By Alana Margeson
July was a thrilling month as Maine Teacher of the Year—it involved Bill Gates and Space Camp. My head was spinning…in part from the amount of information to be digested from a national conference on educational policy, and in part due to the multi-axis trainer at Space Camp.
The 2012 Education Commission of the States National Forum on Educational Policy was held July 9 to 11 in Atlanta, Ga. All state teachers of the year were invited this year and were generously sponsored by Pearson Foundation to attend. Keynote speakers included Bill Gates, Sandra Day O’Connor, John Merrow and Michael Fullan. Presenters from all over the world offered more than two dozen sessions, from Common Core State Standards and assessments to reinvigorating civic education.
Bill Gates requested a meeting with the state teachers of the year in attendance, asking for feedback his foundation may use centered on effective teacher evaluation as well as ways to elevate teacher voice in our nation. Hands went up. The conversation began, and an hour and a half later, with ink all over his hand (his pen had exploded, but he kept taking notes), Mr. Gates waved goodbye. It was our last session of the conference, and not a bad way to end it, I must say. To be asked for our input and to be treated as knowledgeable professionals is a critical step in re-envisioning the role of educators in our nation’s future. As I write this, I am still processing all of the information and opportunities extended at the conference.
Ten days later, I landed in Huntsville, Ala. for International Space Camp. Separated into teams, the state teachers of the year were in for a week of learning, fun and friendly competition. We were joined by our colleagues from Singapore, the Netherlands, Latvia, China, Greece and Denmark.
The inner science student was found in all of us, although the activities of the week were geared toward all content areas. Space Camp knew its audience well! The staff did an outstanding job providing us with novel information about the Space Program, the history of NASA and Space Camp, and hands-on learning activities. We were able to meet and learn from Hoot Gibson, five-time shuttle commander and pilot.
With my team, I was able to engage in competitive science experiments such as making an ablative shield, a water filtration system, a Mars rover that could withstand “impact” and a rocket. However, my favorite experiences, hands down, were our simulated missions. As a huge fan of the 80s movie Space Camp, I admit that I unabashedly channeled my inner Lea Thompson as shuttle commander. I can neither confirm nor deny that I will show up for class one day in my flight suit and refer to the main office as “CAPCOM.”
Like most Maine teachers, I am also preparing to begin a brand new school year in a few days. I struggle to put this summer’s experiences and learning into words, just as I struggle each year to make my instruction and assessment more engaging and relevant for my students. With the opportunities for change and innovation come risks and challenges. In education, we are all poised to take the next step, particularly with Common Core State Standards. Our heads may be spinning, but we have the focal point, which brings me back to Space Camp. While in the multi-axis trainer, which simulates the disorientation one would feel in a tumble spin during reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere, the trainee’s stomach remains ironically centered—no nausea or dizziness.
In a time when we may feel like trainees, remember that we have our center. We know that sound instructional practices that encourage critical thinking, multiple methods of gathering feedback for assessment, and building a safe, caring community of learning with our students and colleagues will keep us securely strapped in for anything. In the words of Kristin Shelby, the 2012 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year, “Yee-haw.”
Alana Margeson, an English teacher at Caribou High School, is Maine’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.