This time last year I was preparing for a big party at my house. My family and I were ending 2013 and bringing in the new year, my year of recognition as the 2014 state teacher of the year. We watched some of the news footage, and I talked with some of them about what my goals were for the year. I had a good long list; they seemed lofty, but at the time, I was viewing this recognition as a twelve-month opportunity to make a difference. Therefore, the goals had to be lofty.
Today, as I drove to an appointment, I reflected on the year and my list of goals. I was thinking about all the things I wanted to get done in the twelve months, and I was kicking myself for the things I didn’t accomplish. Then, I made it to my doctor’s appointment, and as I sat there reading on my phone (code for skimming Facebook) someone called my name. She was sitting across from me, and she had the biggest smile on her face.
“Monica Washington? I met you back in the summer when you were the speaker at the regional new teacher institute. I am using so much of what you suggested in my first year, and my kids are loving it.”
I remembered her and her big, bright smile. I didn’t remember, however, some of the things that she said I told them, but I’m sure I said them. (I never stay on script.) She remembered from memory some of my tips, and she told me she is loving this first year of teaching.
Then it hit me. No, I didn’t get a laundry list of things done, but I got a LOT done. I worked my platform which turned out to be speaking to and training new teachers. I love supporting them and have gotten many emails after speeches asking me for more info about this or that. My goal was to strengthen the teaching profession by encouraging the best and the brightest to go into this field and to give them the advice to thrive in it. My goal was to use my platform as a teacher leader to help those who are already committed to the profession and to motivate them to tap into their own teacher-leader powers. I hope I did that. Becoming a state teacher has extended my reach, made me aware of what goes on outside the walls of my classroom, and given me the tools to make some positive things happen for students and teachers. It gave me a place at the table where the big decisions are made. Was it really me who got to participate in a policy meeting with President Obama’s education staff? Was it really me who got to look at some hot-off-the-presses initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education? Was it really me who got to meet with the highest education officials in the state and have them listen to my ideas? It was me. I didn’t get everything done, but I got quite a bit done.
I’m still pinching myself from the great experiences.
I didn’t get to blog every month like I had hoped because life happened and there was barely time for me to sleep some days. That’s ok though. Many of you followed on Facebook and you got to see the crazy, fabulous things that were happening. The last blog was in June, and since then I have traveled, trained, met, spoken here and there, and tried to carry all of you amazing people with me. I launched Orange All Over as a way to keep you with me and to invite you into the places I got to visit. It was my honor to tie those ribbons all over the state and the country for you.
Here is a super brief rundown of June until today. I could never fully explain all that has happened.
I spoke many times to new teachers in the state and in my own district and community.
I began working on the Teaching Profession committee with TSTA.
I went to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. I did a simulated helicopter crash. I walked on the moon. (sort of) I did two space missions. I ziplined and got stuck.
I went to Princeton, NJ and spent a week reflecting on how I want to continue to impact education in a positive way. I got to hang out for the last “official” time with all of my state teacher friends who have become my family on this crazy, wild ride. We will be friends forever.
I went to Atlanta, Georgia to meet with Manny Scott (Freedom Writer, one of Erin Gruwell’s students) and five other speakers from across the country for a speakers’ retreat. I got some great info and training there. This wasn’t connected to teacher of the year.
And there was much, much, MUCH more.
The most important thing to me has been the support I have received from my district, friends, and family. There have been so many times that I worried that people would get sick of hearing my name. However, so many people were there to hold me up when I was tired. They had a bake sale and launched Operation The Washingtons Go to D.C. They shopped with me and bought me clothes. They cheered at each different award I received after this one. They asked, “Where is Orange All Over going next? We’re loving going on this ride with you.” I am terrible at asking for or accepting help. My district made it hard on me. Beautifully hard.
Here is the deal. This was never meant to be a finite role. You are not supposed to become a state teacher and then fall off the map. On the contrary, you have the year of recognition, and then you continue to serve until you can’t serve anymore. That is what my class is doing. As we lean our torches to share the flame with the incoming 2015 class, we continue moving. We continue leading. We continue teaching….from inside the classroom, from administrative offices, through hybrid roles. We teach. I am now a part of a wonderful network—NNSTOY. The National Network of State Teachers of the Year. It is filled with dynamic leaders.
So…thank you for everything. Thank you for your support. Thank you for listening to me, for respecting me, for inspiring me. It is my hope that Shanna Peeples, the 2015 Texas State Teacher of the Year has the same type of support I have. She is an English teacher from Amarillo, and I am honored to share my flame with her.
Whitney Crews is the 2015 Texas Elementary Teacher of the year. She is pictured second from the right. She would love to speak to teachers. Contact me for her info please and thanks!
Now, full speed ahead into my doctoral program. I will go back to D.C. for the NEA Excellence in Teaching Awards in February. I will write global lessons and then go to Peru next summer for the culmination of the NEA fellowship. I will go to Kansas for another fellowship to write unsung hero projects for schools. (I get to stay in a mansion while there. Whoop!)
This has been the year of my life. Exhaustion. Travel woes. New friends. Galas. Banquets. Pictures. Speeches. Trinkets and gifts. The White House. The President. New Teachers. And I even became a Kentucky Colonel. Yep! I have the certificate to prove it. Holly Bloodworth, 2014 Kentucky, was given the honor by her governor, and he extended the honor to the rest of us. Thanks, Holly!
It has been my pleasure and honor to represent Texas. I will continue to do so as I transition into my years of service. My role is not finite. I hope I continue to make a difference. (I end this blog knowing I can never express how full my heart is.)
Godspeed, Shanna. I am here for you always. Godspeed in 2015.