Thoughts, links & ideas from the 2008 National Teacher of the Year

Each time I've taken off in a plane since May (which is a lot), I've been writing in my journal, then adding these journal entries on this blog.

Check in often, or subscribe to get headlines fed to you! Oh, and the views expressed here are not those of anyone but me.  And anyone who happens to share the same views, I guess.

(Note: the blue posted dates are actually the dates I wrote the journal entries, not when I posted them online.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Where Grow From Here? [sic]

Salt Lake City, UT


Where Do We Grow From Here?  “That’s not a typo, by the way,” reassured Jon Quam, followed by some good-natured ribbing.  (There actually was a rare typo on the cover of our conference binders, however, that said “Where Grow From Here?”  Very Yoda-like, actually.)


That was the theme of our weekend retreat as we dove into the personal and professional choices that we all must make as our Teacher of the Year terms officially end, and our longer journey as teacher leaders begins.  As Jon frequently reminds us, “you will always be the 2008 [insert state name here] Teacher of the Year.”  Our voices will be heard, and our words will carry more weight.


So what will we say?  What message will we bring to the policy-makers, our fellow educators, and our communities?  Ultimately, what will we say to our students, for they are the ones we must answer to.  And speak up for!


Teachers of the Year have taken many paths through the years: instructional coaches, dept. of education employees, consultants, administrators, educational product developers, and yes, even classroom teachers.  In fact, most of us return to the classroom to do what we love most.


But we return as different people.  Not only in our pedagogy (which we have reflected upon and collected many new ideas for,) but in our roles as teacher leaders.


When a leader continues to prove themselves “in the trenches,” they are more effective and their voice is more respected.  Like my colleague from Montana, Steve Gardiner (see “The Schmuck and the Streakers” post from Sept. 25th, below), who runs in every practice with his high school cross-county team: when his athletes go to a meet and realize that many coaches don’t run, they tell Steve, “man, that other coach just stands over there and yells really loud!”  He’s a coach that isn’t being as effective as he could be.


This year I still feel like I have one foot in the classroom, and now one foot at 30,000 feet.  No wonder I feel stretched!  But it gives me a voice that would fade quickly if I weren’t still a classroom teacher.


We need to continue to develop this role of the teacher leader, without over-burdening our already exasperated teachers.  Teaching part-time and finding other ways to lead and share would be an ideal fit for me and for other high quality teachers.  I know there are other creative solutions out there, too.  Just don’t stretch us too far.  Only grow so much we can.

The Fellowship Disperses

New York, NY


Well it’s pretty much officially over.  At least for the rest of the Fellowship.  The other 55 state teachers of the year are mostly done with their official reigns by now, and we had our last formal meeting this weekend in Princeton, NJ, and New York City.


In my final speech to them, I likened my journey to that of Frodo Baggins in Lord of the Rings (although I’m not really sure what the ring represents, or why I’d need to huck it into a volcano.)  I’ve been selected from my humble little shire in rural Oregon for a monumental task.  The other state teachers are like the elves, humans, dwarves, wizards, and so on that all have different skills and personalities (although I don’t have a freaky looking creature stalking me talking incessantly about his “precioussss.”)  Our final gathering felt sort of like the gathering of the Fellowship in the elf village before Frodo embarks on his quest (although the elf village didn’t have cool wastebaskets that opened automatically when you waved your hand over them.)

After all of the support that my colleagues have given me, and despite the fact that they have shared with me so much, it’s now just down to two of us (although we can all email each other and stuff, which wasn’t available in Middle Earth.)  It’s now just me and Jen, who of course is represented by Sam-wise (although Jen is waaay better looking, has no hair on her feet, and isn’t always saying “if there’s any good left in the world, Mr. Frodo…”)


But she’ll be with me until the very end, no matter what.  And while the other teachers may understand the battlefield more completely, no one is more loyal or supportive than my wife.


She knows me, and is there for me like no one else can be.  Without Jen, I wouldn’t be here, nor would I have the strength to carry this burden.


It’s been a few years since I’ve read the Lord of the Rings (or seen the movies,) so I don’t have a great quote from Frodo to sum it up.  But Jen is now sitting beside me on the plane on the way back from the New Jersey elf village having supported me every step of the way.  And she’ll be beside me until the end.


[If you’d like to help her be physically beside me, please donate to the Spouse Of the Year Travel Opportunity Fund Unlimited at


Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Schmuck and the Streakers

Salt Lake City, UT


Okay, now I’m feeling like a schmuck.  A lazy schmuck.  Jen and I are on our way to New Jersey for the final gathering of all the state teachers of the year, and we get to be on the same flight as Hal Adams (Utah) and Steve Gardiner (Montana).


