to decompress a little, ok, maybe a lot, and did their best to divert my attention.  I was left to bake myself on the beach during the day and then at night we all went out to play.  The temps were record breaking and the humidity was awful, but just being down the shore made it all ok. 

I convinced Rob and Mike to come play Skee Ball and although I had fun, I really stink at the game.  However, after feeding tons of quarters into these ancient machines, I got all these tickets which I could turn in for a prize.  I glanced at all the rubber snakes, bouncy balls, and fake tattoos and couldn't figure out what to get.  Mike gave me his tickets and I had a brainstorm.  I told Mike to help me find a worthy looking kid who would appreciate the tickets.  I found a little girl in a polka dot skirt, clearly fashion savvy at age 4 or 5 and she looked to be struggling at the games, so I walked up to her mom and explained that although I liked playing the games, I was a little too old for the prizes.  Would her daughter like them.  She was thrilled and I got that warm and fuzzy feeling.  It felt so good, I made my brother Rob give his away too. 

After skee ball it was off to get some of the best popcorn ever.  Fisher's caramel popcorn is made right there on the premises.  The butter and sugar are melted in giant copper pots and the popcorn is popped in machines that look like giant dryers.  The popcorn is thrown in the pots when the sugar caramelizes and then dumped into the display areas where it is constantly stirred by the staff until they scoop it fresh into a plastic tub and seal it up.  It is divine! 

So what do you do with a baby pug while you are at the beach and out playing?  You put him in his pug playpen.  I am not kidding. 

It was a much needed three days of relaxation and I returned to NJ Tuesday night feeling like I now had some of the answers I had been looking for. 

Just as well, Wednesday was the 4th of July 6abc parade in Philadelphia!

Ok, I admit, when I first got the invitation to be in this parade, I laughed and didn't actually consider the offer.  Who would want to see a teacher in a parade?  Upon reflection, I decided if they wanted to honor teachers, I would be happy to participate.  It was then that I found out that my fellow STOY from Delaware, Amber Augustus, was going to be participating too.  I was thrilled. 

I brought my brother, both as bodyguard (you can never tell how people are going to react to teachers) and as an eyewitness, because I thought this might just be a bizarre experience.  I am so glad he came with me. 

 It was boiling hot, we are in the midst of a 10 day heat wave on the east coast but I can say now that it was one of the highlights of my NJ TOY year.
First of all, check out my ride, a red 64 Chevy Impala convertible.  Sweet!  And I got to ride on the back of it.

Amber had a nice ride too. 

These guys marched in front of us.  They were tremendous!  Look how young some of the kids are in the back.

When we finally got moving and entered the parade route, it was surreal.  Cameras and people everywhere.  I can only compare it to walking into the East Room at the White House after meeting the President.  All eyes and cameras were on you.  Then the cheering began. 

Almost immediately we were at the reviewing stand.  I almost didn't notice (too busy waving and smiling) until I saw myself on the jumbotron and heard the announcers.  They liked my wave.

The whole experience was just surreal.  People cheered, yelled thank you, and congratulations and all because I am a teacher.  They cheered louder because I was a teacher.  It was overwhelming and I admit, I teared up...and not just once.  Between the sweat, suntan lotion and tears in my eyes, I was glad I had my shades. 
The kids on the route were the best.  I tried to wave at every one of them. 

Thanks especially to these volunteers who carried the sign in front of my car.  I got to keep the sign, but what do I do with it?

The parade was great, the car was cool and it was simply an amazing experience. 
 Thanks Philly, YOU ROCK!