As someone whose Italian relatives didn't come to this country until the 1910s, Ellis Island was somewhere I have always wanted to go, but never had the chance. It is another place that history teachers should not miss, but before you even get to Ellis Island, the ferry takes you to the Statue of Liberty. I am ashamed to admit, I had never been there either. I hung out on the deck in the open air like a dog hanging out of the window. I didn't want to miss a second.
I can only imagine what it must have felt like to actually come to this place and be poked, prodded and questioned when you just wanted to have the opportunity to get a job and make a better life for you and your family.
It appears that someone took a picture of all the luggage I took to DC with me to meet POTUS. After all, I did bring a lot of shoes. Just kidding (but not about the shoes)! This was actually representative of the items, often family treasures, that people had to leave out in the open while they went through the examinations.
This hall was lined with benches that the immigrants would sit on as they waited their turn to answer questions based on the ship's manifest. Contrary to popular belief, people weren't forced to Americanize their names here. In fact, their names had to match exactly what was on the ships manifest. Names were changed either before they got on the boat or after the passed through Ellis Island.
Since we are teachers, we had special access to the unopened hospital wing which is still in need of refurbishment. But before that happened, we had a few lessons with primary sources which documented the stay of a sick boy and gave us some insight into the tools used. My team had a puzzle to put together to prove mental competency. It all must have been terrifying for people who didn't speak English. An incorrect answer or the inability to comprehend what was going on could get you sent back to where you came from. We saw a very cool display explaining the hospital and what made it even better is that it was sponsored in part by my peeps at the NJ Council for the Humanities! Small world.
|My NJCH peeps!|
After working with the primary sources, we donned hard hats and set off for the hospital wing. While we were out there we also saw the remnants of a 1930s movie theater. I couldn't help but think how amazing it would be to restore that and watch some classic movies. Oh but to dream.
|Unrestored hospital wing|
|The Movie Theater|
And look, my ship has come in! Ok, so it is not so much a ship as a ferry, but it is definitely mine. I have been practicing my wave and everything.
On the way home we passed Lady Liberty again just as a sailboat was floating by.
We eventually made our way to NJ and one of the oldest railroad stations in the country. It was the departure point for all the immigrants after they left Ellis Island. Today there is an ingenious monument to the twin towers. When you stand and look down the middle, it points to right where the towers were.
The fellowship would continue for three more days back at Moorestown HS, but before I could rejoin my colleagues, I had a few things to do. I had a meeting with the Commissioner of Education in the morning and a speech to give at Rider University in the afternoon.
My meeting was interesting. I had run into the Commissioner a few weeks earlier in the elevator (strange but true) and he asked me what I had been up to. After describing some of my adventures in the space of three floors, he told me to stop by and see him. I got out of the elevator knowing that before I went into that meeting I had better be able to say exactly what I've been doing so I started dissecting my schedule from Oct-June. Here are some of the findings.
In my role as NJ Teacher of the Year I have done27 speeches,
15 appearances (non-speeches),
7 media interviews,
hosted 3 school visitations,
travelled to Dallas, DC (twice), Seattle, NY, and Boston,
Been to 10 awards ceremonies,
served on 5 panels (scoring applications etc.),
... am on statewide committees for teacher evaluation, model curriculum and educator effectiveness,
guest taught lessons on civics and the law, the humanities, and 21st century learning,
wrote guest blog postings and maintain my own blog,
published an article (cover story!),
and put 13,000 miles on my car (and NJ is a small state).
It really put things in perspective. Consider that I was in the classroom full time until the end of January, while also taking a doctoral level class at Rutgers in New Brunswick from Sept-December which required a paper a week, a 15-20 page research paper, and a 15 page final exam (got an A of course). No wonder I am so tired! This job is not just ceremonial, it is a lot of work. I write my own speeches, schedule my own events and do my best to not only motivate people, but give them some practical steps to help them find their own voices. It is not enough to get people fired up, you must tell them what they can do to help bolster the profession and begin the culture shift that we need in education right now. It can be as easy as inviting your colleagues into your classroom to watch you teach a great lesson or telling a positive story about a kid who defied the odds when you hear negative things about educators. We are far too humble as a profession, and too often scared to speak up and defend ourselves. It is time that we started shouting from the rooftops that which is good about education.
Anyway, my meeting went well and I was left with much food for thought. Problem is, of course, that I have been so busy that I have not had the time I need to reflect and process the events of the last year. It became clear that I needed to stop and smell the roses, and soon. I have been out of my comfort zone for a while now, which is when growth occurs, but these days my life is moving faster than I am comfortable with. Each day is a rollercoaster full of extreme highs and extreme lows, which blows my mind because I thought my classroom was a pretty exciting place.
After my meeting, I had to give a speech at Rider Univ to the award winning student teachers around the state. I was nominated myself for the award back in 1996 when I did my student teaching, but didn't win. Somehow I think I have done ok for myself. *wink* One of the messages I delivered that day was that failure was not an option - it was going to happen. One step forward for every two steps back is my norm. For every award I have won, I have lost countless others. Failure is inevitable if you want to truly grow, the question is what do you do when it happens? Another message, one that I hold near and dear, is to get to know each student as a person because you can't teach them til you reach them. My students are more than my students, they are a part of my life. I told a story about two of my students from the class of 2002. The first was Leslie Bailey, my first student to become a history teacher. When she called and told me the news and informed me that she wanted to model her teaching on mine (and her wardrobe), I felt like I gave birth. It was an eight year gestation period. The second student is Yvette Hagins, my fashion guru who keeps me well heeled for all my events. Her mom called to invite me to Yvette's birthday dinner as a surprise guest. I was thrilled until mom told me that the fiance would be there. My defensive mode kicked in and I said that I hoped he was good enough for my Yvette. Mom said that Yvette wanted my blessing to marry him. Wow. There was baby number two. I will be attending her wedding in about three weeks. Teaching is far more than facts, figures and tests. It is about instilling hope, empowering our students by exposing them to choices outside of their immediate neighborhood, and encouraging them to follow their dreams. They need to fine tune the tools they will need like creativity, creative problem solving, critical thinking and connection building, but most of all, they need someone to believe in them, who won't give up on them even after they leave your class and the school.
|This was early on, the place was packed by the time I spoke.|
|Outstanding student teachers from Princeton|
My speech at Rider went well, and I had the opportunity to share the stage with the Deputy Commissioner, Andy Smarick, an all around good guy and recent father of twins. We got to talk a bit after my speech while handing out awards and Andy asked me if I had a family. When I replied that I was single and had no kids, an anomaly at age 41, he replied, "You have kids, you just didn't give birth to them." He gets it. I just smiled.
It was back to Moorestown for two more days and then back on the road. My mom gets a place in Ocean City, MD every summer and I needed to do some processing of recent events. I knew in order to do this I had to go where I had no internet access (the condo is like a cement bunker, crappy reception) and could just dig my toes in the sand and ride some waves for a few days and think. Of course the crab, caramel popcorn, skee ball, mini golf and ice cream didn't hurt either. It is not until you can step away from the noise of everyday life that you can achieve clarity. However it would only be a short vacation because Wednesday I had to be back for the 6abc 4th of July parade in Philadelphia. Can you believe it?