Saturday, October 26, 2013

Week in Review: Apple Harvest Parade and New Teacher Mixer

Right now, I'm a little sleepy. Alex, my big, orange, kitty, is keeping me awake by grunting at me whenever I stop scratching behind his ears (which makes typing a little difficult).

It's been a busy seven days.

Last Saturday, I rode in the Apple Harvest Parade, an event of the Mountain State Apple Harvest Festival in Martinsburg. If you remember in my last post, I was quite tickled they asked me to be in it, shortly after the school year began. And it was absolutely, purely fun to get to wave at my family, friends, and students ("There's Mrs. Sponaugle!!! There's Mrs. Sponaugle!!!") along the parade route. As I said previously, every teacher should get to feel so special.

Thanks, Jim, for driving me in your car!
Ready to roll!

Driving up Queen Street

I taped an episode at Potomack Intermediate on Monday for Be the DifferenceWV. A big thanks to Lauren Mongada and Cathy Stickel for letting me interview them. I hope to get it up on my YouTube channel tomorrow - there's been so much else going on I haven't had time yet to put the segments together. My head is still swimming (remember the Olympic backstroke?) with how to balance my classroom with my new responsibilities. Which is why I am catching myself nodding off to sleep as I write this - except Alex, the big orange kitty, has now proceeded to the kitchen to yowl like Tarzan for a late night snack.

On Tuesday, I attended the New Teacher Mixer at the Purple Iris. There were about 70 new teachers from Berkeley County Schools, as well as some of our school business partners. This was actually my second event for new teachers in our area, as I spoke to the 200+ newly hired teachers in our school system this year at a breakfast at the start of the school year. It was a nice event to introduce the new teachers in our county to one another, as well as to some of the resources for young professionals in our area. 

With some of the new teachers from Tomahawk
New Teacher Mixer
Purple Iris

I spoke at this event as well about how I began my teaching career, the importance of community, and my three A's for new teachers. You can watch my speech at this link. 

Today, I presented at the National Board Certification cohort in Berkeley County. I am a candidate support provider for those pursuing National Board Certification in our school system. My sweet, fellow CSPs, some of which mentored me when I was going through National Board certification, presented me with an NBCT pin to wear during my travels this year. I strongly support the National Board process and introducing teachers to the benefits of achieving certification. In an era of monumental education reform, we need quality teachers who remain in our school systems throughout their careers. The incentives of National Board Certification provide a link to that - but I'll have to expand on that in another post.

Tomorrow is my day off. I will spend it preparing this upcoming week for my students, as well as planning what I want to accomplish this year as the West Virginia Teacher of the Year. I have many ideas, goals for communicating to the rest of the country all the good that occurs in our public school system. I want to be the same "go-getter" that I've been in the classroom - while still maintaining a presence in my own classroom this year.

My entire message is centered around being the difference, breaking away from the norm in order to move forward. I want to redefine, "reimagine" (my new, favorite un-word) what it means to be a representative of education. Can a 5th grade teacher do that? 

We'll find out - right after I give this grumpy, orange kitty his snack (and end his evening concert).
- Erin

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Be the DifferenceWV

It all started with a phone call.

The first week of school, there was a message in my mailbox to call Myra Robertson. I couldn't recall who this was, but during my lunch I returned her call.

"Hey, Erin! I sat beside you during the New Teacher Breakfast last week! We were wondering if the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year would like to ride in the Apple Harvest Parade."

Naturally, I responded like any mature adult who happends to work with ten and eleven-year-olds all day would:

"OOOOOOH! I'd love to - that would be so cool! Thank yoooooou!"

Yes, I really did say that - but that first week of school, when you're learning the names and personalities of 24 new people, bogged down with work, and pulled in more directions than you know exist, a little pick-me-up along the lines of "someone wants you to be in a parade" will make you about half giddy.
With Melanie Cox, Hedgesville Elementary

As I glided back to my classroom, though, I  felt a little pang of guilt. This was the first of many "so cool" things, little pick-me-ups that I would get to experience this school year. People are eager to do nice things and "showcase" me to Berkeley County and the rest of the state. It feels good to get positive attention, when often in education that isn't the case.

What about the rest of my colleagues? Not just in my beautiful school, but in my school district. There are many talented, dedicated educators who teach their entire careers without one nod of recognition...and they don't mind. Even if they do, they will keep doing their best to improve the lives of our students, because they know that's what matters most.

They won't speak on a stage and get a standing ovation. Their names won't appear in the newspaper for days in a row. They won't return a phone call asking them to be in a parade. They should, though - each one of them.

I started to think, in between sorting emergency cards and carefully writing my new students' names on everything, what I could do to make my colleagues feel special. In a way, I felt helpless and undeserving. There's no way I can do anything that would really matter. Nobody's really bothered anyway - they're too busy doing their jobs while I soak up an escalating amount of attention.
With MaggieBeth Ponton, Hedgesville Middle

Frustrated, I hopped on my laptop when I got home and swung on to YouTube. Maybe a silly video or two would change my mood.


