From November 8th-11th I attended the Freedom Writer Teacher Empowerment Symposium in Long Beach, California with Erin Gruwell and the Freedom Writers. The weekend was partly a reunion for Freedom Writer Teachers and partly an educational empowerment professional development. In any case, it was a weekend full of energy, passion, learning, and love. The symposium was the perfect opportunity for me to finally meet other Freedom Writer Teachers (there are 300 in total) who I hadn’t met previously, while learning new ways to continually engage, enlighten, and empower my students.
As a teacher, it is so important to continue learning and sharing with other teachers. When hundreds of passionate teachers are brough together amazing things happen. You can feel the energy in the room. How do you describe the connectiontion between teachers from all over the world who are connected by a similar goal? It is electric. Goose bump incredible. Every teacher at the symposium is an advocate for their students and believe that every child can make it. There are no “throw away kids”. There are no “lost causes”. It is our job as teachers to reach our students in any way that we can, believe in them, and show them that they can do anything. The symposium was energizing and reminds me that I chose the right profession. Although I am taking a break from teaching to learn more about the world (which will hopefully make me a better teacher) I am excited to return to the classroom. There is nothing more rewarding than helping students navigate their way along their journey and to help facilitate their successes. When teaching, my students amaze me everyday.
There is something unique about the Freedom Writer Family (FWF) I’ve been ‘adopted’ into. To have hundreds of teachers who have gone through the same training as me, teach in a similar way as I do, and have a love for teaching is all I could ever hope for. They are there for me whenever I have a question or need a lesson plan idea. Each FWT is doing amazing things in their classrooms, touching the lives of thousands all over the world. Learning from the individual FWT presentations gave me so much inspiration to bring back to my own classroom. My students will be the beneficiaries.
Many FWT’s from the sessions I attended in 2009 and 2012 have become great personal friends of mine. The more teachers I meet from other cohorts, the more connections and friends I make. I couldn’t ask for a better support system in the difficult world of education. It’s not always easy, but it can be if you love what you do and surround yourself with other teachers who feel the same way.
During the workshop, we learned from prominent guest speakers. We went back to the past to learn more about the future. It is important to understand history so that we do not repeat it. Tim Zaal & Matthew Boger (Freaks and Revelations, Facing Fear), Margarit Polak (Steal a Pencil for Me), Darrell Scott who lost his daughter during the Columbine shooting (Rachel’s Challenge), and Paul and Tresor Rusessabinga who survived the Rwandan genocide were a few of the bone chilling speakers who presented throughout the weekend. As they talked about their experiences tears came to my eyes. It was hard to listen to their stories, but I knew that I needed the reminder so that I won’t forget. I also need to teach my students to be global citizens and advocates for human rights and equality. I also understand that my own students have their own stories of trials and tribulations. We all have a story.
As an English teacher, it’s so important for me to empower my students with a voice. They need the chance to write their story and to know that their story is important. Their articulate writing often blows me away. When given the opportunity, students become engaged because they know their voice counts. That someone believes in them and cares what they have to say. Students are enlightened by real-world stories (often told by people in the worst circumstances) like Anne Frank, the Freedom Writers, Martin Luther King Jr, Renee Firestone, among others. With their newfound enlightenment, their learning is endless. The students begin to want to learn more and even do so on their own. It is then, when the classroom is taken outside of its 4 walls to new possibilities (i.e. fundraisers, community work, class trips, partnerships, and pen-pals. The options are infinite.
I am so blessed and happy to be a part of a movement beyond myself, my students, and my school. Reuniting with the FWF was exactly what I needed, as I am a bit far removed from the classroom currently. It is important for me to stay current in the world of education and to continue to improve. With a newly earned Master’s in Education, principal’s certificate, and this empowerment symposium, I will be fully equipped to head back to the classroom to fight the good fight on the front lines. I will continue to fight for my students and to be an advocate for them because they are my future. Your future. Our future leaders.
“When diverse worlds come together, beauty is inevitable.” -Erin Gruwell