Contributed by Megan Murphy
There is much to be said about the concentrated energy of people with a shared purpose. I had the opportunity to attend the Teachers 4 Social Justice (T4SJ) annual conference this weekend and it was good for my soul. For those who teach, there is a danger of becoming isolated on your own island of a classroom: each day you focus on your lessons for your students and can go days without contact with a teacher in the next room. This T4SJ conference was inspiring in large part because there were so many teachers making contact with each other, renewing each other’s awareness, and focusing on improving our practice.
The highlight of the day for me was a presentation by three teachers from a school in Watts, California. They were frustrated by the lack of meaningful and rigorous professional development at their site so they developed a process of critical inquiry for themselves. They found the nonfiction texts and theoretical frames with which to challenge their high school students. They developed in-depth curriculum linking assigned literature to real-life contexts. They supported each other and their students in the development of the very critical thinking skills being promoted by the new Common Core Standards. They did all of this on their own time and in their own way because it was what they needed to do as educators.
In this presentation, attended by a mix of experienced teachers, new teachers, and student teachers, there was a palpable sense of awe as the projects were described. It was humbling to learn these teachers developed rigor for their students because they found studies confirming future success is linked to the style of instruction. It was eye-opening to consider the implications of effective modeling of critical inquiry.
These teachers shared heart-wrenching stories of violence and loss in their community and the lives of students. They developed lessons that equipped their students with a vocabulary and a practice for analyzing the world in which they live. Ultimately, they created learning experiences in which their students were healed and humanized, yet this same process also humanized them as teachers. No longer isolated on an island or working as a cog in a machine, they made a commitment to create a more just and effective learning model. They found hope in the midst of challenge.
There is no question that teaching is a challenging career path. As many veterans have told me, it’s a marathon and not a sprint. It is easy to become numb to the worsening conditions and accustomed to the budget cuts. It’s easy to become isolated. Events like T4SJ remind me that I am not along. This conference reminded me that there are others out there giving generously so that others may have some light in the darkness. I am looking forward to returning to work on Monday to pass a little light onto my fellow teachers. Together, we can make genuine change as humans, as educators, as collaborators.