Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Ed Show Tonight! MSNBC

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I got an email near the end of the day from Washington D.C. to see if I wanted to be on the Ed Show. Ed Schultz is horrified at the way that our New Jersey Governor is attacking public employees and I am too.

I'm a full-time teacher. Last year I won the New Jersey Teacher of the Year title and now I am in the running for the National Education Foundation Teaching Excellence Award. I'm very excited about all of the acclaim and honor that I have received. There are many good things about being recognized, but one of the best is having a bigger microphone to share the excellence of my colleagues.

Tonight, the taxi was waiting for me at 4:15 in front of my house when I pulled up from school so I ran in to get dressed in a flash. We hit the traffic on the G.W. Bridge and then got into midtown without a whole lot of fuss.

Before speaking on the Ed Show, I thought a lot about the way our Governor said that people shouldn't have pensions and about how he wanted to expose the unions and tell the truth.

I feel that what Governor Christie is doing is creating a giant myth about what is happening in our classrooms and is somehow engaged in an anti government worker public relations campaign. How is that possible for the leader of my state?

In order to attract the caliber of professional that we want to be teaching our children, we need to offer a reasonable package to them. I just read an article that the number of people in California who are seeking to get certified as teachers is down 40%!

We are at a time when we need to recruit and retain these talented young people, not attack their salaries, dishonor their work and call their professional leaders "bosses!"

Tonight, I felt so upset with Governor Christie and frankly baffled about why he would launch such an attack on his own public employees!

Tonight on the show, I felt that I was able to say much of what I wanted to say, yet I could have gone on.

Maybe Ed will invite me back some time.

Governor Christie needs to understand that teachers and public workers are an important part of the excellence of our state. If not, he seriously threatens to shortchange the future of our children and that would be inexcusable!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thumbs up to film making!

Here I am with my wonderful digital arts trainers - Ben and Caitlyn - from the Pearson Foundation.

I snapped this picture as they were rolling out the laptops and cameras that the students used to make movies all week. We bid our farewells and I thanked them and the NEA Foundation for making this all happen for me and my students.

We made the films in my two senior classes - about 50 students combined. The students made more than 20 different 2 minute and 30 second movies about our Spanish class and me. I was the topic, but the tools and instruction will be useful to them in other contexts of their lives.

On Monday, we debriefed to see how they had enjoyed the experience. Everyone had positive things to say which included things like...

I liked having the creative freedom to make something I am thinking!
I liked having the chance to say what I feel about you! (awwww!)
It was fun to switch things up and have a totally different kind of learning!
This was a great group experience!
I can't wait to see the movies - when can we see them?

Ben and Caitlyn uploaded the student films and took them back to use for the final movie. One of my students - Fred - is really into film making so he spent a lot of extra time putting together a polished film. Other students also made use of extra periods to get editing done and to brainstorm ideas. It was a terrific work environment.

I loved seeing how the students connected with the project, the work and with each other. I am inspired to keep doing video projects like this in class - now, where can I get about 10 flip videos??? Hmmm.......I'll have to work on that!

The Ed Show

I got a call in study hall yesterday from MSNBC to see if I would want to be on the Ed Show last night. The situation was that our Governor Christie treated a teacher poorly at a Republican Town Hall meeting last Friday when the fellow was only asking a question! Ed Schultz was interested in my response.

I had seen the film of the teacher and read some articles about the Town Hall meeting and was horrified to see how the Governor ordered this elementary school teacher off the stage and asked a state trooper to accompany him! Incredible!

I really don't understand why this happened! The teacher was asking about the municiple cuts that are affecting our classrooms, our staffing and what we can provide for our children and the Governor just wouldn't hear it!

Why not? I see that he was blocking dialog and was unwilling to respond to the questions he was asked.

I wouldn't allow such behavior in my classroom!!!

Under the lights, when you are asked questions on live television, you respond the best you can, but I have found that some really great answers come up just after you are off the air!

Here's the clip of what I said - just copy and paste it into your brouser to view!


Besides that, I would have added that the Governor must come to the table to engage in dialog with his state's teachers. The NJEA is working hard to be a proactive partner for educational reform and we need to all put our heads together to come up with the best solutions for the children.

We cannot afford this name calling and poor treatment. It is intolerable and inappropriate. We cannot permit our elected officials to belittle, demean and disregard teachers! Those days must be over and done. They should never have happened, but since they have, it's time to see this as a bad time which we must dig ourselves out of to start anew.

We must look forward to a new day of collaboration in which we come to terms with the issues that we face in the 21st Century, in our classrooms and in our profession. This is what is right. This is what we need to be doing.

No more blocking dialog. No more grand standing. No more, Governor Christie - please!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cell phones in class, anyone?

On Wednesday, December 1st, Northern Highlands Regional High School was the recipient of a wonderful Professional Development program. Angie and Sandra, from the Pearson Foundation, flew out to New Jersey to introduce our staff to the use of mobile devices as educational tools. The training was part of the NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence!

We were all very excited to get this training. Thirty staffers volunteered to attend the after-school session, including our school's Superintendent, Mr. John Keenan and our Principal, Mr. Joe Occhino. I was also thrilled to have our Technology Director, Mike Rightmeyer, present and actively engaged in our shared discovery.

Staff from every department participated in our exploration of the use of 21st Century tools. Julie Goldberg, our school librarian and PD coordinator even canceled a previously scheduled meeting to attend and to allow others to get involved.

This is the way great communities work - we all come together to learn and to support each other. I was particularly impressed with such participation because it was the Wednesday after Thanksgiving and everyone has so much on their personal and professional plates!

In our workshop, we looked at the best and worst-case scenarios of mobile phone use. Mobile phones have more power than a room could house, when computers first came out years ago, and our students love using them.

How do we direct this use?
How can we empower our students to engage in meaningful work with their own electronic devices?
What do you do if some students do not possess this equipment?
How do teachers balance individualized electronic engagement with teacher directed activity?

We talked about all of this and watched some serious and humorous video clips to inform us and to prompt discussion.

Then, we went right to texting, polling and connecting with the use of these mini computers!

Most folks came away thinking that they just might give this a try at some point in the future. We grew and enjoyed the shared learning!

I was so happy that the NEA Teaching Excellence Award included this staff development from the Pearson Foundation! It's the first prize that I have ever received which included a gift for my colleagues.

The student newspaper was really interested in what we were learning and I got an inquiry from a student reporter.

In the end, this staff development encouraged teachers, students and administrators to put their heads together around how we might consider inviting these powerful new technologies into our classrooms. That's a fantastic outcome!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 4 - we are editing!

Today's job is to take disparate visual records and make them all into a story.It's fascinating to see what the kids want to film!

