Friday, December 17, 2010

Excellence in Education Awards--and Lessons in Technology

On Wednesday, December 15, the Excellence in Education Awards were celebrated at the Common Man Inn in Plymouth.  Congratulations to all of the Blue Ribbon Schools, National Science & Math Teacher , the Milken Family Educator, and the Teacher of the Year semi-finalists and finalists.  It was another reminder of the many professional educators we are lucky to have in this state. What an honor it was to speak to such a group of distinguished and accomplished educators!

That being said, speaking that evening became an unexpected adventure for me, and those of you who know how, um, "savvy" I am with computers, will appreciate my adventure.

For my speech I had hoped to merge an earlier one I had given with my NEA NH article with some recent thoughts that had sprung out of committee work and readings.  I worked all day on it, not once saving it to my laptop, because I was always coming back to it... (okay, lesson number one).

At 3 pm I was ready to save it and proofread, when a colleague came and asked me for some help in her room.  At 3:30 when I returned, my laptop had shut down and once restarted, my documents were not recovered.  All my work was gone, and I had to be at the Common Man, dressed, within the hour.  Teary-eyed, I sat back down at the computer to begin a whole day's worth of work once again.  I managed to piece it together--it was adequate, but not as good as the first time around.  I pressed print at 4 pm, emailed it to myself, grabbed it out of the printer, and raced home to shirts that needed to be ironed, kids who needed help, etc.  We left the house by 4:30, and once in the car, I decided to look over my speech for the first time.  It looked looked good...until I got to the end.  Because there was no end.  Apparently, the printer at school must have run out of paper, because there were 2 pages missing from my speech.  My husband asked, "Can you just improvise?"  Hmmm...improvise two pages?

When we got to the Common Man, Brandon went to the office and asked if he could open my email and print the speech.  It wouldn't open in Word, so they used Adobe and it printed looking like an epic poem.  Finally, they played with the spacing and did the best job they could with it. 

When I stood in front of the crowd of 75-100 people or so, I still had not had the chance to read over my entire speech, so I had no idea that three quarters of the way through my speech were two lines printed over one another, completely illegibly, until I reached that part with everybody staring at me.

And this is why I love educators--they expect you to perform well, but they are so very forgiving when you stumble.  So thank you for that.

In the end, it was a lovely night. I did not thank anyone during my speech, lest I lull the audience to sleep, and you have the option of logging off right now, so I'll do it here:  Thank you to Lori Temple at the DOE for organizing everything; Eric Nash for his kindness as he passed my invisible crown; my family for cheering me on; William Van Bennekum, my principal, for always having my back; Aidan Kendall, a former student who continues to amaze me with his greatness, for emceeing the event;  and everybody else--you know who you are.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NEA NH Educator Article

This just came out today; I didn't name the article myself--and I'm not so sure I like the title.  I feel like it insinuates blame on parents, which is not what the article does.  I wasn't sure whether I should be shocked or proud by the (NOTE) attached...that came as a surprise as well! 

Waiting for Super Parents

By Angie Miller, Holderness - NH Teacher of the Year
(NOTE:  The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and don't necessarily reflect the views of NEA-NH or its members.)

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to see Waiting for Superman. Like many of you, I had read the scathing reviews of teachers that appeared in Newsweek and Time Magazine this summer in preparation for the movie’s debut.  I bought the companion book filled with essays of which I left dog-eared, highlighted, and filled with my written comments.  Needless to say, I walked into the theater with my guard up—I was defensive before I had even given the movie a chance, based on hearsay.  What I encountered, however, was a surprise—I agreed with many of the issues presented.  Teachers are in a difficult spot—we are public servants, and that requires us to find protection within our unions so that we are not at the whim of an errant administrator or parent.  However, I would support the movie in saying that we have found a little too much protection and that our system does not currently support struggling teachers or eliminate ineffective ones.  We have all witnessed unfortunate incidents unfold in our own schools in which adults were protected over the benefit of our students.  I hope the popularity of this movie will provoke positive, proactive discussions in our local unions and with our school boards and that we can answer to the call of parents demanding that all teachers are effective.  As a parent myself, I do not find this unreasonable.
That being said, there was one element in education that was conspicuously missing from Guggenheim’s film; those parents and communities themselves.  While Superman touted the successes of charter schools, it failed to even once acknowledge that in a charter school where parents have to apply and then sit through a lengthy, lottery process, 100% of the parents are actively invested in their children’s education—something that regular public schools cannot always boast of having.  The movie failed to recognize the significant impact that parent and community involvement has on our schools.  The connection between well-performing schools and parent and community involvement has been researched and documented thoroughly over the past half century, but greatly overlooked by initiatives taken on to improve our schools.

