Friday, November 18, 2011

Educators Make a Difference!

At the end of my book, Finding Mrs. Warnecke: The Difference Teachers Make, I asked readers to email me stories of the educators who've changed their lives, and I promised to share them on my blog. I hear these amazing stories every time I deliver a keynote speech, every time I talk to a class of pre-service teachers, every time I lead a workshop. But rarely do educators actually write their stories and send them to me. Mostly I hear, "It was my kindergarten teacher Mrs. So-and-so!" as they're shaking my hand on the way out of an auditorium. These stories are difficult to capture, told in passing, in the middle of others told in passing. They're all amazing and wonderful, and I wish I could remember the details enough to bring them all back to this blog, but it's not realistic that I would be able to do them justice.

This week, however, an educator shared a story with me that's so inspiring that I did remember details, memorable enough that I want to share it with my readers. Two days ago I spoke to 1500 educators at the Educators are Essential Celebration, a recognition of American Education Week that honored the public school teachers of Columbus Municipal Schools, the Lowndes County Schools, and numerous private school educators from Columbus, Mississippi. After I shared my story about the difference my own first grade teacher had on my life, I was whisked away by a local reporter who interviewed me briefly. I returned to the auditorium to gather my things just as the audience was released, and so I became the official door-holder and ended up talking to almost each and every one of the 1,500. So many of them wanted to share their "Mrs. Warnecke" with me, and I was inspired by each one.

But toward the end of the crowd spilling out of the auditorium, a gentleman in a suit and tie stopped in front of me and told a brief story: "I was a high school dropout. I was going nowhere. And one night the high school assistant principal saw me at a basketball game at the school. He literally dragged me out of the stands and to his office. There he handed me the GED booklet. I'm now an assistant principal myself, and soon I'll receive my doctorate in education."

My mouth fell open. From high school dropout to school administrator soon to be called "Dr." The success of this man can be traced back to one MOMENT, one moment in time when an educator refused to give up on a kid, a moment when everything changed.

Don't ever let anyone tell you that we don't make a difference in this profession. We're doing it. Moment by moment.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Real World of Teachers

That November morning when I learned that I had been certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards I was such a wreck I probably didn't appear to be the "accomplished teacher" that the NBPTS honors. I had been given the time for the online announcement, and I logged on a few minutes before that time, hitting "reload" every few seconds. Once the news went live, the website was jammed with traffic, and only half the page loaded. I didn't see "Congratulations! You are a National Board Certified Teacher" anywhere. But I did see my overall score. Because I was so agitated, I couldn't for the life of me remember what a passing score was. I called my district's National Board Certification Coordinator to ask that very question, but couldn't reach her. So I returned to my computer, reloaded again, and this time I saw that word that would change me as a teacher: "Congratulations...."

I was alone in my classroom when I visited the website that day so I immediately called my husband, and then my mother, and then printed out the congratulatory letter and took it to my principal. I just felt that I needed to tell someone the amazing news. After nine long months of planning, writing, videotaping, testing, and reflecting, the day turned into everything I'd dreamed of: verification that I was impacting student learning in the classroom, the initials "NBCT" behind my name, a 12% raise provided by the state of North Carolina, and the ability to breathe again since sometime back in the fall over a year before.

Now as a National Board Certification coach, I relive this experience every November; only this time I'm pulling for several different teachers, representatives from all curricular areas and grade levels. Last year in my school I traveled from room to room watching each teacher I had mentored check that same webpage. My favorite reaction came from Vicki, the art teacher, as she left me there with her students and took off running out of the classroom. Screaming at the top of her lungs, Vicki ran from hallway to hallway...I could hear her screams descend as she ran down a hall; I could tell the exact moment she turned to run back...the volume would turn up.

One of Vicki's students looked at me and asked, "What in the world did she win? A million dollars?"

"Same thing," I thought.

Recently I had the opportunity to watch a screening of Mitchell 20, a documentary about 20 teachers who committed to change their teaching, each of them agreeing to participate in the National Board Certification process, either the full certification journey or the "Take One" opportunity that allows them to complete one entry of the process. I watched as these teachers struggled with obstacles, both at school and at home; some were unable to complete the process, others completed but didn't certify, and still others faced hardships that were both shocking and inspiring at the same time.

Yes, this film was inspirational, an answer to last year's Waiting for Superman, a documentary that intimated that the only way to receive a great education is to participate in a charter school lottery. The Mitchell 20 are dedicated teachers who work tirelessly to become better at what they do, all in front of scrutinizing cameras and microphones. The audience is able to take the journey with them, step-by-step, and experience the joys and the disappointments that accompany a journey like this.

We all sat on the edges of our seats as we watched the Mitchell 20 log in and look for that congratulatory letter. And those of us who've been there before wiped the sweat from our brows, memories of our own experiences flooding back.

It is again November. This month thousands of teachers across the country will soon learn if they are National Board Certified Teachers. And because of the Mitchell 20 many others will understand what those teachers have sacrificed and what those teachers will experience as they sit in front of a computer, most likely hitting "reload" over and over.

As for me, I'll be hitting the halls again, checking scores with my colleagues and remembering a day in 2004 when everything changed. Maybe, because of the Mitchell 20, perspectives on teaching will change, too.

Thank you to that group of brave teachers in Arizona. You've documented the "real world" of teaching.