The students receive some direct instruction about how to blend the different layers of a film (music, visuals, speed). It's amazing to see how we can create a perspective by choosing this image or film clip rather than that. Good thing I like the choices the students are making!

Tomorrow - the film must be completed. What an awesome, community building experience this has been. Only one day left!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 3 - the movies come together

Here are Ben and Caitlyn teaching my students the use of camera phones.

It's Day Three and the students are in constant motion. They are taking "B" footage of the building and all around. I learned that this means "background" footage. Then, there are these action shots. Maestra throws the ball. Maestra discusses healthy foods in Spanish. Maestra is flying across the room with a red cape to help a student with the imperfect and the preterit. "Super Maestra!", as they called me, is at it again! It's hysterical to see what kids of ideas the kids come up with.

Today, they were still filming, but they ended the session learning the basics of video editing. Tomorrow and Friday, we wrap it all up.

In the end, there will be many movies that are 2 minutes and 30 seconds long and then there will be one which will be shown at the NEA Foundation's Annual Salute to Excellence in Education Gala in February.

I would love to have all of the movies, to treasure each shot and angle. How cool is it to have students make a movie about what THEY think is important about you and the class?

Maybe we should all have such an opportunity. It's Reflection with a capital "R" because we get to see how what we do every single day reflects back on us from a student perspective. Maybe I will make up a project that is similar and do it every year.

I would ask the kids questions like:

"What do I do that you like?"
"What learning engages you?"
"What types of things that we do are fun?"
"What would you rather I skip?"
"What do you remember from a month ago?"
"What do you think you will always remember?"

Those are MY questions, but I'm not the one who gets to fashion the questions for this student-driven video. I won't even know what the finished product looks like until it's all done - it's in their hands.

Here are a few photographic highlights from Day 3. Enjoy!

Here, the kids are filming students as they talk about what it's like to be my student!

"O.K., we have these story boards, footage and notes. How can we bring this together to make a film?"

"Let's take a breather for a moment and smile."

This group is happy about their work!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Lights! Cameras! Action!!! Films are being created in room 115!

Today, Ben and Caitlin are helping my students really start making our Pearson/NEA Foundation videos! Yesterday, we started with a few ideas, but today was very exciting!

First, all the students had to brainstorm. What IS it about my teacher that I like and that makes our class special? I was blushing at my desk and added that the movie could be all about how learning language and culture is so special!!!

We decided that it would be great to make a funny movie with a point. Sure, I'm a nice lady, but what is it about learning language and culture that makes us sing with joy???

Every student has access to video cameras which are palm-sized and numbered. This way, we can see what movies were made by whom. One of my students - Fred - has a camera of his own so he can upload the student footage to a hard drive and create from there.

Every pair or triad is making a movie and shooting footage and then there will be one coordinated movie which combines it all into an artistic whole. I could feel the air fill with excitement as students engaged in this process. I think that what they liked best was ordering me around!

"Hey, Maestra - walk there! No - this is the background, a little to the right!"

It's hysterical! They are up out of their seats and walking around, finding things to shoot and scenes to make.

Tomorrow, we have two senior classes and a free period which will help us get a lot done. The kids are in charge! I know that they can do it with the help of the Pearson team!

Monday, November 29, 2010

NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence - Making movies!

Ben and Caitlyn, from the Pearson Foundation, came to my classroom today! They are a teaching film crew sent as part of my NEA Foundation Award for Teaching Excellence. Pearson and the NEA Foundation partner on this part of the award.

My students will learn digital arts so they can learn an important tool while making a movie about me. We have four days to make this happen!

This wonderful award is sponsored by the NEA Foundation with support from the Horace Mann Companies, NEA Member Benefits, the NEA, and the Pearson Foundation.

The award program is called “The NEA Foundation Awards for Teaching Excellence" which is what all state winners receive. The next level up are “The Horace Mann Awards for Teaching Excellence” which I received along with four other teachers in the country! In February, we'll all find out who has received “The NEA Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence”. This is the national award which will be given to only one of the Horace Mann recipients.

This is the reason that my students are getting digital arts training and my colleagues will have professional development later in the week.

I have every confidence in my students. I've left it in the hands of my trusty seniors who have taken on this challenge with great gusto. Today, period 2 walked into class after a four-day weekend and looked a bit worse for the wear. Hoodies were up and a few looked bleary eyed!! Oh, no!

Luckily, they picked up steam as the project got underway. Ben and Caitlyn explained how the job was to be done and the students got interested and excited about the digital learning. I'm so happy that an award I've won will help my students learn.

I have a cold today so I wasn't in my best stride. Still - it was thrilling to have these guys visit and take over the classroom. What an interesting and privileged experience!

The first thing they did was have the kids brainstorm exactly what sort of movie they would like to make about me. I admit that I felt a bit shy as Ben and Caitlyn told the students what an honor I had achieved. My only hope is that my students - who so well know me as a real-life person they see every day, will see that achievement is in their hands. Maybe they will get inspired to reach for some dream that they wouldn't have without having lived this ride with me.

The other thing that the Pearson folks said was that they want the movie to be made up of largely student faces. In years past, there have been many administrators and staff talking about the teacher, but this year - they want it to be youth voices that speak loudest and clearest. I am interested in seeing how we pull this together in a few days. I am planning on making a movie of the movie with my flip video. This would give me a reflective experience which could document what we are doing! Maybe it will help other teachers who are creating a video project in their classrooms. I hope so!

Tomorrow is day two! I'll keep posting about this on the blog as we go.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

ACTFL - a gathering of language professionals!

I am in Boston at the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Conference! There are 7,500 people here learning about how to teach languages better. They are meeting, talking, presenting! All though the hallways of the Sheraton and the Hynes Convention Center, you hear the sounds of many languages. People come here from all over the world and create connections. The place is hopping!

I came here and was given the ACTFL Northeast Regional Conference Teacher of the Year Award. Clarissa Adams Fletcher is the ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year as well as the Southern Conference on Language Teaching, Teacher of the Year! (Clarissa is in the middle of the above picture). Martha Pero is the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language, Teacher of the Year. Amy Velasquez represents the Pacific Northwest Council for Languages and Stephen Van Orden is the Southwest Conference on Language Teaching TOY.

We TOYS got to know each other really well over the past few days. To apply for the award, each of us, had to create a 50 page portfolio, replete with recommendations from colleagues, students and supervisors, samples of student work as well as a 30 minute film clip of our teaching.

Once we got to Boston, we had to individually meet with a panel who asked us questions about language and culture. The hardest bit was when we had to give a "mock press conference" to talk about issues of importance in language. We couldn't have notes at all and had to just launch into it.

I prepared by writing out my thoughts the day before and then, just before going to the interview, finding the seven words that would help me remember my sequence of ideas. I then looked for silly pictures to connect with those words to further assist my mind in retrieving information and thought. It worked! I am a visual learner and the pictures brought the ideas right into my head.

