Sunday, March 28, 2010

March 25th - March 27th, blogging as I go...

March 25th

2:00 p.m.

I am getting ready for the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Language in New York City. This year's conference is extra special for me as I have been chosen the NECTFL Teacher of the Year!

I'm thinking of all of the conference sessions I'll attend on proficiency building, assessment, non-verbal communication, multicultural education and standards. My daughter, Melynda and I are leading a discussion on Multicultural Education and Differentiation. We will work with a noted educator, Marjorie Hale Haley. Melynda will speak about the opportunities for personal and cultural transformation offered by study abroad and I will speak to my work on diversity with both teens and adults.

2:30 p.m.

The phone rings and I see that it's a call from Washington D.C. I think that it might relate to my April visit to the White House. Yipee! I pick up the phone and the person on the other end identifies herself as the producer of the Ed Show on MSNBC.

"Would you like to be on the live television show tonight?" I don't really process the question for a minute.

"Let me check my schedule," I say.

For real, I have to do it because I have to see if the cocktail hour at the Marriott Marquis is something that I can be late for. I feel that I don't want to be late when people are expecting me to represent our world language profession. It turns out that I can be late.

"A car will pick you up for the shoot at 6:05," says the producer.

"I'll be there," I say.

6:05 p.m.

I am outside the Marriott in very high heels, but I don't see the Pegasus Cab #157. I'm looking at every yellow cab and stretch limo. Women who are walking easily on what seem like stilts are entering long, shiny cars. Still no taxi. I am supposed to be on the air live at 6:40. There is to be make up before the shoot. Will I have time?


Still no cab. I am desperate. Perhaps, I should run to 50th Street where I see some cabs lining up. Clomp, clomp, clomp in my heels. Nothing. I run back to the red-coated guard with the most kindly face. He tries to find out the studio address to get me a plan "B" so I don't miss the shoot. I call the cab company and finally, car number 157 pulls up.

"No problem," he says, "we'll get there. Just around a few blocks. No, no worries about traffic, we're ok."

Despite what he says, I am feeling rather worried. I am supposed to be on television live in a matter of minutes and I am in a cab.


I exit the cab and go into a doorway I have seen all my life in NYC, NBC. I notice that it says "Rainbow Room." I go into the building and expect that someone will have immediate instructions, but people are meandering around, looking in windows and chatting.

I clomp over to a guard who points to a man who asks for identification and he tells me to look at the screen. I look at the television screen high up on the wall. He chuckles and says,

"No, you have to look at the camera," gesturing to the camera right in front of me.


I go to the 3rd floor and walk into a beauty salon. Two women are sitting and one gets up.

"You need make up."
"Yeah," I say, "I'm uh, am going to be on television, uh, live, "The Ed Show."
"Take the first seat," she says, waving her hand.

Soon, beige make up is homogenizing my face and my eyes are rimmed in mascara. I look like me, but somehow more so.


A young man enters, smiling.

"You must be Maryann?"
"Yes," I say, relieved to hear my name.
"Let's go."

We go into a large room with many monitors on the walls and on tables. A young woman comes over and runs wires down my shirt to hook me up to an earbud. Then, she checks the sound. I look at the clock and see that it's almost 6:40.

"Shouldn't I be on t.v. now?"
"Not yet," she says.

In the middle of the room, there is a high top chair and you will face the camera.

"Where's the man who is interviewing me - Ed?"
"He's in another room. He'll talk to you through the earbud."
"What do I look at?"
"That screen."

I look at a large, black camera lens.

"I look at nothing?"
"Yeah, but viewers will see a split screen."

Gulp. This is challenging. Focus, Maryann.


I am listening to questions about our state budget cuts and I am telling the talk show host why I believe that our Governor should not cut our education programs. I say that this will cut jobs, increase class sizes and cut programs. I say how disappointed I am and what I want for our children.

It's over quickly and I found words. Thank goodness!


Back outside in the same cab. The cabby has a daughter who is a teacher and she is upset about budget cuts. Am I really the New Jersey Teacher of the Year? I tell him I am and he writes my name down.

"I'll tell her I met you," he says.


Upstairs to the Marriott Marquis to the reception where I meet Becky Klein, the NECTFL director and the wonderful conference staff, including Arlene White, the Teacher of the Year Committee Chair. What a room full of wonderful people who are speaking the language of world cultures. It is a comfortable, intellectually invigorating experience. Everyone wants to hear about my television experience as we pop dumplings smothered in soy sauce and scallions into our mouths.

March 26th

7: 30 a.m

I rush to the hotel bedroom window and look down to see the miniature looking people dancing on the red stairs in Times Square. They walk up and down to play. The structure calls out this response and it's fun to see.

