Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happiness in my Job

As I approach bedtime thoughts of what I have done with my life and where I am excites me and makes me reflect on the journey that I have gone through so far to a point where I want to put it into words. So here I am writing about my journey.

I come from a long line of teachers. As a little girl I never had to come up with an answer of what do I want to be when I grew up. I always knew the answer...a teacher. It was never a second guess. I was going to be a teacher and I was never worried about it. I was told by my mother and her friends that I shouldn't be a teacher, it wasn't a profitable career. But I let them talk and knew that it was making them happy to say it, but I wasn't going to let them change it because I was a teacher, born to be a teacher. High school came and went. I did okay, struggling with studies because I have a slight issue with reading comprehension. But I graduated. College. Not an issue. I just needed to go and get my degree in teaching. I didn't care where I went, as long as it fulfilled two things: 1. It was close to my mom. 2. I got my teaching degree. During college I had fun seeing music and being around creative people. I LOVE music and the arts. I didn't ever go into either of those fields because I just wanted to be around others that produced it while I got that teaching degree. I fell in love with an artist who is also a musician. I was married right before student teaching and my life plan of what to be when I grew up was accomplished.

So there I found myself, 22 married and a teacher. Happy to be who I always knew that I would become, but some how another realm of who or what kind of teacher I was to become was in the works. "It isn't what you know but who you know" landed me a job in Shelby County Schools in Tennessee.

Blessing numbers 1 and 2 came into place. 1. My team. My first professional team consisted of a group of teachers that ROCK! They knew what team work was, how to help each other out, and even though the ladies were 20+ years older than me, they became true friends. 2. The classroom that I first taught in was a "21st Century Classroom". That meant that it had computers, Macintosh computers and I came from a PC home. My classroom had 5 student iMacs, 1 teacher G4, color printer, software, all networked, with a Multimedia cart that included a big screen television and a laser disc player. I also had a flex camera. This first job was only an interim position. And the lady, Becky Birdsong, whose classroom it was became one of my dear friends told me during late spring that if I wanted to keep this classroom I was going to have to go get certified to teach with all that equipment. So my next goal was lined up...45 hours of technology training would grant me the right to be a "21st Century Classroom teacher for Shelby County Schools." Because at that time we had a great superintendent, Bill Mitchell, Shelby County had established an awesome technology department that held summer workshops in using different tools of technology. My husband worked during the summer, and we had not yet begun our family so I had ample amount of free time in the summer to attend LOADS of technology classes. Before I knew it I found myself in as many workshops that I could possibly sign up for every summer and throughout the school year. Slowly my skills lead me into hosting inservice workshops of my own.

Now the Shelby County School System had what we called CTS (curriculum technology specialists) folks. These were degreed and experienced classroom teachers who were good at using technology in the classroom. I wanted to be one. I wanted to be one bad and I started applying for the job before my 3 year tenure was awarded.

Another blessing occurred because my school was being annexed into the city school system and I did not want to go. Another Shelby County School needed a 2nd grade interim teacher to work for a year in a 21st Century Classroom. I landed the job and found myself in a school where the principal, Brenda Bluestein, was dedicated to her job. It was her mission in life to create a school that was on board with technology rich curriculums. Integrating technology was easy for me. The lessons were no brainers on how to bring in computers. Colleagues came to me for help, ideas, and lessons. I found myself in a definite leadership role in influencing other teachers on how to integrate technology into their classrooms, but deep down every year I applied to be the CTS. Finally, after three applications, I was given the job. I was sad and am still sad at the loss of not being in the classroom for as I have said before, I am a teacher, born to teach and need to be apart of students' lives.

My new role was a doozie. First time motherhood and supporting two elementary schools in the area of technology was a whopper! I learned more than I could have ever imagined. I was apart of the school's decision making team on what to buy, how to train, who got what, and taught the teachers how to use it. I designed lessons and assisted teachers implementing my lessons by modeling how to do it when they invited me into their rooms. I was also growing my skill set at how to troubleshoot, image machines, install software, work on and set up servers, etc. I have never been nervous about trying out stuff on computers and had the awesome support of Shelby County's technology department to help me when I need it. So try, try and fail, and try again were not intimidating.