Yesterday morning, all of us were gathered on the stage in front of an audience of 3,500 people! The atmosphere was electric as each one of us walked across the stage, our pictures flashing on two giant screens. We didn't know who was going to win so each of us had thought about what we would say to the audience if chosen.

Our ACTFL staffers said that it would be a good idea to write a few words down, but where to put these words? I was wearing a fancy suit with no pockets at all. My solution was to stuff a piece of paper with my speech up my left sleeve and to hold my eyeglasses in my right hand, sort of stuffed up my right sleeve.

My great fear was that it would all drop out of my hands and sleeve onto the stage - crack, step, slip! In the end, it worked out and it turns out that I didn't need to say anything anyway! Clarissa kept her words to the audience simple, but sincere so she didn't have any Magna Carta in danger of slipping out of her clothing. Good for her and a lesson learned for me!

If I am in such a situation again, I will say something nice with no paper, look at the people, smile, pause and never try to stuff papers or glasses up any sleeves! Eeee gads!!

You learn something every day, even little things that make you laugh at yourself in moments of apparent glory!

Friday, November 12, 2010

It’s a Friday and I’m done my work, but am just sitting here for a bit. Grades are out and another chapter begins. I hear the kids cheering on the field outside and my colleagues clicking down the hallway to go home. After a while, you know which clicks belong to which person. People all have a particular beat.

The end of a marking period often seems exhausting for everyone - it can like an interruption of our regularly scheduled program, rather than something that joyfully demonstrates progress. When it goes well, it’s an opportunity for meaningful feedback. It should help a student find his direction, determine her strengths and weaknesses, plan for future growth.

Well, for some students it does, but others are saddened by that missing half a point. I want to tell them that this half a point will not define them.

They will be defined by whom they love and who loves them back, by finding their favorite foods and work in the world. They will be defined by thousands of actions seen and unseen. Some of what they do will make them feel proud of themselves and some things will later enter the realm of the regrettable.

Things like…

the white lie to a parent about something trivial, that - when remembered, burns their lips,
the party they should have left earlier,
the friend who betrayed them,
the friend they betrayed,
the child they didn't have time for,
the batch of cookies they ate by themselves,
the invisible kid they didn't befriend,
the teasing they watched, silently,
the words they wished they had the courage to say,
the words they wished they had only thought,
the lesson they ignored and now need,
the story from a grandparent they brushed off and now crave,
the story they were afraid to write…

So many things that will define them and none of them include the half point. The half point is a snapshot and there will be so many more such markers which will become part of the flow of their well-lived lives.

They will look back and savor…

the taste of ice cream with friends,
the win on the soccer field,
the way the bat felt in their hands,
the first time a girl or boy liked them in that way,
the Eagle Scout award,
the first time they took an unpopular stand they believed in,
the time they wanted to cheat, but didn't,
Thanksgiving Dinner, with all of their relatives,
loading their favorite songs onto an ipod and sitting back and listening,
leading a school activity that people came to,
realizing that their parents were once kids too,
making mud pies with their little sister,
the taste of pizza at lunch, after starving all morning,
the feel of the steering wheel when they got their license,
a first kiss
becoming student of the week,
running down the street with soaking wet hair, in a summer rain,
the smell of apple muffins,
earning their first dollar,
helping someone learn to read,
ladling out soup in the shelter,
sleeping on fresh sheets under a soft comforter..

I look outside and see that the sun is still shining on a triad of orange, crimson and yellow mums. Time to go.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Moments of grace

Time doesn't move at an even pace. Sometimes it seems to halt a bit, allowing us to watch what's happening more closely.

In one of my Spanish classes, students are reading a story called, "El vendedor de globos." They need to work together to create a picture sequence of the story's main events.

Our rule in class is "no English" so it's fun to see how the kids negotiate meaning to get the job done.

I typically bounce from group to group to offer encouragement and information, but today, I see that they are fine on their own for a while so I sit down and watch them interact.

Everyone is speaking in Spanish: The comment about the state soccer game after school, the question about information from page four, paragraph two, the request for a pencil - all in Spanish.

"Globos, muchos globos de muchos colores!" "Lots of colorful balloons," says one girl, grabbing a bunch of markers. "I'll do it!"

They are busy. The girl in the Highlands t-shirt is checking meaning and the boy wearing shorts in November is at the dictionary. "Good," I think, "use the tools we have in the room."

They forget I am here when they get involved in the task.

"Did the man die in the end?" says a lanky kid with a mop of blond curls to his partner. "I think he dies because the white balloon floats up. It's like his spirit floating up." The other kid shrugs and nods while sketching what he is saying. He is translating the Spanish words into pictures.

Good stuff.

But that's not the best part. What I like about today is watching my students interact. They don't fully know how wonderful they are. They are living in this classroom, on the sports field or stage. They write poems or make movies, participate in clubs, dance, work a part time job. They go home to a nice dinner in the evening. Their lives are busy, but they have big dreams. Everything is possible and the future is a vast expanse.

And I have a ringside seat.

I watch a new language bloom in their lives. I get the first surprised look when they understand something in Spanish that they once thought was impossible. I see them become super heroes of culture, masters of communication, intrepid ambassadors who understand how connecting communities is our most important modern work.

Next to watching your own child take its first steps, there isn't a more privileged job to have.

It takes a lot of trust in both directions. I know that they will learn. What they don't get today, will come tomorrow as long as we keep giving them tools, enrichment and strategies. It will definitely happen.

They trust me to know how to lead them to knowledge, culture and new words to speak their feelings and thoughts in Spanish.

The class leaves and I stay a while after school, to read journals. Grades are due in a couple of days so we are down to the wire.

I read about six journals when I get to Carla's: "I like learning so peacefully and being happy in this class."

Sounds like a good place for me to end my day. I close the black and white composition notebook and run my fingers over the marble design before I put it in the bin.

I shut the door to my classroom and go to my car, parked at the far end of the lot. It's already dark outside and the parking lot lights are on. I hear the leaves rustle under my feet.

Time starts to speed up as I think about sizzling some salmon and tossing a salad at home for my family. Switching gears.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Words at the monument to enslaved Africans

I stand here before you today with great humility.

I am grateful to be invited to give voice to my thoughts and to honor the memory of the enslaved Africans whose lives touched our state and whose unspoken stories sing in the air around us and invite us to remember.

Gathering here makes this monument to enslaved Africans hallowed ground.

We join to remember these African American men and women, who toiled in New Jersey and Bergen County.

We cannot see their faces. We cannot hear their voices and the sounds of their children. We don’t know the names of their ancestors’ villages or what words from diverse languages and traditions were lost during their cruel passage.