Steve was just telling us about how he wanted to challenge he cross-country athletes to run every day – what he called “consecutive days” (others call it a “streak,” although streaking is something entirely different in my mind.)  So, like good teachers do, he tried it himself.  After a summer of 100 consecutive days running for at least half an hour, he got his athletes started.  Some went 50, some made it 100, one girl went 360, and another went over 600 straight days.


One young man clocked over 1000 consecutive days of running during his high school career, and would occasionally e-mail Steve with updates from college: “Hey coach, 1124.  –Dave”


He injured himself, though, and broke his consecutive days streak.  When he saw Steve, he disappointedly told him about it.  “But… I’m at 122 now.”  He had started over!  That’s strength of character, commitment, dedication.


Steve is currently at 3000+ consecutive days of aerobic workout (he modified it slightly to account for things like pulling a pack sled for 8 hours and then camping on a glacier in northern Greenland.  Tough to go jogging in those conditions.)  He’s an incredible guy.


Hal (from Utah) was the first person to suggest that I keep a journal this year.  I’m not really a journaler, or much of a writer, but I so appreciate Hal gently challenging me to go for it.  I decided to write each time I got on a plane.  It would be a good use of my time, and for some reason I feel contemplative and more creative as I ascend into the air.


So how many consecutive flights have I journaled now?  20? 40? 60?  Actually, I’m at one.  I’ve been slacking off.  Sometimes I’m just not sure what to write about, but that’s a pretty lame excuse.  I just need to write.


As for exercise… that’s a whole ‘nuther story this year.  I’m a double schmuck.


[Editor’s note: The word “schmuck” has 6 consonants and only 1 vowel!  Crazy!  Are there any other (non-Russian) words like that?!]


[Editor’s 2nd note:  Just got word that Steve’s cross-country team won it’s sixth straight city championship, and also took 2nd in the state meet!  Great job, Steve and his athletes!]

Monday, September 8, 2008

Teaching Experience: Several thousand years

Salt Lake City, UT

Several thousand years.  That was the amount of teaching experience in the room this morning at the annual convention of the National Retired Teachers Association.  A couple hundred retired educators (that's the several thousand years part) and me (that'd be seven more.)  I'm not worthy!

Jen sent me a quick message this morning: "Have fun charming the cute old ladies.  You'll drive them crazy."

I think I did, and here's my evidence: I'm fairly certain one gal had her friend fake camera trouble so she could keep her arm around me for a little longer.  :)

But it was a supportive and enthusiastic group, and I was honored to bring a new perspective and some stories from the front lines to these veterans.  They sure appreciated it.

Together, we've touched over half a million lives!  (Them, half a million; me, a wee bit over a thousand.)

First Class

Washington, DC


I’m sitting up front in First Class!  Not sure how that happened, but here I am.  I must have surpassed a major milestone in the frequent flyers program or something.


So I did what I think you’re supposed to do in first class: read the Wall Street Journal and try not to make eye contact with the steerage filing toward the back of the plane (of which I was a part yesterday, and will be again this afternoon.)  I think I played it off, but I didn’t have much interest in what I was reading.  I’m not sure too many people do.


At some of the district events I’ve been to this year, it was curious that oftentimes the administration and teachers keep their distance from each other.  At one event, I was sequestered with the school board, mayor, and other dignitaries (in a nice room with snacks!) and we were then led in at the last moment to sit in the front row as the program started.  I tried to downplay it in my mind, but I was wearing a tie, so it was hard.


Why the separation?  Is it just human nature?  Adult versions of middle school cliques?  An insidious plot by the proletariat to remain in power?  Probably not, but whatever the cause, the divisions need to dissolve.  They only tend to breed mistrust and misunderstanding.  We need to sample each others’ worlds and gain an appreciation of what the other is dealing with.


My time here as Teacher of the Year is limited, and so is my time in first class.  I’ll enjoy it while I can, and learn about it, too.  But soon I’ll be back in my class, in the coach cabin with the rest of the travelers, where I belong.  But I’ll be there with a new understanding.


Now you must excuse me, I need to finish up my complimentary Bar de Granola and glass of chardonnay.  Then it’s off to the executive washroom to see if the quarters are as cramped as I’m used to in the back of the bus.


Sunday, September 7, 2008


Redmond, OR


Helped some folks build their new home yesterday.  I’m not fast, or even particularly accurate.  But I was successful: I didn’t pierce myself with any of the pneumatic tools!


Constructivist, yes.  Construction worker, no.