By Angel Boose
Educators around the state honored as county teachers of the year serve as spokespersons and ambassadors for the profession. Leah Jerome, the 2019-20 Bergen County Teacher of the Year, pondered what she could do in her role to amplify the voices of the teachers in Bergen County and honor what they were doing in their classrooms.
Jerome knows how precious time is to a teacher. She didn’t want to ask them to give of their time and share their expertise without offering them something. Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee came to mind. “What better way to engage in conversations with teachers than over a cup of coffee?” Jerome thought.
As a history teacher she learned that some of the world’s greatest revolutions had been born out of conversations started in coffeehouses. The English coffeehouses and French salons were the birthplace of Enlightenment thinking. She knew intellectual thought and discourse brews over a cup of coffee. Unlike other adult beverages, that distort the thought process, coffee sharpens it and cultivates dialogue when shared between two people. In that spirit, her project Teachers in Classrooms Drinking Coffee was created. “Just maybe we might come up with some revolutionary ideas about teaching!” Jerome thought.
As the Bergen County Teacher of the Year, Jerome felt she should know what was going on in Bergen County’s schools. Now it was time to figure out the logistics. How would she execute meeting with teachers in each of the county’s 76 districts? She was determined to make it happen, calling it Mission 76.
She did the math, realizing how expensive it might be to purchase a cup of coffee for herself and each of the teachers she would interview. She thought, $3 per person, 76 districts… it seemed costly. She contacted Dunkin’ Donuts for assistance and they gladly sponsored her project
Jerome would meet with teachers around the county before school, during school at preparation or lunch times, and after school, always bringing them their choice of brew. During each interview Jerome was enlightened to learn about the wonderful things teachers were doing. One of the interviews was with a teacher in her own school building, who was conducting a bee keeping project. If it were not for Jerome’s coffee project, she wouldn’t have known about it.
Jerome realized teachers aren’t in the business of celebrating themselves, and don’t realize how the things they do can greatly benefit other teachers when shared. She wants educators to think about sharing what they are doing as a means of helping one another.
Although the original plan for conducting her project was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Jerome was able to accomplish Mission 76! The existence of virtual meeting spaces allowed her to interview one teacher in each of Bergen County’s 76 school districts. Jerome may not have been able to physically meet with each teacher, but she was still able to enjoy a cup of coffee and conversation with them in the virtual meeting space.
To see the interviews and learn about some of the amazing things going on in Bergen County schools, please visit Jerome’s website https://teachersinclassroomsdrinkingcoffee.weebly.com/.
Angel Boose is a third-grade teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academy in the East Orange School District. She is the vice president of the East Orange Education Association and an NJEA Communications Consultant. Boose represents Essex County on the NJEA Women in Education Committee.