Charles Schulz’s infamous Peanuts character Lucy Van Pelt once said, “Try not to have a good time…this is supposed to be educational.” Sorry, Lucy, but I was determined to make my recent opportunity to represent our state at the Chief Council of State School Officers National Teacher of the Year Conference both educational and fun for me, my family, who accompanied me, and my students. Now that I am home reflecting on the event, I believe I met my goal.
I’ve said from the moment I was selected as Kentucky Teacher of the Year that I wanted to use every opportunity to its fullest this year, to directly impact not only me but also those around me. This started with my family because I knew that this experience would not be as rich if they were not involved. They are the backbone of what I do, so I was very thankful that I could afford to take them along. While in Arizona my husband, daughter and I took in as much as we could. The highlight of this was the Grand Canyon. Always the teacher, I taught my daughter to see the educational value in our journey, and she documented her experiences to produce a video for her classmates at home. I was then able to upload her video to my class You Tube account and blog (http://mrsdoolin.edublogs.org/), giving my eight year old daughter a real world audience for her story.
As for my students, I wanted to “take them with me” so my experiential learning could be translated to the classroom. To achieve this, I stayed connected to my students through our digital classroom on Edmodo where I had their assignments set up in a way that gives them immediate feedback and allowed me to communicate with them when needed. Through our class blog, I told them the story of our trip supplemented with pictures and videos from my experiences and even Skyped with students from the Grand Canyon. In an e-mail sent afterwards, our school librarian commented, “The kids loved talking to you. It was really sweet how excited they were to see everything live.” This personal side of my journey to Arizona validated everything else I learned on the professional side.
This professional side included morning ’til night sessions and loads of very inspirational people. In total, the teachers in attendance represented 686 years of teaching experience from every corner of the United States, all subjects and age groups. During the conference, I took part in discussions about everything from new teacher evaluation tools to educational technology to Common Core State Standards with teachers who brought new perspectives to the conversation. What I loved was that there was such a focus on moving forward and doing what’s best for our students. Rebecca Meilwocki, 2012 National Teacher of the Year, said it best in her speech on the last night, “Teaching is about people, not paper. It’s about children, not numbers. I don’t remember one single test I ever took, but I remember every teacher I ever had and what they saw in me.”
Those “children” are what it’s all about, and many of our conversations centered around how that concept gets lost in the shuffle of politics and policy. As a result, the people who are not connected or involved with those “children” make decisions that directly impact them and the teachers who are connected and involved with them. The missing voice of teachers in these decisions was another common thread in conversations and sessions. I heard many stories about states and districts that are controlling and limiting what their teachers can do while expectations are rising. I felt very blessed to be teaching in Kentucky and in my district where I feel I have a voice. I know not everyone is so lucky.
The week was capped off with the aforementioned speech by Rebecca Meilwocki and she captivated everyone. In her speech she challenged us to educate not only our students but also the adults in our states so that the teacher voice could be heard everywhere. She said, “The average American and the unaverage American simply has no idea, at this very time in history, they still have no idea what we do– the challenges that we face, the successes that we share and the accomplishments that we make. They just simply have no idea, and that is why we must tell our stories.”
I could not agree more and feel that sharing our stories is a path to solutions. So, I am inviting you, fellow educator, to tell your stories like my daughter told her classmates, and I told my students. Comment here, post it on your own site, or invite your local newspaper into your classroom. Open the doors to your classroom and share the wonderful things you and your students do. You’re reading one of mine. I went to Arizona to learn and collaborate, and I did that. However, I didn’t stop teaching, being connected or having fun because teaching is not something I do from 8 a.m. to -3 p.m. I don’t know any teacher who does, and the best teachers have a good time.
Kristal Doolin, a language arts teacher at Corbin Middle School in the Corbin Independent school district, was named the 2013 Teacher of the Year on Oct. 17, 2012. During her year-long reign, Doolin will write a monthly column for Kentucky Teacher that chronicles her experience as a classroom teacher. The column runs the second Thursday of each month.