“You have come from all corners of the state—I’m happy to see so many middle and high schools represented,” Dr. Zulma R. Toro told students gathered this morning for the Connecticut Future Teachers Conference.
“Connecticut is a very diverse state and we are proud of that,” the Central Connecticut State University president said to the hundreds of future educator club members gathered on her campus. “That’s why it’s so important that people of all backgrounds become teachers. Diversity in the teaching ranks is vital to the success of all school children.”
The annual conference, now in its 20th year, is sponsored by the Regional Educational Service Center Minority Teacher Recruitment Alliance. It seeks to inspire all young people, but particularly students of color, to consider teaching as a profession.
Keynote speaker Jahana Hayes, a Waterbury teacher and the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, said that she became a teacher because there were so many educators who helped her, and she wanted to be able do the same thing for other young people.
Hayes described her educational experiences as a lifeline. “I was the first in my family to go to college, the first in my family to own a home, the first in my family to travel the world—all thanks to the power of education.”
As a teacher, Hayes said her job is to meet students where they are, “To figure out their gift and elevate that gift.” She said that teaching is first and foremost relational and requires a connection between student and teacher.
That same sentiment was echoed by CEA Teacher Development Specialist Kate Field in a workshop she led at the conference titled “Be the Change You Want to See in the World!”
“Teachers are powerful people,” said Field, a former teacher and administrator. “How we treat kids is just as important as reading or math.”
Other workshops the middle and high school students attended covered topics including multiple intelligences, innovation in education, and tips for college admission.
In his workshop on how students considering teaching careers can gain experience before and after they enter college, CEA UniServ Representative Mike Breen recommended students consider working with younger kids at camps, religious institutions, community groups, or libraries.
The former high school social studies teacher recommended students talk to their guidance counselors and consider where they want to go to college and what they might eventually want to teach.
“Consider shortage areas when you’re deciding what you want to teach,” Breen said. But he also stressed to students that they don’t have to have this all figured out just yet.
“It’s great to have an idea of what you want to do, but you’re young enough to adapt and change. You’re going to be exposed to more and more ideas and opportunities, and you might change your mind about what you’re going to do,” Breen said.
For students who do go on to study education in Connecticut, CEA Educational Issues Specialist Michele O’Neill recommended becoming a member of their college or university’s CEA Student Program chapter.
O’Neill, a former teacher, co-led a workshop on university education clubs with Jenna Mancini and Hannah Watford, education students at Eastern Connecticut State University who will both be officers of the CEA Student Program this fall.
Mancini and Watford both said that they feel better prepared to become teachers thanks to being involved with the CEA Student Program.
“I’ve had a chance to take part in lots of professional development opportunities and gotten a lot of material I can use in my teaching career,” Mancini said. “There are really good networking opportunities as well.”
“There’s so much you can learn about how to be a better teacher that I’m not getting from my education classes. We do a lot of volunteer work with students,” Watford said. “If I was only doing my course work I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared to be a teacher. The CEA Student Program has also opened my eyes to education law and policy that I wouldn’t have known about if I hadn’t joined.”
“Teaching is a challenging profession and future educators need all of the support they can get,” said O’Neill. “CEA supports future educators through the Student Program and also offers information about scholarships, financial aid, and teacher loan forgiveness programs available to students considering teaching as a career.”
Contact your Local President or UniServ Representative to bring a Degrees Not Debt workshop to your local Association. Visit www.nea.org/degreesnotdebt for more information and links to loan forgiveness programs.