As I reflect on the past year, I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes. The motivational speaker Charlie “Tremendous” Jones said, five years from now you will be the same person you are today except for the books you read and the people you meet. I’ve met a lot of amazing people and I’ve also been introduced to quite a few new titles that have helped me grow as a professional educator.
My journey began this time last year when I was honored to be named the 2015 Columbia County Teacher of the Year. In June, I was invited to Tallahassee to visit with Governor Rick Scott and his cabinet. There I was awarded the Shine Award for inspirational educators. Then in July I traveled to Orlando where I joined 71 other Teacher of the Year honorees for an amazing three days of inspirational speeches, professional development, and collaboration. I enjoyed getting to know my fellow TOYs and appreciated this opportunity to meet and have conversations with our commissioner of education, Pam Stewart, and Brian Dassler, the Deputy Chancellor for Educator Quality. They are both avid readers and helped grow my list of must-read books quite a bit. As if being immersed in this inspirational community of distinguished educators wasn’t amazing enough already, I was honored to receive one of two special recognition awards given out during the closing presentations. I received the Consortium for Florida Education Foundation’s 2014 Champion of Children Award for my efforts to involve businesses and the community in my classroom. I was blown away by this honor after finding myself surrounded by some absolutely amazing educators. To be singled out among that group of teachers was definitely the highlight of my year.
The theme of this year’s roundtable and gala was ‘Lead to Inspire’, with a focus on the idea of being a teacher leader - the idea that we don’t have to leave the classroom to become leaders in our schools and in our district. To further support and promote this idea, Commissioner Stewart partnered with the New Teacher Center to develop the Teacher LEAD Network. This year-long teacher leadership program provides professional development and a collaborative network of support as we serve to mentor teachers and facilitate professional learning communities within our schools and districts. I’ve personally gained a great deal of knowledge through this program and have recently started the first STEM teacher PLC for our middle and high school STEM teachers. I’m excited about this new endeavor and look forward to the long-term benefits our collaborative efforts will have on STEM education throughout Columbia County.
One of the opportunities I enjoyed the most during my time as Teacher of the Year was being asked to speak on behalf of educators. I felt this was my most important responsibility - to promote professional respect and support for our hardworking teachers. I received a standing ovation after speaking at a Rotary Club meeting and then went on to ruffle some feathers by talking about teacher pay with the Lion’s Club. You win some, you lose some.
Overall I’ve had an amazing, life-changing year. I’ve made connections that are changing my life in ways I’m not even aware of yet. I’ve had total strangers recognize me in the grocery store and thank me for what I do. I have, more than once, been introduced as “that teacher that’s in the newspaper all the time” and I’ve recently landed on the cover of a magazine. I look forward to continuing my journey in the Teacher LEAD Network as we join Governor Scott in Tallahassee at the end of the month for a Teacher of the Year Summit. I will continue to speak on behalf of our great educators and work diligently to learn and grow in this epic profession we call teaching.
As I pass the torch tonight, I’d like to make a request. I don’t have to tell you that there is a lot of noise surrounding education right now. It’s been one of the most challenging years for our teachers not only in our district but across the state. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the drama so I’m asking this: Don’t let it steal your joy. Don’t listen to the noise and remember what we are here for. We are here for our students. Without them there would be no teachers. Keep reading and learning and collaborating with others. We are in this together. In the words of Gandhi, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.” I believe we need some major changes and those changes start with us: the classroom teachers. Be professional and be proud of what you do. Be an example for others – be a teacher leader.