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.

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