So, in between watching Ninja Cat and Sarah Bareilles' music video for "Brave" three or four times, I got it. People get on YouTube to watch all kinds of things (let's just leave it at that). You can watch it on the computer, your phone - who needs television? Why not a web show, just about how special teachers are - and why they are the true "super stars" in a generation consumed with celebrities and reality show contestants?

And so, Be the DifferenceWV was born. Each week, I go to a school in Berkeley County and interview two teachers about why they went into teaching, what they love about working with students, and what they wish the public understood about education. The latter is important, because negative public perception brings down teacher morale. When you don't feel good about who you are and what you do, it can affect your performance in the classroom - which in turn just hurts students. Teachers are good people - incredible people. They deserve to be celebrated for their selflessness and perseverence in spite of the stressors that come from a life in the classroom.

I don't have a lot of experience with speaking on camera or playing Barbara Walters - but I like it. I'm a one woman, one camera crew that sets up my camcorder on a tripod, hits "record," and scurries around to the other side. It's fun, but more importantly, I'm giving other teachers a chance to take center stage and feel important. I feature a range of teachers, from elementary to high school, from brand new to the profession to seasoned veterans. My goal is to make it to every school in Berkeley County by the end of the year. Now that I represent all of the teachers in West Virginia, I'm hoping to feature other parts of the state as well.

Teachers are the difference. In the midst of all the hoopla this year, my mission is to also elevate the teaching profession. I hope you'll tune in this year so you can learn about the teachers in the Mountain State. You can reach my channel at this link.

Consider it my own, virtual, teacher parade.

- Erin

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Rewind Wednesday: Wonders of West Virginia Celebration

As the song goes, "Oh, what a night!"

I sit here this evening exhausted after a day of school. My school bag is full of papers and projects to grade from when I was out last week. There's a colorful assortment of thank you cards at my feet (I sit on the floor to do just about everything) to deliver to all of those who have expressed their love and congratulations to me over the past few days. I have video to upload from my interviews for my "Be the DifferenceWV" episode I taped this afternoon at Marlowe Elementary. In my head I'm starting to "write" out my lesson plans for next week.

I'm just a teacher, who just found out I represent a lot of other teachers. My head isn't just swimming; it's doing the Olympic backstroke.

For the record, I never expected it to be my name called last week. There are no guarantees in life, and although I wanted this opportunity, I realized that it was just an honor to be there celebrating with those who have supported me immensely throughout my career in Berkeley County Schools. The Clay Center is a beautiful facility, and the Wonders of West Virginia Celebration was a well planned event that recognized the county teachers of the year, Schools of Excellence, and other educators who have received awards in the last school year.
With my parents, Scott and Debbie Lloyd
My husband, Brad

With my principal, Beth McCoy, and the best teacher friend ever, Heather McCain

My former assistant principal at Tomahawk, Lewis Mullenax, also attended, along with our superintendent, Manny Arvon, deputy superintendent, Don Dellinger, and assistant superintendent, Margaret Kursey. Although one of our schools, Hedgesville Elementary, was also being honored that evening as a School of Excellence, that's a lot of people to travel nearly five hours from the Eastern Panhandle. Silly as it may seem, I started to feel very wobbly and shaky once we all sat down and the ceremony began. It was made very clear to me beforehand to prepare a speech "just in case." It all started to sink in that maybe that wasn't "just in case" but "just because."

The food looked absolutely delicious but I hardly ate anything - and I love ooey, gooey deserts. Didn't even touch them. Someone said at one point I looked so white she thought I was going to pass out. I walked up once to be recognized for being the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year, then once more for being one of the four finalists.

And then this happened:
Thank you so much for taking this, Lewis
West Virginia is a state that doesn't always get a lot of positive press. Teachers everyday use their talents and dedication to the profession to do their best to educate our students, regardless of the misconceptions that exist in public opinion. There are thousands of teachers in our state that do incredible things, greater things than I'll ever achieve. It has been a long road for me personally to become the teacher and individual I am today. I wish my aunt Dawn was here to see this.

That's pretty much everything that went through my mind in the following 30 seconds after my name was called out as the West Virginia Teacher of the Year.  

After a quick picture with a banner emblazoned with my name and a beautiful clock handcrafted in Huntington (it's ticking quietly in the background as I type). I gave my prepared "just in case" speech. Standing in front of my peers, some of which were standing themselves, watching from the second floor balcony of the Benedum Grand Lobby, I had a lot of emotion, but also a lot of peace and resolve. I had never met most of the people gathered there that evening, and this was my chance, in the next few minutes, to introduce myself.  Click on this link to go to my acceptance speech. I'm so glad my husband was able to tape it in its entirety.

