Earlier this week I flew up to the Department of Education in our state’s capital, Sacramento, to get formally introduced to the new 2010 California Teacher of the Year Award winners.
Let me tell ya, it was ROCKIN’!!
In attendance: Jack O’Connell, the state Superintendent of Education, former Teacher of the Year Award winners from days gone by (that’s how I got an invite; it’s like the only real Skull and Bones Society to which I belong… and it’s WAY COOL!) and a host of other big kahuna CA. Dept. of Ed. staff… the really “high-ups” who make so many of the school wheels spin in our state (a state which, btw, serves MILLIONS of kids).
All and all I can’t tell you how invigorating a meeting like this can be. I mean how often do regular ol’ teachers get access to the folks who sit up at the highest levels of the food chain in public ed?
What never fails to amaze me, too, is how bright some of the minds in that room every year are. Truly, when you are kickin’ it with folks like that, even water cooler dialogue can turn into an epiphany. Without a doubt talking turkey with folks like this is just so informative/challenging/absorbing/confrontational/invigorating/fantastic and on and on and on.
If only more people could have a seat at this table. At least, that’s one of the big thoughts I had while sitting there (I even wore a tie so you know it’s got to be big) and so, with this post, here a few of the random thoughts/highlights from the day in no particular order:
— Kelly Kovacic will represent the State of California in the 2010 National Teacher of the Year competition. (I was the 2007 state rep… didn’t win the National, though — but the person who did – Andrea – was an amazing choice. Kelly, however, is one to keep your eye on. She is OFF THE CHARTS! Kelly teaches at The Preuss School, a charter middle and high school dedicated to providing a rigorous college prep education for motivated low-income students. Essentially, 100% of her students will be the first in their families to ever attend college. Talk about the front lines of The Achievement Gap, breaking the cycle of generational poverty and on and on… Kelly is doing WOW work… and doing it really damn well!
–We had good, deep chats about the P-16 counsel. I am not going to go into all the ins-n-outs but here’s a link to P-16 and let me tell ya, if we could pull this off, our state would be MUCH better off.
How to implement the recs cited above was a hot topic of discussion, though. And trust me, I spoke up big and bold about how our schools have devolved into the unfortunate circumstance of their raison d’etre now being — at least in too great of a measure — about how “the bubble tests are the tail wagging the dog.”
Spicy conversations to say the least because, as we all know, the bubble tests are on one hand foolishly backing our schools into a dysfunctional corner as if the entire world is about “how to correctly choose answer choice C” when presented a series of A-D answer choices (as if these are the most critical skills life will require our kids to possess. However, no one — not even me — is going to claim that we don’t need accountability and assessment in public education. It’s a complicated issue to say the least (How about another shout out for GROWTH MODEL ASSESSMENTS!?) and easy answers are nowhere to be found. PLUS, with dwindling resources, there are less people able to really look for them.
–Of course, Jack talked about the budget cuts. Let’s face it, what section of education has not been ravished? His own staff, his efforts, his ability to manage the demands of his position, and so on… the nuclear fiscal landscape has left no one unscathed (and most certainly not our State Superintendent). Publicly, Jack said this a few weeks ago… and this quote very much reflects the spirit of the meeting: “I am extremely proud of all teachers, here in California as well as across the nation, who in the past year, have had to endure devastating cutbacks in funding and programs as well as layoff notices and elimination of positions,” O’Connell said. “It is more important than ever to honor people who chose to become teachers and to celebrate this most noble of professions.”
See, recognition of excellence matters. There are so many folks in our state and nation that are doing INCREDIBLE work and with the way the media has tirned to bashing educators as if we are all a bunch of dirt-bag, newpaper reading, worksheet distributors who hide behind tenure and the unions day in and day out, it’s more important than ever to shine a light on who we truly are.
We are America’s educators. And we are proud of it. And we are proud of the work that we are doing. And we are working hard to do better work despite the incredible challenges, obstacles and political buffoons impeding us.
That room is one of smiles and positive energy and people who just absolutely LOVE being teachers.
And so, if there is one thing you take from this post, know that, Illegitimi non carborundum.
That’s latin for, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!”
Why? Because there are a heck of a lot of people working their tails off right now who simply are going all out to make a difference in the lives of kids and teachers everywhere.
And without a doubt, they are being successful. Now it’s all about increasing our rate of success. And for many people in that room, that aspiration is their/our life’s work!
Makes me proud to do what I do.
NOTE: Here’s a pic of me and the State Supe givin’ and gettin’ some love for the Teacher of the Year Foundation.