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!

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