Engaging Educators at Teachers 4 Social Justice Conference
By Laura Robledo
Learning is not an activity that stops on the weekend for teachers.
On October 12th, around 2,000 educators from the Bay Area and beyond gathered at Mission High School for the 13th Annual Conference for Teachers for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy.
Teachers for Social Justice is a non-profit teacher support and developmental organization that strives to create a partnership between teachers, parents, and communities that concentrates on the growth of individual students. They envision the creation of a just and caring learning environment for students by acknowledging the different social structures that oppress them outside of the classroom.
An infectious enthusiasm sparked the air as everyone queued outside the building for the conference. They debated with each other, thumbing through the red program, on which workshop they would sign up for based on their specific fields and grade levels. As a recent graduate aspiring to be a future educator, it was slightly intimidating standing in line with people who have the courage and heart to stand in front of a classroom five days a week, dedicated even on their days off to learn about ways to incorporate social justice in the classroom to ensure their students will succeed.
The conference opened with a keynote presentation by June Jordan School for Equity and Justice Matters. They presented a video to a packed auditorium that followed JJSE teachers and students on a normal day at school. It was invigorating to see how the teachers listened and valued their students’ voice in the classroom. They stressed the importance of meeting young people where they are at in life.
Then the morning workshops began. I attended a workshop entitled Justice for the Arts: (Re)Imagining and (Re)placing Arts and Social Justice in Schools. The workshop challenged educators to shift their perspective of art as an activity for the gifted few to a subject that supports social justice. By exploring the work and life of Favianna Rodriguez, an artist from Oakland, we learned how art can be used as a way to connect our personal lives to other subjects across the board such as politics, economics, and literature.
In the afternoon, we met in the auditorium once again to listen to an empowering presentation by Dr. David Stovall of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He stressed the importance of changing society’s perspective of students as disposable. Classrooms need to be a place of value, not a place of deficit. He finished by saying how educators need to model social justice for the students.
By the end of the day, one thing struck me the most about the entire experience: the passion that gripped all of the educators. Everyone possessed an eagerness to learn new ways to implement social justice into their curriculum, in the hopes that they’ll be able to construct a classroom focused on the needs of their students.