Sunday, February 28, 2010

Merit Pay is the Wrong Way in New Jersey

Spanish teacher Maryann Woods-Murphy of Northern Highlands High School is named state teacher of the year.
By Maryann Woods-Murphy/ Star-Ledger Guest Columnist

I was intrigued by the recent Star-Ledger opinion piece headlined "Good N.J. teachers should speak up for merit pay" (Feb. 21). By most measures, I think I qualify as a good teacher. I am a foreign language teacher at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale and in October I was named New Jersey’s Teacher of the Year by the state Department of Education.

My peers, my administrators and the department all recognize my talent. I suspect that if merit pay came to New Jersey I would get a share of it. But this good teacher is speaking up to say no to merit pay, because it is the wrong thing for our students, our schools and our profession.

I don’t need to be paid extra to do my job better. Because of collective bargaining, my profession is compensated in a professional manner and my expertise is appreciated. I am a member of a school community filled with educators who give their heart, soul and mind to fulfill the sacred trust society has placed in us.

I am a professional and I do what I do for the children. The dream I have is for my students’ success. I am paid to help them learn to create a better world and become life-long learners who carry the light of learning into the future.

I resent Star-Ledger columnist Kevin Manahan calling some of my colleagues "lazy, unprepared and uninspiring slug(s)." I have worked in urban and suburban schools, and I have not seen the people he speaks of. He conjures a most unfavorable and misleading image of my profession and I wonder why.

My colleagues and I share a passion to work collaboratively to share best practices and figure out how to help every child shine. My success isn’t mine alone. It is shared with my colleagues. I want to work with my fellow teachers, not be placed in competition with them for merit pay where my success would mean they had to lose something, or vice versa.

I understand business. Before I became a teacher, I worked with my husband in a language institute he founded. It was rewarding work, but I can assure everyone that running a business is a very different proposition from educating a child, and the same rules do not apply. I don’t know if merit pay works in the business world or not. But I do know that schools are not businesses, and it is a dangerous mistake to treat them as if they are.

As the New Jersey Teacher of the Year, I have the opportunity to see just how wonderful my teaching colleagues are. As I travel the state, I’ve seen teachers with limited resources buy whole libraries of readers so that "their kids" can have an experience with literature. I’ve seen 30-year veteran teachers learning the newest digital tools so they can help their students prepare themselves for the challenges of a global marketplace. I’ve seen students learning as they dance salsa or create love poems about our shared future in honor of Black History Month. I’ve heard the children themselves speak of their proud collections of flash cards or a poster that is hung in the school hallway with dignity.

Those things cannot be measured on a standardized test. The moments we most treasure in a classroom are those intangible, but unforgettable, times when a student finally gets it and his or her eyes light up. It concerns me to think that teachers might be pressured to stop doing those things that work in order to spend even more hours drilling students for even more tests. And for what? Because people who have never been in a classroom assume that a sound bite solution like "merit pay" will magically fix the things they imagine are wrong with our schools? Trust those of us who are there every day: We don’t need another reform gimmick. We just need the support and resources to do the job we love.

I am a teacher and I love it. That’s something you can’t pay me to feel. My students and I share a public education world filled with meaning and excellence. That is what I have seen all around this great state of New Jersey. And that is why this good teacher will never argue for merit pay.

Maryann Woods-Murphy has been a professional educator for 30 years

Education, Family & Kids, The Working Life »
Teacher of the Year: Merit pay is the wrong way in N.J.
By Star-Ledger Guest Columnist
February 28, 2010, 5:00AM

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Edison: passport to the world

The world language faculty at Edison, New Jersey schools take their philosophy of language education very seriously! The department stresses communication, the understanding of other cultures, critical thinking skills and an interdisciplinary view of the curriculum.

I had the pleasure of visiting this school system today, with its 14, 395 students and corp of dedicated teachers. Meet Mrs. Eloisa Amananzar and Mrs. Esperanza Kays, both Spanish teachers.

Edison teaches French, Spanish, Hindi and Latin. They use what is called "performance assessment" which means that they really want to see what a student knows and is able to do in the target language. It really matters, in Edison, if a student can use the language to speak about products, practices and perspectives in our global society. When a person learns to speak by doing authentic tasks that relate to the real themes of our lives, learning language becomes easy.

Even the Latin students in Edison are speaking in class to make this language come alive again. In Edison, Latin is not just a language written in old documents or monuments, but it is spoken and practiced every day. It's fun to imagine what life must have been like in Ancient Rome when our historical figures - like Julius Caesar - were speaking Latin to talk about what they wanted for dinner. Real languages spoken by real people.

