Wednesday, December 31, 2014


Tomorrow's the next day of the rest of my life. Yours too, more than likely.

I was going to let my last post be it for the year, but a lot has transpired since October - and I think it's important to share the aftermath.

First of all, things don't fade to black and snap back to the way they were. Having experienced the highs and lows this full-time life entails, I made a trip to Wheeling to not only work with beginning teachers at Wheeling Jesuit University and Ohio County Schools, but to brief the upcoming  WVTOY on the year to come.

Elementary Education majors at Wheeling Jesuit
With the 2015 WVTOY Gail Adams and 2009 WVTOY MaryLu Hutchins
For the past year, I have run on adrenaline. It's kept me alert, motivated, and putting one foot in front of the other when otherwise  not humanly possible. When I finally didn't need to run on adrenaline was the equivalent of letting go of a just blown up balloon. I was exhausted, sick, and, keeping it real...discouraged. To use another analogy, trying to get a routine and relationships established in my classroom at the beginning of the year while being constantly disrupted was like trying to build a really tall tower with building blocks and someone knocking it down over and over just when you get it at the right height. All the fatigue and frustration that I should of felt full force all year sent me into crash mode for several months. The only time I didn't feel like I was falling apart was when I was falling asleep.

There were bright spots though, that reassured me that maybe normal was just around the corner. 

Grant Recognition from the Eastern West Virginia Community Foundation

Classroom Management Workshop at Shepherd University

WVRA Conference...well, it's almost normal to make three stops at The Greenbrier in 12 months...right, Berkeley?

And there were field a year that has felt like the greatest field trip imaginable.

5th Grade Field Trip to Harpers Ferry

Arsenal where John Brown was captured 

It just wouldn't be a field trip anymore without a bear.

After Thanksgiving Break, I felt recharged. It was a relief to know that I wasn't going to spend the rest of the school year running on fumes. I've stopped checking my email non-stop in fear that I'm going to miss important dates and times. My luggage is taking a well-earned winter's nap in the basement. I go to school, come home, grade papers, sleep, and repeat. Things are almost back to the way there were, and most days I'm so busy that I could put this last year completely out of my mind, except...

I have close to 1,000 pictures from this year on my phone. It's amazing the thing even turns on anymore. 

There are 16,000 miles on the car. Just seeing the new reading on the odometer each evening when I enter the garage reminds me of what a journey this has been.

I have pictures in my classroom of life through the years. Among that collection now are ones with Homer Hickham and President Obama.  

Having been in every school in Berkeley County and to many counties across the state, places and names immediately bring faces and stories to mind. I think about people all the time.

These past few days, I've been at my residency at the National Harbor for my doctorate. In a year where I've gained much, there is still a lot left to learn. 
National Harbor in Washington, D.C.

Inside the Gaylord Convention Center

Then there's that bear. He's been everywhere this year, and what a story he has to tell children about the things he has seen and the importance of being the difference. One of my greatest joys is writing and drawing, and I am looking forward to creating something that allows me to share the joy of this journey, as well as encourages children to write, draw, and imagine.  

I still get emails - just not in mass amounts that take hours to go through and answer. Mostly, they are from college students. Some I met over the past year; others have found me on Twitter or through my blog. They share their stories, and they ask for resources. In me, they have found someone they can identify with, and of that I am most proud. When I met students at the Future Educators Association at their conference this February, something clicked. I saw a purpose for my story and classroom that otherwise wouldn't have been revealed had it not been for this journey. My goal going forth is to create something for beginning teachers to use as a resource to find answers, opportunities...and confidence.

I still represent the most vital profession to our nation's future, just now in a less demanding role.  That "less demanding part" is a relief. I have learned, grown, and found peace with every experience. Most importantly, I have found ways to keep serving people and challenging myself. I hope you've enjoyed reading about this season of my life this year. It was difficult to find time to write (and write well), but sharing what was going on made me feel closer to people, when many times I have been in a car or away from home for hours or days...and occasionally weeks. 

So this isn't good bye; it's see you soon. (I'm staring at the screen trying to figure out how to end this post). 

Okay, here we go...

