by Rebecca Takacs, Fairleigh Dickinson University
The NEA Summer Leadership Conference (SLC) broadened my knowledge as a preservice teacher through the expanse of informational sessions, networking opportunities, and community building activities. It opened my mind to countless possibilities that are available to me as a future educator. When I think back to my days spent in Washington, D.C., there are countless memories and lessons I could write about, but on the second day, one breakout session made an immense impact on me. It was titled “Engaging Members in a Brave New World.” It started with a question. Before I begin, I want you to contemplate on how you would answer this question. Take a few minutes to think about how it has applied to your life – past, present, and future. This is the question that was asked of me that I am now asking you:
How will you fit in?
So, how will you fit in? How will each of us as teachers fit into the educational profession? When I think of what it meant to fit in, it brought me back to high school. My hometown did not have a high school, which forced me to attend high school in a new town – meaning time to make new friends. I felt that I had to hide who I really was and I had to conform to the standards in this new high school. This is something numerous students face if they are forced into a new environment, and the experience is one that holds various outcomes – good and bad – for different people. But why did the presenters ask this of the preservice teachers? It may be that this question pertains to a past that I wish not to revisit, but to others, they may have reflected on it a different way.
Regardless, thinking back to this time when I struggled to fit in made me question, as teachers, don’t we want our students to be themselves? “Fitting in” shouldn’t revolve around conforming to the norms. No student is the exact same, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. Every student has their own needs that educators need to meet and protect. This applies to teachers, as well; teachers should be themselves when they teach and teach how they want, and the NJSEA and NJEA association helps educators realize their values by exposing them to dissimilar perspectives from their own.
So, after reflecting on the session, I decided to extend the original question. Once again I ask you to answer another question, and it’s slightly different – not better, just different, like how all the students in our classes and future classes are diverse. The concept that no one is the same is something that the NEA SLC instilled in our brains, and it is something that the human race should try to grasp in the light of tragic events because our differences should not segregate us – they should unite us. By asking a new question, I’m not saying the presenters were wrong to ask their original question. I just would’ve asked it differently. And with that, my question is:
How will you fit into the teaching profession while still being your true self?