WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Andrew Patterson

 WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In this edition, WoFo features teacher and coach Andrew Patterson. I’ve had the honor and privilege to teach beside “The Big Man” for the past 11 years. I would like to thank Andrew for his interview, friendship, humor, honesty and his dedication to the teaching profession.

 I think being a pilot and being a teacher are very similar;  hours of monotony and repetition are often punctuated with moments of sheer excitement and terror.


Besides being a teacher Andrew Patterson is . . .

I’m a football coach, an football offensive guru, a road-tripper, a boring uncle, a wanna-be inspirational tweeter, a country music lover, history junkie, an aviation enthusiast, and conspiracy theorist.

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

I currently teach in Robbinsville, New Jersey, at the aptly-named Robbinsville High School, where I have been for the past 13 years.  I previously taught at Pascack Valley Regional High School for 4 years. 

I teach students.  More specifically, I teach 10th grade students the subject of English.  That includes reading, writing, and analysis of both.  In the past I’ve also taught 9th and 12th grade students.  Indirectly, I teach how to take a joke, how to have a thick skin, how to be able to look in the mirror after making a tough decision, and how not to enter a room—but those are all outside of the curriculum.

I also do a little bit of teaching on the football field.  There, I specifically teach the techniques and schemes of a very simple game while also trying to teach the much more complex lessons of what a selfless teammate is.

What is you favorite lesson to teach and why? 

I love teaching the personal narrative/college essay, especially when I’m working one-on-one with students in helping them to create a unique tone and voice in their telling of a story.  It’s awesome to see a student’s story, a little slice of their life, unfold before you as it transforms from a minuscule idea in a brainstorm into a living and breathing entity of its own with its own personality. Once, I had a student deliberate for multiple class periods on just one or two words, making sure they were the “right ones” to convey a certain feeling.

I also like the lesson on a personal level, because of the insight it provides me as a professional; it’s a give-and-take series of lessons.  When reading drafts upon drafts of students’ personal stories—baby siblings’ births, loss of parents, family vacations, inner philosophies, the good and the bad—it helps me keep perspective that the person in the seat across from me is a real person, not a number or statistic.

If you were in charge of your school for a day what would you do and why? 

I’d spend the entire day greeting the buses, and walking the halls learning all the students’ names in the whole school by heart—even the quiet ones—and then I’d learn one thing about each student.  Not one thing like their address, but one real thing that they deal with on a daily basis.  That way, when I go back to not being in charge, every student would know that there’s at least one person who doesn’t think he or she is invisible.

If you could only write one quote of the board for your students what would it be?

“If you come into the game as the pinch-runner on third base, don’t act like you hit a triple. A little humility goes a very long way.

If you were not a teacher what would you be?

I’d like to think I’d be a full-time NCAA football coach, but in my eyes, that’s still part of the teaching profession.  Totally removed from education and coaching, I would have probably gone into aviation as a commercial pilot.  I think being a pilot and being a teacher are very similar; they are hours of monotony and repetition punctuated with moments of sheer excitement and terror.

What advice would you give to new teachers ?

Teenagers might not grasp symbolism on the first try, but they know when you actually care about them and when you’re just going through the motions and winging it.  One day will come in your career when you realize that students are not just your clients, but they’re your kids.  That’s when the job and all it entails becomes much easier and rewarding to do.  If that day never comes, and you always see your students merely as clients at your place of business, it may be time to find a new profession in a cubicle.

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what is the second best thing about teaching?

There’s a Miranda Lambert country song called “Famous in a Small Town”.  The song could very well have been written about Robbinsville. As silly as it sounds, having worked with kids, their siblings, families, and businesses as both a teacher for a decade and a half, and now the head football coach in the relatively small confines of Robbinsville, I can’t go anywhere in town without someone there knowing who I am at this point. It’s kind of cool, the loss of anonymity on a small scale.  Plus it’s rewarding when you drive past a former student or player and they give you the old honk and wave.

Who inspires who?

