Talking Too Much

by Cindi on January 25, 2016

I was a fresh-faced North Carolina Teacher of the Year when I showed up at the State Teacher of the Year Conference in Dallas in January of 2009. I was nervous – I would be spending a week with fifty-four total strangers, the most amazing teachers in the country. And I had been named one of four finalists chosen to represent them, an honor I haven’t wrapped my head around to this day, seven years later.

It would take very little time for those fifty-four teachers to be colleagues, friends, even soulmates. But that first night I felt like I was at a middle school party, somehow receiving an invitation to hang out with the popular crowd, the honor society, and the student athletes all at once, knowing all the while I wasn’t worthy.

The first thing that happened that night when I entered the room for the opening dinner is that I was approached by the 1995 Minnesota Teacher of the Year/1996 National Teacher of the Year Mary Beth Blegen. Mary. Beth. Blegen. I knew exactly who she was. Everybody knew exactly who she was. She was famous. Her name had been traveling around teacher circles across the country for fourteen years, even before the internet was cool. She was an icon.

So here I am holding my drink and smiling, probably way too much, in all directions, and here comes Mary Beth Blegen. She said (in a voice you can hear right now if you knew her), “So. Why are YOU a finalist for National Teacher of the Year?”

On the occasions I have re-told this story, I have said that I lifted up my chin, pulled back my foot into ballerina third position, and said with shaky confidence, “I’m a finalist for National Teacher of the Year because I am here to represent all the amazing teachers in….”

She cut me off.

“Why are YOU a finalist for National Teacher of the Year?” she repeated.

Now I’m confused. I’m thinking maybe she wants me to tell her about the selection process so I begin with, “Well, there was this portfolio I had to write, and….”

This time she raised her hand gently and said, “Stop.” Then she repeated the question.

I was stumped. I had no idea what she wanted me to say. She smiled and walked away. And I felt like I had failed her. I had failed Mary Beth Blegen! I had failed 97,000 teachers in North Carolina. I had failed the other 54 State Teachers of the Year.

During that week, Mary Beth was an amazing presenter and a kindred spirit in our Teacher of the Year family. She had us all up and dancing around in an activity that enabled us to connect to one another in minutes. She had me so inspired I was snapping pictures of her like I was paparazzi.

Mary Beth had us up and moving!

My fellow State Teachers of the Year were all smiles when Mary Beth was leading us.

It was a crazy busy week, full of professional development, networking, and celebrations. So I never had a chance to answer Mary Beth’s question. But on the plane heading home, her voice was in my ears. Why was I a finalist for National Teacher of the Year? Why was I a Teacher of the Year at all? Why not the hundreds, thousands of amazing teachers I knew and had worked with?

All of a sudden I had two pictures in my head. One was Mary Beth Blegen. She was smiling at me and nodding – it was as if she was saying, “You know…you DO!” The other picture was of my report cards from school. There was a stack of them somewhere in a file cabinet at home, and I could visualize them. Back then teachers wrote real comments on our report cards; no computer codes were needed. And mine all said the same thing – every year, every teacher wrote in beautiful teacher cursive: “Cindi talks too much.”

That’s it!!! I thought. I had my answer. Being a Teacher of the Year, and representing my profession, meant that it was time to TALK TOO MUCH. It was time to talk to teachers, administrators, legislators, the Governor, the Secretary of Education…it was time for me to use my teacher voice because maybe they don’t know what it’s like within those four walls of the classroom. I had to tell them…

Without knowing it, Mary Beth Blegen charted the direction of my year as North Carolina Teacher of the Year. Without knowing it, she guided me onto a path of discovery, most likely the same way she guided thousands of students all those years she taught in Minnesota. And I did eventually talk to all those people…I did, Mary Beth.

I learned today that the world has lost Mary Beth Blegen.

I will always regret not having the chance to tell her about how that one conversation, on one night in Dallas, made a difference. But I bet she knew exactly what she was doing when she asked me that question. It’s one I continue to work on answering every day.

And today I’m reminded…that I still need to talk too much.

Thank you, Mary Beth Blegen

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Nancy Flanagan January 26, 2016 at 3:54 pm

Nicely done! I wrote my own “missing Mary Beth” blog, but it won’t go up until February.

She had a big impact on my life, too. She recently told me I was, in fact, talking too much. And she may have been right.

Thanks for sharing.


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