Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two Weeks at Home: Presentations, Celebrations, and Paying it Forward

Home. Three day weekend. No commitments for a few days except family. Bliss.

The past two weeks have been close to home, although that's not to say there hasn't been a lot going on. Almost every day I have had an appearance or commitment, most of which resulted in some long evenings. It's also the end of the school year, which brings a bit of sadness to me because I missed out on so much. My classroom was a part of my heart more than I realized. Saying goodbye to a year and a class I didn't get to be a part of makes me feel empty. 

However, there's plenty going on to fill any void - so that is where I choose to direct my energy. Two weeks ago I spoke at the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation (EWVCF) Scholarship Reception, recognizing and awarding students in Berkeley, Morgan, and Jefferson Counties. It was exciting to see several of my former Smoke Signals staff and student council members receive awards. What I didn't know - and found out at the end, right before wind, rain and lightning besieged the grounds of the Purple Iris - was that a scholarship had been established in my name for students choosing to pursue a career in education. This makes me so happy and gives me a purpose and a goal for the future. My goal is to support those that have the determination and talent to become educators but not the financial resources, and I'm hoping to encourage those who are non-traditional students to seek the funding to accomplish their goals.

Tomahawk alumni receiving scholarships - all were on the
Smoke Signals newspaper staff or student council :-) 

With Sabrina, a former Smoke Signals staff writer who is
attending Fairmont State in the fall to study elementary education!

With Scott Roach, president of EWVCF
Next up was speaking and helping to present awards at the Berkeley County Council PTA banquet at Bunker Hill Elementary. That was the 31st and final school I needed to visit in Berkeley County. Being pulled to travel across the state has made it difficult to get to every school, but I felt that it was important to keep that commitment. I have also finished my Berkeley County interviews for Be the DifferenceWV. That has given me the opportunity to speak to at least two teachers in every school in my county. More on that in another post.
I rarely take selfies, but thought my 31st school visit warranted one :-)

Interviewing Brande Hockensmith at Musselman High

I also shared Berkeley with two schools in Berkeley County - Back Creek Valley Elementary for their Mountaineer Day (a great event with square dancing and homemade ice cream!) and Spring Mills Primary. While at Spring Mills, I stopped in to see my elementary art teacher, Liz Altman. I remember in fifth grade living for art class day - I would still rather draw (or write) more than anything else in my spare time - when I have spare time.
Back Creek Valley Elementary students on Mountaineer Day

Talking about state pride with second graders at Spring Mills Primary 

With Liz Altman, my art teacher from Marlowe Elementary

The Tuesday after the EWVCF Reception I did an interview with Anne Laskey, the National Board Certification coordinator for Berkeley County Schools, for the Panhandle Spotlite on WEPM. We discussed the purpose of National Board certification and its impact on Berkeley County teachers with Marsha Chwalik. With a greater emphasis on teacher leadership on the federal level, it becomes increasingly important to promote opportunities for teachers to demonstrate their contributions to their classrooms. 
With Anne Laskey and...Berkeley!?!? I didn't know bears did
radio interviews, too! :-)
Some say that National Board certification or Masters degrees don't make you a better teacher. I would have to say I disagree with that sentiment wholeheartedly. Any time you challenge yourself to reflect on your practice and increase your own understanding in the field of education, you grow as a person and as a professional. Opportunities arise when you achieve those goals to better serve students in your classroom, state, and nation. Teachers are not as highly regarded as they should be as professionals, and if we want to move forward and have our voices heard and highly regarded, we need to reach out, promote, and celebrate our accomplishments and efforts to improve our practice. In states such as West Virginia, where 50% of teachers will be eligible for retirement in the next decade, it is increasingly important for National Board Certification to be supported as a means to validate, reward, and retain accomplished teachers.

