The last twenty-four hours have been a whirlwind. Yesterday the White House put out a press release naming me and 101 other elementary math and science teachers as 2012 PAEMST recipients. Sometime in the next few weeks I'll be traveling to Washington D.C. for several days of professional development planned by the National Science Foundation, a photo opportunity with the President of the United States, and an award banquet where I'll receive my award. Since I found out last evening my phone has been ringing off the hook, my Facebook page and Twitter feed have exploded, and I've received a ton of text messages with friends, family, and colleagues offering their congratulations. I am humbled and appreciative of every one of them. While I'm excited and thrilled at the experiences that are upcoming, I know that without the support of my friends and family, the professional growth that has come with having an great online PLN, and the incredible colleagues that I am blessed to work with every day at the Wallenpaupack South Elementary, this never would have happened.
I want to record this process here on my blog for two reasons. First, it's going to be an incredible journey. I can't wait to meet the other winners when I travel to Washington D.C. and to add them to my network of amazing teachers that I learn from and with on a daily basis. I want to keep track of everything that happens so that I can look back on it later. Secondly, during the past year and a half since I found out that I was a finalist, I've sought out information on PAEMST winners many times. There's not a whole lot out there. A few past winners have recorded their experiences in blogs, and I was very appreciative to be able to learn from them. So, for all the future finalists and winners who are seeking information, I'll do my best to share my experiences for you as well. Over the next few weeks, I'll create a page where I share everything I have from the lesson I had videotaped to submit during the application process through the trip to D.C.
I was nominated for PAEMST back in the fall of 2011 by my principal at the time, Nancy Simon. Even though I was honored to be nominated, I almost didn't apply. As teachers, we always have so much going on, and when Winter Break rolled around that year, I hadn't even looked at the application yet.
After break I decided to go ahead with the application process. It was grueling, but provided for great self-reflection. I probably recorded 3 or 4 different lessons before I settled on the one I submitted. The written part of the application was extensive, too. It was limited to 15 pages with 10 pages of supplemental materials, but I found that after trying to answer all the questions thoroughly I was over by several pages. It took quite a bit of creative editing, word replacement, and formatting to fit the guidelines. I ended up using every line on every page.
Luckily, I had several people that I knew in both my online PLN and in-person who were either past winners or uber-experts on math pedagogy to read over my paper. I'm so appreciative to them for reading over my application and giving me feedback. They all told me that I had a really strong chance at winning, but I knew the odds were against me. After all, there had to be hundreds or thousands of people submitting applications in Pennsylvania, right?
At the end of the 2011-2012 school year I found out that I was selected as one of three state finalists in Pennsylvania for the math portion of the award. Three others were finalists for science. Even though the National Science Foundation can choose not to give an award to a state if they don't believe any of the finalists warrant recognition, I was pretty excited to get that far, and that I had about a one in three chance of winning.
Then, the waiting began. From the past winners to whom I had spoken, I knew that I would be getting a request for a FBI background check around New Years if I was a winner. When January came and went, I figured I hadn't won. By March, I figured there was no chance. I was disappointed, but thrilled that I had at least been chosen as a state finalist.
Around the end of July I stumbled upon a tweet from someone using the #PAEMST hashtag stating that nobody had received FBI clearance requests yet. Maybe I did have a chance! I tried to keep myself from getting my hopes up. People around me kept telling me that I still had a chance.
I got the FBI clearance request from the Office of the President during the last week of July. It explicitly stated that I could not notify anyone except for my immediate family that I had received this request. I had a pretty good idea that I was a winner at that point, but there's always that doubt until things are official. The National Science Foundation sent new requests via e-mail for information, a headshot, and answers to essay questions for the awards booklet.
Then, nothing happened. September passed. Then October and November. There was no word. Every once in a while I would start to have doubts that I had won and I'd do a Twitter search for #PAEMST, or a Google search for "PAEMST 2012" to see if anyone else had heard news. Of course, nobody else had heard anything either.
Yesterday I left school around 3:10 for the weekend thinking about the errands I had to run and the Christmas shopping I still needed to finish. PAEMST was the last thing on my mind. Around 5:30 I happened to check Tweetdeck to see if anyone had responded to the tweets I sent earlier in the day sharing pictures and videos of the Global Kidwish Project in which some of our classrooms had participated and green screen videos our special education students had made using the DoInk Green Screen app on the iPad. What I found instead was a tweet from a Scranton Times-Tribune reporter congratulating me on my "National Award" and asking me to give her a call.
My heart started racing. Some searching on the internet led me to the press release I linked above. I knew I had won. I shared the press release on Facebook and Twitter. I checked my school e-mail and found that the National Science Foundation had sent me a congratulatory e-mail around 3:30, just after I left school. After playing a little phone tag I did get a hold of Sarah at the Times-Tribune, and she wrote a wonderful article that was run in this morning's paper.
The response has been truly amazing. The kind words and outpouring of congratulations have left me watery-eyed many several times. It is truly a blessing to have such wonderful friends, family, and colleagues.
In the upcoming days I'll share the video lesson that I used for the application and anything else I can find or remember from the application process.