How many tears were shed when they didn’t believe that they could go forward? How much pain did they feel in the putrid mess of a ship where human beings moaned and struggled until their cries quieted down, useless in an impossible situation?

We know that they came to this area in chains. We know that men, women and children were sold like livestock, their yearnings, dismissed, their individual freedom, scorned.

Physical shackles tried to kill their spirit. The stripping of their names and traditions tried to kill their culture. The separation of mother and father from children, spouses from their beloved – forever - created a legacy of hatred and oppression whose cries we still hear to this day.

If we are very quiet, perhaps we can hear them now. We can imagine the buzz of work; of vegetables purchased and hauled home, the fields tended, the animals brushed, the smell of fresh laundry and sheets flapping in the sweet afternoon sun.

We can seek to know the fire of youth and the quieting of that fire by those who had to survive in order to cling to the only possibilities offered – a recognition for jobs done in the kind of obedience that enforced labor and slavery created - bonds between masters and owners in an enforced relationship.

We remember the intimacy thrust upon these Africans who nursed white babies, bore children and kept quiet when those very children and families were flesh and blood of their slave masters.

They kept quiet when these powerful men would use and dehumanize them into submission. They were forced to provide the semblance of loving comfort when they had no options to flee, to self determine or to reject the unwelcome advances of power.

And what about the African American men, who loved these women? What about the pain and helplessness they felt when they could do nothing to protect their wives and sisters?

As I stand here, I think of these men and women. I look back in horror at what those who shared my skin color have done to dehumanize and control my brothers and sisters. I think about the blindness that can allow us to believe that our brothers and sisters of other races, religions and ways are our enemies.

Remembering them is not enough. We must dig deep.

What shackles bind us? What is the legacy of these dark years? What wounds still ache and how can love help us to create a world free of such abuse and blindness? What can we do to create a future where truly, we will judge each other “not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character,” as Martin once dreamed?

As a teacher, I see the lines of demarcation all around me, but especially in school cafeterias. Brown children group together, football players, theater kids, Asian students and cheer leaders all find their “comfort zone,” which is frequently color coded.

A decade ago, Theadora Lacey and Rori Kantor, leaders in the town of Teaneck, NJ, looked around too and saw that though we had civil rights and integrated schools, we did not have the habit of social connection the way that the law said we could.

They created the idea for “Teens Talk About Racism” and spent a year meeting with houses of worship and youth to organize an event where students could create a safe zone to discuss stereotyping and to find ways that we could knock down the walls that still divide us in every organization and school today.

The first year, about 15 students gathered at the Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, to dialog and share their ideas and to find strategies to create a better world.

The next year, about April, Rory reached out to me at a quick lunch meeting at a diner in the middle of my busy school day. She asked me if I had any ideas to mobilize the youth.

I said two key things, “have the conference during the day” and “let’s partner with a university to create a conference with the kind of dignity that an adult conference might have.”

Two months later, we welcomed over 100 students to Fairleigh Dickinson University and since then, we’ve hosted almost 200 students per year, in the month of May, to lead and facilitate discussions designed to bust stereotypes and empower social action.

At “Teens talk” we discuss interracial dating, racial profiling, differentiated treatment based on race in school settings, the lack of students of color in AP classes, mentoring, connecting students in a multitude of schools via social networking tools, immigration reform.

The best part is that the conversation is totally youth led. The teachers leave the ten rooms where discussion is happening to youth facilitators who organize icebreakers, theater and art activities and to talk around issues that matter.

Each year, they change the world in significant ways by creating a safe space to talk about the stereotypes we bring to the table and why these stereotypes have no place in our shared world.

We bring the discussion to the heart of matters because if we don’t confront the beliefs we carry in our hearts and minds as a legacy of an enslaved past, we are doomed to allow them to format our minds, contaminate our actions and create instant responses to situations that are racist, limited and sad.

At the end of the conference, the students sing “Lean on me” and they really mean it. They stand up and hug each other – white and brown children locked in embrace, ready to connect to create a better world for themselves and their families to come.

And they don’t do this to “be good.” They do this because the “ah ha” moment they’ve shared at “Teens Talk” is what we all need to share as adults - we need each other.

Without the stories and perspectives of my African American brothers and sisters, I am less. The world is less clear, less warm, less connected.

Without my friendship, my African American friends would not understand the unique sort of blindness that living in racial privilege creates. They would not hear my stories, my dreams and hopes for a shared tomorrow.

We fumble together through this conversation because we must rebuild the future by re-scripting a story of racial togetherness and understanding.

We can laugh about our short sightedness and our limitations. We can bring our ignorance out to the public eye, in a safe zone we designate for such hard talk, only when we recognize that our limitations have been caused by the lack of experience that enforced and inherited segregation has caused.

We see the poison and then, together, we destroy it with the antidote that only love can give us.

We must accept that nobody is “color blind” and that what we believe about race must be dismantled in a conscious and often painful journey of self-awareness that will take us a lifetime.

And so, in closing, I invite us all on such a journey. In honor of these enslaved Africans, I rededicate myself to a path towards a greater openness in thinking. I commit myself to continue to help create the kinds of dialogs that are so sorely needed and apparently so difficult for us to begin.

Barack Obama had a good idea when he invited Professor Henry Louis Gates
and Sgt. James Crowley, the Massachusetts police officer who mistook him for an intruder, to the white house for a beer. His great insight was to join together two apparent opponents, both mad as a hornet, to just talk and share their perspectives and stories and to say:

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know who you were. Can we begin once again?”

Maryann Woods-Murphy
Hackensack, New Jersey
October 9th, 2010

Sunday, September 12, 2010

September musings...

Everyone is talking about teachers and accountability. A woman asked me at church today, "why don't teachers want to be held accountable?" and that started a whole conversation about how I believe we are very much held accountable and why.

It's good that we are talking about assessments and ways to help students learn in the school day. The achievement gap is something real, with success in school often tied to economic level and parental ability to support their child's learning.

Despite all economic differences between students, though, teachers can and do make a world of difference to students. Effective teachers matter because we open doors in the mind.

My students come charging into my class on the first day. It is as hot as a sauna in my room and I try to keep cool while jumping around with our warm-up activities. I look around - every kid is somebody's baby and some of them have had siblings in my class.

"You had Andrew in your class, Maestra," said a perky girl with a very familiar face. "Yeah, and you had my cousin Joe!" said another.

On parents' night, I see their moms and dads take their childrens' seats. They have expectant faces with bright eyes.

I wear the same suit to meet the parents that I wore to meet the president even though I am roasting in long sleeves and my face is bright crimson by the end of the night.

"Aren't you awfully hot?" says a worried mother.
"Hey, if I wore this to the White House, I should wear it for you!" I answer.

