Saturday, July 1, 2017

Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice (ITOC): A Reflection

I applied for and was accepted into the Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice (ITOC) conference in Los Angeles, California. Coming off a rough school year, I was ready to be around other educators with a like mindset. Like everywhere else, the emphasis is on raising standardized test scores, so social justice work takes a back seat if it has a seat at all.

I went to work on Monday to finish out a school year that I was glad to see end. Because I teach writing as enrichment, my class serves as a preparation period for teachers, and there is no love for prep teachers. Homeroom teachers just want to know that they are going to get their break. Outside of that we are invisible. In addition to feeling like I was being erased, I was also trying to recover from student involved trauma.

Feeling devalued and distressed, I pushed myself to get through those last two days. Initially excited about the ITOC conference, I began having doubts about attending. I was tired. I was dealing with too much, and I had anxiety about traveling alone. I didn’t know what to do with the emotions coursing through me. It was easier to just skip the conference and try again next year. But the easiest thing is not the best thing, so I decided to go anyway.

On Wednesday, I caught an early morning flight that put me in Los Angeles at the start of the conference. I went straight from the airport to the conference rolling my luggage behind me.
Breakfast was being served when I arrived, so I fixed myself a plate and found an empty table. A beautiful, young woman with locks whose name I don’t want to butcher invited me to sit at her table; I did. The morning went well. I loved the ice breakers because they allowed me to connect with other people and stay within my comfort zone—or not. 

At lunch, I went looking for my roommates and found my tribe: Sonya, Yolanda, Dara and Samantha. They welcomed me into the fold and made space for me.  Then I ran into Cecily, a woman I knew from Chicago. She and I worked together years 7 or 8 years ago, and I had not seen her since then. We’ve always shared positive energy so; it was good to reconnect. 

After the 1st workshop after lunch, I decided to go and check in. It had been a long day and we had dinner that night. I could not get the wifi working on my phone, so one of the organizers called a Lyft for me and paid for it. The next morning I tried to repay her and she refused to take the money. I’m sorry that I don’t remember her name.

Attending the ITOC conference was life-changing and reaffirming. In my life, I have been blessed to interact with people whose presence stays with me long after they’re gone. At the first school I worked, the staff was really like family. My women’s triathlon teammates helped me face my fears and finish what I started. My belly dance sisters, Nefertari, are friends for life. And now I can add ITOC to that list.  If I never attend another conference (I certainly hope that’s not the case), I can say that my first ITOC conference was amazing. 

ALL of my needs were met. I had healthy food options. I connected to people. I was in a safe space; I could breathe. So, I was able to soak up so much of the knowledge that was presented. I gained new knowledge, but I also learned that I am on the right track with my teaching. I was doing circles before restorative justice became the latest buzz word. I used to have my students do mood reports based on the weather, and I was reminded in one of the workshops that this is still an excellent way to keep my finger on the pulse of what’s happening. 

It’s been a week since I returned, and I’m still processing all that I learned and experienced. The conference was both professional development and a retreat all rolled into one. When I stepped off that plane in California, I was broken. When I got back on the plane headed home, I felt renewed and ready to not only work for social justice, but to live a life of social justice.

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