Budget cuts hurt and my school system attempted to cut my team dramatically. (Though one year later the school system knew its errors and corrected them making an even better technology department and support staff.) But for me I couldn't see myself go back to the contained classroom. I need to be on the team that taught teachers, to influence more than just the 20+ kids each year. With the support and blessing of my husband of seven years, I applied to work at an independent school. This position was that of a computer lab teacher and IT gal. I taught PK (that's 3 year olds - like 20 three year olds at one time in a lab full of Macintosh computers), JK (4 year olds), Sk (your normal Kindergarteners), 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the lab or classroom on their laptops. I also supported teachers, gave workshops, and did all the stuff I did when I was a CTS. The one draw back, I worked 12 months. By this time my husband found himself as an Art teacher at the high school that I graduated from and we had our second child. Being at home, by himself with our 2 girls all summer was not what we had planned our family life to be like. Summers were not what we wanted with Mommy working.

The golden opportunity arose when once again my friend Becky (whose classroom I took over when I first began teaching, and whose CTS position I filled when she left the county) was once again leaving her school to go home to her family out of state. It wasn't actually her job I took, but she helped me get this new job, where I am today, working as a Technology Specialist at one of the best elementary schools I believe there is in America. I am working at Presbyterian Day School for Boys in Memphis, TN. (Actually this is a school where I got to student teach at back in 1996 and desperately always longed to work at.) I landed this (10 month) position in 2007 and support grades 4, 5, and 6. My headmaster, Lee Burns, is one of a kind. He is visionary, and knows and supports this change in education to one that is rich in technology and completely connected globally. He has created a school where every classroom has their own laptop cart (except for PK who shares a cart between 2 connected classrooms). The school controls their filter on campus and can open or close anything that is needed online. The boys take home their laptops (MacBooks of course!) in 6th grade, and next year 5th grade will too. Every teacher has been or will be sent to Harvard to improve their teaching practices. He supports us all to grow professionally. And if there is something that we need for our teaching we pretty much get it.

Having said all that during my first year I was enrolled in Will Richardson's and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's Powerful Learning Practice Consortium. Boy I had no idea what was going to happen next. Twitter, wikis, blogs, nings, podcasts, connecting, creating, showcasing student work, web 2.0 tools, and more began flying at me at a neck breaking pace. And I loved it. I can't help it. I am a teacher by birth. What part of all this evolution of teaching is not to love? I can't get enough.

Now I participate in professional development any time I can and many times that I shouldn't. And because of the world that Lee Burns allowed me to learn from during my one year of participating in the PLP, I too have evolved. I am acting (maybe approaching even my second term) as the Memphis Area Independent Schools - Technology Education Consortium's president. I have presented at several conferences. I have attended several conferences, including looking forward to my first ISTE conference this summer (though I attended virtually last summer). I attend conferences online via backchannels, Twitter, uStream, Elluminate. I watch old archived conferences in Classroom 2.0 in my spare time, cleaning house, working in the kitchen, etc. I try to attend conversations in Twitter via #edchat every Tuesday. I have even had the awesome opportunity to attend/be apart of/support - whatever, through Tennessee's first TeachMeet. And due to the support that I have from my school, I was able to bring the technology component to that conference aiding in spreading its wealth of information to that of the virtual viewers. A small, first time conference, with a minimum budget, no conference fee reached 100 or so people F2F, but had 600 viewers watch the streamed feed and over 2000 tweets went out. Talk about taking a conference to a new level. It was thrilling!

I have not burned out. I can not get enough. And my mind hears others share their ideas, lessons, learning, and I start generating all the ways that my boys could use that tool, or ways that the teachers I work with or those that are in my PLN could benefit. Sharing and teaching go hand in hand. I am happy in the job that I chose. I am happy to be a teacher. I could not imagine doing anything more exciting, fulfilling, and meaningful. I have the support of my family and friends. I have the support and resources from the school I work at and the leaders in that school. I have the freedom to be in Beta version and try new things out. I am blessed.

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