Explosions. Fiery Manholes. Toxic Fumes. Rarely would anyone expect these words to be among details recounting a national Physical Education convention. Yet these events were real and largely influenced Cindy Ferek‘s week in Boston as the Turner Ashby High School PE teacher traveled there to complete the final steps of a lengthy process that would eventually name HER the 2012 National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year, awarded by National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE.)
“The week was amazing, stressful, bizarre, and crazier than any other time I have ever had in my life,” described Mrs. Ferek, who was among four high school finalists for the prestigious teaching award she garnered, presented at the National American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation & Dance (AAHPERD) conference. Initially nominated by a colleague, she advanced to this level after having been named the 2011 AAHPERD Southern District Secondary Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
Her week in Boston began without incident. Mrs. Ferek, known for her love of biking, spent her arrival day in Boston cycling around the city on a rented bike touring all the historical sites. Her students would not be surprised to hear she logged her efforts – over 15 miles and 16,000 steps.
The conference got into full swing on Tuesday and featured a gathering of state Teachers of the Year from all around the country. Dinner with colleagues completed the evening and Mrs. Ferek anxiously looked ahead to her interviews with the seven-member panel the next day. After her work was complete there, she would enjoy a stress-free conference for the rest of the week. Or not.
As the Turner Ashby teacher and her Virginia colleagues exited their restaurant that evening, they were engulfed by heavy smoke caused by a transformer explosion nearby. The group was forced back inside for more than two hours to escape toxic fumes that blanketed the area. The convention center and surrounding hotels lost power (prompting the ever health-conscious Ferek to quip that those who were physically fit were quite nicely able to traverse the stairs in these 30+ floor hotels!)
Gridlock from the power outages in the area forced the hotel shuttle bus to deliver her late for interviews on Wednesday morning. Thankfully, the interview schedule, like everything else associated with the conference at that point, had been thrown into a tailspin so she arrived with time to spare but not without a heightened stress level due to the transportation delays. After seven separate interview sessions, where in each she faced a different question followed by three minutes to articulate her verbal response, she could FINALLY relax and look ahead to the closing banquet on Friday night where national winners at each school level would be announced. Or not.
Thursday brought yet more unexpected occurrences in the city … and disappointing schedule changes for the participants. As power was restored to the Back Bay area of the city, a sudden surge in demand caused underground cables to fail and send manhole covers exploding into the air in at least two streets nearby. With safety concerns, those in charge of the convention announced at Thursday’s informal social that ALL remaining events for the week would be canceled. Not postponed – canceled. The awards banquet on Friday evening, where “teacher of the year” announcements were expected, was scrapped. Everyone, including the 6 elementary, 4 middle, and 4 high school national finalists, stood in shock.
“All week, I was ok and flexible. After being told the dinner and recognition night was off, I felt robbed for all of us [14 finalists],” Mrs. Ferek admitted.
In only minutes following the cancellation announcement and with no fanfare or even warning to finalists, someone from the organization stepped forward, quieted the group and began to introduce the elementary finalists and then named the elementary winner, followed by the middle school finalists and winner. Then, Mrs. Ferek heard her own name announced as the recipient of the 2012 National High School Physical Education Teacher of the Year.
“They called my name as the winner and tears poured down my face. My parents arrived about 15 minutes later. They had arrived in town about 2 hours earlier. To say it was emotional is an understatement,” she recounted.
A year’s worth of preparation (including a computer crash where she lost seven essays for the contest and fought the temptation to call it quits at that point) and a week’s worth of stress, anticipation, and a host of other emotions all abruptly ended with a 5-minute ceremony. Disappointment aside, she noted it was not the ceremony that was important to her. The memorable parts of the week were those that she used to learn about herself.
“There are many times in life when things do not turn out as planned. The adversity of all the power outage events exposed the good, the bad, and the ugly in individuals. It is easy to be courteous, patient, and lovable when things are going well and smoothly. What kind of person am I when things change? I was thankful to stay calm, focused, and I cherished the time with fellow professionals from around the country.”
Further reflecting on what this national award means to her, she described a situation when she was 4 years old and found herself in the hospital for two months with a serious heart condition, an experience that today affects her perspective on life and her job.
“The medical staff told my parents they could make me a vegetable or let me go and see what happens. I am thankful that they let me go, allowed me to spread my wings, and let me fly throughout my life. We all have adversity and have to press on. It is great to be recognized by the national organization and my peers. I have been told how crazy I am for the way I teach things in my class. Everything I do each day is to benefit my students and I believe there are no limits to what we can accomplish. I always try to find a way for my students to learn and succeed.”
Congratulations, Mrs. Ferek! Rockingham County is fortunate and proud that you call this school division your home.
Learn more about her physical education program and philosophy through her interview with TV3.
Read more about Cindy Ferek in a recent Daily News-Record article by Emily Sharrer. Reposted with permission.