8:00 a.m.

I meet my daughter Melynda a to discuss our panel. She is all business and I am looking for a cup of coffee.

"Coffee can wait," she says, "I want to go over our talking points."
"Coffee and talking points?" I say.

She reluctantly agrees, but keeps her focus while we walk to breakfast, getting down a bite to eat as we refresh our plans.

9:00 a.m.

We are downstairs leading a panel discussion. There must be about thirty teachers in our corner sharing their ideas and questions. I love talking with teachers about ways that we can make our classrooms more inclusive and open to diversity. It's flowing.

10:30 a.m.

I run into some old friends and it feels like yesterday since we've spoken. Such is life. I make my way to the exhibition floor, but on the way, I get a call from Telemundo.

"What is your availability?" asks, Liz, the reporter.

I calculate my time on the exhibition floor and make a date to meet her in a couple of hours.

"What should I wear?"
"Whatever is comfortable," she says.

I'm happy to be interviewed in Spanish. I think it's important for the Spanish-speaking population to get more involved in the process of teaching and learning in our state.


I am zipping down the speedy glass elevator in a salmon colored suit. I have the high heels on again, but I doubt that it matters what's on my feet. Why I think I need these shoes is a mystery to me, but somehow it makes me feel like it looks more professional. I know that what will matter most is what comes out of my mouth.

Liz from Telemundo is there with a camera woman. I like them both immediately and feel comfortable. We go up to the 33rd floor to my room. We rearrange the furniture and talk in Spanish about the effects of the budget on Latino families. It's a big crisis and it will affect our children. We must lift our voices to speak out against this. It's an important conversation, but it feels like it's over in five minutes.

Funny how time stretches and shrinks depending on what you are doing.

5:00 - 8:00 p.m.

We are in the 9th floor ballroom where we take pictures and I receive a wonderful award. First a fantastic plaque and then a crystal bowl with a map of the world engraved upon it. I think it's magnificent. The way it feels in my hands is perfect.

In my words of gratitude, I thank the NECTFL staff and I talk about the importance of speaking up for language learning as a 21st Century Skill. I look forward, I tell the audience, to representing NECTFL in the competition for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, Teacher of the Year. This vast country is a nexus of so many traditions and languages.

I listen intently to the other award winners. It's fascinating to hear life stories and how we get from here to there. My granddaughter, Olyvia nestles in her mother's lap. I have a half a row of family watching the presentations and feel proud. After it's over, the Italian Embassy invites us to a posh reception. We take our drinks and plates of salami,carrots slices and pasta to sit at round tables covered with white table clothes that look out over Times Square. By now, all of the lights are blinking and swirling against the black sky over Manhattan.

March 27th

9:00 a.m.

Today is my day to learn more about languages. My husband Joe and I eat at "Juniors," a popular restaurant in midtown. The coffee cups are gigantic, like the wide mouthed breakfast cups in Spain. They make me feel once again small in a grown up world.

12:00 noon

Joe and I go to a session on blogging given by a married couple who are language teachers. I enjoy hearing them interact and share student work. They make the topic seem easy to approach and valuable and most of all, they take themselves seriously enough without making the process seem too complex.

1:30 p.m.

Joe and I decide to go to different sessions. I choose one on "Non-verbal communication." After a couple of minutes, I realize that it will be presented entirely in Italian. But after a moment's hesitation, I decide to stay.

I enjoy the cascade of Italian and the gestures of the presenter, somehow more musical when the meaning is not entirely clear. Still, I can understand quite enough and learn that there is much subjectivity in our observations of people. We need to think in new categories - to look for physical tension, interactions, the use of personal space and the way gestures invite or repel others.

2:45 p.m.

Now, I go to a session on Multilingualism and Multiculturalism offered by the Italian Office of Education in New York. The speaker, Mr. Russo, had a lot of very interesting things to say about intercultural projects in Europe, but it is his conclusion which most strikes me.

He says that in Europe, there is a real appreciation for multilingualism since there are so many languages within the European Economic Community and in the USA, there is a focus on multiculturalism because we are a country of immigrants, challenged to create identity out of diversity. "Perhaps," he said, "one can learn from the other." Indeed!

March 28th

The Northeast Conference is over and Joe and I go home to New Jersey. In the past three days, I've learned a great deal from my colleagues about language learning and have been on television twice.

This coming week is a big one as I have commitments for speaking and a special awards ceremony on Tuesday night. Senator Menendez will be presenting me with a "Woman of Distinction" award.

I'll take it in the name of the women who have given me my voice and the courage to use it. For most of history, women have been silenced and now, we are equal partners in the creation of society, culture and the world. Nobody's going to stop us now!

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