Special Guest Blog: Teachers Rock!

September 21, 2012 at 3:29 pm , by

In one week, on September 28th, Won’t Back Down starring Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal hits theaters nationwide. We hosted a special screening of the film, which is about two moms who are fighting for their children to get a better education at their school, and one lucky blogger at the screening won a trip to Los Angeles to cover the Teachers Rock concert in support of the film. Here, blogger Diane Sullivan shares her experience.

The month of September has always held a special place in my heart. As a former classroom teacher of twenty years it is a month that signifies a fresh start, a new chance. It’s always been a time where I find myself setting new goals and looking back at the year that has passed by. This year has had its ups and downs but one of the highlights started when I was invited by The Moms to the NYC screening of Won’t Back Down and talk back session with producer Mark Johnson and actresses Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rosie Perez. Office Depot was also on hand with a very powerful Wall of Empowerment where everyone was invited to write a message on a post-it to add to the wall. I knew mine right away. It’s something I’ve said to many students year after year: “Be yourself! There is only ONE you!” At that point I didn’t realize where the night would take me.

Won’t Back Down was a wonderful movie. It was also a tough movie to watch being a mom of three and a former inner city school teacher in Newark, New Jersey. It really pulled on my heartstrings and although it did deal with some union issues, I could not help but watch it from a parent’s point of view. The movie brought me to tears thinking of the struggles I went through when my sons were in school and the anxiety of sending my youngest daughter to kindergarten. But there were many lessons to be learned from the movie. Although we may not be able to walk out and make a new school, we certainly can open a line of communication with teachers on a daily or weekly basis and not hold out until there’s an open house. Every child, no matter what economic background they’re from, has the right to learn from a teacher that cares and gives their all in the classroom. I was horrified to recall teachers that did not teach to their ability. I was the teacher who caught their overflow when the parents came in for room changes. I was also the teacher who had her desk removed and worked out of a file cabinet so the children could have just a little more room! The movie moved me as both a teacher and a parent. We all have a voice and need to use it, especially when it comes to our children.

It was interesting to hear the opinions of the actresses from Won’t Back Down and their own school stories. One line from the movie that really stuck in my mind was from Viola Davis who said, “What are you going to do with your one and only life?” Viola told us about her challenging childhood and how teachers influenced and believed in her. She was so inspirational. Rosie Perez shared how her program is helping classroom students deal with challenges. Maggie Gyllenhaal had the audience of bloggers with her Twitter comments! I also loved that the producer, Mark Johnson, came from a family of teachers. That hit very close to home since my husband and I are both teachers along with quite a few other family members.

Honestly, I left the event on cloud nine. Aside from my 3decades3kids blog perks, we live quite a simple life. It was definitely a night to remember, so you can imagine how shocked I was to receive an email a few days later that I was chosen to represent Ladies’ Home Journal at the Teachers Rock Concert in LA. I had to read that email a few times before it sunk in. I was going to LA! And in the blink of an eye I was on a plane flying across the country from New York. My oldest son, who would also be my photographer, accompanied me on the trip. Twentieth Century Fox set us up with the trip of a lifetime including our own driver, three days and two nights at the ANDAZ on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, a reserved spot on the red carpet and front row seats for the Teachers Rock Concert at the Nokia Theater.

From the moment we stepped off the plane, the trip was a whirlwind of excitement! We were met by our driver and whisked away to the luxurious ANDAZ, which has the highest rooftop pool in Los Angeles. The view was breathtaking. It wasn’t long before my son and I started our sightseeing tour of the city. We had the chance to explore the La Brea Tar Pits, walk among the famous Hollywood Stars Walk of Fame, stroll down Rodeo Drive, test out the hand prints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and of course get an up close look at the famous Hollywood sign!

Our second day was spent preparing for the big night at Nokia Theater for the Teachers Rock Concert! You can’t even imagine the pride I felt at that moment, being there as a teacher, a mother and a blogger. It was incredible. Upon our arrival we were escorted to the green room where the red carpet event was held, and it wasn’t long before the stars arrived. I had the chance to meet and chat with each and every one of them. Garth Brooks was delightful and quite the country gentleman. He couldn’t name just one of his favorite teachers, telling me they all had a positive affect on him. As a final thought he turned to my son and and said, “You’re the oldest. Take care of your mama.” Wonderful advice, Garth! Surrounded on stage by children, Garth Brooks brought many teachers in the audience to tears.

Then as the band Fun. made their way closer I could not help but swing into teacher mode and wonder just how these three guys treated their teachers. Jack Antonoff let me know that he was a bit of a handful until he was placed in the right classroom for his learning style. Andrew Dost said that both his mom and dad were teachers, so he never had a chance to stray in the classroom. Nate Ruess had us laughing when he talked about how he came down with mono during his senior year and his teachers were just fine with excusing him from school to stay home as long as needed. I love their music—their performance of “Some Nights” with a marching band was just outrageous!

Joe Mantegna and I had a long conversation about how important teachers have been in his life. He gave gratitude to all the teachers that have helped to make him the man he is today. He also thanked me on behalf of all teachers; he was a very gracious and charming man. Viola Davis, who I had met just about week before at the screening, was very serious in relaying just how important teachers are to shaping society and how important it is to believe in all children. And the lovely Miranda Cosgrove chatted about how her life was about to change as she gears up for college life! There was a lot of teacher love flowing from the celebrities.

Teachers Rock truly accomplished what it set out to do, which is honor teachers. Every teacher I spoke to after the concert was energized and felt very appreciated. Teachers affect all of us. We spend a major part of our lives in the hands of a teacher. If you are a teacher, treat them as if they were your own child. If you are a parent, make sure your child’s teacher is living up to your expectations. My trip to Teachers Rock was a once in a lifetime chance to see teachers through the eyes of others. The experience was immeasurable. To all the teachers in my life—you rock!