Everyone laughs.

Even though the news often seems to paint teachers as public enemy number one, the atmosphere in room 115 and all over the school is jubilant.

And just like us, all the other neighborhood schools have shining floors and lesson plans ready to launch.

September is like this.

The secret is that teachers look forward to the start of the school year. We like to meet our new students to try out the latest and greatest strategies. We want to get better at what we do and we know that our students' success, is the greatest accountability ever.

I got an email the first week of school.

"Hey, Maestra," it read, "College is going really well. I wanted you to know that I placed into the highest level of Spanish and I got an "A."

It sometimes takes a few years to know whether what you are teaching has sunk in and sometimes it takes the student himself a while to realize it.

Learning is gradual and at some point, the light goes on.

As a teacher, sometimes you get to see it, up front and personal, and sometimes you are lucky enough to hear about it years later.

Now that's accountability!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The first day of school

I'm in room 115 and am attempting to make this room ready for my students.Today is the last day before they come in.

Why does it always seem, at this time of year, like I've never taught? Will it be o.k.?

My husband, Joe, says, "It's like getting on a bike. You'll know what to do. Once you see the kids, it'll be fine."

And I know he's dead right. It happens every year and it's a great thing about this profession. We get to see those fresh young faces coming into our rooms, ready to make learning happen. A new community will be formed. The students will learn Spanish and I'll have the opportunity to get to know and learn from them.

The kids will assess my success and will certainly let me know when I am striking out.

"Awwwwwwwwwww..............no, not that!" "Ay, Maestra, no vamos a hacer eso..."

I've been touring the state for 8 months and now, that part of my Teacher of the Year job is over. I still have responsibilities and conferences in Princeton and New York and I won't pass my "crown" till October 6th, but coming back into the classroom is a dramatic change.

My colleagues were fabulously welcoming and the administrators did a great job of sharing the fruits of their summer of preparation. We ate some donated sandwiches and shared summer stories.

I resisted the chocolate chip cookies, but now I'm sorry. Wish I had one right now.

I'm excited about my classroom and students. It's waiting for them and for that magic chemistry to happen once again. Who will they be? How will I change as a result of knowing them?

Friday, August 27, 2010

NEA Teaching Excellence Award!

Here's the official link to the NEA Teaching Excellence Award! What an honor!


Friday, August 20, 2010

Finding my shadow

Dr. John Medina

I'm writing from Portland, Oregon from the Education Commission of the States, National Policy Forum. A lot of national education policy is decided here and it's only the 4th year that the Teachers of the Year cohort has been included in the discussion.

The National Education Association sponsored our visit to include teacher voices in this event. This past year has exposed all of us to a great deal of educational policy and information and it's a chance for us to weigh in, from the educators'perspective.

One of the highlights of the conference was meeting and hearing Dr. John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Dr. Medina is a firecracker of a speaker who has seen how we need to exercise, solve problems and explore to be as smart as we can be and live long. He suggests that it would be a good plan for brain researchers and educational policy makers to get together so that what is learned in the lab can help inform our practice.

John Medina says that our brain was developed to work best when we are moving and solving problems outside. If you wanted to design an environment which would be as different as possible from what the brain needs, create a classroom or a cubicle in an office.

People need challenges, questions with no answers and the time to solve problems. We take ten years to solidify information and need to hear it over and over again for the connections to become permanent.

Besides, John Medina, there was a lot of talk about the "Common Core Standards" with much excitement and some disagreement. Each state brings what they call "Commissioners" which are what I understand as official delegates who participate in the votes and conversations about national policy. In New Jersey, our former Governor, Corzine, appointed our current "Commissioners."

The Teachers of the Year don't have a formal role so we have to just try to jump in and make our comments when we can.

I had the chance to chat informally with representatives from the NEA, the People to People organization, New Jersey Principals and Supervisor's Association and Educational Testing Service. Bringing people together from 46 states in the country to talk about education is quite a feat.

Most Educational Forum participants welcome the Teachers of the Year, but I look forward to the day when teachers have a more active role in the panels and discussions. One of our colleagues - Our Louisiana Teacher of the Year, Holly Broffy - is on a teacher effectiveness panel tomorrow. She's the only one of us who has been given a formal role in the event. She'll represent us well, but how strange a world it is when the people involved in education, at the grass roots, don't have a natural role in the formation of the policies that govern this work.

It doesn't make sense.

Still, it's great to be here to have elevator conversations with legislators from around the country, to grab the mike when we can and to promote the best practices we care about.

For the last eight months, I've been flying around the state of New Jersey and the country talking with a wide variety of stakeholders about education. I've been learning a great deal about how decisions are made, who the players are and how I can best advocate for my profession and make a difference in my field.

In a couple of weeks, I'll be back in my classroom, teaching high school juniors and seniors Spanish.

I keep thinking about Peter Pan and his shadow. Maybe you remember that Peter lost his shadow and then, later, he found it.

Maybe that shadow is what connected Peter to reality and what showed the impact of his flight on the people and things of his world.

When I was walking on the South West 5th Avenue in Portland today, I suddenly saw my shadow appear. It's coming into focus and I'll do my best to let it connect me to my family, my students and my colleagues.

This year has shown me that I'm part of the world of the real teachers who are working with everyday kids. What I do happens in time and space and it matters to the people I interact with. Any high flying ideas I might have, must win success in my classroom.

If not, the kids will let me know.

The Teacher of the Year Recognition year is coming to a close. On August 26th, we choose our new state teacher and then, there is "Next Steps Beyond" conference in New York. At that conference, we'll bring all the teachers of the year, from every state in the nation, together to talk about how what they have learned this year will influence their teaching. What will each of our roles be?

That's where I'll sew my shadow back on, for good.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

International Space Camp 2010 - Parade of Nations

This was the "Parade of nations" from International Space Camp." I am wearing an old time bathing beauty costume with striped stockings, a bathing bonnet, bloomers and a bathing dress! I am highlighting the New Jersey Shore for my costume!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Space Camp!!!!

Cutting out tissue paper to make a hot air balloon!

My group, "Harmony" before our mission in space!

I have just returned from Space Camp where the the teachers of every state and many nations gathered to learn science and bond together across national and international lines! And so we did!

When you arrive in Huntsville, Alabama, space is written on the landscape. Posters, ads, space t-shirts.

Why? After WWII, 118 German scientists surrendered to one American Soldier. They came to Huntsville with vision and the dream of space. First, they were put to the task of making missiles, but then, space exploration began. Kennedy wanted to put a man on the moon and every heart in Huntsville beat a little faster to get the nation on that track.

Space Camp is a place where children and adults come to learn about dreams. How can I fly? What is the proper balance of my machine and my body? What does it mean to work in a team and what is my role? What can and should I expect of myself?