One thing that was totally new for me was a visit to a Hindi Class. The teacher I observed, Nita Yajnik, helped me understand what was happening because I don't understand Hindi at all. Here's Nita in front of a display of Indian kites that her students created.

In today's class, Nita was doing an experiment with her students to see which fruits would float and which would not. She had a giant bowl with water on her desk and several floating or sinking fruits. Students were busy observing the fruit in the water and taking careful data on their lab sheets - in Hindi! Here is a section of a worksheet with student script:

I was so impressed to see students, new to this language, writing and thinking about real-world problems in Hindi

On the wall above the window, I saw a beautifully-crafted drawing of a tree, which illustrated a student's family tree. It made me think about everything I had seen in Edison today - French, Spanish, Latin and Hindi - being used to connect students to the world outside of their school's doors. We all have deep roots and the more we dig, the more we see how much they are all intertwined!

Thank you Edison Schools for hosting my visit today! Special thanks go to the World Language Supervisors, Martin Smith and Bea Yetmam who were very welcoming and proud of their fine program!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Language and Culture in West Orange!

A beautiful display by the 5th Grade

I went to West Orange today to see a model language program which provides all of its students with the opportunity to learn a second language. It doesn't matter if you are studying Chinese, French, Italian or Spanish - communication is key. The district goal is to increase student proficiency and make sure that this happens in a highly authentic cultural context so that students can achieve a deep understanding of the world.

The program has heart and it wants to help students seek a greater understanding, empathy and esteem for the people who speak the languages being studied. The school website, has this wonderful quote about the program written by Ed. Acevedo, the knowledgeable World Language Supervisor:

"As the world moves towards a global community, it is increasingly important to be able to communicate in languages other than English. It is imperative to understand the perspectives of a culture that generate its patterns of behavior, ways of life, worldviews, and contributions. Proficiency in a world language is a vehicle to gaining knowledge that can only be acquired through that language and its culture."

This is the team of visitors I had the honor of traveling with to West Orange:

From left to right, Linda Materna, World Language Supervisor, Scotch Plains; Cheri Quinlan, World Language Coordinator of New Jersey, Grisel Lopez-Diaz, Professor NJCSU and Ed Acevedo, West Orange World Language Supervisor

One of the highlights of the day was observing the heritage language teachers and their students. As the teachers worked with poetry, art and literature and connected them to the student's everyday life, I understood that each and every teacher believed that all of their students would be able to master Spanish. High expectations and rigor were evident in every interaction.

Later, in a conversation with students from a wide variety of Spanish-speaking countries, I heard it from the students themselves. "Es lindo compartir." - "It's beautiful to share." As the students clearly expressed their joy in learning and sharing with each others, I understood why West Orange says that they have heart - the social and emotional connections are a clear foundation for academic growth!

Small children, big ideas

The day wasn't over until we visited the elementary school students and saw them dancing and sharing their thoughts on music, animals from the Galapagos and Carnival Masks.

Again, even though we saw extremely enthusiastic teaching and learning, the best was hearing the students themselves talk about how much they appreciate their world language experience.

What do these kids like to do? They like doing projects or being able to call up a special phone number to hear a story in the target language to share it with their families. Many love creating their own learning tools. They were proud of their own special box containing laminated photos with target language words. Students keep this box of personalized materials with them through the years of elementary school.

"I have my box of flash cards from when I was little," said a second grader. "It's nice to look back and remember!"

Nieves Dissipris, an enthusiastic contributor to Spanish teaching!

Thank you to the teachers and administrators of West Orange for a wonderful visit. Special thanks go to Edwin Acevedo who helped share the wonderful job his district is doing to celebrate and promote the study of World Languages!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Black History Month at Passaic's School #2

What can be better than visiting School # 2 in Passaic, especially during their well-prepared Black History Month Celebration. I was the guest of Ms. Dellostritto, a Kindergartern teacher at the school and was graciously hosted by the school principal and a very enthusiastic staff. The students were happy to have me and surprised that I was able to speak in Spanish!

The school's self description from its web site tells us:

Washington School 2 is a kindergarten through grade 2 School. We offer bilingual and monolingual instruction at every grade level. Our highly qualified teachers plan together on a weekly basis in order to bring the very best and most creative ideas to their classrooms. Out-of-classroom teachers and support personnel, like our school nurse, collaborate in order to provide enrichment opportunities for our students. Professional development opportunities are provided at faculty and extended day meetings.Washington School 2 has always been on the corner of Bergen and Market Streets. It was first built with three floors and eight rooms as a public school in the city in 1872. In 1898-99, it was enlarged to 22 rooms.