I ended this school week with our fifth grade field trip to the National Zoo in D.C. In a year where my role in education radically changed, it is comforting to do something traditional. I welcome the normalcy, and I'm already mentally preparing for next school year (and how I'm going to get ready for my own classroom during June and July, since I will have my current responsibilities during the August rush). While at the zoo, I ran into Jacqueline Frierson, a social studies teacher at William Wirt Middle School in Prince George's County, Maryland. She and I were Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum fellows in 2010 and attended the fellowship in Springfield, Illinois, together. What a coincidence to meet up four years later! After 42 years in education, she is retiring this year. I'm so glad we were able to reconnect - on our class field trips!
A collage of photos from our beautiful day at the National Zoo

With ALPLM alum Dr. Frierson
This has been a school year like no other. It's a year where I have spent a lot of time by myself, doing things I never anticipated experiencing, meeting people - incredible people who have changed my life. I have one more trip this school year - I head to Beckley for the Raleigh County Teacher of the Year reception and school visits next week. There may be no place like home, but I've learned to deeply appreciate those who welcome me across West Virginia, wherever my travels take me.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Weekend Homework and Back to Almost Normal: Levy Rally, Mineral County, and Shepherd University Teacher Pinning

I wanted to squish the past two weeks into one post. It's just not possible.

Keep in mind that I am a very introverted person. I love to speak to groups, and teach, and be in public for professional purposes, but I value and need time to be alone and recharge. Many people thrive off of crowds and socializing, and I'm not one of them. I use to think that meant there was something wrong with me, but after reading Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, I see the value in just being myself.

This year I put who I am aside and go, go, go. It's kind of like when you need to charge your phone, but don't have time to leave it plugged in, so you charge it just enough to get by, even though the warning light is still on to connect your charger.

Warnings aside, the Sunday after returning from D.C. I was back at it, speaking at the Morgan County Levy Rally at Berkeley Spring State Park. The future of levies across the state this year depended on how things would go in Morgan County. The next morning I interviewed Michael Wilder, an alternative education teacher at Berkeley Springs High School, on the impact of the school levy You can watch the interview at this link. I'm relieved for the teachers and students of Morgan County that the levy passed this week. I'm sure it is a relief to many families employed and with children in the school system.

Beautiful Day!

Superintendent David Banks in the dunk tank :-)

Interviewing Mike Wilder 
Tuesday I was inducted into our local chapter of Alpha Delta Kappa. I speak at their regional conference later in July. On Thursday I headed to Mineral County to speak with fifth graders at Frankfort Middle School about Control Your S.E.L.F. and to celebrate the 2014-15 Mineral County Teacher of the Year, Angie Shanholtz. I also interviewed two former Mineral County teachers of the year for Be the DifferenceWV while I was there in Keyser. As new county teachers of the year are named, I realize this is the beginning of end. The school year is almost over, and while there may be a few events over the summer, this journey is coming to a close - or at least about to go in another direction.
Frankfort Middle School

Interviewing Jeanne Clites

Former Mineral County Teachers of the Year

With 2014-15 Mineral County
Teacher of the Year Angie Shanholtz

...So my "battery" was critically low by Saturday morning. I had to power through it, because I was the keynote speaker at Shepherd University's teacher pinning ceremony. I wish I would have had more time and energy to put into that speech, but you can't live life in reverse. After the ceremony, one of the graduates introduced herself. She was in my Aunt Dawn's last first grade class at Williamsport Elementary and will be a first grade teacher herself in the fall. That was just as special as meeting the president. You can hear my speech at this link.
With Cara Jeffries, Kappa Delta Pi and SESA President, after my speech.
She has been wonderful this year arranging my visits at Shepherd.

Hannah Cole, one of Dawn's last students

From Sunday to Saturday, I was a part of a lot of other's milestones and celebrations. I'm looking forward to having the next few weekends to recharge and wrap up my eleventh year of teaching - a year that has encompassed more experiences and people than I ever could have imagined.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Washington Week: White House Recognition Ceremony

It's 5:12 in the afternoon on a Wednesday - and I'm at home, on the couch, and it's quiet. This hasn't a while.

Back to Washington Week - and THE DAY. White House day.

By this point in the week, I was running on adrenaline. I don't sleep well away from home, and I really don't sleep well with a lot of excitement. That was okay, though. Something like this happens once in a lifetime.
Selfie with New Jersey TOY Kathy Assini and Oregon TOY Brett Bingham

On the bus with California TOY Tim Smith, D.C. TOY Bill Day, and
Wisconsin TOY Jane McMahon - Photo credit Steve Perkins

Waiting for security clearance with Alaska, Wisconsin, Kentucky,
Tennessee, South Carolina, and Idaho - photo credit Steve Perkins

Executive Office Building

We left the hotel around 10:00 for the Executive Office Building for a policy meeting with Ricardo Rodriguez, the special assistant to the President on Education. We were asked for our thoughts and opinions on issues relating to education.
Staircase inside Executive Office Building - Photo credit Kathy Assini

Policy meeting - Photo credit Steve Perkins

Group shot waiting to proceed to White House - Photo credit Kathy Assini

After quickly eating lunch, we made our way to THE White House. Walking into the Cross Halls was a little surreal. We talk about the executive branch in class. I've had my students do projects on the White House and its history in the past. And there I was, standing in it.
Almost there...

