The 13 Faces of PA TOY 2015

Sunday December 7, 2014 

I entered the Hershey Lodge with great anticipation. I had not slept well for several nights.  As I said goodbye to my husband who was going on the tour of the Capitol, my heart rate quickened.  The adventure of PA TOY was about to begin and I wanted to run away.

Then I met Sara Jones.  Her warmth immediately set me at ease.  As she began to share stories of her school district, her Fulbright in Jordan, and the fact that she also had brought a stack of grading with her, I forgot my anxiety.  Here was a fellow traveller.

More finalists joined us and I repeatedly experienced similar feelings.  Kristen Gerhard reminded me of my favorite elementary school teacher, Miss Goldberry, my first grade teacher.  Crystal Brooks impressed me with her deep conviction that no matter how difficult the path, our students can accomplish anything.  CeCe Kapron captivated me as I watched her approach with the poise of an elite performer.  

The group grew and eventually we headed to a conference room for our first official meeting. I loved James Nagorski’s quick wit and wonderful ability to make us all laugh together.  Jim Lucot’s authentic approach to American History resounded with principles that my father, a fellow American historian, taught me. Mary Beth Yahner described her hometown so vividly that I conjured up pictures of my childhood home in a small town in rural Indiana.

Our ice breaker was followed by a sharing of teaching videos.  My amazement continued.  Dani Jo Close’s ability to engage children with a broad range of difficulties was nothing short of breathtaking.   John Grande’s connection with kids in his Spanish class was inspiring.  Jim Ciccarelli’s ability to explain the complicated world of physics, while wearing the latest in Birkenstock fashion, was remarkable.  And Holly Plummer’s weaving of music into her speech about why college students should go into education was nothing short of brilliant.

Our group was quickly coalescing, in large part due to the natural leadership, enthusiasm and talent of Emily Dickey.  It was clear that she approached this experience as she did her classroom with passion and humor. Emily had researched all of us over the summer so when she commented that there seemed to be a piece of each of us in each of the others, we knew that she right.

Monday December 8, 2014

I woke up and debated whether to wear pants and a jacket or the dress that I had purchased for the occasion.  I chose the pants.  As I walked into the lobby, the first person I saw was Emily…in the dress that I had chosen not to wear.  For the record, she wore it better.

The ceremony began with the student introductions.  How can one capture these moments?  Each student’s introduction was filled with humor, love and an obvious pride in their teacher.  With every student, I became more and more inspired.  I wanted to go back to my classroom and be these teachers.  I wanted to be better…funnier, more tenacious, more loving, more curious, more energetic…I wanted to be more.  I sat back and looked at my fellow finalists and felt a great sense of pride that I was included in their number.

So, when my name was read, I didn’t hear it. 

No single person can represent the over 120,000 teachers in Pennsylvania.  I certainly cannot.  In my mind, the Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year for 2015 is comprised of 13 faces.  For me, the face of education in Pennsylvania is reflected in each of the 13 finalists.

We have a multitude of backgrounds and interests.  We represent rural, urban and suburban school districts.  We teach everything from history to music to physics.  We teach children from age 5 to age 18.  We come from school districts that are well funded and school districts that fight for better funding.  Our schools are big, small and everything in between.

In spite of our different backgrounds, we have a lot of commonalities.  First and foremost, we love kids and we love learning.  We are curious.  We are passionate.  We are hard workers and we love to laugh.  Most of all, we love to teach.

Throughout the course of the next year, I hope that all of these teachers will be celebrated and will be asked to share their expertise.  I certainly plan on trumpeting them.