For Jill Biden, the wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, teaching was “the family business.” It was the business she first learned about while ringing the bell at the one-room schoolhouse where her grandmother taught, a memory she shared as part of the California Teachers Summit 2017.
While she always knew she wanted to be a teacher, how she became one will sound familiar to Brandman students. “My path was a bit meandering.”
That meandering path included raising three children, teaching full time and going to school – “always the oldest in the class” – while earning two master’s degrees and eventually her doctorate.
Teachers from throughout Southern California gathered at the Irvine campus Friday to hear the statewide, video-streamed address from Biden, in-person talks from education leaders in Orange County, and ideas from each other through Ed Camp sessions. Staff members from the School of Extended Education coordinated the Irvine portion of the event.
Drawing on her experiences as both second lady and teaching at the secondary and community college level, Biden praised the approximately 10,000 teachers watching from locations throughout California for their dedication, leadership and willingness to learn from each other “now, more than ever,” the overall theme of the summit.
Seeking and finding inspiration
For Justin Jimenez, a Brandman student working toward earning a special education teachering credential and currently an instructional aide, the summit was a chance to learn from experienced educators. That included Carolyn Lindstrom, Ed.D., a 2015 alumna of Brandman’s Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership program, and Becky Rasmussen a teacher in Riverside Preparatory School who earned her M.A. in teaching this year from Brandman, and who, like Jill Biden, juggled family and working and school.
Lindstrom said teachers need to know that their concerns are being heard. Holding the summit in the summertime takes an extra commitment from the teachers but also lets them learn from each other in a more relaxed atmosphere than during the school year. “It’s a chance to ask each other questions and exchange information in an informal way,” she said.
“This was a great day to celebrate teachers,” said School of Education Dean Christine Zeppos. “It’s what Brandman is committed to doing.”
Also echoing the theme of the day were Christina Banagas Engelerdt and Crystal Turner, Ed.D., who delivered the in-person EdTalks at Brandman. Engelerdt, who teaches English in Irvine Unified School District’s Northwood High School, was the district’s Teacher of the Year. Turner, who serves on Brandman University’s School of Education Advisory Board and teaches in the university’s master’s program focusing on teaching the 21st-century learner, is the new superintendent of Saddleback Valley Unified School District, also in Orange County.
Engelerdt talked about the relationship of empathy and compassion to academic success, highlighting her work with intervention classes aimed at helping students get back to successful academic experiences.
Like Biden, she cited an early mentor who told her to treat her students as if they were her own children. She continues to make “what am I doing to help my students succeed?” an important part of how she teaches English. “They want to know you care.”
Empathy, she said, creates a positive classroom culture and helps her focus on “essential learning targets”
“I want to cover everything as an English teacher but there is not enough time. I focus on ‘what do my student most need to be successful?’”
Equally important, she said, was learning to share her own struggles and successes with students, adding that talking to her peers, as she was doing Friday, was not something she was comfortable doing. “I’m taping this. I’ll have my students critique me so they know I want to get better.”
Calling on creativity
In the noon EdTalk session, Turner focused on turning STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education into an immersive experience for students. She said too often STEM equates to “stuff,” meaning bringing robots or 3-D printers or other technology into the classroom. While there’s nothing wrong with introducing technology, it’s up to teachers to make it immersive.
Just as the ingredients that make up a cookie are not the cookie until they’re mixed together and baked, she said, STEM education doesn’t really take hold without teachers putting it all together. “It relies on your creativity,” she said.
One thing teachers can do is call on experts, even if it’s just a 20-minute teleconference. To prove her point, she called up Tom Turner, director of STEM for the Orange County Department of Education Instructional Services Division, to talk about the two barriers teachers need to overcome: nostalgia for how they were taught and fear of embarrassing themselves in front of students by not knowing all the answers. He assured the group “those barriers can be overcome.”
Crystal Turner finished up her talk by highlight a program designed by teachers who had done just that, saying they knew they had succeeded when the students began asking the hard questions.
“It’s really you. You are the glue that holds it all together. Teachers are the magic of what happens in schools.”