Monday, February 4, 2013

Teachers Change Lives...They Changed Mine!

How can I even begin to write about a week that has forever changed my life? I’m an English teacher and a reader. Words are my friends; they never fail me. Somehow, though, I can’t even begin to put into words what the past week has been in my life, or what it will be to me in three weeks, three months, or three years. However, I have to try. I have to try for the sake of this blog and because I don’t want to lose this feeling I have right now. From Tuesday to Sunday, I was surrounded by our nation’s greatest teachers. I attended the National Teacher of the Year Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where the temperature was 76 degrees, the sunshine was plentiful, and the people were inspiring. And what did I think the entire time? Someone got it wrong. There was no way that I was a teacher equal with any of these people.

I assure you that I don’t say that because I want your pity or your comments that you think I am deserving. I say that because it’s a real and genuine emotion I experienced, and as I talked more and more with the other teachers, I realized I was not alone. Each person in the room had an amazing story to tell, all woven together with the stories of lackluster childhoods, life-changing students, and ominous obstacles that they had overcome so courageously. And while we each had these incredible stories of how we ended up in our classrooms, I also noticed something else we all had in common. On average, we could each name a handful of teachers that we felt were just as deserving of this honor as our own selves.

As the 2010 National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, introduced one of the finalists for National Teacher of the Year at our final banquet, we all stood to applaud and cheer on one of our own. When Sarah went back to the microphone, she said, “Every teacher deserves a standing ovation.” I am compelled to agree with her. I wish that each and every teacher could experience what I’ve enjoyed this year. I wish they could all walk into crowded rooms and be respected immediately…simply because they give of their lives every day for the sake of educating others. I want other people to want to hear their stories and to stand up and clap wildly when they tell them “why” they teach.

This week, I meet many teachers who I will forever aspire to be like. I met Lauren, a high school English teacher who teaches at Georgia’s Academy for the Blind, making her the only teacher who teaches her subject matter to that distinct population in her entire state. She is passionate, speaking out proudly for the children she teaches and demanding that people treat them with dignity and respect. I met Stacey, Mississippi’s Teacher of the Year, who teaches students with special needs who chooses to fully immerse her class in her school, with them participating in Homecoming events and spa nights. She has not only changed the lives of her own students, but she has altered the lives and the beliefs of every other child who attends her school. Because of Stacey, and her teaching approach, all the students understand humanity and what it means to treat others with respect and kindness. I met Alex, a pre-kindergarten teacher from Florida whose face lights up when he talks about the children in his class. He refers to the students’ families as “my families,” and talks about how difficult it is to be away from them. I met teachers from every single state, the Department of Defense, DC, American Samoa, and Saipan, who all go into their classrooms every single day and do what they do because they believe in children. They give this profession their all, and sometimes, they get little in return.

As I’ve been mentored through this journey this year, I have been reminded at every turn that this did not happen by accident, that my position as South Carolina’s Teacher of the Year is a “divine appointment.” I have not been convinced. You know how the second guessing goes…I could always name someone more qualified with better ideas, better speaking abilities, and just better in general. I don’t know that I will ever not think those thoughts. During one of the presentations, we received “Words of Wisdoms” from Teachers of the Year from preceding classes. This advice from Mary Schlieder grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go: “I'd tell them that they ARE worthy of this honor. Teachers tend to be a humble lot. And when they come together with 54 other incredibly talented people, it's common to feel something like "Someone made a mistake. I SURELY don't belong here." Well, yes, you do. Don't dwell on any inadequacies you may have as a teacher. We are confronted with these inadequacies daily in the classroom. Each and every one of us. Instead, be proud and aware of your strengths and use this platform to grow and to in turn become an even better teacher, advocate, and human being. Enjoy the journey!” Sitting in the ballroom in Arizona, surrounded by passion for students and this profession, I realized I am happy to be in this place. It’s not all roses or sunshine, but it has been the most incredible opportunity, and as a member of the State Teacher of the Year Class of 2013, I can say that my life has begun to be forever changed...for the better.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

131 Books in 2012

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a reader. I remember going on trips with my parents when I was a little girl and having my floorboard piled with books that would inevitably be read by the time we got to our vacation destination. As an English major in college, my “pleasure reading” took a backseat to assigned readings that I wasn’t always overjoyed about reading, but after graduating, I returned to reading with a vengeance. Three years ago, a few of my students got into a conversation about how many books they thought I read in a year, and I realized that I had never actually tracked that. Using Shelfari (a website sponsored by, I have tracked my reading for the past two years. Each year, I set a reading goal. The first year of tracking, the goal was 100 books. I think I finished up with 104 that year. This past year, my goal was 120, and at the end of the year, I’d read 131. This year, my goal will be 150. Let’s hope I reach it.

Quite a few people have asked about the books I read in 2012. I am posting my list here, but I want to express that not all of the books are great. That’s what happens when we read. If you haven’t already, you need to read Wonder by RJ Palacio and The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Both are excellent.

Books Read in 2012:

1: Wither

2: Ten Things We Did

3: The Mockingbirds

4: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour

5: The Declaration

6: Enclave

7: LoveSick

8: Providence

9: The Peach Keeper

10: Requiem

11: Beautiful Disaster

12: Entwined

13: Flat-Out Love

14: Torn to Pieces

15: Relatively Famous

16: Need

17: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

18: Dirty little secrets

19: Beyond Belief

20: The Shattering

21: Captivate

22: Beautiful

23: Anna Dressed in Blood

24: The Fault in Our Stars

25: The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer

26: The Fox Inheritance

27: Before I Fall

28: How to Save a Life

29: Blood on My Hands

30: Wish You Were Dead

31: Hatteras Girl

32: Rain Song

33: How Sweet It Is

34: Restorations

35: Almost Home

36: To Win Her Heart

37: A Billion Reasons Why

38: Broken Laces

39: Simon's Choice

40: For Now And Always (Stevens Island)

41: A Friendly Arrangement

42: Between Shades of Gray

43: Insurgent

44: Just Like That

45: Eden

46: HELPER12

47: The Resistance

48: Annexed

49: Epic Fail

50: The Mind Readers

51: Scars

52: Moving Neutral

53: A Little Piece of Sky

54: The List

55: Almost Perfect

56: Zelah Green Queen of Clean

57: Everybody Sees the Ants

58: Easy

59: A Long Walk to Water

60: Slammed

61: Point of Retreat

62: Between the Lines

63: Where You Are

64: Pulled

65: Take This Regret

66: Wonder

67: The Boy Who Sneaks in my Bedroom Window

68: Almost

69: See You at Harry's

70: Roadside Assistance

71: Hooked

72: Thoughtless

73: The Earth, My Butt, & Other Big Round Things

74: Nineteen Minutes

75: Effortless

76: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

77: Eli the Good

78: Waiting

79: Bitter End

80: Why We Broke Up

81: Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls

82: Falling Under

83: Shatter Me

84: Paradise

85: Sister Wife

86: The Ghost and the Goth

87: Queen of the Dead

88: The Selection

89: Girl in the Arena

90: Body & Soul

91: Lola and the Boy Next Door

92: Fools Rush In

93: Dry as Rain

94: Swinging on a Star

95: What She Left Behind

96: Made to Crave

97: It Had to Be You

98: Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions

99: Gone Girl

100: One Perfect Day: A Novel

101: A Great and Terrible Beauty

102: The Bridge

103: Rebel Angels

104: Learning

105: Leaving (Bailey Flanigan Series)

106: Longing

107: Loving

108: Blackberry Winter

109: I'm Not Her

110: If I Tell

111: Catching Jordan

112: Stealing Parker

113: Unmaking Hunter Kennedy

114: The Perfect Game

115: Favorite

116: Chance Encounters

117: The Truth About Faking

118: Girl Over the Edge

119: The Cardturner

120: The Edge of Never

121: Crazy Little Thing

122: The Pact

123: One Pink Line

124: From Ashes

125: Hopeless

126: Tidal

127: Ten Tiny Breaths

128: Devoured

129: The Coincidence of Callie and Kayden

130: One for the Murphys

131: Beneath a Meth Moon

*Starting 2013 off right!*

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I'm Slack...I Know

How have I not blogged since Halloween? I know that you all will forgive me because most of the people who read my blog, with the exception of my family (Hi, Mom, Dad, and Nanny!) are teachers, so you know and understand that teachers are busy people. The past two months have flown by in a whirlwhind, and now I'm standing here in 2013, wondering where the last year went!

In October, my Teacher of the Year adventures took me to Notre Dame for the Excellence in Teaching Conference. My mom traveled with me, and it is a trip we will always remember, and I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity. Notre Dame in October was beautiful, and the speaker, Ann Anzalone, was fascinating. Everything she said made perfect sense, and I found myself asking why we still do things in education that we KNOW don't work.

Since then, I've traveled a good bit, talking with Teacher Cadets, Teaching Fellows, and some really awesome educators. I wanted to take a minute to tell you about one.

There's an internet meme going around that showcases what teachers think they do, what society thinks teachers do, what teachers' families think they do, etc. You can see it here, just in case you haven't already.

Our profession is definitely a unique one. Some people think we do this for summers off, for the "great" retirement or benefits, or for the easy hours. While we're at work, there are people who think we sing songs or make bulletin boards or read fun picture books all day. I say it all the time to Teacher Cadets or education major or underappreciated teachers, but people who follow that train of thought aren't worth the breath it would take me to argue with them. Teachers do so much more every single day.

I am fortunate because I have had some phenomenal teachers, and now, I know really great teachers that give it their all in their classrooms every single day. A few weeks before Christmas, one of my friends who teaches kindergarten at a local public school posted on her Facebook that one of her students was not going to have a Christmas. The child's mother has an illness that lands her in the hospital sporadically, so holding a job isn't an option for her. My friend, her teacher, had a business who said they would sponsor the child for Christmas, but a few weeks before the holiday, they said they couldn't. Many people would have been upset, and that would have been the end of it. They might have tried to get a few things for the child and called it a day, but remember, my friend is a TEACHER. A teacher who didn't enter the profession for money, or vacation, or retirement, or accolades. She became a teacher because her heart is the size of Texas. She became a teacher because a child not having gifts to open at Christmas wasn't an option for her. So she did what many of us do, she went to Facebook, and simply let people know the situation. According to her, gifts came pouring in. Additionally, her student had always wanted to be a Girl Scout, but that costs money. Money that the little girl's family didn't have. Again, her teacher wrote a letter to the Girl Scout headquarters, explaining the situation, and they donated a "scholarship" to her...all because her teacher cared. My husband and I gave a few gifts to help out, and this week, we got the most precious card that my friend and the little girl had made with pictures of her opening her gifts. I was immediately so thankful that God had placed both of them in that classroom in August. I am convinced that they needed each other, and that's the way it is for so many of us and our kids.

As teachers, we play many different roles, but none of them are as important as the role we play as people who care about kids. Whether it's as big and noteworthy as making sure they have Christmas, or as simple as making sure they get a smile or a positive word from us in a day, we are important. We can't ever forget that or let anything diminish it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Caught in a Whirlwind

Okay, so I haven’t been doing that great with the blogging here lately. I think I just fell into a blogging rut, or maybe it’s because I’ve been super busy. Whatever the case, I’m glad you’re still reading, and I’m sorry about the delay.

It’s currently Halloween. I’m sitting in a hotel in Aiken with the greatest mother on the planet…mine, in case you were wondering, and I’m oohing and aahing over Facebook pictures of babies and toddlers dressed up in their Halloween best. Halloween is so not my favorite holiday, but at least the kids are cute.

Where have I been since October 3, 2012? If it’s in South Carolina, it feels like I’ve been there! In 67 miles, my BMW will have hit 15,000, and then it’s time to trade it in. I’ve driven it to Charleston a ton, to Columbia, to Spartanburg, to Rock Hill, to Myrtle Beach, and Aiken. I’ve also been to Notre Dame, but I didn’t drive there.

Regional Teacher Forums have been keeping me busy, and y’all, I really thought that my District Teacher of the Year class was as good as it got. They are really just all top-notch people who I absolutely love, but these new District Teachers of the Year are giving us a run for our money. They are incredible and come to our meetings with such passion and phenomenal stories. I wish you could meet them all, but at least Todd takes some great pictures for us!

So far, we’ve been to the Lowcountry (where I ate the best fried chicken in the world), the Midlands (where we watched a group of 12 adults struggle to lower a tent pole to the ground), and to the Pee Dee (where I felt at home because I live and teach there). Tomorrow, we’ll be with the Savannah River group, and in two weeks, we’ll finish up in the Upstate. My teacher forum regional tour will be over, but I will have met some great people along the way.

In the midst of all that (because my schedule simply was not full enough), I attended the Teacher Cadet Fall Renewal Conference in Myrtle Beach and spent a deliciously cold weekend at Notre Dame. I will write more about those later because each deserves its own post, but I’ll try to do it in a more timely fashion.

My apologies for a post that’s all over the place, but that’s the story of my life these days!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

A Fabulous Teacher, A Fabulous Idea

A while back when my husband and I were in the midst of packing up my classroom, I blogged that I thought this whole Teacher of the Year experience was a little bittersweet. Honestly, there are days I still feel that way. There are days when I long to get up and go see my sweet students and get them all riled up about the injustices of To Kill a Mockingbird or shed tears with them as we get to the end of Tuesdays with Morrie. Sometimes I just feel an ache deep in my chest, and I need to be around kids. Thankfully, I have been fortunate enough lately to be invited to quite a few schools. Actually, I might have invited myself, but please don’t tell my momma because she always said that was very rude!
I got to reunite with my Third Block Fam at Homecoming! Love, love, love my precious students!

Last week, the day after my trip to Georgetown High School, I was able to visit Mayo High School in Darlington. In case you’re not from this area, Mayo is a public high school that gears instruction toward math, science, and technologies, and it is home to some phenomenal students, teachers, and programs. Additionally, it is home to one of my most influential teachers. If you’ve heard me speak, you know that I had a great English teacher when I was in tenth grade. Her name is Josie Stratton, and I always tell my audience that she was loud. After my recent visit with her, I will maintain that as the truth.

The infamous Josie Stratton!

I’ve always been a reader since way back in second grade when Mrs. Pam brought books to life for me. However, I don’t think I ever really appreciated more challenging literature until Mrs. Stratton’s class. She is by far one of the most brilliant individuals I know, yet as my teacher, she established a community of learners, and that community included her. She never just stood at the front of the room and imparted her knowledge (of which she has plenty), but she made us think critically, asking those “how and why” questions and refusing to give answers! She sat down and learned alongside us, and she made such an impression on me. Just as a fun side note, when I was named Teacher of the Year and it aired on the local news that night, her daughter said, “Momma! It’s your Amy!” Precious, isn’t it?

On my visit to Mayo and Mrs. Stratton the other day, I got to visit with the Teacher Cadets. They were amazing and extremely ambitious. They don’t all want to teach, but teaching isn’t for everyone. However, I think it’s important that students experience Teacher Cadet so we can grow advocates for public education. So these kids, y’all, when they’re operating on hearts or premature babies, they will definitely be rooting for what we do in our classrooms every day. And since they’ll be making the big bucks, maybe they’ll fund some DonorsChoose projects for us, too!

I didn’t go to Mayo on just any day. Eleven years ago, Mrs. Stratton started this community/school event she called Novel Tea. Students read a contemporary young adult book and select an adult who will read the book along with them. On the day of Novel Tea, students decorate tables according to their books, and the adults (mostly parents, but not all) come in and discuss the book with them for about 45 minutes. Originally, they served tea, like hot tea…and cookies! The event is too big for that now, but the participants still get lemonade and homemade cookies. Apparently, the red velvet ones were exquisite! On this day, they had 87 students registered to discuss books with adults. It was amazing! I wish there were another word that trumped amazing, but I can’t think of one. For about 45 minutes, I heard adults discussing books and literary elements with their students. Some of the kids went all out with their tables. One group of guys read Ghosts of War: The True Story of a 19-Year-Old GI, and in order to get supplies for their table, they went to the army surplus store. They had real uniforms, face paint, and MRE’s that they actually cooked!

I was so very impressed by the involvement of both the students and their parents/adult readers, but I wasn’t surprised that this phenomenal idea was born from the brain of Josie Stratton. I’ve been in awe of her since I was 15!

Invite me to your schools! I miss kids! And my mommma said not to invite myself!

Monday, October 1, 2012

I Became a Bulldog...But Only for a Day!