Needless to say, there were a lot of excited people once the ceremony was over with. Lots of hugs and hurrahs :-) It's the first time in 21 years that the West Virginia Teacher of the Year is from Berkeley County, the first being Beverly Hoffmaster in 1992. I don't quite feel worthy yet, and don't know if I ever will. Right now, I'm swimming my own version of the Olympic backstroke in my head. I can't see where I'm going, but I'm navigating the waters as fast as I can. Here's hoping in the next few days I can say I've touched the shore.
- Erin


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tomahawk Luncheon - Horace Mann - ING Unsung Heroes

Thank you, Tomahawk! 
On Monday I returned "home" to Tomahawk Intermediate. I am so fortunate to teach with  many talented, supportive teachers and staff. The social committee and Horace Mann (one of our county's school business partners) provided lunch and a beautiful cake for our school festivities.

Horace Mann provides much support for teachers across the nation and in West Virginia. They award the West Virginia Teacher of the Year with $1,500, for which I am very grateful. I was also honored to be recognized as a Horace Mann - Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum (ALPLM) Fellow in 2010. It is an exceptional program where selected teachers learn about the life and presidency of Abraham Lincoln for a week in Springfield, Illinois. I met many teachers from that experience that I still keep in touch with today. When I teach about the Civil War and our 16th president, I joyfully retell my time in Springfield like it was yesterday as I share the pictures and video from my ALPLM fellowship with my students.

I was also honored on Monday as the West Virginia recipient of the ING Unsung Heroes Award. ING selects 100 teachers from across the country with innovative ideas for their classrooms. Andy Pierce from ING offices in Columbus, Ohio, presented me with the $2,000 to fund my project "APPsolutely Connected to Another Culture." You can access the application form for next year's Unsung Hero Awards on the ING website.
With Andy Pierce of ING Financial Services
I have been very fortunate to receive so much recognition for my ideas and dedication to the classroom over the years. School business partnerships are an important means of communication and support in our school systems, both on a local and national level. Not only do schools and classrooms receive monetary support and community participation (our school business partner, The National Maritime Center, volunteers to assist with programs such as our school Social Studies Fair), but it is also a way to build rapport and change public perception of education. It's also fundamental that businesses support the students in their communities, as those children could potentially become a part of their future workforce.

Some of the many wonderful people I get to work with everyday!
Thank you once again to my principal, Beth McCoy, Tomahawk, Horace Mann, and ING for a memorable "homecoming." Jenni Vincent of The Journal wrote a very nice piece expressing my feelings about our invaluable staff at Tomahawk that you can read at this link.

With Mr. Spataro
I also want to thank John Spataro, our former principal for stopping by our school yesterday as well. John hired me about nine years ago - and had I not ended up at Tomahawk, I don't know if I would be in the position I am in today. I am thankful that he saw something in me that made him believe I would be a good fit for our school. John retired this past school year, but I appreciate he took some time to visit with the staff and celebrate.

It's starting to all sink in that this is for "real."  I'm exhausted from running on excitement. I'm used to multitasking and "wearing many hats," but this is in a league of its own. It's my hope (and prayer) that every crazy experience and monumental workload I have taken on over the last ten years has prepared me for this moment. Tomorrow marks one week since this all began - look for a special "Rewind Wednesday" post about that incredible night tomorrow.

- Erin

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A New Season

It's fall. Leaves are changing color before they make their descent to the ground, the weather is becoming cooler, and the days are getting shorter. Pumpkins and apples abound. Halloween and the sugar induced aftermath is on its way. Clearly a change is coming. It's something we've all experienced before - and often welcome after the sweltering heat of summer.

This past Wednesday, I encountered another change, one that I never anticipated would be a part of my year - or my life, for that matter. I've been given the opportunity to represent my profession and the exceptional teachers of the Mountain State for the next year. It's a role I accept with tremendous pride and responsibility. I want to be the best ambassador for education in West Virginia that I can possibly be, and in the process, hopefully change public perception about the changes and issues that teachers encounter daily in the classroom.

If you met me on the street, you would never peg me as a public figure. I'm quiet - the textbook introvert. I'm also very candid about how I have struggled with speaking and anxiety throughout my life. However, quiet doesn't equate to shy - and my personal flaws aren't going to level me now. I have a role to fulfill, and I intend to do so with the same creativity and passion that I've brought to the classroom for a little over a decade. Within the next few days, be looking to learn more about my goals and message, as well as my "platform"  for the year, Be the Difference.

To keep up with me on social media, I have made my Twitter handle and Instagram wvtoy2014. I also have a YouTube channel, Be the Difference WV, and a Facebook page where I will post pictures of my year, links to my blog, and other positive messages and updates.

This is not going to be easy. I maintain my role as a classroom teacher throughout all of this and what is to come. Part of me still doesn't believe this is all really happening. It astounds me that, this time next year, this blog will be filled with memories and experiences I have yet to imagine. I'm excited, absolutely, but fully aware that this change will impact my life like nothing else has yet to date.

It's a new season. I hope you'll join me.