Go Big or Go Home

Training Day Two: I have yet to encounter something or someone that I don't like.  Before I go on, I should provide a little background first.  Come to think of it, I should have mentioned this yesterday.  There are about 25-30 new hires in the entire district besides myself, each of whom is wonderfully friendly, extremely capable, and very committed to the education of children. The breakdown is ROUGHLY the following: 7 special ed teachers, 5 related arts teachers, a couple counselors, 5 high school teachers, 3 middle school teachers, 3 early childhood teachers and about 5 elementary teachers.  (Keep in mind there are two primary centers, five elementary schools, one middle school and one high school in our district {above}). 

We of course played a few ice-breakers yesterday - one of which was created by the head of H.R. by plucking factoids about us from our interviews with him.  We had to go around the room with our checklists and "find the person who...."  "taught in Africa" ...or "went on a 100 km pilgrimage through Spain" ....or "Sang on the same stage in Vienna which was once graced by Mozart".   The unexpected upside: I quickly became known as "the one who taught in Africa".  The downside:  I was not "the one who went on a 100km pilgrimage through Spain" or "sang on the same stage in Vienna that was once grazed by Mozart."  

Actually - funny story.  The last minute, one of the other teachers on our fourth grade team up and left the district, prompting them to expeditiously find a suitable June replacement.  It turns out she too has taught in Africa (just north of my stomping ground in bordering Kenya.)  What are the odds?  Yes, we hit it off immediately.  No, we did not trade exotic communicable diseases or swap tropical insect horror stories a la Monsters Inside Me no matter how much my mother is fascinated by the possibility that 6 years from now, I will finally discover the eight foot long worm that's been growing inside my large intestine since my trip to Tanzania. 

Oh - and why you ask did the other fourth grade teacher up and leave this amazing district so suddenly?  Get this:  he had been currently working hand in hand with Lucy Calkins and the Reader's/Writer's Workshop at Teacher's College to help further evolve her revolutionary model.  He was so good, Lucy Calkins personally called him to offer a full time position working with her to improve upon her already wildly successful, nationally embraced Writer's and Reader's Workshop Models.  Um - whoa.  Recognizing that this means absolutely NOTHING to those of you who have no idea who Lucy Calkins is, or what she means to the world of language arts education, let me offer you this simple analogy:  It's like being in the film industry and getting a call from Steven Spielberg himself, personally inviting you to come aboard his team.  

Yes, THESE are the everyday educators in my district.  Suffice it to say, the bar has been raised.  The gauntlet has been thrown.  Go big or go home.  You're eizer EEN or you're OW-OOT! (*Klum accent required).  Do you need me to throw more trite little reality show cliches and catchphrases at you?  Fine - one more.  (For Paula.)  You gotta make this job your own.

To open the day today, one of the accomplished elementary school principals held a workshop on culturally responsive classrooms.  I'm a HUGE believer in cultural competency - so I went Tracey Flick on their asses (but without letting my zeal slip ever so carelessly into her trademark obnoxiousness.)  These workshops have consistently reminded me of my just-concluded work in Grad School;  Very "in-the-know", very well led, and chock full of wonderful teaching points, creative ideas, and energetic discussions.  Yesterday, for instance, we watched two very short, but very thought provoking videos and then discussed them as a group (both of which are posted below this blogpost on the main blog page):  One 2:30 video featuring the wonderful success story of a child with autism giving his high school graduation speech as SALUTATORIAN (get the tissues!) and one 5 min video on the importance of using technology creatively in the classroom (the factoids will blow your mind!!).  I think no matter WHO you are, BOTH are worth watching. When you hit the bottom of this post, scroll down a notch to find the two videos and watch them!  *You may have to go back to the main page to see them... 

During lunch (penne w/ vodka sauce, sausage and peppers, steamed veggies, garlic bread and caesar salad - and warm belgian waffle sundaes for dessert....NO, I'm not kidding) we were introduced to the town council, board of ed, and every district administrator.  During lighthearted intros and passionate speeches, we learned that the district, parents, and community support everything there is to support - all sports, all of the arts, technology, students, teachers, etc....we were state champions in football and lacrosse last year, we sent kids to the national forensics tournament, more than a quarter of our graduates go on to the top schools in the country, we win Rising Star Awards for our musicals, we have some of the top primary centers and elementary schools in the state, we put a man on the moon, cured cancer in our bio labs and invented post-its.....After a while, that's what it started to feel like. It's enough to make you think that you tricked them all into hiring you.  Don't worry - no pressure.

After lunch, it was a final workshop on the Writer's Workshop Model, and then time with our patient H.R. secretaries to make sure we filled out and handed in all 3,000 pieces of paperwork correctly.  Oh - and did I mention THE TOUR of that aforementioned half million dollar multi-media room from yesterday's blogpost?  Do you KNOW what that room is? I'll leave you with this AWESOME thought: the privately funded room is a state of the art television studio complete with green screen, cameras, lights, and an entire control room full of iMacs for editing and production.  Oh - and it gets better.  They broadcast on Fios and Comcast on their OWN channel throughout the area, featuring their OWN unique programming created by the students and teachers.  (you know - like Oprah's 'OWN' network.  Ok - Why am I obsessed with Oprah?)  They even have the ability to stream events live from each of the different schools - which made me giddy thinking about broadcasting my first big reader's theater performance....or better yet, a big Antiques Roadshow where the kids read and write about an old artifact from their family's history....or airing the movies that they write, act and film all by themselves for the whole world to see!  And by "whole world", I mean "two or three surrounding towns".  Have more ideas?  By all means, comment away!
*I should also clarify something about yesterday's blogpost that never occurred to me until a good family friend pointed it out (thank you for that!!) - It may appear that I physically took those photos of the homes in the area myself....  And I must confess that I'm completely embarrassed to think that it might of come off that way - not to mention, very cognizant of the fact that it makes me seem brazenly creepy.  Truth be told, I nicked those from a real-estate website featuring town properties....Though it is rather hilarious to imagine me dressed like a bush, secretly stalking these mansions through the trees, waiting for the best time to jump out and scream, "CHEESE!" at a seven-figure property....and then getting tasered by their hyper-paranoid dog-walker.

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