Hundreds of the Valley’s educators on Friday joined a statewide movement to sit on the other side of the classroom and play the role of students.
The Better Together California Teachers Summit was held at nearly 40 locations across California, including Fresno State, where more than 200 Fresno-area teachers learned new ways to motivate students and how to keep up with ever-changing technology and curriculum.
Joe Marquez, a science teacher at Clovis Unified’s Alta Sierra Intermediate, stood before his peers on Friday wearing a belt that scrolled bright green letters past a screen and declared: “I’m a tech geek and I know it.” Marquez urged teachers to embrace students’ obsession with their iPhones – which he calls “computers with a phone app” – and said that the use of technology is not another thing for teachers to add to their plate, because it is the plate.
“The kids we have today are a different beast. Every single one of them has an $80 machine in their pocket. We, as educators, have to stop fearing technology. Technology is not meant for us to come in and say, ‘instead of writing that report on paper, you’re going to type it on the computer.’ Technology is meant to reinvent the task,” he said. “Technology is that spark that makes kids who normally aren’t interested in science or even being in school finally feel they have equity in the lesson.”
Marquez said that teachers who are willing to keep learning are the best educators, and he urged them to start each new school year like it’s their first.
You are the light in these kids’ lives for the brief moment you have them.
Actor Ernie Hudson
“You need to remember the excitement and the fear and the want to change, because the moment that you lose that, I’m sorry to say you’ve got to leave the classroom,” he said. “Your students deserve better.”
Tiffany Castillo, a teacher on special assignment in the Fresno Unified School District, spoke to teachers about the importance of what happens to kids outside of the classroom. In a district like Fresno Unified, where nearly 90 percent of students come from low-income families, Castillo said it’s especially important for teachers to know the ways that outside trauma can follow students into the classroom.
“Yes, your No. 1 job is to teach the curriculum, but you won’t be able to do that because students can’t leave all of that at the door. It just doesn’t work that way,” she said.
Castillo urged teachers to spot the ways students deal with challenges, and what that can say about their personal lives.
“Fight, flight, or freeze are some of the signs to look for. When someone is living in a traumatic situation, that’s usually how they respond,” she said. “They might want to leave your classroom or stray away from tasks that give them too much stress or disconnect and not engage in conversations and activities. It’s about creating a safe and predictable environment for students and finding ways to relate to them so that you can break down some of those walls.”
Actor Ernie Hudson of “Ghostbusters” fame spoke at California State University, Fullerton about the importance of educators in his life, and his speech was live-streamed to all 40 of the summit sites. He recalled struggling to graduate high school and working as a janitor when he decided to push himself into the college system, which eventually led him to the Yale School of Drama and Hollywood.
“I know you guys will probably never get the pay you deserve … but do it anyway,” Hudson said. “The power and influence you have over the minds of these kids … You are the light in these kids’ lives for the brief moment you have them.”