To begin, I’m here in a stunning place, completely surrounded by the ocean, wildlife, and beach lodges. It is, in a word, ethereal. Asilomar has been running a Language Arts conference for 65 years – that’s right, sixty-five – and it’s my first time here. I’m an English teacher in Salinas, CA and I came somewhat last minute. I had heard about it some months ago and shared with a colleague recently that I was interested. Being the crafty woman she is, she got us in for free by offering to volunteer. Not only do we get to attend it and choose which topics we wanted to research while here, the food is free for us. We’re talking about something that costs over $400 to attend. The lodges here are currently filled with other teachers attending the seminar, but because we live so close, we drove in. If we had rented a room, it would be over $600 just for this weekend. It’s insane to think about, but I am so grateful to be here.
And so far… The inspiration is flowing around us. As someone whose greatest passion is teaching, this is a dream. I had no idea what to expect; I actually thought I’d feel overwhelmed being here due to the schedule being packed with sessions and discussions. Instead, I am at peace. I feel at home amongst fellow teachers who are here to learn. We are here to not just pick up new ideas but to discuss and challenge what is Language Arts education. Well, at least that’s why I’m here. I find teaching to be fluid, ever-changing in a sea of ideas, obstacles, and conversations. Every teacher is different. Every student is different. Every classroom is different, and every school is different. What works for one teacher may not work for another, hence my utter fascination with the profession. There is literally no right way to teach.
Jim Burke, author of The English Teacher’s Companion and noted speaker here in Asilomar, commented on just this last night. In a chapel built by Julia Morgan, we English teachers sat beaming up at someone whom we all admire. He told us teaching never gets easier. He told us that he, too, struggled in high school. He told us about his mentors and how to become mentors ourselves. Like Burke, I nearly failed out of high school. I made up my last grade the week before I crossed the stage to accept my diploma. I was, as many teachers say about their students, a failure. I hated high school. I went through so many changes and challenges that it affected every facet of those four years. I experimented with drugs, drinking, and sex, and I often ditched school.
However, here I am. I graduated high school, struggled more in community college, finally got my Bachelor’s at 23, worked for a few years, got my Master’s at 28, and now I’m teaching the very same age group that I hated being around just 10 years ago. I love it, though. I do. I have never been so passionate about something in my life, and I have so many questions that I want to answer. I’ve decided that instead of asking professionals and experts – because there are so many of them – that I’m going to take action and answer them myself, if I can.
With that said, this is for my students. I want to know what works and what doesn’t work in the classroom. I want to know how we can support them without making them feel terrible about themselves (like I did when I was their age). I want to know why teachers are leaving the profession I adore. I want to know why we continue to use the same methods and curricula year after year despite the changing profession that teaching is. I want to know my students’ stories, where they come from, what they’ve experienced, what they yearn for. This is for them. If you want to know my biggest mentors, there are two. My students and my mother, who dreamed of teaching all her life and would have been the best teacher there is. She is the best teacher, despite not working in the classroom. She is my teacher and she inspires me to start this journey.