“I didn’t dress right, because this is church!” fellow educator Aeriale Johnson typed in the chat the last time we heard from Tyrone Howard at TC’s Supper Club. Today was the TCRWP Saturday Reunion and Tyrone was the closing keynote. Aeriale’s words came back to me as we listened to Tyrone speak with honesty and passion about what we as educators need to do for children and what policymakers need to do for educators. It was church! (In the Before Times, we literally would’ve been in a church.)
What I realized as I was thinking about today’s experience is how much the gatherings of educators like this one really is my kind of church.
A big part of why my dad was able to come to America in the 1960s is the kindness of Christian missionaries. I don’t remember all the details of his story, but I know that they helped him improve his English and had connections that eventually led to someone sponsoring him. This kindness led my dad to the church and is why I grew up going to church.
But my relationship with church was much more complicated than my dad’s. He has never had a crisis of faith, never faltered in his beliefs. I know from one of my youth pastors that it’s okay to question your faith at times; it doesn’t make you less Christian. Sadly, or not, depending on your perspective, I lost my way and after a few attempts I decided I didn’t really want the map.
So why are powerful professional development sessions like church for me?
1. They make me feel like I belong, that I’m in the right place. When I was in elementary school I went on a church retreat and our teacher told us to close our eyes and feel the spirit of Jesus in us. I didn’t know what I was supposed to feel so I peeked out of one eye to see the other children. They looked so at peace and like they were feeling something. I remember feeling like such a fraud. But when I’m in a gathering with other educators, I know how I’m supposed to feel. I know when I should feel inspired. I know when I should question.
2. They help me to do better in serving others-others who are like me and those that are not. When I was in middle school at another retreat, we were sitting around the campfire singing songs when another youth group arrived for their retreat. This group was made up of Jewish kids and their counselors. Our leader saw them and started making up a verse that was disparaging toward them. I remember being so upset. It was wrong, but when you’re in middle school you don’t always know how to stand up for what’s right. But when I’m in a gathering with other educators, I am learning about ways to serve all students, especially those from marginalized groups. This year alone I have filled my toolkit with ways to make my read alouds culturally responsive and strategies for leading conversations about race in the classroom.
I know that my experience with church is vastly different than many others’ experience and I don’t want to diminish anyone’s beliefs, whatever your faith. I also know that PDs are not always powerful in these ways. I know that all educators are not doing the work to further racial equity. But today was church!