Teaching can be a fairly solitary profession. I know that seems an odd thing to say when you’re in a classroom with at least 12 other people all day. But often when you’re teaching there are no other adults around. If you’re lucky, you have a co-teacher, assistant, or volunteer in your room for at least part of the day. Usually, however, the demands of the classroom preclude most adult conversations beyond the immediate needs of the moment. Planning time and lunch don’t really help either since most of us are using that time to prepare, not chatting with our co-workers. In fact I’ve often wondered what it would be like to work in an office and take coffee breaks or regular lunch breaks with another adult. I have no idea. I’ve always worked in a school.
We need the opportunity to be around other professionals and talk about what we do and how we can do it better. We need the opportunity to get excited about new ideas, or even better, old ideas that really work. We need the time to talk to other adults about our shared experience, good and bad.
I think this is especially true for early childhood educators for one very important reason: Most people do not understand or appreciate the level of skill and knowledge it takes to teach children ages 0-6. Many believe that as long as a person loves children and has copious amounts of patience, then they have what it takes to teach the little ones. We need to find places that celebrates us for the professionals that we are.
One way to break out of solitary is to attend a professional conference. I have been to many: local, state, and national, and I’ve enjoyed every one. Here are three reasons every early childhood educator should attend a well run, large convention, such as the one run by NAEYC.
- You get the opportunity to meet national leaders of early childhood education.
Last year at the NAEYC Conference, I got the opportunity to attend a workshop with Judy Jablon, Amy Laura Dombro, and Charlotte Stetson who wrote the wonderful book, Powerful Interactions. Later at a reception, I was even able to have a delightful conversation with Judy Jablon. I also got to meet Peggy Ashcroft, the author of numerous books on early childhood science education. In addition I attended quite few excellent sessions on a variety of early education topics that extended my knowledge and helped fuel my excitement for the field and what we can accomplish.
- You get to connect with other professionals who are passionate about early childhood education. Having opportunities to meet with other teachers at your school or in your school district is great, but by in large you have very similar experiences. By meeting with others from across the nation or your state, you can get come to a better appreciation of the field as a whole. We are a delightfully diverse group who work in a stunning array of environments, yet we all have one goal in mind, helping young children grow and learn. It is an wonderfully empowering feeling.
- You get to visit the exhibit hall. If you’ve ever been to one you probably know what I’m talking about. Booth after booth of materials and products that promise to make your job easier. Each one full of energetic salespeople ready to hand out freebies. No one can get excited about a free light up pen like a teacher who spends all day with two and three year olds. In all honesty, it is fun to see so many products that are available so that you can make a more informed choice on how to spend your limited material funds each year. But the reason I think the exhibit hall is so popular is that having so many companies clamoring for our attention and money makes us feel important and valued, something we don’t get everyday.
While the cost of traveling to and attending a conference can be prohibitive, it is well worth your time and effort to find the funds. Remember that the money doesn’t need to all come from one source. NAEYC has published several letter templets that you can use to solicit support from your boss, the families you serve, or businesses.
The NAEYC Annual Conference and Expo (see they put the exhibit hall right in the title) will be held in Orlando, Florida on November 18-21, 2015. Click here for more information. If you or someone you know would like to attend you can get a 15% discount by using the code Vermette15. I encourage you to pass the code on to anyone you know might use it.
Have you ever been to a conference? What did you take away from the experience? What conferences would you recommend? I hope that one day I get to meet each of you at a early education conference. My next one is the Texas AEYC Conference in October.