My mother was, and is, a significant influence and inspiration for me.  Not many of my students or colleagues know this story, but several years ago, she was diagnosed with and eventually passed away from an aggressive progression of ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease (think Ice Bucket Challenge).  No offense to other disease-having people, but I am certain ALS is the worst disease anyone can ever have.  As she became increasingly ill, she still tried to be my mom even though I had moved into her house to provide daily care when she went on Hospice.

Mom was an elementary school teacher for over 35 years when she retired and she was one of the good ones; as a kid growing up, I never heard her say a negative word about any of her students–even the bad ones.  Taking care of her daily as she withered away to nothing, eventually even losing the ability to communicate with me,  was the toughest thing I’ve had to experience; I’d describe it as haunting almost.  Now, when I come across a difficult situation, I realize that if I could get through the experience with my mom, I can get through anything. There’s no such thing as “having a bad day” after that chapter of my life.

My classroom superpower is . . . 

I don’t really think I have a superpower.  Having a superpower would mean that I’m a superhero and superheroes are heroes for thousands if not millions of people.  I just try to be a hero for one student a day; sometimes it may be the same student for a few consecutive days if he or she has something going on.  Some days it takes humor to be that hero, some days it takes a saying “no” and being a little hard on him or her. Some days it’s a phone call, some days it’s just making eye contact knowing that we’re both on the same page.

Follow Andrew on Twitter… @R’VilleFootball


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others? If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on WoFo’s  Teacher Spotlight Series. You can send their contact information to writeonfighton@gmail.com.

An excerpt from “The Wink”

Below is an excerpt from a story I wrote three years ago called “The Wink”. The story, set in 1994, recounts a championship baseball game I played in and serves as a tribute to my father. He turns 63 this week. 


…At the height of the evening’s drama, dad looked down the first base line and into my soul. The sun sank behind the tree line. Crickets hummed. Fingers crossed. All those eyes locked on me– the players, the crowd, the entire cast of 90210. A swirl of voices screaming at me “C’mon Jay” and “You ain’t nothing”.

I felt myself collapsing under the weight of my own adolescences. Failing at 14, on this stage, would be cataclysmic and undoubtedly afford my parents years of monthly psychiatrist co-pays.

Dad knelt and ran his hand across the points of grass. Then, as subtle as the advent of the moon and as natural as the setting sun he winked at me.

I climbed back into the batter’s box, choked up on the bat and shortened my stance. Just like dad had taught.

The pitcher reared back.

The ball tinkled off the bat and rolled toward the dead space between the pitcher’s mound and first base.

I dropped the bat and tore down the first base line. The first baseman retreated to the base. The pitcher leaped off the mound.

Dad was still kneeling. The sun at his back. Helplessly watching his son struggle in a world full of giants.

“Safe!”

The evening sky erupted in a collective burst of cheers and moans.

Dad moved in behind me and put his hand on the small of my back and calmly said, “Check your signs.”

I looked across the infield. The Pirate (our 3rd base coach) ran his right hand down his left sleeve.

Steal.

On the next pitch I took off for second.

“Safe!”

On the next pitch the best hitter on our team, Brian, a 7th grader who had hit puberty long before I did, ripped the next pitch out to right-center.

I sprinted toward third. The Pirate hopping up and down waving me home.

~~

Things were quiet in the car.

Every so often dad and I would look at each other and smile. Still speaking in signals.

As we rounded the corner and headed home I asked,

“Dad, why did you wink at me?”

I felt the weight of the championship trophy in my hands. The sky shifted into deep purple. Single suburban houses with yellow porch lights flicked by.

Dad looked across the car and said, “Because I believe in you.”

We slid into the driveway. Safe from the scrutiny of the world. Dad and I sat sharing the silence. Smiling at life.

Dad cut the engine. I looked up at him. His eyes moved toward mine.

“Thanks Dad.”

And then somehow it becomes 2014.

There were many nights when I convinced myself Write on Fight on would never happen. When I would fall into myself and teeter on the edge of failure.

When I thought it would not be worth the work. When my kids pined for attention or when I couldn’t muster the energy to find a single word that satisfied me. When the blank Word document was as menacing as a strapping pitcher with facial hair and a propensity for destroying twerps like me.

