I've had the opportunity in the last month to see the Broadway play Jersey Boys twice, once on Broadway and once in my own state, part of the Broadway Series South. At the end of the performance, which chronicles the experiences of the group known as The Four Seasons, the character Frankie Valli says, "People have asked me what stands out over my career. Was it the hit records? Was it the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction? I have to say, looking back, that it was all of it. All of it."
I feel the same way about my NC Teacher of the Year experience. Yes, there are some highlights that stick out, ones that people ask me about often. But really it was all of it - from the minute I was named Gravelly Hill Middle School's Teacher of the Year in April of 2007 until when Tony Mullen was announced the next National Teacher of the Year in April of 2009. All of it.
The Big Things That Got a Lot of Attention
1. Being able to visit the White House with the other State Teachers of the Year and shake hands with President Obama during his first remarks in the Rose Garden during his Presidency was BIG. It was a historical moment starring a historical President. We could hardly breathe with excitement. Prior to that we attended a reception at the Vice President's home and met and talked with Dr. Jill Biden and played with Champ, the Vice Dog. After that, a few of us were interviewed for three segments of the syndicated television show This is America. Surreal. All of it.
2. Being named a finalist for National Teacher of the Year is an honor that I still can barely wrap my brain around. Having met and worked with the other finalists and State Teachers of the Year I seriously feel the need to bow down Wayne's World style and claim "I'm not worthy. I'm not worthy." The best part was how excited my students were about the announcement. They felt that it was for them, and of course, it was.
3. Appearing on national television and being reunited with my first grade teacher Mrs. Warnecke was life-changing. Since that day, I have gained a forever friend and confidant and have had the opportunity to question my teaching practices: how can I make a difference to my students the way Mrs. Warnecke made a difference to me? Hopefully, the answer will appear in my book Finding Mrs. Warnecke, scheduled to be released in May 2010, another dream realized because of this experience.
4. Because of the Teacher of the Year program, I traveled to Europe for the very first time. The Center for International Understanding included our entire team, and we traveled to Denmark and Sweden. I was giddy with excitement from the moment I stood at the post office and applied for my passport. I've been home a week, and I'm still not over it! It was amazing...
5. I've had the opportunity to speak before the Education Oversight Committee of the NC Legislature, and just last week, I sat with a group of National Board Certified Teachers with the Speaker of the House as our audience. Also, our state senator, Kay Hagan, visited me at my school...which brought in policy makers from all over the county to my school that sits in a former blueberry field out in the country. Big stuff for us.
6. I was appointed by the Governor of NC to serve on the NC Professional Teaching Standards Commission. This was a huge deal to me as I had to be sworn in by a judge. And as part of the commission, I've had the opportunity to impact how teachers are evaluated in my state. It makes me very proud.
Other Things That Were Really Important But Maybe Didn't Get As Much Attention from the Media
1. The 2008-2009 Teacher of the Year Team members are my best friends. To think that I only really met them a little over a year ago is unbelievable to me. Just goes to show you how quickly kindred spirits can become close. And the same goes for the other State Teachers of the Year. I truly have made friends for life because of the Teacher of the Year program.
2. Several times audience members have approached me to tell me that my story made a difference to them. Some were current teachers; some were future teachers. One finalist for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program referenced something she heard me say in her interview. She was later selected to be a NC Teaching Fellow. To have an impact on others in the way that the Teacher of the Year program has afforded me is so meaningful.
3. I've had the opportunity to serve on various Boards including being a Teacher Advisor to the State Board of Education. I also served on the Public School Forum Board, the World View Advisory Board, and the Twenty-first Century Professionals Committee of the State Board of Education. I'm excited that these folks really care about the "teacher voice."
4. There have been innumerable speeches - to future teachers, beginning teachers, veteran teachers, future principals, and most importantly, there was a "graduation" speech to the eighth graders of my school, a bittersweet moment at the end of my year.
The Funny Things That Made the Traveling Easier
1. Okay, it wasn't funny that I hit a deer. But it was funny that the schoolbus threw that deer at me...and that the deputy was so serious when he told me that all he found, as far as damage, was fur.
