The Things I Learned at CLAS 2016

You know that moment when you discover the kind of folks you knew existed – the ones that love the things you do, feed on the same energy you do and have a never ending passion to keep innovating their craft? I had that moment this weekend and it’s all thanks to this year’s Colorado Language Arts Society Regional Conference. I could write you a long winding journey that would probably bore you (and me) about the event, so instead I’ll give you a list. Here’s ‘The Things I Learned at CLAS 2016’.

Number 1 – Taylor Mali is pretty much goals, as my students would say.  I was aware of his “What Teachers Make” slam poetry but I hadn’t had the chance to get to know his writing and presentations more – and I regret that so very much.  If you haven’t read his books, explored his materials or followed him on twitter – do so now.  I saw myself in Taylor – in his passion, his love of students, his desire to educate and inspire – all while enjoying as much of it as he possibly could.  There’s something about teachers who “get it” and understand that most of us will never be rockstars on a stage or sitting in a pile of money being thrown at us – we find our contentment in teaching, educating and opening up the world for our students.  Taylor speaks that in each moment he is on stage.  I made a tweet that I wanted to be Taylor Mali when I grow up and that’s not much of a lie.  He reminds me that while we teach, while we throw down notes for our students to take and while we prepare them for the tests we cannot avoid – we can do so much more in the in-between moments to create in the young padawans a hunger for knowledge, for challenge and for the unknown.  He also spent most of the day with us and spent his lunch with a bunch of elementary and secondary students who had won awards for their writing through CLAS.  When I get a job, I’m sending Mr. Mali a picture from my first classroom.  And Taylor Swift.  Because they’re two of the coolest Taylors in my life.  Moving on…

Second was that first, second and even third year teaching will test you, push you and break you if you aren’t careful.  We were lucky enough to have two teachers and an administrator – all who had graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in the last five or so years.  Through their panel discussions we were able to divine what the future held – and begin to prepare for it.  Some highlights –

That last one is something I felt called out on – and resolved in that moment to pull myself back from the brink. Being negative is easy. Complaining is simple. But being that change, working through the tough, the rough and ugh – that’s what makes you a better teacher and a better person. It ain’t easy – but it’s what we need to do versus what we want to do – and there’s plenty more of that in our profession. Speaking of plenty more…

This is something that my field experience teacher has been teaching me since I started in her classroom weeks ago – her class is open to any and all. The principal has stopped in a few times. Teachers have asked if they could check out what she does. She even told me that if anyone from my college classes wanted to stop by and experience her classroom – they were more than welcome. There’s a teacher at a nearby high school – Karl Fisch – who recently did the same thing by putting a sign up on the door to his classroom.

The learning didn’t stop there. The administrator who had started out as a teacher had this to say,

I know there’s competing discussions on this and I’m not sure I have my thoughts complete but she was arguing that some teachers complain that people don’t take us seriously as professionals or think of us as such – her point was that when a parent walks into your classroom – do you fit the part of a professional teacher? There’s something (and evidence to suggest it) that dressing for the job elevates your subconscious processes to frame your attitude in a certain way. I’ve been dressing professionally at my field experience and my confidence has been helped. The students take me seriously and the staff has come to respect me as well. So, I’d argue it’s something to seriously consider and take to heart. Speaking of taking to heart…

I also learned what a legend and a legacy was –

Google that name. Dr. William McBride is also a goal for me. He has done so much for education, for teaching and for those of us starting out at the bottom – I was humbled and awed by his life that continues to reverberate in our state.

We also were blessed enough to hear from Mr. Jimmy Santiago Baca – a incredible poet. This tweet –

Is among the many in the #CLAS16 hashtag that will tell you how incredible his keynote was. I was lucky enough to serve as his guide through the day and I will not forget being able to talk and share with him throughout the day. Outspoken and unparalleled – Baca is one the great ones.

Our final keynote was Sarah Brown Wessling and I have to say – she was on par with Taylor Mali in the brilliance that she brought to the table. I tweeted so much from her conversation (click here for a custom tweet search) but my favorite was the one below.

Sarah’s keynote reminded me that teaching should always be an uncomfortable experience. She talked about how as teachers we force our students to do things that are just that – not fun, not pleasant and not the normal. She challenged us to do that in our teaching, our planning and even our lives – that we must constantly be taking calculated risks and be willing to experience – and yes – embrace the messy learning. I took so much away from all of the talks and break outs that I’ll be mulling, marinating and muscling on the ideas for days, weeks and probably even months.

Teaching is the job I was meant to do – and this conference was further confirmation that I have chosen the right career path. A special thanks goes out to Dr. Jill Adams and Dr. Gloria Eastman at Metropolitan State University for making this event possible and pushing us as pre-service teachers to attend – it was the most valuable experience I’ve had outside of my School of Education classes and my ongoing field experience.

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