I signed up for EdCampOttawa and spent Saturday with teachers, a group of pedagogical nerds like some Comicon convention, but better termed a “camp” for teachers whose restless brains and bottomless hearts push for educational revolution.
I knew what I wanted to talk about. I knew I would have the support of my principal, also in attendance, and my podcast partner. So, when the post-it notes were passed for topic selection, we knew that we wanted to talk about equity in education, about racism, and all the subtle and not so subtle ways that inequality is systemic. We wanted to talk it out and find the path forward.
Now, we are a group of well educated professionals, many with privilege and a degree of power, but two participants shared experiences which are clearly fresh flesh wounds. Their courage to speak about their experiences demonstrated both the overt and the subtle inquities of our educational institutions.
I can’t remember how the conversation begun after the introductions, but the thoughts and ideas flowed fast, back and forth across our elliptical and awkward attempt at a circle in this foreign space at the University of Ottawa. This group of teachers was somewhat diverse though largely White and predominantly female in keeping with education in general. The voices in conversation were often strained songs questioning and seeking, but aware that this is largely untraversed and rocky terrain; the risk of making the “wrong” step is high and our emotions were teetering near the edge.
And then a woman whom I’ve known and respected for her enthusiasm and dedication to her Elementary school students asked how to deliver lessons in identity while she, a hijab wearing elementary teacher, feared being accused by others of “having an agenda”. She paused while asking and admitted to getting emotional even in this reminiscence, this memory of experienced erasure.
And then a young male teacher whom I’ve encountered in Twitter chats and whose reputation is glowing, spoke about getting a job and being told on the first day that he must not share his sexual orientation, that he must hide this part of himself if he wants to stay employed in the profession. Our collective hearts sank and some apologized not knowing how to respond to such honest open wounds.
These conferences and camps are often places where teachers want to walk away with stuff, with lessons, with apps and handouts and solutions to make teaching easier, and happier, and ditch-this, ditch-that. I was that teacher who wanted something to solve for “x”.
But this weekend unveiled some truths to me; there is no formula, no handout, no app, no standardized test for equity in education. It is going to require the effort of mountaineers who know this rocky terrain begins within, and who are willing to summit by putting one’s self at the bottom of the mountain in order to lift others up to that hopeful place of equity. I can’t solve for “x”, but I can use my position of privilege; it feels like the least that I can do.
And, I know there are many more steps on my journey and I will continue to make mistakes. I cringe at my former teaching self and all that I have done to uphold inequity. I have been an ignorant bystander; now, I will educate myself to become an ally. I didn’t walk away from EdCampOttawa this weekend with stuff to teach as much as the echoes of lived experiences which have fueled my learning and I’ll never again underestimate the power of conversations.