As the end of the school year quickly approaches, I realize that attending the CEC 2011 Convention & Expo was exactly what I needed at this stage in my career. Countless amazing, inspiring, and dedicated people were placed in my path, giving me the perspective I needed to move forward on my journey.
As I attended sessions and asked questions about the realities of co-teaching—my favorite subject, as you all know!—I was shocked to hear veteran special educators both acknowledge my professional concerns and encourage me to continue on the path. Their positive and supportive responses were just the consolation my young, passionate teacher’s heart needed.
I believe that my two years of co-teaching have been miles’ worth of footsteps on an unfolding journey. The trails have been both rocky and smooth, but I’ve learned from each step and have discovered a deeper awareness of who I am and what brings joy to my life. I love seeing smiles on children’s faces when they accomplish a task they didn’t think they could achieve. I love being a mentor and advocating for the needs of my students. I love to experience change, whether it inspires a shift in attitudes or behaviors, or gets students to try, try again when they are so used to simply giving up.
My passion is who I am and a primary source of my joy. Empowering and giving voice to those in need is at the heart of that passion. I was glad to meet so many other like-minded professionals at the CEC convention.
For example, I met an amazing woman named Amrita Chaturvedi. In her early 30s, she is a professor at St. Louis University who helped found the Hope and Joy Society for the Underprivileged in 2004. One of this NGO’s community outreach initiatives is the Asha Deep Vidyashram school for underprivileged children in Varanasi, India. Amrita’s school serves children born into poverty, children from traditionally marginalized castes, and children with disabilities. When I told her about my Peace Corps service in Niger, West Africa, she shared that she was actually looking for partners to expand educational opportunities for children in Africa! I was moved by her passion and by the fact that her youth didn’t prevent her from living it.
One of my all-time favorite quotes comes from Nelson Mandela’s autobiography A Long Walk to Freedom. He wrote, “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” The CEC convention served as that mirror for me. It was a much-needed week of professional inspiration and perspective in which I reconnected with my deepest intentions and passions. I would recommend this event to any new special education teacher as one of the most powerful and meaningful professional growth opportunities out there. I am certainly grateful for the experience, and now motivated and equipped to continue my journey!
Other sources of inspiration that I met at the CEC 2011 Convention & Expo:
- Dr. Festus E. Obiakor’s journal Multicultural Learning & Teaching offers incredible insight into the exploration and examination of learning environments and education for students and professionals of diverse multicultural backgrounds. Obiakor is with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
- Professor Todd Fletcher’s cultural competency development program with graduate students in special education. Fletcher is at the University of Arizona.
- Professor Sumita Chakraborti-Ghosh’s Brazil study abroad program, inclusion study, and service learning for graduate students in special education. She teaches at Tennessee State University.
- Vesna Candic and Hannah Ehrli are two Orlando, Fla., teachers who support the development of special education programs and outreach in Serbia.
- Alan November, an advocate for technology education and the convention’s opening keynote speaker. I loved his message of intercultural awareness, global communication, and holistic learning by teaching children to connect through the innovations of the internet.
- CEC Caucuses for Individuals of Diverse Backgrounds.
- Jannis V. Floyd, President of the National Caucus of Black Special Educators.