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.


  1. Erin -Congratulations on your accomplishments this year and thanks for raising the visibility and contributions of teachers.