Last week, I joined thousands of educators from across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Singapore, and the Netherlands at the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in Minneapolis. The NWP Annual Meeting is always held in conjunction with NCTE (Naitonal Council for Teachers of English), a much larger conference with many sessions for teachers, book exhibits, and famous authors.
What I love about my local site, the Western Mass. Writing Project, is done on a larger scale at the NWP Annual Meeting. The sessions are led by teachers, for teachers. They are collaborative, inquiry-based and I always come home with great information to share with my colleagues.
Surrounded by people who spoke my "language" as a teacher was great. Over the 3 days I was there, I got to thinking about how teachers are perceived and supported vs. how professors are. Hanging out with my mom, who is a frequent conference-goer and speaker and Professor Emerita from UMass, I often get an inside view into the life of a university academic. In Minneapolis, I got to hang out with my mother a lot because she was at the conference as a mentor in a program called 'Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color". Under the umbrella of NCTE, CNV is a program for recently appointed assistant professors or Doctoral students who are close to defending their dissertations. CNV "prides itself in supporting the professional, intellectual, and activist work of scholars of color by pairing each fellow with a senior scholar in the field (i.e., education/teacher education; language, literacy, and cultural studies; English). In this way, fellows are afforded the opportunity to work one-on-one with a senior scholar as well as to participate in a supportive cohort that brings together fellows, mentors, and invited workshop presenters." (from the NCTE website).
Wow. What if teachers got to do this? If we want more quality, dedicated teachers staying in teaching, we need to create more opportunities like this.
I had another illuminating moment at the conferences. I was speaking to a professor about my blog and my work in the WMWP. We wanted to connect later, and she asked me for a card. At which point I laughed out loud. "I don't have cards - I'm a teacher!" I said, cracking myself up. But this made me think - well, why don't we have cards? And not just the kind you can order at Staples, which I know some teachers do invest in. We network also, we engage in research, and we want to connect with other teachers.
At the NWP Annual Meeting, I went to a session that talked about "elevating the teaching profession". I appreciated the sentiment, but it made me think: why are we at a point where we need to "elevate" the teaching profession? Why don't teachers garner the same respect as professors? Or the same as teachers in Finland, who are reportedly highly respected AND happy teachers?
Conferences like these should be paid for regularly by schools, or at least subsidized. These experiences give us new perspectives, they refresh us, and re-energize us with ideas and strategies for our practice. In fact, many teachers pay their own way to conferences, pay their own registration, and buy their own materials for their classrooms at these conferences. Because we make so much money, I guess...We also have to pay for our own re-certification, our classes leading to the re-certification, and our own fingerprints.
At some point, the tables have to turn. Teachers need to stop getting the blame for everything wrong with education. We need mentors who are invested in our success. We need opportunities to network and share our expertise with each other. We are not in it for the fame or fortune, for sure - but yes, business cards would be a nice touch! After all, we are the ones who are teaching, guiding, and advocating for the children in this country, from ages 3 - 18. Where is our respect and support?
If you are not a teacher, take the time to thank one! It means a lot. And if you are a teacher, take the time to support a colleague who might need it - he or she will appreciate it!