The Oval Office is inside...
Inside the Cross Halls

Well, not standing still for very long. As I said in another post, although Thursday was a beautiful day, the rain precluded having the ceremony in the Rose Garden. We quickly entered the State Dining Room to be lined up again by height and then to practice walking into the East Room for the ceremony.
With Maine TOY Karen MacDonald and Minnesota TOY Megan Hall -
Photo credit Kathy Assini

Lining up in the State Dining Room
Practicing walking into the East Room - Photo credit Steve Perkins

All the cameras and lights ready for action!

A great shot Brad took as the guests entered the East Room

With 20 to 30 minutes until "showtime,"  we had some time to view the Red, Blue, and Green Rooms. And take pictures. And sit on the furniture. And be completely in awe that we were school teachers, guests of the president, in the White House. It was exhilarating. I know I'm writing a lot of short, choppy sentences, but truth is that is probably how I was thinking when this was all going on. It was a lot to take in - and capture.
Red Room

Red Room

Posing with the bear - who has a lot of writing to do about all his experiences!

Red Room
Blue Room - Photo credit Allison Riddle

Berkeley chilling in the Blue Room - what a lucky bear!

Where we stood for our picture with the president

Glass of water for the president during pictures is between the lamps
Green Room

Of course I had to get a picture of him in every room.

Beautiful, historic paintings and portraits

View from the window

Gorgeous wisteria - Photo credit Kathy Assini

Soon it was time to line up again - to meet the president. As we stood there, tallest to shortest, it was a little emotional. At least for me. There are 3.3 million teachers in the United States, and 53 of them were about to meet the President. Not only that, I've come a long way. I worked for where I am today - personally and professionally. This was no accident, regardless of what anyone who doesn't know me very well wants to say. I not only represented the teachers of West Virginia that day, but anyone who struggles with anxiety and depression and feels there is no way out. If you work hard, act right, and don't give up, incredible things can happen. I made it out of the darkness, and hopefully when this experience is over with, I'm able to share it with others and give them hope.

We were quickly and efficiently introduced to President Obama for a picture in the Blue Room. It seemed so unreal to be shaking hands with him and posing for a picture that I wasn't the least bit nervous. I was excited and happy, and he was very nice in the 20 seconds I had to speak and get my picture taken with him. We will receive this picture later this year (but in the meantime, I have a stand-in picture with the president that will hold me over until then - keep reading).

From there, we were introduced to those assembled in the East Room for the ceremony. I knew that I was going to be in the first row, but did not realize I was going to be on the live stream for almost the entire time until I felt the light of the camera on me when Arne Duncan moved over. Then I was really excited, because I knew the kids at Tomahawk were watching the ceremony. It has been hard being away from the classroom and my students this year...but how many times to you get to see your teacher live on camera standing next to the President? Brad took some of these pictures from the audience, and the rest are screenshots and pictures Heather took from her classroom.

Being introduced

Waiting for the president to enter

National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb addressing the audience

Pictures from classroom at Tomahawk



After the ceremony, we had a few minutes to be with our guests before being ushered out of the White House to "Pebble Beach," where they hold press conferences. We walked out the lobby...and out of the front doors of the White House. You know when they say "larger than life?" Walking...out the front doors of the White House, through those gigantic columns and down those beautiful white stairs...THAT was larger than life. I don't think I breathed until my feet hit the asphalt.
Quick picture with Brad in the Green Room before guests had to leave

Walking into the lobby

Just walked out the doors...

Heading to Pebble Beach


So long...

One more picture!!!
I will never forget one moment of that day for the rest of my life. It's now 7:34, and I'm tired just from reliving this day, in this post. The Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO), Voya (formerly ING), SMART Technologies, University of Phoenix, and People to People Ambassador Programs give the state teachers of the year a priceless gift of recognition and appreciation by sponsoring and arranging this week. I am so proud to have had the opportunity to represent West Virginia in our nation's capital.

Okay, this is the last picture - Photo credit Anna Baldwin