I Just Left #ECET2 and I am…

I just spent the last two and a half days in San Diego with hundreds of educators from across the country. I attended break out sessions on social justice and “managing up”, and listened to some pretty phenomenal Ted talk-style speeches, all as part of Elevating and Celebrating Effective Teaching and Teachers’ National Convening. Not a bad way to spend a January weekend. So how am I feeling?

Have you ever met a state Teacher of the Year? This weekend I shared a conference hall with at least a dozen. I met teachers who were nationally recognized bloggers, authors, and speakers on a range of topics from culturally relevant pedagogy to design thinking. I met teachers with two and three decades of experience in the classroom.

Being surrounded by this breadth and depth of knowledge and experience was truly humbling. When I entered the classroom in 2007, I never imagined I would still be teaching nine years later. This weekend reminded me how much farther I have to go and how much there is left to learn.

It’s hard to pick the single most inspiring moment. Every single interaction I had with another teacher left me grateful to be a part of such a dedicated and important profession. Speaking to teachers from Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, South Carolina, and West Virginia at one table was an awesome experience that reminded me that to be a teacher is to be a part of a unique and noble fellowship.

Then there was the story Rosalie Arndt, one of my breakout session leaders, told us about her elementary school students who completed a project about the dangers of heteropatriarchy. You know I’m a sucker for young kids fighting the power.  

But if I had to pick just one moment, it would be Jaraux Washington’s keynote address. She brought the house down with an amazing call to action. Jaraux used The Wiz to talk about her own teacher journey. She asked us to think about the scarecrows, tin men, cowardly lions and witches in our classrooms and schools. She named systemic racism. Most importantly she called on us to be brave and to roar in the face of injustice and on behalf of our students.

One of the main goals of ECET2 is to treat teachers like VIPs, if only for a couple of days. We, the lucky few, got round trip transportation, lodging, and three buffet meals a day. For just a little bit we got to experience what “the other half” does.

But our minds couldn’t help but wander to the teachers and students back home. When I shared the fact I don’t have working internet in my classroom, two colleagues gasped. In 2016, my students deserve better.

But this injustice was put in perspective when I spoke with a second year teacher in Detroit about the sick outs taking place. He described an elementary school in his city where the kids don’t have a place to play. The gym floor is so warped by mold that the gym has been locked. The playground has a giant crack down the middle, exposing the sewer system underneath. 

Even a couple of days of the high life couldn’t fully distract us from the disgusting educational inequities our students have been subjected to. 

Ready to Do Something 
All of these feelings have combined to give me a strong sense of purpose as I go back to school tomorrow. I know I have a lot of work to do. Teachers always do. But today I have a clearer sense of why I need to do this work than I’ve had in a while.

The first thing I’m ready to do is to elevate and celebrate my colleagues at school. Since coming to PS 368 The Hamilton Heights School, I have learned so much from my fellow teachers. They are an amazing group of creative and passionate educators who constantly seek to better their teaching. This deserves recognition.

Secondly, I’m committed to my own learning. There are so many opportunities out there for teachers to connect with one another and grow, whether it’s through Twitter or more formal channels like National Board Certification. I’m excited to continue the conversations I started this weekend through these platforms.

Finally, (you knew it was coming) I’m ready to do something great for my students. At times I’ve felt overwhelmed by the menu of options for transforming my classroom. Gamification? Flipped learning? Design thinking? 

It’s time for me to pick just one thing and do it. For me, for now, that will be a continued focus on social justice teaching. What will change about this focus is a recommitment to high standards for my students’ work. I had a great conversation with Washington State Teacher of the Year, Nate Gibbs-Bowling (Not trying to name drop, just giving the man credit where it’s due). Asked to define social justice he said, “Teaching kids to read, write, think and enumerate. Period.” 

I want to ensure my teaching is about truly preparing my students to change the world, and not just social justice warm fuzzies. So, I am committing to sharing their work as much as possible. I want as many eyes as possible on their writing to keep my teaching honest. If you want to help, you can start here.

It was an honor to participate in ECET2. I was reminded of many important things this weekend, but most of all this: Teaching is a calling. Everyone who does so deserves to be celebrated.


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