Saturday, March 3, 2012

My Mentor, My Friend

My first year teaching English at my present school was almost my last year of teaching. I came from a smaller private school where the teachers and administrators were kind, considerate, helpful, and gracious. At the private school we collaborated on a daily basis. The time to collaborate wasn't worked into our day; we made time whenever and wherever we could. We shared new ideas, asked questions of each other, and most importantly we trusted one another. We wanted to be the best teachers we could possibly be, and we wanted to help each other to reach that goal. This community of educators taught me what it was like to be part of a team, part of a family. Sadly, I had a difficult time making ends meet while teaching at this school and moved on to my current school.

During my first year at my current school, I was teaching five sections consisting of sophomore honors English, senior college prep English, and yearbook. I was also the advisor for the fall play and coaching JV cheerleading. Whew! What a new teacher won't do.

MaryJo, a cutting edge veteran teacher, saw that I could use some help. She approached me saying, "I would be more than happy to answer questions for you or help you in whatever way I can. Just so you know. I'm the black sheep of the family around here, and it might come back to bite you in the end." That was the day I became a black sheep too. Baaa! Baaa!

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MaryJo and I worked together that first year discussing curriculum, assessment, project ideas,... We shared our ups and downs in the classroom. From there we began teaching some of the same classes and worked together on curriculum maps and team teaching. We wrote curriculum maps for our courses, taught the lessons, and discussed what happened in our classrooms. We had great conversations reflecting on our teaching methods and the curriculum. What worked? What didn't work? How can we make this better for next year's kids?

We went to annual conferences and classes together: OCTELA (The Ohio Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts), Young Adult Literature, Wordpress for online school newspapers, NCTE (National Council of Teacher of English), MOWP (The MidOhio Writing Project), and NWP (The National Writing Project). I'm sure there's more, but you get the picture. After several years of going to these conferences to gain ideas to use in our classrooms, we began to present our own classroom ideas that were successful.

MaryJo and I became our own professional team. We wanted to be the best teachers we could be to help our students succeed. What I left behind and missed so much from the private school, I found in a black sheep named MaryJo. We have learned so much together over the course of 13 years. We've built a strong friendship.

On Wednesday, MaryJo retired. She taught k-12 for over 40 years. We threw a small surprise retirement party for her during lunch on her last day. It was difficult collecting donations from fellow teachers and administrators since MaryJo and I are almost always together. With the donations I was able to purchase several gifts for her. I also baked her favorite dessert, red velvet cake.

At our school we have a tradition of giving a wooden replica of the building signed by teachers and administrators. It's sitting in front of the flowers and cake.

MaryJo opens her first gift. It's a Kindle. She LOVES to read, but has run out of shelf room for her books.

This tote bag will come in handy when traveling to visit her grandchildren. She also received a matching wallet and Kindle cover.

Finally, MaryJo received a beautiful handmade quilt from one of our fellow teachers. This has also become a tradition in our building.

I'm going to miss MaryJo, my neighbor, my mentor, my friend. We would pop in and out of each other's rooms to share a new idea, a book, or ask a question. MaryJo, Mr. P, and I met each morning before school outside of Mr. P's classroom door to help "hold down the fort" in our hallway. Each day after school we'd sit in one or the other's classroom and share our day. We've had some of the same thoughts and finished each other's sentences.

Thank you, MaryJo. 
Baaaaa! Baaaaa!

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