Thursday, June 19, 2014

June: Hello, Goodbye

I can write about all of my June events tonight, because beside a possible day trip to Charleston next week (with a half day drive round trip not included), I am taking the rest of the month to be almost normal. Almost, because getting your classroom set up for the next school year isn't on many teachers' agendas as soon as school lets out, but that has to happen with the events coming up in July and early August. Almost, because as I sort through the hundreds of pictures and handouts and business cards, I have to start thinking about what happens next. I have acquired, through the course of this year, an entirely new skill set. I wasn't "coached" or trained on how to speak, write, or network, but those are skills that I have refined in ways I never could have anticipated this time last year. What do you do with that once this experience is over - or is it ever really over?

June as been a "Hello, Goodbye" month. I have four months left...I think. My last known event is in October, but as I said, I don't know what happens next, or if people will still want to hear from me after the fact. I'm meeting new groups and organizations, but I've also begun the "farewell" tour as new people are recognized - which makes me happy. It's meant to be "teacher of the year" for a reason. Number one, there are thousands of teachers that deserve to be honored for what they do in their classrooms, and number person can only extend him/herself so much within a twelve month period, and then it's time to give him/her a break. Being teacher of the year doesn't give you superhero powers - or mean you already posses them. We get tired. And lonely. And sick. Which is why I know I need to lay low for the last full week of June, so I can power through the rest of a restless summer away from home.

Before I forget - all Berkeley County interviews for Be the DifferenceWV are uploaded on my YouTube channel. On my way to Beckley I remembered that I did not go to James Rumsey Technical Institute, a career and technical school for students in Morgan, Berkeley, and Jefferson Counties to interview any teachers...and I drive by it every day on my way to Tomahawk! I am very thankful to their principal Donna VanMetre, who arranged for me to interview teachers Ron Odom and Andrew Albright on the last week of school. So glad I got to learn more about the CISCO networking academy and welding program from these two outstanding people. Career and technical education provides monumental opportunities for students to not only learn a trade but gain a foundation for the business world as well as college.
With CISCO technology teacher Ron Odom

With welding teacher Andrew Albright

I spoke the the Region VI members of the West Virginia Association of Retired School Employees (WVARSE) in Wardensville, located in Hardy County, on the last day of school for teachers. These were retired school employees from the Eastern Panhandle. They were very welcoming and interested to hear about my experiences this year. Many of them are extended family or know my husband's family from Pendelton County :-) It was also nice to meet the 1996 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, JoAnn Harman from Grant County. I'm looking forward to speaking to the state WVARSE members in Flatwoods in September.
With Pendelton County WVARSE members

With WVARSE Executive Director Bill Milam and 1996 WVTOY JoAnn Harman

Berkeley County WVARSE members

Next was speaking to "kick off" the Berkeley County Schools Summer Institute, Extreme Makeover: Classroom Edition. This was half speaking on behalf of the changes occurring in education, and half closing my year representing all the teachers in our county. I spoke on the need to raise expectations for students and the controversy surrounding the changes, as well as how much I have valued representing those in the audience.
Speaking at the Summer Institute

Later that evening was the ceremony and reception for the 2014-15 Berkeley County Teacher of the Year. Yes, two big speeches in one day. No, that's not unusual at this point. I've done three our four, although the pressure was high for both of these, because it was the "home crowd" and I wanted to really do a good job. I'm happy and excited for Holly Branch, a math teacher at Musselman High School, to take on this role, because I know she will have a special year. Thanks to Richard Belisle of The Herald Mail for the follow up story on my travels this year, which you can view at this link.
On stage with the 2014-15 finalists

Giving my reflection speech

With the 2014-15 Berkeley County
Teacher of the Year, Holly Branch

And today, I spoke at American Public University (APU) in Charles Town, located in Jefferson County. I was there as a guest speaker as part of The Education Alliance's EdTalk series, as well as a newly named member of the board of directors of The Education Alliance. I am the first teacher to be named to the board of directors, as this has been a new change to the bylaws of The Education Alliance, an organization that works to promote business and community involvement in schools, to have the current state teacher of the year be a part of their board.

As part of this event I took a tour of the APU campus. Although it is an online university (formerly known as American Military University, originally designed to allow those in the armed forces complete a degree from anywhere in the world), I was surprised at the size and design of the facilities. APU is the second largest online university system, with the first being the University of Phoenix. 70% of those employed with APU live in West Virginia. Students receive a book grant to cover the cost of their texts for their courses, and APU has not raised their tuition per credit hour in 12 years. I was very impressed by APU as an alternative to students who cannot afford a college education at a traditional institution or need to pursue online learning to meet their needs.
The building housing the library at APU

Above the parking area at APU is the largest solar array in West Virginia

The APU administration building in downtown Charles Town
was a hospital during the Civil War!

Where the large window is located was once the operating room
of the hospital. Now it is the president's office.

