Wednesday, December 27, 2006

And So It Begins...

It is September 12, 2006. I arrive at my parents' house to pick them up. After two hours on the road myself, the three of us will drive an additional 170 miles to Charleston, our state capital, for the annual Teacher of the Year banquet. I have apprehensions about attending. I am a finalist, Morgan County's teacher of the year, one of eleven who made it through the written application process and an excruciating interview with a selection committee. I have spent a whirlwind summer traveling, learning, teaching, and building a significant amount of anxiety for this very event. I have mixed feelings about this: uncertainty in my own ability, frustration from what I feel was a botched interview, even a slight amount of indecision concerning whether teaching is actually something I want to do for the rest of my life... Tonight, the state teacher of the year will be announced, awarded, and celebrated, and I will be off the hook, free to return to normalcy.

As I walk in the door, my parents offer me a gift. It is a necklace, jade. It is a miniature Inuit symbol, called an inushuk: these are signposts, used to mark dogsled trails in Alaska. "So you don't lose your way," my mom says. Uh oh.

At the pre-dinner reception, I feel myself shaking, tense smile plastered on my face as I clutch my water glass. I am joined by my superintendent, Mr. Temple, and principal, Mr. Ward; their company, and that of my parents, makes me feel less alone. I speak with last year's winner, who is vibrant, dynamic, extroverted--so different from me. Dinner is simple, but good. Tension builds. The speech I have wadded in my pocket--just in case--crinkles every time I move. I feel silly, too young, too inexperienced. I want this to be over. NOW.

My friends at home are all pulling for me. I have told them not to unintentionally tempt fate: "Don't wish for me to be selected," I say, "wish for what's supposed to happen to happen." They look at me askance. They see how hard I work, believe in me so much. I think that it is community that created me as a teacher; my colleagues are like family, and we all work hard together. While I do feel that I am a good teacher, in a career well suited for me at this moment, I work with so many good teachers that I do not feel exceptional. We are all exceptional, and we have built a school around ourselves that reflects this drive toward excellence. Doesn't every school do this? How am I not like everyone else?

The lights dim. One by one, each county teacher is called to the stage to receive recognition. Not all 55 are here, but many are. Then, each finalist is called, and each receives a plaque. When it is my turn, I cross the stage, handshaking and smiling. I return to my seat, relieved I have not fallen over something. Now I'm done.

Or not. When the announcement comes, I look at my mother, and her face is inexpressibly joyful. Mr. Ward bangs his fists on the table. My dad is calm--his normal Zen self. Mr. Temple, I can tell, is not surprised. I stand, stunned, focus on one foot in front of the other, make my way to the stage for a second time this night. I pose for photos, accept accolades, present my speech without a stutter. I speak to reporters from TV, radio, newspapers. I am smiling on the outside, and inside terrified. So begins my year as West Virginia's Teacher of the Year, 2007.

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