Teachers need resources for success, says Biden at
Saint Mary’s education summit
By Lou Fancher
Ask any person about who most inspired their work ethic, self-esteem or devotion to excellence. The answer, if not mention of an actual or surrogate parent, is likely a classroom teacher —realistically, both good and bad ones — or a coach.
Which means the 500 educators gathered for the third annual California Teachers Summit at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga — and the roughly 10,000 teachers at 35 other host locations statewide — represent a mighty force.
Formed through a partnership between the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities, California State University and New Teacher Center, the free day of learning for educators included a keynote address by Jill Biden, TED-style EdTalks and 35 breakout sessions created by teacher participants. This year’s “Now More Than Ever” theme reflected urgency.
Biden has been an educator for more than three decades. She spoke of her grandmother, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse, in which three grades of students were combined.
The sound of the brass bell Biden was allowed to ring to call kids to school left her with the belief that learning is enchantment. As an adult, enchantment became commitment as she completed two masters degrees and a doctorate.
After the 2008 election of Barack Obama as president and her husband, Joe Biden, as vice president, Biden said, “No one expected me to keep teaching, but it wasn’t (just) a job for me. It was and is who I am. I couldn’t just walk away. One week after the election I had a new class of students. It was so surreal.”
But what was and is all too real to Biden are teachers who lack resources, communities impacted by poverty or social injustice at unprecedented levels that threaten the education of children, or public policy that fails to reflect the contributions made by teachers.
“Setting teachers up to succeed has never been more important,” she said.
Success in education for teachers includes taking personal time for respite, but also learning opportunities like the summit. Joining with other educators to hear about up-to-date resources, tools and classroom techniques and honest consideration of the challenges ahead were essential topics of conversation during the conference.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said that California teachers and voters who support them by funding education are a “huge volume of common energy as we move forward.”
To find strength, talent, opportunities and the best way to change young people’s lives, he suggested, is to become a teacher.
Featured EdTalk speaker and graduate of SMC’s Master of Arts in Teaching Leadership Program Jocel Ibañez-Lazarito is a program specialist for the San Mateo County Office of Education.
Highlighting research-based, inclusive practices, she said in an interview, “What if acceptance and inclusion had started earlier? Would that have helped the 6.6 million adults with disabilities who today are joining society? Inclusion is inviting everyone. It’s the only option because education is a right, not a privilege.”
Teachers, she insisted, must familiarize themselves with inclusive principles, acquire skills for teaching special needs students, use peer training to learn how to mentor children lacking social skills.
“Behavior is part of education. It’s not separate from academics. Golden State teachers are trailblazers. Inclusion is not a trend; it’s our future.”
One session, “Increasing White Teachers Capacity to Work with Students of Color,” stretched the dimension of inclusion and revealed hidden complexities. Co-facilitator Marguerite Welch, 15-year program director for SMC’s Teaching Leadership program, said conversations about white privilege, unconscious bias, racial power dynamics and engaging with students as whole people are at last being held nationwide.
“Being aware of my biases that shape who I spend time with in the classroom, dissecting my identity — teachers have to understand their important role in approaching students.”
Co-facilitator Whitneé Garrett-Walker, assistant principal at Skyline High School in Oakland, joined the conference for the first time. As an alumni of SMC, she supported wholeheartedly the spirit of the conference, but said it would be difficult to take anything tangible back to the classroom.
Elements of instruction, like shared Google Docs and more presentations of best practices or research study results, she said, were lacking. The absence of attendees who are people of color was notable.
“This will start a conversation, but I’m not sure it’s going to give actual tools. Maybe people in our three sessions got shared understanding, but on average about three people said they were going to use the information specifically.”
Asked for an example of awareness white educators may not have when teaching a student of color, she said, “A question, like “Do you want to take your pencil out?” might, due to culture, have a student of color tell you if they want to do it. That might be perceived as oppositional.” The best practice? “Telling them directly to take out a pencil changes that dynamic.””
As for tackling broad, historic and systemic oppression, Garrett-Walker said that beyond a conference, white educators can’t simply claim to be allies, they must enter in and take right action.”