Monday, September 22, 2014

On Feral Hogs and Corpse Flowers...


I spent three summers in Connecticut and learned:
  • The best deli is Rein's.
  • Feral hogs in Texas are capable of killing me.
  • The corpse flower is not something to cultivate at home.
  • The Dairy Bar needs to be located 6 hours from my house to avoid overdosing on ice cream.
  • The movie Bad Teacher was aptly named.  (And you could drop the word Teacher from the title).
  • Women who have been out of college for more than half their lives can still hold their own in dormitory living.
The Te@chthought blog prompt for the #reflectiveteacher challenge today lets me celebrate my UCONN Cohort.

Day 22

What does your PLN look like, and what does it to for your teaching?


 I was hired as the "Teacher of the Gifted" in 1999.  To be honest, my knowledge at that time about gifted education was pretty much the on the job training I had received as the primary teacher (aka parent) of an identified gifted child.  Fortunately for me, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania didn't seem to mind that I had no qualifications, other than an elementary education teaching certificate, and so I gained the title.  I did what I could to seek out in-service and graduate class opportunities that seemed to relate to the needs of the G & T (Gifted and Talented) population, but the offerings were pretty sparse.

The fine folks at the University of Pennsylvania offered a 12 credit Leadership Certificate in Gifted Education, and I jumped.  It was 2005, and  I was able to connect with other Teachers of the Gifted -- which was a luxury for me, as I was the only TOG in my district -- and understand a bit more about testing, what makes "THEM" tick, and how to understand the twice-exceptional, the OCD, the perfectionists, and other alphabet soup style acronyms that many gifted kids possess.  That cohort was largely made up of other Pennsylvania teachers, and we still gravitate to each other at conferences -- some of us even collaborate and present at conferences for other teachers -- both as a means to connect, and to reflect upon the good old days.

Fast forward to the best thing that happened to my Teacher of the Gifted self -- the discovery of the University of Connecticut (UCONN), the mega-capital of gifted education.  I discovered that I could complete a masters degree in three summers through a combination of online and on-campus classes.  I truly learned as much about myself as I did about gifted education.

UCONN is a magical place for me where everyone speaks my language of gifted, and no one grumbles about education. No one says "I can't believe (insert under-performing student's name here) is GIFTED!  He/She does NOTHING in my class!"   Instead, it's upbeat and positive.  Instead, it's wonderful and supportive.  Instead, it's a place to meet a cohort of people that validate and support you, that have your back when you don't realize you've lost it, and that you truly grieve the loss of when you have to say sobbing goodbyes in a parking lot along the Willimantic River on a Sunday afternoon.

These people (pictured above following the dreaded "Supercomp" exam required at the culmination of our degree process) are my Professional Learning Network. They live all over the country -- literally from coast to coast.  (Carrie is on Bainbridge Island, and Nina's hanging at MIT right now.)   I am a better teacher -- and a better person -- for having had the privilege of meeting and studying with these educators.  We have each other on speedial, we know where the experts are, and we cheer each other on as we attempt new things.  We go out of our way to connect with each other, just because we need our fix.  We connect on facebook on our own private page almost daily with questions and answers, and cheers of support. 

If you haven't worked with a cohort on a shared passion, find one and do it.  Today.  You will be a better person for having made the effort, and the world will shine a bit brighter for the extra light in your life.