Sometimes I failed. Sometimes I didn’t swing.

Then sometimes I see a baby-faced 14 year old boy in baggy blue baseball pants standing in the on-deck circle. His head rattling in an oversized helmet. Scared out of his skull. Scared of everything. And I see my father- a young man, strong and proud. He genuflects in the sweet green grass with the sun behind him and he winks at me and admires me the way fathers secretly admire their sons.

Then the pitch comes.

And I’m scared.

But I swing.

Every time.

A Painful Reminder to Slow Down

I felt it coming for sometime now.

I was waiting for it like the way you wait for seasons to change or like the way you wait for something to arrive in the mail. Never knowing exactly when it will arrive, but when it does, your life with be somehow different.

Maybe it was the stress of spring that caused it.

Long work days punctuated with paper plate dinners followed by carting my children to soccer practice, baseball practice, and birthday parties. Maybe it was the hours I invested in building Write on Fight On LLC.

Spring, the season of renewal, had left me suddenly drained.

For weeks a tangible tension grew in my legs, as if the muscles were giant rubber bands being pulled by the antagonistic hands of time, of stress. And despite the efforts of yoga, bike riding, constant stretching and hot showers the tension only grew.

The Fall.

The fall happened this past Tuesday around 10:30 pm.

As these incidents often happen, I was doing something pedestrian. Something I do almost nightly. I was walking toward the front door to see if it was locked, so, like my son says, “The bad guys on the news can’t get in.”

Before reaching the door I bent down to move a misplaced car seat and something happened in my brain (this often happens when I make quick movements…a result of my brain damage). Sometimes it’s as if my brain is a snow globe on a shelf and some excitable kid snatches it, smiles and shakes. And my legs, the two overly-stretched rubbers bands, simply couldn’t move fast enough to help me out.

I went down. Hard.

The house rattled and Cindy came rushing down the steps. She wanted to take me to the hospital, but my bruised ego resisted.

The next morning, after we got the kids to school, I agreed to go the hospital.

A few x-rays confirmed I had fractured a bone in my left foot and bruised my left femur.

Checkout these fine looking stems!

Later, lying on the couch, foot elevated and crowned with a bag of frozen broccoli I told my dad,  who turns 63 this week, what happened. After listening he said, “Well, maybe that’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down.”

Now I’m strapped with a walking boot for the next 4-6 weeks. Now I’m forced to take it slow.

I know, it sounds funny, “forced to take it slow.”

Parenthood, adulthood can be a merciless wave of urgency. Of deadlines and commitments. Of huffing and puffing and straining your way through each day, racing so much that you can’t sleep at night, worried about all the stuff you have to do tomorrow.

Life is our best teacher.

Life begs us to take it slow. To watch its beauty bloom. To listen to its mysteries hum.  To absorb the majesty of momentary living.

For the next 4-6 weeks I don’t have a choice. And despite the bruises, despite the break it’s humbling to know that life cared enough to consider me.

Despite popular belief, I’m fortunate.

Life took time from its busy spring schedule to discipline me, to force me to take notice, to force me to slow it down.

Be well,

Jay

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight is on Jill Vaz

WoFo’s Teacher Spotlight features awesome educators who are dedicated to teaching and inspiring young people everyday.

In this edition, WoFo features first grade teacher, chocolate lover and one of my former students Jill Vaz. I would like to thank Jill for her interview and for her dedication to the teaching profession.

…when you forget where you are and what is going on in the world around you- it’s just you and your students lost in the moment of learning.


Besides being a teacher Jill Vaz is….

An avid runner, beach lover, chocolate eating, shopping and organization enthusiast!

Where do you currently teach, what do you teach and for how long?

It is my third year teaching first grade at Sharon School in Robbinsville, New Jersey and I absolutely love it! Recently, I have also taken on the role as one of our K-5 math coaches. I have found a new passion for writing math curriculum and working alongside colleagues to establish the best mathematical teaching practices in the classroom. Sharon School is not necessarily new to me. I am so fortunate to be working with all the teachers that made me fall in love with learning at my old elementary school!