Some of my new friends at their assembly and after, back in the classroom

This is Ms. Dellostritto, my hostess for the day!

A wonderful day at School # 2

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A visit to the Princeton Regional Schools and Priscilla Russel, National Supervisor of the Year!

Visiting the World Language program in Princeton, New Jersey was like having an around-the-world experience! I walked from room to room to hear and see vibrant students actively engaging in language learning. Everyone, from the Superintendent to the Kindergarten teachers, is proud of the World Language Department in Princeton and they should be! Nationally acclaimed World Language Supervisor, Priscilla Russel, made the visit unforgettable because of her gracious, generous and professional approach to sharing her district's success.

I saw:

1. An absolute belief in teaching fully in the target language from K-12
2. Content-area teaching at every level. Kindergarten kids learning math and science in the target language and high school students doing long, multidisciplinary units, specifically focusing on a country - like Peru - and having the students do research, create businesses and more.
3. Truly buying into the fact that teaching language is NOT about grammar instruction. Teachers in Princeton don't teach a content-area topic with the goal of teaching the imperfect, but tenses are contextually integrated into instruction.
4. Performance Assessments are used at mid-term and final time in all classes INSTEAD of multiple-choice finals or other traditional assessments. This is true proof that this district is assessing what it teaches.
5. The consistent use of rubrics, pair activities and student-centered instruction.
6. The integration of culture as a natural part of the lesson.
7. A happy, open, interested and excited approach to learning. Students are really engaged and happy to be in their language classes.
8. Students can even joke in the target language!
9. World Language teachers as creators of intellectual content for the field either by publishing or creating workshops to share their good news and best practices.
10. Regular on campus sharing among colleagues in an atmosphere of enthusiastic, life-long learning.
11. Ongoing and meaningful professional development delivered by outside experts in the field to help the teaching cohort engage in reflective practice so that they might avail themselves of the latest pedagogies and tools for learning.
12. An integrated program World Languages which lives and breaths the belief that all children can and will learn a language!

Visiting this district was a true pleasure. It's so nice to see a program that is contributing so much to the development of global citizens!

Brava, Priscilla and Bravo Princeton!

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Daily Texan - Study shows impact of gender stereotypes on children

The Daily Texan - Study shows impact of gender stereotypes on children

My student, Emily, sent me this article because she thought I might be interested in it. You bet. We need to think about every kind of stereotype and how it affects our teaching and lives. As a teacher, one can never really rest because the journey is ongoing.

It helps me to reflect a moment upon my life as a woman. The social role affects how I was raised, social perceptions of my intelligence, expectations, abilities, relationships, self perception and so much more. Even though all of that is true, though, once I jump through all of the hoops of my womanhood and society, I want the playing floor to be equal in terms of my access to power and a voice.

I've been pretty lucky because I have been recognized as someone who can speak for not only myself, but for others. I can put words together and this gives one social power. In addition, I studied philosophy as an undergraduate, which gave me an intense habit of mind and training which helped me reflect and question not only authority, but my own presuppositions about, well, everything.

It took me a long time, though, to take the microphone into my hands fully. As a mother and a wife, who comes from a supportive family, I held back from the public domain for many years so that I could sit with my children while they worked on their homework and I could prepare appealing family dinners. And I was proud of that and it wasn't a bad thing.

Now, I'm out into the world with my stories and views and it's the right time. But why now rather than twenty years ago? Why can't the raising of our children be more equitable in every way? Why are tasks in even the most equitable of families still so gender divided?

In college, even though I was an outstanding student with maximum teacher encouragement, I skirted away from the highest academic challenges (doctoral degrees and the like) as a young woman. I remember once, visiting Princeton University with a former professor, an Alum of that illustrious institution.

Dr. Princeton told me that getting a doctoral degree from there would mean "cutting myself off from everyone" for the entire time I would be working. I looked around the study cell at the graduate library at the portraits of elderly men hanging in gilded frames. No face like mine anywhere. The air felt cold and stale. I didn't feel at home. I remember my heart pounding in my chest till I got into the open air.

Perhaps this was my personal failing, an inability to step up to the opportunities offered. Or perhaps some of those stereotypes I had felt in society had crept right into the mind that was making crucial decisions. It's impossible to sort out what really happened, but it's interesting to think about.

I'm 54 years old now and I'm speaking my head off everywhere with what I call "an awkward fearlessness." I hope that the people in the audience don't see how nervous I feel inside or know how frightened I am of tripping or knocking something over on my way to deliver a speech or presentation. Even with my clumsy ways, I do a pretty good job and there is no turning back now. Not after waiting a lifetime to do this.