All parents want their child to receive an excellent education. However, there are parents who do not always know how to support that.  They are oftentimes intimidated by school systems, unsure of how to be involved, or overwhelmed by their own life’s issues.  I do not see communities who do not appreciate their teachers, but rather communities who are waiting to be asked to support them.
Because of this, teachers need to be the agents of change that reach out to our parents and communities.  I believe in classrooms with no walls—students should be part of their greater community; parents should be made comfortable to enter their schools; teachers should share ideas with other teachers; and the general public should know what is happening within the school systems that they support.  I cannot emphasize enough the importance of blurring the lines between the classroom and the world.  To recognize a child’s background and environment is to validate what he or she brings to the classroom.  By bringing students and their academic work into the community, we increase the likelihood that they will later serve their community and understand their roots while also exposing the general public to the learning that our students undertake every day.  By inviting parents to participate in their child’s education, we are encouraging them to support everyday learning and become partners with us in educating their child.  It is about making what we do real and transparent. 
Start small—hold a family writing night; bring your chorus to the nursing home for a rehearsal; write letters to a soldier overseas; post art at the local coffee shop; invite parents to join your physical education class for a friendly competition one day…there are so many ways to blur the lines that are not overwhelming.  But whatever the method or the avenue, by integrating our greater communities and world into our classrooms,   we validate the wholeness of our education system and make learning relevant to our students.  We break down walls for parents and build partnerships with our communities.  We show that Superman is an impossible dream unless there is a collective effort.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Framing My Educational Thinking as a Parent

Last night I had the honor of addressing the New Hampshire State PTA Annual Conference.  I believe what the PTA does is so important for our schools.  In the last fifty years there has been unequivocal research that clearly and consistently aligns parent involvement with student achievement and school success, yet in the same time not one educational reform effort that focuses on student achievement has included parent and community involvement within its parameters or recommendations.  Currently, if a school is one “in need of improvement,” it must create a plan of how to improve, but it does not need to involve parents or community in this plan. 

This means it is up to us—dedicated parents and teachers—to make this happen.  The lack of parent involvement is a huge concern for teachers.  Teachers often think that parents don’t care.  I disagree.  I have yet to meet a parent who does not care.  Parents who don’t make wise decisions?  Sure.  Parents who don’t know what good educational practices are?  Of course.  Parents who aren’t sure how to help their struggling child?  Yes.  But parents who don’t care? There aren’t many out there. In fact, when parents are asked why they do not become involved with their child’s education, they tend to cite four reasons that should give us pause:

1.  They are usually only asked to help in big situations and don’t have time.
2.  They are uncomfortable in schools because they are intimidated by school officials and are often reminded of their own past negative experience
3.  They lack the resources or know-how to help their child.
4. They don’t hear from schools unless there is a problem with their child’s behavior or performance, therefore feeling that their role is one that intervenes when difficulties arise.

As I spoke with parents last night, I was again reminded of the sentiments that come up in Waiting for Superman.  Parents want our schools to serve our children the best they can.  They want bullies to be squashed.  They want gifted kids to be pushed.  They want struggling kids to be supported.  They want curriculum to be consistent.  They want to be communicated with by their children’s teachers.  And they want to support us.  They want to be part of their child’s education and they don’t want red tape, unions, “rules,” or other educational bureaucracy to interfere with that. 

These are the outspoken parents—the ones who are willing to give up a Friday night for a PTA conference.  We need to remember that there are more parents out there who do not know how to articulate these desires, and it is our responsibility to reach out to them and involve them in our classrooms. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Beginning...

So here I am...the most technologically unadvanced teacher of the year in recent history, I'm sure.  But this blog came out of a couple of recent conversations I've had where friends of mine asked me to post my experiences over the upcoming year.

On September 28, my school had a surprise assembly announcing that I was the new teacher of the year for the state of New Hampshire.  I can't express how overwhelmed I was in the following weeks by everybody's kind words and gestures.  I heard from people who knew me when I was a child, Alex Ray, my chimney sweep, old teachers, long lost friends, previous students, and of course, current friends and colleagues.  Thank you so much to everybody for your support--I am so fortunate to be surrounded by people like you!

It was also overwhelming for the first week, because people I didn't know recognized me and came up to me when I was out in public--strangers at the Common Man, parents on the common in Plymouth, and even a group of women in Kohls down in Tilton!

For the time being, Eric Nash, still reigns as 2010 NH Teacher of the Year, and is doing a remarkably fine job at it, so my family and I are trying to have restorative time in preparation for the busy year ahead!  On December 15 he will pass the "crown" to me at a dinner at the Common Man in Plymouth.

Over the next year I will be sure to post all of the adventures!

Thanks again for everybody's support!

Below are the news coverage links: