Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Be the change that you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

Dear Mr. President and Members of Congress,

My name is Suzie Lak, I am a second grade teacher at John M. Sexton Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Florida and I absolutely love my job.  I am passionate about teaching and helping to inspire young children to accomplish everything they set their minds to.  I never see a mountain too high that my children can't climb given the right tools and motivation.  My mission in life is to positively educate the youth of today, so that they may be the leaders of tomorrow.  I believe in educating children socially, emotionally, academically and ethically.  I believe that each child is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and inspiring atmosphere. I believe it is incredibly important to incorporate digital tools, speaking, listening, and writing into everyday lessons in order for children to be capable adults who can also positively impact and change the world.  I know I can continue what I do in the classroom, impact a group of children every year, and feel happy about what I do.

But I also believe there is more I can do.  Just as Mahatma Gandhi says, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world," I believe that I should live and breathe these words in order to lay the foundation and path for my students to someday follow. I think everyone knows that there needs to be a major change in education.  I agree that the Common Core State Standards are a positive shift in education.  But, I think we have miles to go to catch up to our international counterparts.  Just as our students have learning to do on a daily basis and teachers have learning to do in order to keep transforming their practice, I think the United States has learning to do change our educational system for the better.

I choose not to spend anytime complaining about the state of education.  In order to be the change, I won't dwell on what is wrong, rather focus on what I can do to make things better.  There have been several studies asked of parents about who they trust most to make educational policy, and not surprising the results show that parents trust teachers the most.  I believe this is because we are the people that most closely work with and directly impact their children; the pride and joys of their lives.  So why is it that educational policy is mostly directed by people who are not in education?  The short answer is, that is how politics work. We vote people to be in charge to make the best decisions they can make.  I don't fault politicians for not fully understanding education, as it is those of us who have lived and breathed pedagogy (the science and art of education); those of us who have received our college degree in teaching, advanced our education in a variety of ways and continue to be involved in Professional Development to be the best teachers we can be on a daily basis.

So why don't we work together to make these decisions?  I firmly believe this is the only way to make a complete educational shift in the United States.  Here is my plan.  I think that every politician should pair up with a teacher.  If every politician in local, state and national government had a teacher companion, there would be an alliance between government and education. There are many wonderful teachers from across the country who would love to open up classrooms to share the "behind the scenes" of what goes on in the education world.  For as much as I have thought about leaving the classroom to work on educational policy, I can tell you that my heart just cannot leave.  I wake up every morning with a smile on my face because I know that I have a classroom full of seven and eight year old children who depend on me.  They crave knowledge and want to know the answers to all questions in the world, and I strive to guide them along this path.  But why should I have to leave the classroom to do what it is I really want to do?  I think if educators who are truly passionate about teaching are able to stay in the classroom and help make change, it would be in the best interest of everyone. 

What I ask from you Mr. President and esteemed members of Congress, is to come into our classrooms.  Visit a classroom on a consistent basis and learn about what is important in the world of education.  Come shadow a teacher for a day, in order to help make informed decisions when educational policy discussions happen.  We can share our gift of the love of teaching with you. I believe this is when you will see what is important, what is going well, and what changes can be made.  We can form a bond and you can come to us with your questions and ideas for us to help.  And believe me, I don't think I have all the answers.  But I'm willing to spend my time trying to find them.  I believe I have so much to learn in the world of education.  But I am passionate about education and I want to continue to learn what is best for children.

So I pledge this...I promise to continue learning about education and educating myself on a daily basis. I promise to put my heart and soul into education, not for a paycheck, but for the belief in a wonderfully educated future for all children. I promise to continue finding the most top-notch educational organizations to be a part of.  I will spend my time reading professional articles about education, learning from other educators, and being involved in collegial conversations about education.  I will work with the changing shifts of education and spend my nights and weekends planning lessons that will make an impact o my students. I will reflect on my teaching and make necessary changes.  I will differentiate what I am doing in the classroom in order to help all students succeed.  I will keep up my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification and follow their guiding principles in order to advance the quality of teaching and learning and help advance all students learning and achievement.  I will work with the National Writing Project and share their mission to improve writing and learning for all learners.  I will attend national conferences which will inform my instruction and help transform my teaching.  I will put in all the legwork of learning and keeping up with every shift and change in education. 

Here is all I ask of you. Please come visit my classroom.  Please visit other educators' classrooms across the country and engage in conversations about what is best for children.   Find an educator that you can continuously talk with, share ideas, ask questions and get suggestions from.  Let us do the legwork. Please don't have those of us who are incredibly passionate about education feel like we have to leave the classroom to make a difference.  Let us make a difference by staying in the classroom and doing what we love to do. Please work with us so we may all "Be the change that you wish to see in the world!" 


2012 Donald H. Graves National Writing Award Winner (NCTE)
2011 Tampa Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant and Leadership Council Member
2010 National Board Certified Teacher in Middle Childhood Generalist

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Nationally Board Certified...and Proud!

Yesterday was Saturday.  It should have been my weekend day, my time away from teaching and my job....but instead I set my alarm for 6 am ready to spend a day at the Florida National Board Summit.  You see, back in 2009, Cheryl (my assistant principal) said to me, "Suzie, you need to go through National Board Certification.  It is the best experience you will have as a teacher."  Cheryl had gone through her National Board Certification several years before, and she seemed to see in me many of the same traits.  After a few conversations, I agreed this would be a great idea.  At that time, I only knew a little bit of what I was getting myself into.  I mean, I had already completed my Masters in Elementary Education in one year, and had been teaching for four years. I knew that I needed something to further myself as an educator, but before I talked to Cheryl, I wasn't sure exactly what that would be.  I was frustrated by the trainings offered in my district.  The trainings where I would sit for about 3 hours and listen to a great idea to implement.  The problem was, they were great ideas, but while sitting, I didn't feel as if I was improving my craft and making changes in my classroom.  So when I looked at the National Board website, I found an organization that I believed the process would change my teaching forever.  The day I decided to go for my National Board Certification is the start of where my life as a transformed educator truly began. 

I realized at the time that going through National Board Certification would be a time commitment, just wasnt sure exactly how much! I also knew it would be a monetary commitment, since it cost $2500 to receive this certification.  Thank goodness the state of Florida had a Dale Hickam Grant which would cover half of my expenses. An even bigger thank you goes to my parents who wanted to help support my dreams and ambitions and helped with the fees involved. I am forever grateful to have parents who have always believed in me and wanted me to reach every goal I have set for myself.  As the process began, I realized that going through National Board Certification would be my life for about six-nine months.  I would eat, breath, teach and work on my National Boards. Throughout that year there would be many sleepless nights, days when I thought my computer was attached to me, and fun times that everyone around me seemed to be enjoying while I would be working, writing, and thinking about my teaching.  I even had to take a season off of kickball, my favorite grown-up sport which I played year round since moving to Florida.  This was a huge sacrifice for me.  In some of those sleepless nights, I wanted to give up and go back to normal life.  But even more, I wanted to accomplish what I set my mind to, being a National Board Certified Teacher.

Planning my lessons, creating my units, integrating my curriculum and realizing my successes and even more importantly, focusing on my weaknesses I consistently worked to improve my instruction in the classroom.  It takes a reflective practitioner who is able to constantly reflect, change, and improve to be a National Board Certified Teacher.  What I learned during that year, is that teaching is always evolving and changing and I need to evolve and change with it.  I need to reflect on everything I do, think about what I did well, and what I can do better.  Then I need to make those changes.  I will never think I know how to do everything.   I can thank NBPTS for all of these lessons.  Which is one of the reasons why now, as education is changing and transforming, I am ready for the task and feeling confident in myself.  I know that I can learn and apply the Common Core State Standards, as I see the huge benefit in this shift in education.  I adapt to the needs of my students and differentiate my instruction to help my students achieve success daily. 

During the certification process, I could not have survived without the help of some really important people.  Cheryl Maggio, my inspiration for going through National Boards helped me every step of the way.  She read, read, and read my pages of writing and spent her free time helping me (and she had very little free time, so I cannot thank her enough). My mom, an amazing educator, whom I always aspired to be like, was just a phone call and computer away.  I was able to call her daily and bounce ideas and get support. She was a supporter, helper, friend and also an editor to all my work.  A co-worker, Stephenie, even volunteered her time to read my work and help me revise, and helped me tremendously as she was a fourth grade teacher and we buddied our classrooms together (2nd and 4th) for some of my activities.  She was always ready to support me when I needed it. There was even a weekend "Editing Party" where people came over to read and give suggestions before I sent off the box.  During that party, when I ran out of ink again and again, my sister Jenn was a life-saver who would run back and forth to her house and print more pages for me.  She helped so much by reading and giving the non-educator view on my work.  Every person involved, I am forever thankful for their support.  I will never forget the day I sent off my box, after checking it once-twice-three times...okay who am I kidding, I am pretty sure I checked through everything about 100 times before bringing it to the Post Office.  I felt as if I was sending my life away.  I cried, at the Post Office, feeling so silly that I couldn't control my emotions. But I knew that I was shipping off my blood, sweat, and tears for others to critique.  I knew I had to trust in the process.  When I went to do the writing portion of test, I had more confidence since I was only two years out of my Masters Comps and having taken the GRE and receiving the highest score of 6 on my writing, I had the confidence that I would be successful.  But then, the waiting game came and seemed to last forever.