Back to that EdTalk :-) In the same vein as TED Talks, the EdTalk Series sponsored by The Education Alliance is designed to allow leaders in education to offer their perspectives and ideas for improving education. Senator Joe Manchin also spoke to the audience (via Skype) as well as the president of APU, Dr. Wallace Boston. I was excited to give this speech, because I have been eager to be offered the chance to speak on my views in education, not just my story for how I came to this place in my life. I received a lot of positive feedback about my speech afterwards, so that was encouraging. The Education Alliance recorded the EdTalk event and speeches to feature on their YouTube channel. I will post the link to it once it has been uploaded. I met a lot of other groups and organizations at this event, and I am looking forward to working with some new groups in the next few months.
Giving my EdTalk

Among the many things I discussed were
accountability and teacher retention.

Now what? I haven't had a single shred of free time since...this time last year? Last July I was out of the country, then I came home to find out I needed to prepare for my state finalist interview (more on that in another post), then the school year started...and then  came October 9th. Nothing has been the same since. That makes both happy, excited, and a little sad. I would not trade in one moment this year, but it is still disheartening when people still think of this as "just" an award. It's changed my life, and right now as I say hello and goodbye, I don't know where it's headed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rewind Wednesday: Last Year's Berkeley County Teacher of the Year Reception

I almost went an entire day without getting on the computer. Then I remembered it's been a while since I've written a "Rewind Wednesday" post.

One event I did not include in my blog posts, which put into motion all of the other experiences that have happened over the past eight months, was being named the Berkeley County Teacher of the Year. It gets lost in the shuffle of all the excitement and travel that has come with representing West Virginia that first I was selected to represent all the teachers in my county, the same school district I graduated from as a student.

I had been a finalist in 2011. All I wanted was to do better than last time. Speaking and interviewing is something that I have worked at to improve, because I didn't want it to hold me back or embarrass me ever again. I left the room after my interview not feeling defeated. Mission accomplished. Maybe in four or five years, I could "fix" myself enough to be selected for such an honor.

I've learned that, when something big is about to happen, nobody talks to you. Everyone tries to avoid you, because they know something and don't want to give it away. Looking back, I should have known something was up. I was getting ready to go to Germany with the Transatlantic Outreach Program in a few weeks, so that's where I was focusing my attention.

When I walked in Hedgesville High School for the reception that Monday evening, I knew something was up. I could feel it, along with the photographer taking lots of pictures of me and my family. My teacher friends were there. My former principal, who had recently retired, was there. Before I walked in the auditorium, I knew. No one had to say anything. And it was overwhelming.

With last year's finalist and teacher of the year

You have to know how far I've come to know why something like this, for me, was a monumental accomplishment. Ten years ago, I was so crippled with panic attacks I couldn't drive a car. Getting through the school day took every ounce of my energy. I witnessed a fatal car accident on I-81 at the beginning of the 2004-05 school year that sent my battle with anxiety into a tailspin. I was hopeful, with Tomahawk only being 10 minutes from my home, that I would be able to make my way to school each day.
With board member Darin Gilpin and principal Beth McCoy

 I wanted to function, to be adequate, to not be ashamed of myself. I desperately wanted to be able to get through an entire school day. Maybe I wasn't meant to be a teacher after all, but I was wanted to give it one more year.

 Slowly, things changed. Because I landed at Tomahawk, the right people and opportunities came into my life. I never saw myself as polished or the best in any way. There are teachers I work with that are more pulled together than I could ever be. But I wanted to do things, create things, for children. My aunt was a first grade teacher for 37 years. She impacted the lives of hundreds of children and their families. Dawn rose from an upbringing in poverty to become a college graduate and an incredible influence on others. I hoped to be a fraction of that person. Dawn overcame her obstacles, and I wanted to conquer mine.

With board president William Queen and Superintendent Manny Arvon

Just getting to that point last year had been a long journey, and it was there I expected it to end. It was pure joy to be recognized for my accomplishments in the classroom. There couldn't possibly be anything that would top that night, and I was looking forward to a school year where I could share this honor with my classroom and school.
With instructional specialist Ernie Dotson

With the other finalists

I had no inkling by the end of the year my classroom would be the state of West Virginia. So much has transpired that last June feels like 10 years ago. Only I know it hasn't been that long, because 10 years ago I was a very broken soul.
The first of many interviews

With my parents

With Brad

In five days, the new teacher of the year for Berkeley County will be named. Everyone has a different story for what led them to become a teacher. I choose to share my personal struggles and journey because I know someone out there - be it a student, teacher, or anyone feeling defeated - needs to know that it's possible to pick yourself up, that the right people exist to lift you up and out of your situation. Today is not forever. There is hope and peace in choosing faith over fear, and most importantly, there can be joy in the journey.

With former principal John Spataro, Katie Miller, Heather McCain, and Beth McCoy

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Raleigh County: School Visits, Teacher of the Year Reception, and Exhibition Coal Mine

I'm melting.

