Thursday, January 7, 2010

A visit to the State Department of Education

     Yesterday was so amazing my head was lighting up like the fourth of July. I went to the New Jersey State Department of Education and had about six meetings with leaders in the areas of teaching and professional standards, student achievement and accountability, holocaust education, world language, social studies and academic standards.
     I need to confess something: when I get really enthusiastic about things, I begin to gesture wildly. Sometimes I will knock over a glass or swipe a table clean of papers. Yesterday, I slid my brand new business card across the table so fast that it literally popped into the hand of the wife of the director of Halocaust Education. Another time, I flipped my chrome pen into the air and held my breath as it soared into the air, plummeted to the rug and - thankfully - missed the Coordinator of Special Program's neck by a hair
     "Ouhhh!," I said, attempting an apology, "I tend to get a bit enthusiastic!" My cheeks went pink. Lukily, it was a friendly crowd.
     So what do you think about when you think about people in the New Jersey State Department of Education? These people often get a terrible rap! What I found, however, was a bunch of people intensely dedicated to taking the ideas in their head and the information in the field to create structures that will help students learn
     They create much of the paper trail of education within the confines of a labyrinth of cubicles. This maze of grey office spaces has shelves personalized with photos of children or puppies and the occasional plant or trophy. Some workers have more austere digs which clearly operate by the principals of feng shui - order, harmony and balance. If you are quiet, you can hear the murmur of keyboards - tap, tap, tap - with corresponding images bright on a series of computer screens with words like "collaboration," "rubric" and "communities." It's the real deal.
     I can hear some people saying that that stuff isn't real because it doesn't connect to the kids in the classroom. Not so! I learned of exciting pilot programs all around the state and passionate people who run them. The information gathered in these programs has a direct pipeline into professional boards that work with practicioners to create the norms we educate by. Very cool
     And where do I fit in? There are a lot of things to think about. How will my mission as Teacher of the Year come to life? Out of all the things I learned today, what will I choose to do?
     I know that I'll be running a three-hour technology and language workshop in May.
     "Is that three hours?" I asked Cheri Quinlan, Coordinator of World Languages for the State of New Jersey.
     "And how many participants would typically come?"
     "Oh, about a hundred." Gulp.
     I always say that teaching and learning are the flip side of each other. Thankfully, that workshop is in May. I thought about it in the car. Some days, I teach one hundred students - just not at the same time! If I can teach 25 or 30 students, why not 100 adults? Beginners mind is a good thing and I am on a journey.
     That's what my tech workshop will be about. The journey of an absolutely zero tech person who came to do things like, say, blogging. Technology is just a new kind of pencil that we use to tell our stories. That'll be my focus. I'll talk more about that as it comes together.
     There is more to tell about the next day when I visited my school at Northern Highlands and walked those shiny hallways. It was hard to separate myself from my classroom. I think they had to call a custodian to pry me from the walls.
     “Go home, Maryann and get some rest,” said a concerned Joe Occhino, our high school principle
     “O.K., Joe.” I left the building and pulled my car out of my special Teacher of the Year parking space. There was a line up of sports kids in sweats waiting for rides.
     “Bye, Maestra,” said one of them.
      I looked up and gave a little wave.

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