Guest blog post by Valeria Rodriguez
Walking into the Moscone West Center in San Francisco on Wednesday afternoon, I had a few personal issues I was tackling, when I overheard a teacher saying:
“ I am almost 50 and I have had so many firsts since yesterday: I traveled to San Francisco, took an Uber, and ate at Whole Foods Market… and I still have three more days here. Friday I will present at this conference, which is another first. I know these things may seem small, but to me, they aren’t. I almost took my life a few years back, so the way I see it they are huge. It’s heartbreaking that I needed to almost die to really appreciate the gift that life brings and the new opportunities that it offers every day. I hope that you do not have to almost die before you realize it too.”
I apologized for eavesdropping and thanked her for sharing so openly. Those words were spoken by Kim, a pre-service teacher from Philadelphia who lives in chronic pain has had a few recent spine surgeries, and yet wore a smile ear to ear the entire conference going out of her way to inspire and make others smile while she was at it. She has 1 semester of coursework and 1 semester of student teaching left before she gets to grace a lucky classroom somewhere.
Throughout that conversation, I was reminded that teachers arriving at the STEM FORUM were full of COURAGE. Teachers were showing up despite each of their own stories and their own set of challenges they were working through. They were showing up with open hearts to learn, connect, build, re-build, explore, and grow in new ways as educators, and people, to SHOW UP in a more authentic way for their students and communities.
Throughout the conference, I saw many more examples of courage spring up.
- I saw vendors putting their ideas and products out to strangers, hoping that they would get to make an impact in classrooms.
- I saw teachers sharing hacks, lessons, and tips at the Elementary showcase. They were openly giving resources, sharing their contact information, and talking about some of the challenges that led to their breakthroughs.
- I saw presenters stand in front of other teachers and share ideas that had worked for them. I even had my own “face your fears” experience presenting. When I woke up the morning of my presentation, I could barely hear myself speak. I immediately wondered how I was going to deliver the presentation. When I walked into my presentation room with 15 minutes left, there was not a soul in the room. My heart sunk. I wondered if anyone would come. Then one teacher came in. She told me not to worry. Another followed, and then slowly my room started to populate with empathetic and caring teachers who helped me look for my voice ( to no avail). With sweaty armpits and palms, I took a deep breath in, took the microphone of room 2016, and presented on how to use the Design Thinking to Create Cross-Curricular lesson plans- by myself for the first time. It takes courage to stand in front of others…and I did it. By the end of my session, I realized that “my voice” wasn’t the only tool I had to transmit my message–and I wrote that down to make sure to remind myself of that once the school year started.
- I saw students bravely share on student panels their findings, project inspiration, and advice for teachers. One student said that being a passionate teachers sparks curiosity in students because if nothing else, they (students) will pay attention long enough to figure out why that teacher is so passionate about that subject. This left me thinking. It sounds like no big deal, but it takes courage to be that kind of teacher.
- I saw an astronaut who has accomplished extraterrestrial missions, now dedicates his career to focusing on terrestrial missions that provide STEM opportunities for all students through NMSI (National Math and Science Initiative.
- I saw NSTA leaders and organizers address questions, actively participate in sessions, embrace attendees’ concerns, and shared about their own professional journeys. Christine Anne Royce, retiring president of NSTA, Science educator, author, and world traveler took time from her crazy NSTA schedule to sit and talk with me. She shared about her amazing mentors along the way, her willingness to move to the next level (from classroom teacher to university professor), her “model-by-doing” mantra, and her stubbornness and/or perseverance to take risks and grow into roles she has held throughout her career. Every part of our conversation had courage written all over it, though she said that there was no ONE REAL big act of courage, all her small yet consistent acts reminded me to lean into my future fearlessly. Jennifer Williams tirelessly worked the conference from idea to reality– and grew the Elementary Showcase to the most successful it’s ever been. Right before the keynote, she graciously accepted a certificate of Honor from the City of San Francisco, but instead of taking all the credit, she immediately reminded everyone that it belongs to all of NSTA and thanked her amazing committee for their hard work. It’s no wonder that NSTA is in the midst of changing its logo, website platform, and just went through an official name change, as well.
“Members of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have approved a new name for the organization that better reflects the numerous stakeholders in the K–16 science teaching community and the many places where science learning takes place. Effective immediately, the National Science Teachers Association will be known as the National Science Teaching Association.”
Those were just some of the many random sightings of courage I witnessed over the span of a few days. I bear witness to the courage it takes to teach EVERYDAY, too. Thousands of us get up every morning and SHOW UP for our students. It takes courage to ask for help, communicate concerns with our students’ families, and adjust our plans (whether its changing lessons, subject areas, classrooms, or schools). It takes courage to “FLIP” our classrooms, implement new models, and do experiments/lessons we haven’t done before (and don’t entirely know the outcome of). It takes courage to remind ourselves of the strengths our coworkers (when we have different approaches), walk away from gossip at the “watering hole”, and start positive talks about community members/students/colleagues in our workplaces (to model for our students).
It takes courage to believe that the work we do makes a difference. Life is chock full of lessons and we have to always remember that there is a greater purpose ahead if we just have the patience to see through the moments of discomfort that will inevitably cross our path (and the path of our students). Like Astronaut Bernard A Harris mentioned in his keynote, it takes courage to help students “Dream Beyond”, prepare them for the future, and “eradicate the STEM desserts” around our country. He ended his keynote saying, “Once we enable their dreams, there is no limit of what they can do.” I’d like to apply his quote to ourselves, as teachers. Once we enable our dreams, there is no limit to what we can do and what we can inspire students (and other teachers to do).
I’d like to give a special thanks to Kim for inspiring this post. May we all have the courage to appreciate the gifts that life brings and the new opportunities that life offers every day. Let’s have the courage to repeat this as many times as necessary to ourselves and our students:
“I am an infinite being with infinite possibilities”.
Thank you to all the teachers, presenters, and NSTA who made this experience so enriching and thought-provoking. May we all enter the new school year with fresh eyes, open hearts, and a bottomless GRANDE cups of SOY CHAI COURAGE LATTES or COURAGE MACCHIATOS in hand!