Three experiences this week clearly reminded me why it is rewarding to be an educator and important to provide experiences for students whose education is too often limited by life’s circumstances.
Astronomical Aspiration: The first experience that enlightened me this week was the visit to our school by Billy Hix (@billyhix) and his colorful learning experience through the use of his portable planetarium this past Wednesday. Economic limitations often hinder our students from experiencing much of the world beyond their zip code, but Billy Hix expanded their horizons to as far as the outer limits of the universe through the use of some technology that is quite uncommon in most school systems, much less in the homes of our children. He engaged students with stories that made astronomy and Greek mythology come to life, even detailing how the cast of Greek characters interacted in the constellations so evident in the night sky. Additionally, Billy Hix tells his own story of aspiration and its realization in his eventual position with NASA, encouraging students to pursue their positive interests without feeling hindered by others’ limited expectations for them.
The enthusiasm of our teachers and students during and following this event reiterated for me how meaningful an experience can be when those leading it demonstrate how valuable students are and provides opportunities for extending and enriching their educational journey.
Enlightened Shadow: On Thursday, I had another powerful experience as I was encouraged to consider participating in the #shadowastudent Challenge (http://shadowastudent.org/). The pervious day, students in third and fourth grades were asked to submit reasons why they wanted me to shadow them for the day, and through careful rubric-based consideration, I narrowed down the candidates and selected the child I would shadow. I began my day meeting my student as she was dropped off at school (I had initially made plans to meet a different child at her home and walk to school with her, but she was unavailable for the experience). After walking through the front door, we headed to breakfast, and I stayed with her throughout the day until dismissal.
I really came to this experience with few expectations but was excited to find that the student whom I shadowed experienced many great opportunities throughout the day. I was impressed by her ability to learn autonomously as she engaged in music theory exercises, research, and applied mathematical principles. I was also pleased to see that what we offered as meals were appropriate. What struck me most was the importance of the relationships established and how these shaped her day just as critically as any academic experiences. I am certain that her experience differed from most days in some respects as she artificially escorted her 6’4″ shadow all over our campus, but her friendships and relationships with her teachers revealed how meaningful social connections can enhance and support students and how the absence thereof can lead to equally negative consequences. Hopefully, the shadowing experience has led to another meaningful relationship that I can continue to foster for the rest of this year.
Valued Voices: My third experience that brought me to better appreciate my role as an educator began Friday, as I joined 49 other educators from Tennessee who came together to comprise the first Tennessee Ed Voice Fellows (@TNEdVoice) cohort. We were met by other national America Achieves (@aaftp) fellows, as well as SCORE President David Mansouri (@davemansouri) and Director of Educator Engagement Melissa Stugart (@melissastugart), who helped to elucidate for us the often obfuscated history of Tennessee public education. Marcus Markle, Program Manager for the Tennessee Educator Voice Fellowship, led the events of the weekend, and brought together wonderful voices and ideas that would inspire me and others to share our voices on the issues that really matter to us in education in Tennessee. We had opportunity to hear from panelists, which included Commissioner Dr. Candice McQueen (@mcqueencandice), Representative John DeBerry, Educator James Dittes (@Father_Ahab), and ASD Director Malika Anderson (@Malika_TN). We had opportunity to hear from a number of other fellows, whom I will detail in other blog posts, and these were all very informative and greatly enriched me as an educator.
The biggest takeaway I have after attending the @TNEdVoice meeting is that our voices as educators are not only important to represent ourselves, but to advocate boldly for what is best for our students. Though this is not a profound point, it is one that becomes clearer when one has opportunity to engage in conversations with other educators who are passionate about optimal learning conditions for their students and integrity with respect to educational matters. I was touched by so many stories from the experiences of other educators and, vicariously, their students, but, more importantly, I was empowered to take the next necessary steps in advocating for what our schools need with actionable plans and proposed solutions, and I am now even more willing to share my voice to meet this end, not just for my school and school system, but for students throughout Tennessee and the United States. Though I know this proves to be an exhausting endeavor and it will be met with considerable resistance and challenges, I am willing and ready to join others who feel as passionately as I do about bringing the best learning experiences to our students who not only will shape tomorrow, but who are already shaping today.