You are up early and go to bed late. You do missions that feel real and in between, you make hot air balloons, rockets and do Martian math. You see why your design for thermal protection was the best or the worse. You learn to appreciate different kinds of minds.

One day, Christa McCauliff's mother comes to visit and each teacher cries for Christa, that teacher who won the "Teachers in Space" competition, trained at NASA to become an astronaut and perished upon take off, along with her crew. Turns out that Christa wrote letters of recommendation the day before she went up in the Challenger when NASA had her in quarantine. Figures. Teachers do things like that.

Christa wanted to bring ordinary people to space with her. She was a history teacher and she figured she could make it easier for people to understand what kinds of things she was seeing.

You go girl! Your message lives on in each one of us.

You also learn that astronauts are funny people who horse around in space. You learn about the challenges of a space toilet and the kinds of food people eat that gives them the necessary high calorie meals each day.

Space camp. A place where everyone is a scientist, if only for a week.

When I returned home to Newark Airport, the faces and words of my Teacher of the Year friends and International teachers were still with me. A family for a week.

A plane roared overhead. I admired its slick tubular body and the fins that kept it gliding through the open sky. I wondered about its balance, weight, materials and fuel.

Once you touch space, you are never the same again!

Monday, July 19, 2010

World Cup, DC and life

I am in Washington D.C. right now. I am a semi-finalist in the NEA Teaching Excellence Awards so I have flown in from Spain to give a sample lesson and have a conversation with some very prominent panelists. All I know is that I will do my best.

Spain was something else. To be in a country thrilled with World Cup fever. I spent time with friends, had some choice wine and strolled with my husband, daughter and granddaughter on the magnificent streets of Salamanca.

These are the days that you think about when times get tough. Olyvia at one year old wandering down the cobblestone streets. Thinking about how my husband Joe's face lit up with joy when I came out of the gate at Barajas airport. My daughter Melynda's ideas on how to help the students in my husband's program better adapt to Spanish culture. Little bits of treasure.

You've got to savor it all.

Last night, I had a fabulous dinner with my former student, Adam Nathan, who is working hard to help the world through important policy work about education and business. I was so proud of the things he was telling me about - socially conscious investing, the creation of a non-profit, the high cost of poverty. It was so great to learn from a former student - wonderful to be in a totally different city - DC - and get together with Adam, five years after his graduation. I felt happy that he wanted to. I know I did.

Tomorrow, I'll give a lesson to the good people of the National Education Association and will teach them a bit of Spanish and talk about what I believe is important in education.

Wish me luck! I'll do my best to represent New Jersey's finest teachers. Send me a bit of your strength and knowledge. I know that I'll need it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain wins the World Cup!

I am in Salamanca, Spain, visiting for a week and I happened to be here when Spain won the World Cup!!

What happiness is in the streets. I have never seen such multigenerational jubilation here in my life.

To think that this country once had a terrible Civil War (1936-1939) and that the Spanish flag, for many, became associated with Dictator Francisco Franco's band and that now, this same flag belongs to all Spaniards, shows that countries can prosper, heal and redefine themselves!

Ole, La seleccion espanola y Ole SPAIN!!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Philadelphia July 4th Parade!

Back in February, a parade producer contacted me to ask if I wanted to be in the July 4th parade in Philly! I immediately accepted and later found out that Mary, the Delaware Teacher of the Year and Michele, the PA Teacher of the Year, would be in the parade as well. We all had our own drivers and classic cars to ride through the streets!

I sat on the back of a red 1966 Ford Classic Convertible, the guest of a car collecting family who had volunteered to do something nice for teachers. I was propped up on a rim lined with towels - for my comfort - and had the double task of waving my hand to the crowd while swooshing the flag back and forth.

We pulled out to get into the parade line up at half past eleven. Next to me, were over a hundred Chinese Americans in red shirts, large Styrofoam top hats with flags stamped across the paper bands and a collection of dancing dragons. A local high school steel band was edging up next to me on a float. We were all lined up like planes on a runway poised to enter parade world.

I positioned my feet on the back seat of the slow moving convertible to keep my balance. I just dug them in when we would start and stop.

Soon, we drove in front of the parade president and dignitaries who started announcing my arrival with a full bio. Names of my family were intermingled with events and deeds from my history - all on loud speakers. One car length ahead were a pair of volunteers who were carrying a six foot banner with my name and "New Jersey Teacher of the Year" across it.

"Way to go, Maryann! Good Job!" A woman called out and started a thunderous applause.

In fact, the whole street was waving and shouting my name and giving me the thumbs up for teachers. Small children eating cotton candy waved and were so excited when I waved back, specifically at them.

"Nice hat," I said to a little boy. His fingertips moved up to touch the glittery plastic and he smiled.

Each segment of street brought a new wave of applause. It was as magical as being 5 years old and dreaming of riding in Cinderella's pumpkin carriage.

Impossible dreams are sometimes possible.

"Hey, New Jersey!" I looked over and there was Joanna, my good friend from work!

She was snapping pictures like a paparazzi and laughing, while running along the road. It was so great to have someone from my life see what was happening. Half my family is in Spain, running a trip and the other half had other obligations.

Having her there made me believe that what was happening was real!

The car inched along. The streets were lined with cheery Philadelphians eating water ice, melting fast in the hot sun. I saw grinning people in wheel chairs clutching three inch flags. Cops smiled back when I waved.

In 1776, a brave message resounded in these streets - one that the signers of the Declaration of Independence would not have even been able to fully grasp or predict

Americans watching the Philly parade, on July 4th, 2010, came in many races and religions, all equal and all with the right to the pursuit of happiness and equality.

Just a couple of blocks away, the liberty bell herself was soaking up sun through panes of glass. She had seen slavery, women without the right to vote and a time when you had to be white to be an American citizen.

Somehow, through all of those past and current trials and challenges, we are reminded of our core values when we celebrate July 4th.

And today, Philadelphia was indeed "the city of brotherly love."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sam Lee, guest blogger

Here is Northern Highlands Regional High School graduate, Sam Lee & his proud family posing for a picture. Sam's peers selected his speech for presentation at our school's graduation. I found his words inspirational and invited him to share them on my site as a guest blogger.

"Fellow graduates, parents, faculty, and staff, you are staring at the next American Idol. Ok, perhaps not, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it?

According to Winston Churchill, we should “never give in (to defeat). Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small”. But the fact still remains. I can’t sing. I’ve had my try at singing- in the showers, in class, in front of the mirror and in the presence of my friends. And to be honest, I’m not the next Kelly Clarkson!

So then, what makes each of us unique? Why is our graduating class the best class in NJ, in the United States, in the world even? Why is Highlands so special? Is it because we’re DECA weapons, because we know how and when to get the best cookies in the cafeteria, or is it because we know that UIB stands for “User is blocked”?