I am currently writing this post as I sit in the back of an English II Honors class at Georgetown High School watching one of the most phenomenal educators I know get her students to discuss their biases and the lens through which they view the world. And the conversation is so interesting. Somehow, she makes them think deeply, yet they appreciate the differences of their peers. I want to teach like Kristi Squires when I grow up! Today, I have been a Georgetown Bulldog, and it has been a great experience.

It took me a while to find Georgetown High School. I had the address and when I went to enter it in my GPS, the street on which the school is located did not exist according to my BMW GPS. However, I discovered that if you see WalMart, you're close, so I found my way and was only a few minutes behind schedule.

This might be an appropriate time to review that I teach at Johnsonville High School in Florence District 5, home of the Flashes and only three schools: one elementary, one middle, and one high school. And I love it! There is something about a smalltown school like mine. Each year, approximately 425 students enroll in the high school, and by the end of the year, you are able to know all the faces and most of the names.

When I got to Georgetown High, I couldn't get in! I tried every single one of the locked six doors in the front before I realized there was a button I had to press to buzz the office so I could come in. They don't play in Georgetown. That is some high tech stuff! I think it's great that schools have moved to these more protective measures to protect students and staff, but I did feel kind of dumb for having tried every door when the buzzer was clearly marked.

During my day as a Bulldog, Mary Ann Owens let me spend some time talking to the GHS Teacher Cadets. I asked how many of them really planned to teach as a career. I was stunned when almost every single person in the class raised his or her hand. I'm sure this has a lot to do with the great instruction they receive courtesy of Mrs. Owens, but this simple fact put me on Cloud Nine. From there, we talked about the ways the media distorts the reality of South Carolina public education, read The Curious Garden, and talked about the various strengths we can bring to the table as leaders. And y'all know something? I have a good feeling about these Teacher Cadets. In my brief time with them today, I found that they get leadership. They know that it's important to listen and problem-solve and bring compassion to the table. They also recognize the need for dedication in good leaders. They will all impact the world somehow.

So far, I've had a lot of fun experiences as South Carolina's Teacher of the Year, but my favorites so far are the times I've spent at schools. I have a goal to visit every district in the state by May 1st! Invite me to yours!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Last Friday, my momma and I ventured to Beaufort County for the district’s Teacher of the Year breakfast. First of all, I had never been to Beaufort, but thanks to Pat Conroy, as we passed the signs for various places, I felt like I knew them all. The area was absolutely gorgeous, and so the trip would have been a treat all in its own purely considering the aesthetic value of our surroundings, but we got to enjoy so much more than pretty scenery.

Beaufort County exceeds expectations when it comes to celebrating their teachers. At this Teacher of the Year breakfast, all of the School Teachers of the Year were honored. And it was obvious to me that the district administration really understands the role of the District Teacher of the Year in establishing a district forum and taking on some additional leadership throughout the year.

Christine Gray, Beaufort's 2012 Teacher of the Year

The breakfast was held at the Callawassie Island Country Club, and had we not needed to get back, I would have loved to spend the day exploring this gorgeous area. It was so very beautiful. As part of the morning entertainment, two music groups from the schools were there. I listened as a high school strings group played with amazing talent and skill; they sounded like professionals! Another high school’s chorus came to sing two songs, and they were absolutely amazing. By the end of their second song, I was in tears! I love seeing student groups perform and a district taking pride in what their students can do.

I was able to sit with one of the finalists for District Teacher of the Year, Jennifer Weitekamper. It was obvious from our conversation that she is a phenomenal teacher who is passionate about what she does in her classroom. Her husband attended the breakfast with her and was so proud of her accomplishments. It’s nice to make new teaching friends all over the state.

Jennifer Weitekamper

After a delicious breakfast and some words of inspiration from various people, Erin Reichert of Bluffton High School was named as the new Beaufort County District Teacher of the Year and given the keys to a 2013 BMW to sport for the year, courtesy of Hilton Head BMW. Erin teaches AP U.S. History, Sociology, Youth in Government, Economics, and U.S. Government, and she is an educator who takes her role beyond the four walls of her classroom. She is a teacher leader who goes above and beyond expectations, and I look forward to getting to know her through our forum events this year!

Beaufort's Teachers of the Year, and 2013 District Teacher of the Year, Erin Reichert, front and center!

Congratulations to all the Beaufort County Teachers of the Year, and thank you for what you do for children.