But how many women get to be the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year? How many women have been waiting their whole lives for a microphone, which is just a metaphor for a "voice" and a say in the building of the world?

As teachers and community leaders, we need to make sure that our words don't create any roadblocks in the minds of children. Maybe, if we do this, they will become more themselves a whole lot sooner in their lives.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages

I have just received wonderful news! I have been chosen as the NECTFL Teacher of the Year! This is an incredible honor. I feel passionate about language teaching and learning and here is another opportunity to advocate for it in a larger region. In case you aren't award of what this conference is, here's a blub from their website:

"The Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (NECTFL) is the oldest (1954) multi-language association of pre-kindergarten through university teachers in the country. Although nominally a regional association, its activities, publications, and annual conference attract participants from around the country and the globe. Currently, about 40 states and 10 foreign countries send a total of 2,500 educators to the Northeast Conference each year.

The Northeast Conference traces its Origins back to the 1940's and 50's; today it is governed by an Advisory Council and by a Board of Directors composed of 15 language educators from the NECTFL region, supported by the central office staff and consultants. The Board chooses a Conference Chair annually, and its committees carry out the organization's mission of providing the best professional development in the field."

I am incredibly honored to receive this award. Special thanks go to the Board of the Foreign Language Educators of New Jersey and to our NJ State Department of Education, World Language Coordinator, Cheri Quinlan for encouraging me to create the portfolio needed to achieve this honor!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

International House, Philadelphia

Outside my son's picture window at the International House in Philly, the snow keeps coming down. The sky is thick white and the plows try to keep ahead of the accumulation.

This morning, though, you could see the sun peeking through the weary clouds and you could feel it even more inside at today's ihouse, Leadership Breakfast. Today, at 9:00 a.m., I was speaking to a group of international residents about my own journey towards leadership and how this might help them grow into their own roles as global innovators.

I decided to start with my life story, but not only mine. I began with Elizabeth Bennett - my grandmother - herself an immigrant who came to the United States at the age of twenty, never to return home to her native Ireland again. As she moved towards America to a new world that she could never have imagined, I wonder what was she thinking?

Her tiny waist, most certainly smaller than nature had created it (due to intense whale bone corseting), was a source of pride to her. In the picture above, she stands outside of her ship's stateroom, proud to come to Ellis Island in style.

But once she got to New York, her life changed drastically and she began a hard life of caring for four sons, running a rooming house in Rockaway Beach, N.Y. and cleaning the "legitimate theater" along 42nd Street when money was low.

Her husband, Arthur, was a bookish man. He was the son of a teacher who had to reinvent himself for his life in America. For years, he worked as a New York accountant, in a company which specialized in creating the ornaments for lady's hats - great clusters of fruits, flowers and other outrageous items. When fashions changed, so did the market for such adornments and the company closed.

Arthur had to scurry to get any kind of job he could, eventually settling into a position as a security guard. In between shifts, he would come home to 51st Street and 10th Avenue to brew homemade beer in the family bathtub. Nobody bathed in this sixth-floor apartment, after this beer brewing cottage industry was created by the prohibition. The YMCA became that "home away from home," where one could bathe and learn to swim with the likes of champion, Buster Crab.

Immigrant stories.Then, I told everyone my life story and how I became a global gal, living in Spain and struggling with the glories and defeats of living life biculturally.

What followed was the best part. One by one, the residents of International House shared their personal stories, their fears about leading, their insecurities. I listened to the tales of young professionals from Korea, China, Vietnam, India, the USA and Capetown, South Africa. Everyone understood how hard it is to feel totally confident about everything. As Mary Beth Blige, the 1996 National Teacher of the Year said, "We are all imperfect, but we have some truly excellent parts!"

Such empowering thoughts and cultural sharing will get us far.

After our session, I went to my son's ihouse dorm room, where he is a resident advisor for programs. The tiny room houses a small single bed, his computer stuff and clothes and some very heavy weights for working out.

"I cleaned for you," Joe says. "I hope it's ok."

I complimented him on the spartan tidiness of the room and accepted his wonderful hospitality. What mother gets the chance to do this?

To Joe's surprise and mine, I'll be here overnight since the visibility is getting lower and lower. Right now, I can only see the parking lot across the street in University City, Philadelphia, but nothing beyond it. Night is approaching and everything is turning a pixilated grey.

I'll stay here, tucked away in this global oasis in Philadelphia and will meet with the International House directors - Debora and Glen - about ways to create more leadership and diversity events with ihouse as a hub. Until then, I'll watch the darkening snow blowing like dune sand across the sky.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Scholarship Announcement - The University of Phoenix

I have wonderful news! As the New Jersey State Teacher of the Year, I am able to give a deserving student a full, four-year scholarship to the The University of Phoenix. The University of Phoenix ( has both an in-person and online format and a great diversity of programs.