Maybe melted would be more correct at this point. When I started to write this post last week, I was melting. Summertime has finally squeezed its way into our lives bringing heat, sunshine, and green, green grass. The crazy winter of 2014, which had me dodging snowstorms faster than a speeding snowflake, has officially evaporated, with hopefully no return in sight. Along with the promise of warm weather and good times is the avalanche of paperwork, clean up, and refereeing that follows at the end of the year in a teacher's classroom. I felt myself slowly disintegrating with every bead of sweat that formed as I strategized how to pack my classroom for summer cleaning - and my overnight bag.

Another trip. Two weeks of routine had spoiled me. I dreaded the thought of loading and unloading my car, navigating unfamiliar roads (it's all good until it's time to get off the interstate), and spending a sleepless night in a sterile (looking) hotel room. It's easier to be home. There's less guilt about being away from family and colleagues. Everyone seems to be more at ease and happier when I'm safely off the highway.

This journey can feel very isolating, because I have been on my own for much of it - with the exception of the State of the State address, Scottsdale, and the evening gala and White House ceremony. As lonely as it is, I've look forward to the people I will meet and what quasi-crisis I'm going to have to work out by myself. I'm melting, in the sense that who I thought I was is dripping away. Easy isn't what we need to help us grow. So once I was in the car and on my way to Beckley, I was fine.

My first stop in Raleigh County, in the southern region of West Virginia, was Maxwell Elementary to speak to second graders - and share Berkeley's travels. Reporters from television station WOAY came to interview me about my visit to Raleigh County, much to the delight of the first classroom I visited ("Are we gonna be on TV? ARE WE GONNA BE ON TV?!?!"). Unfortunately, I can't find a link to the interview online, but I'm sure some very excited second graders tuned in to channel 5 at 6 pm that evening to watch. One of the second graders was so excited he had his teacher take a picture of me with him (and Berkeley) and had her text it to his mother. They were happy to hear Berkeley would be telling all the students in West Virginia about his trip to Beckley on his blog, as were the Kindergartners in Mrs. Meadows' classroom at Bradley Elementary during my second school visit.

Maxwell Hill Elementary

Ms. Chapman's class - they loved Berkeley's bookmarks!

Bradley Elementary

What a beautiful mural and school!

Later that evening I attended and spoke at the Raleigh County Teacher of the Year banquet. It was a beautifully organized event, where one teacher from each of the 29 schools is recognized for their dedication and excellence. I think that is remarkable. There are countless teachers in every school that deserve recognition, and it was one of the most special events of my year to be there and speak to the teachers that I represent. Congratulations to Michelle Durham, a Pre-Kindergarten teacher at Shady Spring Elementary, for being named the 2014-15 Raleigh County Teacher of the Year. Thank you to Dave Traube, the public relations director for Raleigh County Schools, for asking me to speak and coordinating such a nice event to honor teachers.

Raleigh County Teacher of the Year finalists

With Michelle Durham,
2014-15 Raleigh County Teacher of the Year

The next morning, it was time to travel home. This was a short trip (or a short long trip rather, since Beckley is a little over 4 hours away from Martinsburg). Before I left, I stopped by the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. The coal industry is not prevalent in the Eastern Panhandle; most of the students and families that come to live here from out of the area have no idea regions of West Virginia depend on coal for their economy (and that the end of the coal industry in many areas has lead to their economic collapse). I felt it was important for me, as someone who represents teachers and families in West Virginia, to learn about the history of an industry that supports the lives of many of the students in my state. The Children's Youth Museum and Mountain Homestead are also on the grounds of the Exhibition Coal Mine, which are both excellent places for students of all ages to interact with history. Berkeley will have a more in depth look at coal mining for students later this week :-)
A coal miner's family home.
Oh...where's Berkeley :-)

Inside the Slab Fork Mine

Bolts in the ceiling of the mine to keep it from caving in on the miners

A kettle bottom (petrified wood) that would
be dangerous for miners to hit their heads on in the mine

Scrip - used in place of money to "pay" miners - and only redeemable
at the company store.

A harsh reality, along with only being paid
20 cents for every ton of coal mined

Coal town baseball team uniform

Some of the tools used to mine for coal

Superintendent's House

Town school for grades first through eighth. By the end of eight
grade, you were expected to go into the mines and work. 

Bachelor's shanty

Berkeley in the outhouse. :-D
I may be the teacher of the year, but I still
have a sense of humor.

That evening I was back home, back to almost normal, and back to melting. It's not getting any cooler, although I'm looking forward to the month of June moving at a slower pace. This school year has ended... and it went way off the lesson plan. As teachers we have to be flexible, but this year would have had Gumby (remember him?) tied in knots. I have had to shift my priorities, perspectives, and plans like changing states of matter. I thought I would end my eleventh year of teaching saying goodbye to another group of fifth graders, and preparing for another summer adventure. Never could I have anticipated the events and people that have woven themselves into my story and changed the direction of my life. Due to my issues with speaking and anxiety, I thought I was limited in what I could do successfully outside of the classroom. Where I was, and who I was, was going to have to be enough for me.

And because of this year, these people, and these events, I have completely melted.