It was amazing to me that the day finally came when I would find out my results.  And truthfully, the day it happened, I didn't even know it was happening until a co-worker said, "Did you look at your score? Did you pass?"  I was at school, and I couldn't believe the scores were ready.  I wanted to know, but I was so afraid that I would not pass.  They say that it can take three years to pass, and to be prepared for this.  So I walked up to my computer and put in my Candidate ID #.  I started to shake and the tears started flowing again, as I was waiting to see my results.  Time seemed to freeze as I finally arrived on the screen that said, "Congratulations, you are a National Board Certified Teacher."  I sat and stared and felt a combination of relief and jubuliance.  I was once again very emotional (okay, I am a girl, it happens to the best of us!).  I was beyond proud, and that is a moment I will never forget.  I knew that my life as an educator was forever changed. Not because of the certification, but because of the journey I took and the transformation of my teaching. 

That was in 2010, and I have since gone on with my teaching and made a lot of forward movement.  The next summer I went through the Tampa Bay Area Writing Project, and then last year worked through my application for the Donald H. Graves Excellence in Improvement of Student Writing.  I have always applied every strategy, especially the importance of reflection, which I learned through my National Board Certification process.  But I haven't been able to stay as active with other NBPTS certified teachers and I felt disconnected to other like-minded educators who went through the process just like me. 

So when I saw that there would be a Florida National Board Summit on Saturday, May 4th, I was very excited to sign up and be involved. I was very enthusiastic to see what this experience would be like.  And I found everything I was hoping for. I found other educators, passionate about teaching, learning and National Board Certification.  We had a great meeting, which is the first of many I hope.  What I will take with me as I move forward is, I should be proud to be a NBCT.  I need to add it to my signature line on my e-mail, on my business card, and I want to let other educators know how wonderful and transformative this organization is.  I realized ways I can advocate for education in a variety of ways.  I felt welcomed and secure in a place where teachers are talking about positive changes in education and ways that teachers can feel empowered.  I learned that parents have the most confidence in the teachers to make the educational policy, and our voice needs to be heard. These are things that I might have realized in the past, but I feel even stronger and more confident now.  I learned that we all have a story, the wonderful stories of the students we have impacted and how important it is to share those stories and believe in the difference that we make every day.

Even though I set my alarm for 6 am on a Saturday, I would do it again in a heartbeat to continue working with educators with visions and ideas for transforming education, the importance of our profession, and to help National Board Certification be something that every teacher strives for and works toward in their career. I want to make an impact in education and help make the changes to education which will change our students' lives of today and in the future!

I am a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, and I am Proud!!

A picture from Florida National Board Summit on May 4, 2013

My National Board Certificate

National Board Certified Teacher in Middle Childhood Generalist 2010
Tampa Bay Area Writing Project Teacher Consultant 2011/Leadership Council Member
Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing National Winner (NCTE)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Common Core Classroom Video...What Parents Need to Know

Early on this school year, my county asked me to share what I was doing with the Common Core Standards in the classroom. They came and visited, filming my students and asking me a series of questions (along with a middle school educator, a district staff member, and a parent whom I have had both her son and daughter for the past two years).  Common Core is really changing the way we teach in the classroom on a daily basis.  Although the lesson I was teaching that day, Non-Fiction Text Features: Glossary was only a small piece of common core instruction, it provided a great basis in October for my students to understand and apply the standards as my students are both reading and writing. 
New State Standards coming to Pinellas County schools. Common Core in my Classroom
About this video
"Beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, all Florida Schools, including those in within the Pinellas County School District, will use a new system to evaluate students. Common Core State Standards will replace the current Sunshine State Standards, as well as FCAT. District staff is working hard to make sure the transition is smooth for students, staff and parents. The Common Core Standards encourages students to take a more active role in their education. The new assessments will help educators and the students themselves, compare their progress with other students around the nation. The standards will help students read, understand and write answers questions, regardless of subject." Shared from