Friday, April 30, 2010

A New Jersey TOY in Washington D.C.

We go to the Smithsonian to learn about the wonderful resources (4/26)

A fabulous Gala is held for all of the Teachers of the Year and to announce the 2010 Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling (4/28)

Sarah Brown Wesstling, 2010 National Teacher of the Year

Lilly Eskelsen, the NEA Vice President and an AMAZING speaker!

My husband, Joe Murphy, is a great escort!

What a plate of food!

Wisconsin & New Jersey

The Gala was the most elegant and well planned event I have ever experienced. Jon Quam, the National Teacher of the Year coordinator and Andy, outdid themselves. Every detail - the food, the music, the range of speeches, was perfect.

We go home and try to sleep, but all end up talking in the lobby for another hour. Some of us are still wearing our gowns and others have tossed the finery in exchange for jeans. We don't seem to want to let this night go and we need to be together just a little more.

Finally, we all head up to our rooms and go to sleep. Soon, the alarm is ringing without mercy, earlier than we want to hear it.

But, the big day has arrived and we are going to the White House, but first we spend a few hours at the Dept of Education. (4/29)

A bus leaves the hotel at 9:00 a.m. I throw down a few slices of pineapple and yogurt and half of a mug of very good coffee.

To go into the National DOE, we need picture ID. We get checked in, enter a small theater and speak with the framers of the blueprint for education. They present the highlights and we ask questions.

Of course, my question refers to language. I tell them that as a Spanish teacher, I am very concerned about funding for early language programs. In our current fiscal crisis, these are the first to go. For years, I say, we have accumulated studies that say that language needs to be taught early and for many years. I mention that ACTFL has gathered information which we should be looking at.

Everyone agrees. I just wonder where the money will come from and whether the mandates that focus so much on reading and math will squeeze out language, social studies, art and music. We need well rounded children and the blueprint recognizes this, but where will the money come from?

We leave the DOE and rush back to the hotel for a change of clothes and a bus to the White House. We are going to the White House!!

We get on the bus and get to the White House. We get checked in at the gate by a serious looking, muscular guard. We go through metal detectors and walk through the hallways lined with portraits of presidents and first ladies. A hush falls upon us.

The door opens and we see green. It's the Rose Garden. We are told to line up along the Rose Garden Wall, under the portico arches. Bo, the White House dog makes a bee line across the lawn to our line up. We melt. He is black and fuzzy and one of the most polite dogs I have every seen. If our dog Wagzie were here, she'd jump on everyone's suit. This, Bo, is clearly a classy dog. Bo's trainer is right by her side. With quiet confidence he directs the First Dog. Does he use telepathy? I see no outward signs of instruction and no drippy treats. Bo has earned her First Pup status!

These five state Teachers of the Year are all Spanish teachers!

Once inside the White House West Wing, we wait in a narrow hallway for our turn with the president in the Oval Office. Before going in, we have to leave our cameras outside because only the official White House photographer will take the picture. It'll come in a month or two, but it will come. People are working in offices which line the hallway. Someone comes through with a turkey sandwich under a plastic top. Lunchtime.

On line, waiting, I hear my heart pounding. Is this real? Am I going to meet the president? The actual, real president.

Dr. Jill Biden flies up the stairs past us in a lovely two-toned suit, "Hi, Guys," she says, "It's great to see you. I got off school early today just to be here!" Then, she scoots off, accompanied by a secret-service escort.

The line is moving. I can hear a military guard announcing each TOYs name. Wait, is that the president's voice???

I can see the light from the camera flashing and some laughter. Eric Nash, the TOY from New Hampshire, is at the door and now he is in.

I see Barack Obama talking to him. Then, Eric walks to the exit of the Oval Office and Barack is looking at ME. I hear my name announced and Mr. President is reaching his long arms across the room. TO ME!!! I shake hands with him and tell him that my husband's cousin used to be on his secret service staff.

"John Ryan?" he says, "I love that guy! How is he?"
"Great, Mr. President. I was just with him a couple of nights ago."
"Well, thanks for all you do."
"It's wonderful to be here."

And then, I am at the door facing the Rose Garden. Out there, on the lawn are people. I know they were people because they move like people, but I can distinguish no features. It is a blur of color on the lawn.

"Maryann Woods-Murphy, New Jersey"

I hear my name being announced and I walk on the stage, stopping in the middle for a second like they do in graduations! I hear a chuckle. I keep moving. A soldier is waiting to help me onto the grass. I make it to my seat. My legs work. They feel sort of wobbly, but they manage to move me across the stage and to a chair, luckily situated at the end of the row. I fold into it.

One by one, I see my colleague cross the stage. I feel connected in some way to each one of them.

Then, Dr. Biden is announced and then the president. Barack Obama comes out with Sarah, who is looking lovely in her suit and beaming smile. I feel happy for her and am sending good energy her way. We all are. We are hanging on every word. Her tiny children watch from the front row.

The president speaks and is so natural with us. First, though, he must address the oil slick and the work being done. He asks if there are any science teachers among us who might have some good ideas to share with the White House.

Then, Sarah speaks and does a stunning job of celebrating teachers and the student- centered classroom. Back home in her Iowa classroom, her teacher's desk is kept at the back of the classroom as a visual reminder that the student drives the learning. Sarah has her own former teachers in the audience and her three children, who range in age from 4.5 months to six years old. Her husband, Tim, is there, proud and happy.

When she finishes, we all spring to our feet. It's like one TOY cohort standing ovation. "You go girl!" we are saying. "We are right here."

The president walks over to Sarah's family for a couple of minutes and we all mill around a moment on the grass.

Joyce Powell, from the NEA and our former NJEA president comes to offer her words of congratulations to me. I am so happy to see someone from my home state of New Jersey.

My husband, Joe, is next to give me a hug and a kiss. Ah, my anchor.

We see Arne Duncan talking to some people and decide to greet him and snap a picture.

Soon, the secret service is encouraging us to leave to make room for a motorcade, but we keep snapping pictures and walking. The music plays. We want to savor every single moment.

Joe and I just outside of the Rose Garden

We just keep walking and snapping pictures

Another one of Joe and me

We board the bus back to the hotel. My feet are throbbing, but I am incredulous. My fellow TOYs and I just keep shaking our heads. This is on the short list of most wonderful life moments.

Once back in the hotel, I check my email because I am invited to see Senator Menendez at his office. It's a very busy day on Capital Hill, but he wanted to see me and offer me some tours for tomorrow.

I get a call and we head over for a brief visit to the Senate Offices, near the Capital building. Senator Menendez is extraordinarily welcoming. We so appreciate his taking the time.

We stop by Senator Lautenberg's Office and leave my card. The education staffer is gracious and invites me to communicate any concerns or ideas that I would like to to the senator.

We say goodbye and get a quick cab back to the hotel. It's 6:15 and there is a field trip for the TOYs sponsored by Target.

Up to our room to throw off our business attire and throw on some jeans. The target people are blowing whistles and giving out special bags to us. Outside, there are two busses with "National Teachers of the Year 2010" painted on it. These people are filled with energy and very happy to sponsor an activity for us.

We are going to take a spin around D.C. to see the main monuments. Francoise, our tour guide is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. We learn, for example, that the capital used to have a canal going up Constitution Avenue and this is how the stones were carried.

I love this picture of all of the state Teachers of the Year!!!

Visiting Lincoln's memorial is moving and reminds me of the best of our country

Here commemorates the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I have a dream" speech.

What a fitting way to end the evening. We are moved, humbled and connected to history, this day and a renewed sense of purpose.

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