In March of this year, I was invited to sit on several panels as part of the Smith Women in Education conference at Smith College in Northampton, MA. I was thrilled to be back on campus even if just for a few days, as it took place right in the middle of my Fulbright time in México; it was absolutely invigorating and inspiring to be among Smith sisters in education making change in their classrooms and in their communities.
One of the things I talked about during a panel titled Teaching in the 21st Century, that was moderated by Smith alumna Joan Sigel Schuman from the class of 1962, was the importance of teachers coming to the classroom as whole people, especially along lines of race, class, gender, and sexuality. Our students know when we are not being real or true with them, and we as teachers also suffer when we are not our whole selves with our students, our colleagues, and our school communities.
I went through a time of not being a whole person myself when as a young teacher, I was not completely true to my students during my time in girls’ schools between 1997-2004. There I was, teaching young women to be empowered and to become self-actualized as young feminists, and I was not even out to my students; as a result, I was not a whole educator or a whole person in my profession. I was not self-actualized.
I also talked about how important it is for education to be about vision not just about content. I said,
I don’t think that curriculum should just be about content, I think it should be about some kind of larger vision that you want your students to be able to accomplish and achieve with you. What’s the journey that you’re going to be taking your students on throughout the course of a year, [while] hitting particular moments that will make that vision happen together?”
Since I’ve been on my Fulbright, a growing passion of mine has been the place of teachers as experts in their field and as a result of that, the place of teachers as public intellectuals. I said,
How do we give teachers the money, the resources, the time, to become intellectually stimulated, [to become] public intellectuals contributing to the discourse, creating change, creating innovation, and giving them the time and support to do so?”
My fellow panelists were outstanding. Rachel Willis, who is the 2010 recipient of the Milken Educator Award, and graduate of the Smith class of 2004, spoke cogently about how teachers are treated on a larger societal level: “We are not necessarily treated as professionals . . . even though we’re told that we are going to be nation-builders, we’re not treated as nation-builders.”
Kayleigh Colombero, from the Smith class of 2008, reminded us how important student voices are: “Students bring a lot of authentic questions to the classroom and if you can never build space in for their voices and their questions, then what are we telling them about . . . coming to school? It’s almost like they’re not even necessary.”
I was thrilled to be a part of this panel, especially in my role both as teacher-activist and now as teacher-researcher. There was no better place to share where I am right now in my trajectory as an educator than at Smith. As Rachel said at one point in our panel: “Everybody says that Disney World is the most magical place on earth, but that’s because they didn’t go to Smith.”
Kayleigh voiced what was on all of our minds, that what we do as teachers is really about love. “My students love me and I say I love them back . . . do you get that at your job?”
If you are a Smith alum in education–early childhood, K-12, higher education, and beyond–please join our Smith Women in Education Facebook group.