Saturday, January 24, 2015

What it Means to be a Finalist for the Global Teacher Prize - to me

In September, during a conversation with My Global Friends, Toni Barton asked if anyone had received an email about The Global Teacher Prize.  After the rest of us said no, she told us more about it.  We laughed about the million dollar prize, read the requirements, and discussed whether or not we should enter.  Everyone else said they were too busy.  I said I would do it and, if I won, I would take them all on a trip around the world to meet each other face to face. (These really are, after all, global friends, from all around the world.)

So I applied and, lo and behold, I became a finalist: one of 50.  I was thrilled.  Of course, I didn't find out right away since...well this is my life we are talking about...emails never went through.  But, thanks to Michael Soskil, another finalist and a friend, I found out, got in touch with the Varkey Gems foundation, and am now anxiously waiting to see if I am one of ten finalists to go to Dubai for the award ceremony.  And, once I looked into it more, I could see how amazing it really was to become a finalist.  The other 49 educators are incredible people doing valuable things with children.  I am humbled to be on the list.

As more time went on, more emails came (the email situation was finally straightened out).  One of the email senders is a publicist looking for any publicity we might get surrounding this prize.  I was confused.  How would anyone even know we were finalists?  Do we need to promote this ourselves?  How would I do that?  I did post it on my network and got the standard congratulations from my friends but...what else is expected?  And then we started getting emails showing the publicity others were getting.  Parties from parents and kids, honors from mayors and city counsel members, awards from board members and administration, interviews on local television stations and in newspapers...the list goes on.  

Back to me and my life.  I couldn't even imagine that kind of publicity, much less how I would get it.  You see, I am just a teacher.  I know how much so many of my friends hate when I say that but it is true.  Everything I do, I do because I am a teacher.  I knock down the walls of my classroom because my students deserve to learn about other cultures and meet people different from themselves.  I run projects because my students learn best this way and are more engaged when other children in other classes are involved.  I run twitter chats and webinars because I love teaching other teachers about how to engage and encourage children to be the best they can be always.  I am a teacher.  No, I am a TEACHER.  And I love what I do...most of the time.

But this Global Teacher Prize has made me uncomfortable with that title.  You see, I live in a world where being a teacher is nothing to be proud of.  I grew up as a child of equal rights.  Women were making incredible strides in all fields and I, as I was reminded often, could be anything.  I didn't have to be just a teacher, nurse, or secretary if I wanted to work outside the house.  And still I became a teacher.  That was a disappointment to my family.

I live on Long Island in New York.  Our local paper is Newsday.  I won't purchase the paper, have stopped using it in school, and really believe all teachers should stop buying it.  All they do is attack teachers.  So every day, most Long Islanders get Newsday and read:

Nothing positive, ever.  Even the one about the best and worst teachers focused on the worst.  The Huffington Post even wrote about it:

And our state government isn't much better.  

Here in New York, public school teachers have been fighting for years with the government.  Tax Caps set at 2% makes it impossible to keep things even at status quo.  Inflation is greater than that.  So we cut teachers and programs, increase class size, fight for contracts, and get lots of anger from the public who loves the tax cap, so they don't have to pay as much.

This climate is not conducive to getting publicity for an award, even one as monumental as The Global Teacher Prize.  So what about just my little local community, my school?  Well, I told my kids, who cheered and that was it.  I told my principal who said congratulations and that was it.  I sent an email to my assistant superintendent, who is new as of January 1st.  She congratulated me.  My colleagues at work say congratulations and go on with their day.  And I keep reading about the amazing publicity my fellow finalists are getting.

I know this sounds like sour grapes.  And maybe, in a small way, it is.  I am so grateful to be recognized for doing something I so strongly believe in.  I am honored to have been made a finalist.  I hope I get chosen to go to Dubai, since, as much as I believe in globalizing my classroom, I am not a global traveler.  And I am so grateful that I get to go into my classroom every day and have fun teaching and learning with my fifth graders.  But I do wish I could get just one little positive article, one little interview, one person who believes I deserve to be recognized.  I spend all my time living in an environment where we fight just to be teachers.

I am just a TEACHER.  I am proud of being just a TEACHER.  Whether I win or not, I will still be proud to be just a TEACHER.  I will continue to do what I do because I love what I do, with or without acknowledgement.  And I will learn that pride in myself is enough for me. I will, I will, I will.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Lean In and Thank You

This post is dedicated to Lee Kolbert and Lean In:Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg.

This past week I had parent/teacher/student conferences.  For those of you new to my blog, I teach fifth grade and my students come to parent conferences.  The focus is on them.  They do the talking, the adults do the listening.  By the time the conference is over, there is a plan for improvement and a general warm, fuzzy feeling of joy about the progress that has already been made.  

My last conference was with a student who is bright, hard working, caring.  All the things we want in a student. The only area of improvement I suggested was that I want to hear her voice more.  The boys in my room tend to take over the conversations and she is too "good" to call out her ideas along with the boys.  I know I could make it a rule that you have to raise your hand and wait to be called on before speaking but I really have difficulty running a class like that.  I like the give and take throughout the day.  But quiet children tend to get lost if I don't force the issue, which I do often.

Since her conference, I have been thinking a great deal about the "good" girls.  And it is mostly girls. The boys who are quiet are still more vocal than the girls who are quiet.  I need to find a way to inspire these girls to speak up, "Lean In", and be a part of the running of the class.  So I started to think about myself.

I know many of you will find this hard to believe, but, when I was in middle and high school, I was shy.  I never talked, unless I was called on.  I let others make all the decisions, tell me what I needed to do.  In fact, I was so quiet, kids thought I was a bitch.  That's what they told me once they got to know me.  They thought I felt superior since I didn't talk to them at all.  The reality is far from their beliefs.  I was so insecure and so shy I was sure that, if I did contribute, I would be laughed at.  So I just kept quiet.

Now, at age 50, I have no problems "Leaning In."  How did this come to be?  It really started with the creation of my online PLN.  I started to know amazing women.  Women who spoke out, who reached out, who were successful and vocal.  Women like Lee Kolbert, who always had so much to offer when I was stuck on some idea.  Like Vicki Davis, who was so successful and so sought after, but still so kind to little ole me.  Like Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, who is able to run a successful organization, while still maintaining herself.  Like Refranz Davis, who breaks new ground each year and still laughs about her "faults."  Like Angela Maiers, who is a well sought after speaker who still wears amazing shoes.

There are so many to name.  Stephanie and Karen and Julie and Donna and Toni and Lisa and Liz.  Women who are strong enough to speak up and down to earth enough to laugh at themselves and each other.  Where would I be without you all?  Probably still the bitch I was known to be.  I had no trouble standing up for my students but could never stand up for myself.  

So the advice I give to my girls now is to read about amazing women.  Even in fiction.  Sarah from Sarah, Plain and Tall, is a fiesty woman from the 1800s who tells her husband what she wants and gets it.  And he still loves her.  They need to hear that.

But to all the women still leaning is time.  Lean in, speak up, move forward.  This world is so screwed up.  We need compassionate, strong women to start taking over.  And men to support them when they do. 

Thank you to all my women friends...those who Lean In and those who are waiting still to learn.  I would not be where I am today without you!