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Members Recharge at Fall Instructional Conference

“I still think I can make a difference and as long as I feel that way, I’m in the right job.”

“I teach kids that no one else can work with. I can, and they need me.”

“I have two little boys and I want them to be able to say, ‘My mom is a teacher.’”

Those are solid reasons for devoting one’s career to education—and they were some of the responses offered by VEA members when asked the question, “Why do you continue to teach?” during a workshop entitled “Finding Teacher Voice” at the VEA’s Instructional Conference in Richmond last weekend.

The conference, themed “Advancing Teaching, Learning and Leading,” brought together more than 200 educators from around the state, offering them an opportunity to learn from their colleagues and to direct their own professional development.

The cornerstone of the weekend was the Virginia premiere of the acclaimed documentary film, “The Mitchell 20,” which told the inspiring and, at times, heartbreaking story of 20 teachers at a disadvantaged elementary school in Phoenix. Those teachers, spearheaded by reading specialist Daniela Robles, banded together and took the quality of their school’s instruction and the future of their students into their own hands, making great strides—and meeting strong resistance.

“It was very inspiring to me to know that there is this woman in Arizona who got her colleagues together and changed things at their school,” said Sonia Smith, a Chesterfield Education Association member. “It solidified what I already knew in my heart—teachers can make a difference. It also helped validate my own thinking because I‘ve been talking with some of my colleagues about going through the national board certification process together.”

National board certification was a key component of “The Mitchell 20,” and gets very high marks from Sarah Patton, one of VEA’s representatives on the NEA Board of Directors and a National Board Certified Teacher. “The process was the most difficult, but the most rewarding, professional development I’ve ever done, and that includes my master’s degree,” she said. “It changed my teaching. I thought I was a good teacher, and I was, but it still changed me. It made me really analyze what I was doing and what I could do better.”

A panel discussion followed the documentary screening, featuring NEA President Dennis Van Roekel; former VEA and NEA President Mary Hatwood Futrell; Nancy Flanagan, teacher-in-residence at the U.S. Department of Education; Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education; and Robles, from “The Mitchell 20.” Dr. Kitty Boitnott, VEA president, served as moderator.

“Not everyone who wants to be a teacher can be one,” Van Roekel said during the discussion. “There is a set of skills that go with that, and you have to learn those. From day one to your last day in the classroom, you have to be on a continuous journey of self-improvement.”

Workshops available during the weekend included improving conditions for teaching and learning; fostering creativity in the classroom; dealing with “over-involved” parents; improving discipline; preventing burnout; applying for grants; workplace issues for support professionals; new teacher evaluation processes; teacher leadership; classroom management; and developing a support network for the national certification process.

“It was everything I hoped it would be,” Boitnott said of the conference, which is planned to resume as an annual event on the VEA calendar. “I heard lots of positive responses and I’m very gratified.”


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