Sunday, March 1, 2009

20 Questions Meme

I'm a terrible worker.  Can't write until the house is clean (how often does that happen?)  Can't blog until my TLN pages are caught up.  (Those thoughtful teachers have been throwing big ideas back and forth at a rapid pace lately and I can't keep up!)  Can't move on to a new subject until I've dispensed with the last.  Can't write emails until I empty my inbox.  No wonder I'm behind in posting.
And that's my problem.  Good friend and blogger Nancy Flanagan threw out a 20 question meme based on the FaceBook challenge to reveal 25 things about yourself and the questions have been sitting there until I can summon the time (see above problems) and answer them.
I give up.
The questions are too thought provoking.  I think too slowly to get to them all.  So here's the ones I can manage as a block.
Been teaching English since 1978, (first year was a long term sub gig teaching five classes of math. Guess who learned the most?) with a twelve year break raising my own kids.  I have taught exclusively at the high school and have hit every grade, every skill level from self-contained special ed to Advanced Placement 11 and 12.
My professional development book is hard to pin down.  I remember being transformed by Ken Macrorie's I-Search book.  Mostly because it turned the whole teacher/student paradigm upside down.  But more than that, it was the English 695 course from GMU that did the trick. Led by Marian Mohr and the Teacher Consultants of the Northern Virginia Writing Project it was the ONLY professional development course notebook I searched for when I went back to teaching in 1994.  Took that class in 1981.  Don't know why every teacher isn't teaching that way yet.  We should have been on to those best practices long ago.
My best teacher buddy continues to be the one I consider my mentor: Theresa Manchey. Intelligent, thoughtful, kind and nurturing, I want to be like her when I grow up.
Best administrator: hands down Don Shirley.  He was the first principal I had and I didn't know any better to appreciate his gifts.  He fiercely protected teacher time, never calling unnecessary meetings or asking for paperwork that would sit in a cabinet somewhere.  He trusted us.  It was clear he loved the kids and the teachers who worked with them.  The school was a fun place - most of the time.  He has (retired now) an impish sense of humor, and I still remember many of the inside jokes the whole faculty shared.
Most disappointing experience:  Ugh.  Too disappointing to share here.  In general, when those in power lack the courage to defend good instruction.  Happens too often.
Favorite class to teach: Any journalism class.  I knew those kids extremely well.  We generally became friends.  The work was real to the kids.  Their writing grew exponentially.  Whole groups of them went to college and worked on their papers there.  Several have become writers as adults. Much satisfaction all around.  Not teaching journalism now because of the disappointments referred to above. 
Most thrilling moment: The day two former students sent me the article they collaborated on during the Kerry campaign.  They'd traveled to Boston for election night coverage while students at UVA.  One student had the byline for the photography, the other had the byline for the story.  Proud momma moment for sure.  That they would think to share that with me was the biggest thrill.  But we move on, hoping for more moments like that.
Unions aren't allowed in Virginia, but I wouldn't enter a classroom without the protection of our association's liability insurance, lawyers, and the ongoing lobbyist at state.  Seen too many teachers abandoned by their district to take on the risk of a lawsuit by myself.  Been too busy in the classroom to follow legislation.  I'm glad someone is paid full time to protect our interests.
How would I spend $5 billion?  Can't hardly imagine the sum to begin with, but I would make teacher professional development a part of the job.  Free up time to get teachers together to work on lesson studies, improve instruction.  I think it would make the whole school program more humane and would affect student learning exponentially.  It would mean "buying" more teachers so the face time with kids could be reduced.  Of course, first we'd have to convince all of America that working REALLY HARD all the time (represented by long hours on weekends and all night and etc. etc.) isn't such a good thing - for us, for our kids, for our families. 
Finally, the last question I want to answer is about a personal education hero.  I have known many and have continued to work with many on a daily basis.  But, for me, the one who has expanded my understanding of policy and teacher work continues to be Nancy Flanagan.  She always has her ear to the ground, knows all the players and their interests, and is willing to share that knowledge.  She's been a relentless champion for truly professionalizing our work, a goal I hope to live to see.  Thanks, Nancy, for the free information and keeping the lights burning.