Take a look at the person next to you. Do you see an actor, a doctor, or an NFL superstar? As for me, when I look at the Class of 2010, I don’t see “the future” or “this great beginning” that will end in all of us being movie stars and CEOs and supermodel divas.

I won’t use the tedious one-liners like “we are the next generation” or “follow your dreams and win big” and say that all 314 of us- just us, of course- will go out and change the world. But there’s always potential, always.

So then what about the short and stubby third grader who says he’ll be the next Yao Ming? Isn’t it ok to joke about that and say “it’ll never happen”? How about the shy brace face that says she’ll be the next Lady Gaga, and the class bully that wants to become a teacher?

It’s easy to laugh and joke or cast aside goals that seem “impossible”, and it’s all too familiar when we’re discouraged by adversity. But often, we find ourselves in a trap where it’s not others who discourage us or the size of our obstacles. Too often, it’s our own self defeating thoughts, our fears and worries.

Sometimes, all we need to do is stop thinking for a moment, and forget our anxieties about how silly we look or how incapable we are. If you want to “Dance with the Stars”, dance. If you want to be a singer, then sing. Let’s step out of our comfort zones and take a chance. When the Soulja Boy music is blasting on the dance floor, grab a friend and start the “crank”. Pull out the chicken wing or the chest pop if you have to. Just do it!

Congratulations Class of 2010. And, when the music fades, and we see that microphone on the open stage, let’s grab it, and whether we squeak or squeal or screech out of tune, let’s sing our hearts out."

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Teacher Leadership Community

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to deliver a keynote at a wonderful two-day event held at Rider University - The Teacher Leadership Community Summer Forum. Suzanne Carbonaro and the teacher leader team that put this together are tireless and enthusiastic about what teachers can offer each other and how they can fruitfully collaborate.

Suzanne has created a Ning called Teacher Learning Community For Ed (http://tlc4ed.ning.com) which you might like to join. It is chock full of great ideas, connections and real contact with educators who are making a difference every day.

The summer forum was held in the Daley Dining Hall of Rider University. I think there must have been about 100 educators gathered who were ready to share and learn. Chris Campisano, from the State Department of Higher Education, had asked me to speak. Chris is moving on to work as the head of the teacher prep program at Princeton University. Meeting Chris has been one of the highlights I've had this year.

Chris spoke first and then Emilio Piaolo, an award winning student teacher, followed him giving the group a moving speech - the story of her student teaching experience.

Emily compared images of her favorite activity - going to the beach - to her internship experience. She talked about waves of learning, our need to sometimes tread water or survive in rough educational winds. Her words were well crafted and beautiful, leaving the audience gasping at various times. I think her words could become an important essay for teachers and student teachers everywhere to share!

I spoke after Emily to tell my stories of collaboration across the barriers of age and position in my life. Here's a part of what I said. A lot of time, during my speech, I was off the page, improvising, as the spirit would move me. This has been happening more and more as I go on the road, but I still like to have that speech in front of me as a good back up! Here is a shortened version of what I said:

"What a year it’s been! But how did I get here and how did collaboration give me the skills I’ve needed in my career of 31 years?

In 1978, I got married to Joe Murphy. Joe told me that I would be able to learn Spanish very well, if we made a pact to speak no English to each other. At the age of 22, I was so in love that volunteering to give up my native language for a year seemed like a good plan.

Joe and I went to Spain and moved into a Pension – which is a kind of family-run Inn. The Inn keepers were Marisol and Pepe – a young couple in their 20’s. They had two small children, Jose and Susana. Jose was four years old and he became my secret teacher. I spoke only a couple of words of Spanish, so I really needed help!

“Pss, Jose, Que es esto?” I would ask about every object in the room.

Jose would fall to the floor in hysterical laughter and would finally give me the word I would need again and again. My learning became a game for him. To this day, when I go to Spain and see Jose, now in his 40s, I still talk about him being my very first Spanish teacher.

In college, I had studied philosophy. As a philosophy student, I needed to care about words and use them in a precise way. Going to Spain and leaving all of those hard-won words behind to break into a new language, was indeed a challenge to me. I had to learn to be humble, flexible and finally, to see myself with humor.

But most of all, I had to get help from others.

I had to ask questions and I had to let a person with greater skills assist me – in my case, it was a four-year old, but the age difference also allowed me to let down my guard. In fact, it was a perfect language learning situation.

Fast forward a decade and you find me working at a new school for science and technology. The place was gleaming and stocked with all of the latest computers, cutting edge in 1993.

We have to remember where technology was in those days. As recently as 1981, it would take two hours to download a copy of the local newspaper at an hourly download charge of $5. Experts in those days said that even though computers might be interesting and fun, they probably wouldn't have widespread use and certainly wouldn’t make people any money!

It would have been hard to envision the internet, online shopping, workflow software and our need for the instant gratification of text messaging!

Well, there I was in 1993 in my new classroom when a very serious man walked in, in a fancy suit. We had a technology meeting at a time that I barely knew what the word might mean.

The man said: “You are now a lab manager!”

“I am?”

“Yes, do you have any questions?”

“Yes, is there, uh, training?”

“Well,” he said, "there isn’t any money for professional development.”

“Oh, uh, oh.... I seeeeeee!”

I sadly flipped through the manual. I was in “tech shock” with a useless piece of chalk poised in my hand, somewhere between tears and paralysis.

Thank goodness, a student walked into the room. His name was Mark Lois and he played an important part of my personal history.

“Como estas?” I said, trying to sound chipper.

Mark was a sensitive kid and he instantly noticed something wrong on my face, though he had only met me a few days before.

“Que pasa, Maestra?” His kind face and question helped the walls come tumbling down.

“Mark, I don’t know anything about computers. Can you please help me??”

Without flinching or making me feel foolish, Mark began my instruction.

“Do you know anything?

“No, nothing.”

“O.K., This is a desktop, this is a mouse. You move it like this, no – not up in the air, but side to side.”

I immediately felt comfortable and I let Mark teach me. Soon, I would notice kids pulling out cords, playing with computer programs and applications with an irreverent and fearless approach to technology.

When they would go too fast, I would say, “Slow down” just like I did when I was learning Spanish. Their attitude empowered me to adapt to an entirely new culture of technology, just like I had done years before with Joe in Spain when we made a pact to speak no English. The world was changing and, by golly, I was changing with it! My students taught me that I could use their matter-of-fact, playful, irreverent approach to new learning to my advantage.

Because of them, my mind was beginning to explode with a new excitement and a hopeful attitude about technology. I didn’t need to be a math genius to work with it or understand everything. I just had to be comfortable with a little momentary confusion and to develop a willingness to try different strategies, one at a time. The machine wasn’t out to get me. With a little gentle coaxing, technology and I became good friends!

