Teachers, schools, teacher unions, and public education in general have always been scrutinized by both the media and the public. Sometimes education can be an unfortunate scapegoat, and sometimes there are valid arguments for why certain aspects of our education system need to change. As teachers, having positive public relations and a chance to showcase what our students are doing, creating, innovating, and solving in class is important. Those of us who are tech savvy have found numerous ways to positively share student work and bring attention to the brilliant young minds in our classrooms. For example, I utilize a classroom Instagram account to give parents (even non-English speaking ones) and the community a window into Room 208. I also have a classroom website, a Vimeo Channel, and this blog. However, we well know that the majority of today's teachers either don't have enough technology resources at their disposal, or simply aren't tech savvy enough to share that way. That is not to say that student work and great classrooms can only be shared via electronic means, but it does point toward the idea that not everyone in our profession is actively sharing and liaising with the public to create a positive view of education.
Here's a big giant fact for you:
There are nearly 400,000 teachers in the state of California.
When I visited Vermont last summer to facilitate a week of workshops for the Mobile Media Maker Camp, I was surprised to learn that the population of Vermont as a whole is a little more than 600,000. Folks there were shocked to learn just how many teachers it takes to keep the California Education Machine running. There are so many educators in California, that 1 in 9 teachers in America teach here in our state. With statistics like those, isn't it important for California teachers to have a voice? A positive presence to showcase the good that goes on in California classrooms? An advocate for great teaching? An advocate for student achievement, innovation, creativity, and access?
As one of the five 2014 California Teachers of the Year, this is where I believe I have been given a representative mission. Last year, I was nominated by five different teachers at my site and chosen by the whole staff to represent great teaching at our school. After also being chosen by other teachers in the district, I entered into a rigorous vetting process at the county level. This included writing nearly 20 pages of education essays; participating in a panel interview; and teaching during an observation visit from 11 teachers and other education specialists. My students, their parents, my colleagues, and my administrators were also interviewed by the panel at length. From there, the state process included more education essays, another classroom observation, and an interview with the California Department of Education in Sacramento. After all of that, being selected as a California Teacher of the Year was an honor and continues to be something I do not take for granted. Being asked to represent the good in California education, the teachers who work their hardest day in and day out, the successes (both large and small) that students across California experience each day - that is a weighty mantle of responsibility.
So, when I read conversations on Twitter about how the Teacher of the Year program isn't valid or doesn't hold merit, I respectfully disagree. It is important for teachers and public education to have a positive voice. I will use my voice to highlight the wonderful things teachers are doing across the state, to affect change when necessary and in whatever ways I can, to draw attention to the needs of students, and to stand up for the importance of technology-rich learning environments. This year is an opportunity for which I am deeply grateful.
If even you're not a TOY, you have a voice, too.
How will you use yours?
By Jessica Pack
I don't think anyone gets into teaching for accolades. Whether you're lesson planning on a Saturday, grading papers long into the night, staying at school until after dinner, or spending the Monday of a 3-day weekend reorganizing your classroom library, there's hardly ever anyone there to pat your back for going above and beyond. What's more, most of us aren't even looking for that type of affirmation anyway, we're just doing what we do because we care. Because it's just what we do. Because we're teachers.
Last spring, when I was named Teacher of the Year on three separate occasions - for my school site, district, and county - I had the same reaction each time: "Who, me?!" On the outside I smiled and even teared up a bit, but inside my head I had the rather panicky and disbelieving thought that someone had somehow made a mistake. There are so many incredible teachers in my building and beyond; Twitter is proof that amazing things happen daily in classrooms across the country. Being recognized as one among so many deserving professionals is a humbling experience, and one that I have struggled to grasp.
A few weeks ago, I was notified that representatives for the California Teacher of the Year program would be conducting a site visit to observe my teaching practice. Shortly after that event, I was summoned to the California Department of Education in Sacramento for an interview, which meant that I had the most surreal two days ever. On a Thursday, I taught from 7:45 until 11:35am, conferenced with parents until 3:00pm, drove an hour and a half to the Ontario airport, boarded a plane, and flew to Sacramento where I arrived (after a delay of several hours) around 10:00pm. The next day, I interviewed at CDE, then flew back to the desert to await, on pins and needles, the final verdict. Whew! I'll be honest: it was a lot to handle. Throughout the entire process, I was unable to discuss anything with anyone, beyond my husband and my principal.
On Tuesday, November October 29, I received a call from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction's office to inform me that I'd been chosen as one of five 2014 California Teachers of the Year. Everything after that is a blur. Since the official press release, the students, parents, and staff at my school have been so proud and supportive. There has been an incredible response from the community at large, too - not to mention an outpouring of support from other professionals on Twitter! Through it all I have come to realize how much something like this can unify everyone. Probably the best moment was when one of my kids came running into my classroom Tuesday morning and said, "Mrs. Pack! You winning state Teacher of the Year is a big deal! I know it, because my abuelita and I watched you on the Spanish news!" When 76% of my students are Hispanic and many speak exclusively Spanish in the home environment, it's an honor to be included in the Spanish affiliate news coverage.
At the end of the day, people have an innate need to make a difference by having a positive impact, and that's why I think most of us decide to go into the teaching profession. My hope is that as a California Teacher of the Year, I will be able to shed light on the importance of teaching with visionary passion. For me, teaching in a technology-rich environment provides the toolbox that enables my visionary passion. For you, it might be something different. It almost doesn't matter as long as we can identify it and replicate it daily so that greatness has the opportunity to emerge in our students.
Being a 2014 CA TOY is undoubtedly an honor, and I certainly owe a debt of gratitude to the people with whom I collaborate in person on a daily basis, as well as all those whose blogs, tweets, posts, and articles I read. Thanks for making me the teacher I am.
(Credit: KESQ News Channel 2)
Author: Jessica Pack
California Teacher of the Year. CUE Outstanding Educator 2015. DIGICOM Learning Teacher Consultant. 6th Grade Teacher. Passionate about gamification, Minecraft, digital story-telling, and fostering student voices.