To my teacher friends, have faith in yourself. Regardless of what changes and challenges persist in the coming year, there are classrooms of students that need you - just as you are. Choose to be exceptional, and choose to speak up. There is value in your professional opinion regarding what children need to be successful, but you need to share your voice. Resolve to present yourself professionally and with passion to your students and peers, because the only way the entire image of this profession changes is if we all choose to be the best we can be. Those kids in your room, whether it's the straight A student or the one that never stops talking, need you to be their role model for how to act, resolve and learn. Find reasons, even when it's hard, to keep holding on and moving forward...

...because that is the difference.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

Coming Full Circle...with Courage

Okay, no fooling this time. It's December, and I have T minus three days to finish this blog.

No sooner had I driven home from New Jersey I was packing (and substitute plan writing) once again to make the trek to Charleston one more time. 365 days later, the moment had arrived to light another torch. I had been in such a state of motion (drive, speak, drive, teach, drive, write, repeat) that it wasn't really registering that this was indeed the end.

Until the hail storm. Right around the Buckhannon exit. In the dark. I had managed to drive through every type of weather over the past twelve months, every precipitation imaginable, except hail. I had even bragged the week before about how I at least avoided "that one."

Driving three miles per hour in the pitch black in a hail storm, it hit me like the swollen white pebbles bouncing off the hood of the car. This was it. If I could get through this one last storm, I had made it.

The next morning, I spoke at the state board meeting about my year. Before going in, I walked around the Capitol Complex one more time. What was once so imposing a year ago had become familiar territory. It's where laws are made and voices are meant to be heard - even if those on the receiving end don't like what you have to say.

I don't like to "selfie," but when I do, it's with the Capitol in the background.

I spoke about the view I had over my year, comparing it to being at the peak of Spruce Knob. That view included taking in some of the great inequalities that exist across this state. There are good things happening in education in West Virginia, but that doesn't mean there isn't work to be done. You can't expect teachers and students to keep doing more with less and less; it's a set up for failure. In an era of high stakes everything in education, those that are directly impacted by changes have the least amount of voice. Some don't get a chance to be heard; others are afraid of the consequences of speaking up. Both need a champion.

Addressing the state board

This is random, but I love Ollie's Bargain Warehouse in Hagerstown. No joke, it lives up to it's slogan "Good stuff...CHEAP!" About two-thirds of the store is discounted books - maybe it's not quite two-thirds, but that's the reason I frequent there. It's a fun, fast way to furnish my classroom library.

When I was there this summer, kneeling on the cement floor to pick through a bottom shelf, a thin, errant book slid down from the shelf above. It had a pale, crumpled dust jacket - and a bright orange $1.99 price sticker.

As I pulled it out to remove it from my pursuit of non-fiction, my eyes caught the title.

Courage, by Bernard Waber.

It was a simple picture book, with a few sentences on each page. Nothing fancy. It had obviously been passed over before.

I looked for one without such a grimy cover. No such luck. What am I going to do with such an "un-fifth grader" book anyway? Hmm. Character traits? Analogies? I'll think of something, as I stuck it in my cart. I peeked - thank goodness beneath that embattled dust jacket was a smooth, glossy book.

Three months later, I was shoving items into a bag and tears out of my eyes. I wanted it to be awesome. One last time to address the teachers of West Virginia, and here I am, ready to hit the road to go - and I don't have a speech. Nothing written down at all. Once last time to speak, and in the midst of the crazy that is the beginning of the school year, that one important task kept getting pushed to the side. Now what was I going to do?

Be different, but more importantly, be the difference. 

As I reached under the table to unplug my laptop, an odds-and-end pile of random items that hadn't made it to school yet greeted me. Courage was, once again, a part of the misfit mix.

What makes the difference?

So I snapped out of my pity party frenzy. Geesh. What had made the difference, every time, this past year? It was starting right back at me, under the table, with wrinkled eyes, waiting for me to see it.

24 hours later, Courage became a part of my speech. Click here.

With my coordinator, Monica Beane, and the 2015 WV Teacher of the Year, Gail Adams

And with that, I officially (and gratefully) attained "has been" status. A year of amazing highs, lows, and tests came to a close. It's an blessing to receive this honor, and an accomplishment to be on the other side of it. Looking back, I don't know how I did it, except...

Courage is what we give to one another.