Fast forward some more and bring me to last year.

I had agreed to become the cooperating teacher for Tim Riley, an outstanding student from Ramapo College. After all of my years in the classroom, I figured it was my obligation to encourage a younger colleague to find his educational dreams. Little did I know that the relationship would be so mutually constructive and personally rewarding!

I had met Tim during our interview a month before. Because I teach upper-level Spanish, I wanted to make sure his proficiency was up to speed. It was and I approved his application.

The day he was scheduled to arrive was the last day of the marking period. The night before, I had taken home two cloth shopping bags, buldging with journals to read and assess. They were heavy. I pulled up my car, dropped them off at the door, just near my classroom for only a half a minute so I could park my car. When I returned, however, the journals were gone!

What was I going to do? They weren’t behind the bushes! They weren’t tucked against the wall! They were nowhere. How foolish I was to have left such precious cargo unattended, even for a moment, but it was early and I didn’t imagine anyone would want a sack of notebooks. I was, as you might imagine, in an absolute panic.

Seconds after the discovery of my dilemma, my supervisor, Dr. Dianne Bono, walked out with Mr. Tim Riley, my new intern.

“Oh,” I said, mustering a smaller than average smile. “How are you?” My supervisor left, depositing my new charge with me.

“Fine,” he said, “you look worried. Is everything all right?”

“Well, to tell you the truth, it isn’t.”

I quickly told Tim my plight. We immediately started brainstorming. What could have happened? Where could the journals be?

I learned that Tim’s wiry frame is fast – he was a prize-winning runner – and he could make it up and down a hallway in a nanosecond.

But no matter where we looked, we couldn't find the journals. It was a total mystery. The journals went missing for three hours. In the meantime, I showed Tim the cafeteria, got myself a gulp of coffee and settled into teach the best I could. Ha! Now, I was supposed to teach well – what a challenge - but the show must go on! I didn’t share the situation with my students, hoping the journals would turn up.

Finally, at long last, an email came from a colleague who had picked them up on his way into his office and then had forgotten to contact me. He knew it was me because my name was on every student’s journal. He was sorry that what had started out as a favor had caused me so much worry. At last, the problem was solved and, by the end of the day, Tim and I had truly bonded.

The next day, I let Tim jump in right away. During our first week, when he was just supposed to observe, he offered to type and project student oral responses, so we could see them on a big screen. This way, he said, they could visualize the corrections I was making. I was impressed that Tim could type as fast as he could run. In the middle of class, Tim would dash to the computer and would interact with the words, find an Internet clip reinforcement of a point I was making or provide other suggestions.

Sometimes I would look up and there would be a funny comment in Spanish! The kids just loved it and in a matter of days, I was teaching better and we were all learning.

Soon, the time came for Tim to actually take over the class. I was nervous, but not as nervous as he was. We had developed this team style and I needed to give him more time to fly solo. He needed to learn ways to position his body to take over the room and project his voice. How much intervention should he provide on an assignment? How can you help one student when the whole class needs you?

He’d get so focused on helping a few kids that the others needed attention. During these early weeks, I took careful notes that I shared with him after class for a debriefing. Soon, his confidence grew and he knew just what to do. Quickly, we had a routine and he was managing the class on his own. I would even jump to the keyboard and type student’s responses like he did for me, though not as quickly or as well.

During our time together, Tim and I shared stories of life, lesson plans and our areas of expertise. I learned about geocaching, a sport where you bury items in far-flung places and then post their longitudes and latitudes for people to find them. There is a world of people who do this for fun! Who knew?

We put together wonderful formative assessments and brainstormed everything. I would start one sentence and he would finish it. I would anticipate his needs by an expression on his face.

Finally, our time was drawing to a close. Tim needed to go on interviews, but he didn’t own a tie.

“Do I really need one?” he asked, “isn’t a polo shirt ok?”

The next day there was a carefully wrapped box with two ties: one a blue silk tie and another red one. I just saw a picture of him wearing the red one on his facebook page.

“Nice tie!” I commented.

“I wonder why you like it?” he replied.

When Tim left, the classroom seemed oddly silent. All these years, I had taught in it alone, but now, the sound of his voice and his thoughts were part of the fabric of my day.

The students groaned when they entered the room.

“Oh, no – no Mr. Riley,” they wailed. I didn’t feel bad when they said it because I felt the same. “What are we going to do without him?”

Mark Lois, the student who taught me technology and Tim Riley, my outstanding student teacher, all became my teachers. As a veteran teacher, I realized that I cannot have all of the answers. By teaching others and being open to their gifts, I can learn too. By maintaining humility, humor and a spirit of constant collaboration, I can grow.

When I was in the final stages of the Teacher of the Year competition, I needed to create a movie to showcase my teaching. I was told to enlist the help of my school’s tech team to produce a highly polished, though unedited video. The only one available at all was my student, Alfonso Carrion, a senior.

“I’ve got this, Maestra,” he said, to respond to my worried face.

Though he was involved in closing out his own year and getting ready for the prom, Alfonso worked with me on filming the video. He added English subtitles over the weekend so that the committee could know what I was saying in Spanish. Only a year later did I discover that Alfonso had given up his prom weekend afterparties to work on this project!

Later, Alfonso told me that he was most impressed with the role reversal we had experienced together, that broke through the barriers of age and position.

"Helping you is what I wanted to be doing," he said, when he visited me after his first year of college.

Years ago, when I was living in Spain, it was necessary for me to approach the task of learning a language with a beginner’s mind. Jose, the four year old, taught me my first words. Later, there was Mark, to teach me technology and Tim and Alfonso, but I could have just as easily have told you the story of Rebecca, who collaborated with me on an all-freshmen diversity program, Na Eun Kim or Adam, whose tireless efforts during Mix- it-Up-at-lunch made the day a tremendous success or Anne Sullivan, whose cheery face popping into my room, at just the right moment - days after the death of my father - reinvigorated me, both professionally and personally.

Recent research shows that the mentoring relationship works best if it is non-threatening and supportive. I think my mentoring relationships have worked in the past because I have involved my protégé in my real needs – the need to learn a language, the need to find those journals, the need to make a video.

Each time, the mentee was able to immediately help me, the mentor, at a time when I really needed it. Because they could help me, I could offer my help in a way that was totally nonthreatening. We were a real team.

In an average 5-year period, 2.2 million of 3.1 million teachers will leave the profession. Part of our mission as educators is to prepare the next generation to be our replacements, to add our story to theirs and theirs to ours.

This way, when our last day of work has come and we turn in our last set of keys, we need to know that there are other educators whom we’ve empowered to lead. And when this day comes, I am sure that the lessons they have taught us will stay with us forever!"