2. I was nervous at the beginning of my year when I attended my first Public School Forum Board meeting. I sat beside Dr. June Atkinson, our State Superintendent, and hoped I could string two words together and sound worthy of my role...then a huge storm blew over, and the power went out. Here we sat in this (very old) resort hotel in Pinehurst in the dark. It was quite comical as we all were stabbing at our pecan pie and missing our plates.
3. The funniest part of the year, bar none, was the Principal of the Year selection process. I had been away from home for a week, in Dallas, Texas, at the State Teacher of the Year Conference, when I came home to spend two weeks in a car with Dan Holloman, Alisa McLean, and Debra Morris. I have never laughed so much in my life! We literally traveled from one end of the state to the other, west to east...then northeast to southeast...then back west...until we were giddy with exhaustion.
4. I learned a great deal about my ability to push through exhaustion during this experience. There were days when I would have a breakfast keynote, a luncheon, and a dinner motivational speech...all in the same day...in three different cities. People would say, "Well, who makes your schedule?" That would be me. But it isn't as easy as it seems. Let's just say on one of these occasions, I scheduled one thing - the breakfast keynote. Before I knew it, the Principal of the Year luncheon was scheduled on that same day, and a National Board dinner was rescheduled (from a snow day) for that same night. But just when I thought I didn't have one more ounce to give, I'd look out at those smiling faces in the audience and get some energy...just enough to get me home.
5. I'm glad no one saw me fall out of that kayak at Ocracoke. I went home with bruises, but it was worth it for this city girl to get "back to nature."
6. I did go into a couple of schools and, as a means of introduction, say, "I'm the North Carolina Teacher of the Year, and I...." only to get a variety of responses like "And?...." or "Uh huh...." as if to say "Who cares?" I finally changed my introduction to "I'm the North Carolina Teacher of the Year and I only say that so you'll know I'm not a terrorist or a child molester. May I please see...." It worked really well.
7. I got lost...a bunch...my GPS was not always right on target. Like the time it kept yelling at me to "turn right, turn right." I was in Hoke County, and there was nothing right except a cemetery. I yelled back at it: "I'm not turning right!!!" That was the only time I got lost in the east, but I got lost in the west a LOT! GPS does not like mountains! I found out you really don't have to travel the corkscrew roads of Little Switzerland to get to Burnsville in Yancey County. I also found out that just because it isn't raining at home, it may be raining in Stokes County when you're lost and have to keep getting out to run into fire stations and convenience stores in an attempt to find King, N.C. at 5:57 PM when you're the keynote speaker at 6PM.
8. Speaking of rain, for a state that had been in a severe drought to the point where we were assigned days that we could wash our cars, it sure did rain on me A LOT!
There was the time I was traveling from Charlotte to Brunswick County and got caught in a rain storm in Monroe. I also got caught speeding in the state car, the only time a "concerned citizen" dialed that 1-800 number and turned me in.
There was that Saturday that I was to speak at the NCAE Convention....the same Saturday thousands of people participated in a race that required all of the roads to be blocked. I got to the Convention Center on time, but my hair was a big frizzball. Good thing they had giant screens so that all 2,000 of the delegates could see just how frizzy my hair really was.
I went through five umbrellas during my Teacher of the Year year...they'd break in half, get whipped by the wind, or I'd lose one here or there.
9. I only gained five pounds coming out of the classroom and eating at all those dinners, but I'm surprised it wasn't more. I've never eaten so many slices of cheesecake in my life. Cheesecake = dessert of choice on the conference circuit.
Goodbye and Thank You
There are so many people to thank for this amazing year. I included most of them on my farewell video, but just a thank you will never be enough. This experience has truly changed my life, and I am so lucky to have had this amazing opportunity.
This will be my last post on the NC TOYTreks blog. My year is complete. And although I have turned in my state phone and state car, I will always be your North Carolina Teacher of the Year 2008-2009.
Thank you, North Carolina. It has been a wild ride....ALL OF IT.