What is your favorite lesson to teach and why?

Typically my favorite lessons are those that bring me by surprise and do not turn out as planned. Or even the lessons when you forget where you are and what is going on in the world around you- it’s just you and your students lost in the moment of learning.

Although if I had to choose a specific lesson that is my favorite, it would be the introduction to place value in math. It begins when my students are interested in asking about all my favorite things at the beginning of the year. I mention how zero is my favorite number. They’re usually surprised by my response and I assure them that eventually I will explain why. Every winter when it comes time to teach the place value unit, I ask if they are finally ready to find out why zero is my favorite number. I take out a special book to read,  Zero the Hero by Tom Litchenheld and Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which helps me to share the message to my students of the importance of zero. It’s not just a big old round nothing, it’s actually the coolest number in math! It saves the place for all the other numbers, allowing us to have numbers larger than 9. Then zero quickly becomes their hero and I have a class full of students intrigued by the wonders of math- my favorite!

If for one day you were in charge of your school what would you do?

If I were given the opportunity to be in charge of my school for a day, I would encourage everyone to slow down- myself included. I would encourage all to listen to their student’s conversations at snack time, ask what they did over the weekend, pay attention to who’s using the bathroom all the time during writer’s workshop, or eat lunch with colleagues in the faculty room instead of in front of the copier. It’s only natural that with the pressure of today’s high paced society and the recent high demands in education, we as teachers feel the need to teach as much as we can as fast as we can. I feel it would be nice if everyone slowed down and paid more attention to the little details.

If you could write one quote on the board for your students what would it be?

“Make someone’s day today.”  -Steven J. Mayer

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you be?

If I weren’t a teacher I would, without question, be a meteorologist! If you know me personally, this may not come as a surprise. I am an avid watcher of the Weather Channel (for fun) and Al Roker is one of my biggest idols! I have always been intrigued by extreme weather and enjoy being able to tell the weather forecast to my family and friends. I’m lucky enough to be able to share this passion with my students during our Air and Weather science unit.

What advice would you give to all new teachers?

Unfortunately I can’t claim it as my own but a fellow veteran teacher once told me, your students won’t adapt to you, you need to adapt to your students. Your first year and every year, you will need to modify and adjust your classroom structure and routines to best fit the needs of your students. This might mean trying something three, four or even five times before it works!

If the best thing about teaching is the students, what’s the second best thing?

The second best thing is most definitely their families! I have been fortunate enough to have nothing but the most supportive families. They have done more than just donating supplies and their time in the classroom, they have opened up their families and invited me into their lives. In my three years of teaching I have attended soccer games, birthday parties, communions, pool parties and baseball games. I am blessed with their constant appreciation and without that, my job wouldn’t be possible!

Who inspires you?

This is a difficult question for me to answer and I think it’s because their are so many people that inspire me each and everyday. Growing up, I always admired my teachers. I distinctly remember I would go home and imitate them because I wanted to be just like them- so compassionate, happy and knowledgeable. That’s ultimately how I chose my profession. My cooperating teacher from student teaching, Mrs. Deb Smith, has had a huge impact on the teacher that I am- her positive attitude and love of learning is infectious. I continue to look up to my mom and my sister, two dominate and fearless female role models, and my dad reminds me how to be patient, gentle, honest and kind. All of which are crucial when working with six and seven year olds.

My classroom superpower is…

My classroom superpower is color because I love to bring everything to life, whether it be in my lesson, my activities, my materials or my classroom design. Vibrant colors create a positive and inviting environment, which cultivates an enthusiastic and engaged community of learners. I want to color the lives of my students and I hope that this is how they remember me as their teacher.

Connect with Jill…

Blog: thefirstgrademade.blogspot.com

Instagram: @firstgrade_made

Twitter: @missjillianvaz


Do you know an awesome educator dedicated to inspiring and teaching others? If so, please consider nominating them to be featured on WoFo’s  Teacher Spotlight Series. You can send their contact information to writeonfighton@gmail.com.