To apply for this scholarship, the candidate must live in New Jersey and must respond to the following prompts, postmarked by March 10th:

1. Introduce yourself briefly.

2. What do you value most in life?

3. Why do you think this opportunity is important for you?

4. Tell us about your academic life - Where do you excel? What's your overall GPA?

5. Do you think that you are mature enough to handle college?

6. Please include the following words in your essay at the end, "If I receive this scholarship, I will attend the University of Phoenix because this gives me an opportunity that I would not have had without this award."

The combined reflection should be no more than two typed pages, double spaced, Times Roman 12. Please include your name, contact information, a phone where you can be reached and your current high school. Send completed application to:

Maryann Woods-Murphy,
New Jersey Teacher of the Year
County Office of Education, Third Floor
Dr. Graham's Office, County Superintendent
One Bergen County Plaza,
3rd Floor, Room 350. Hackensack, NJ 07601

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

These are the State Teachers of 2010

     These are the representatives of the teaching profession from all of the States in our nation and U.S. Territories! What a group of people! You can see that the group spans the ages and experience of teachers everywhere! It was so interesting to get to know them and learn from each and every one of them!

     When you think about a teacher, remember that this person is an important helper in our world! A teacher is there to share, inspire and remind students every day that there is hope for tomorrow and that dreams can become a reality.

     These people you see in the photo teach math, science, art, music, language and reading. They believe that each student is a world and we must learn how to travel there, learn about the topography and invite growth!  What was fun as well was understanding that each state and territory had so much to offer - mountains, fishing, oceans, forests! What a nation!

      When I heard my fellow state teachers sharing the gifts of their individual states with pride and joy, I was reminded of the song "America" which I sang so often as a child and which still gives me chills today!

 "Oh beautiful for spacious skies for amber waves of grain. For purple mountains majesty, above the fruited plains. America, America, God shed his grace on thee and crown thy good with brotherhood from sea to shining sea!"

My profession is the best one in the world!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Discover Languages - Today!

     Put away your popcorn and turn off the television. You are going to make good on that promise you made to yourself to learn a new language. Why? Because today is the first day of Discover Languages Month. All of those reasons that you have put this quest off before are now deemed lame. That's right, ladies and gentlemen, you can learn a language and our country needs you to do it!
    Let's take a walk down memory lane. Around the turn of the last century, it was common to learn Latin and Greek. When Russia began its space program in the 50s, there was a growth in? You guessed it! Russian! In the 80s, there was an increase in business with the Japanese and people started learning Japanese and now, we are seeing an increase in Chinese programs and Arabic because we realize that we need to be communicating in these languages to trade and secure our world.
    But why now? Can't the rest of the world can just talk to us in English? It's true that people are learning English all around the world so that they can trade effectively, but when you speak the language of your client, the ball is in your court.
     I have fun with my language colleagues when we think about the old days of language learning when it was all about memorizing silly dialogs. Wherever IS that library in Paris I prepared to visit for four years of French and why didn't they have the exact sweater I described in that tiny shop in Madrid? Hmmmm....
     Now we know that in language classes, people have to speak languages and they need to talk about things that matter to them. Grammar is just a tool and you use it to speak coherently and with precision, but as soon as you can link the words together in some kind of reasonable way, you are speaking. The first time you do this with a native speaker of the language who wouldn't have understood you otherwise, it's like first contact and you never want to turn back.
    Some of my best friends on the planet speak languages other than English as a first language. That's not to say that I don't have American friends, but it says that some really cool people were waiting for me on the other side of the language barrier once I was able to leap over it!
    Everyone is talking about the new world of the 21st Century and why the planet is now flat. Lots of divisions which would formerly keep "those other people" away are gone. What was once "far" is now close by and the people who lived on the other side of the planet may well be our future project collaborators! It's happening in every field.
     So what do you do if you want to learn to communicate in a new language? The programs available online and for the computer are a good help, but you should quickly get into the realm of real communication to make this language thing come alive. Nowadays this can mean social networking and community education as well as vibrant classrooms led by teacher facilitators everywhere.
    We've learned a lot about language teaching and learning over the past decades. Great research information can be found online on the site of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. You can become more of a language expert by reading research, listening to pod casts or taking a fun quiz where you can see if you "know more than a language teacher" ( )
    Most of all, you have to begin to believe that language learning is for you. I invite you to Discover Languages and by so doing, you'll discover the world!