Teachers, students go extra mile(s) for education
By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
With a wide, beaming smile, Layza Ramirez explained why she and a few of her classmates took a five-hour bus ride to get to Grand Canyon University on Wednesday morning.
“Kids are my motivation to follow my dream to teach,” said Ramirez, a junior at San Luis High School. “I want to learn how they develop and how I can help them as they develop.”
That kind of passion and commitment was inevitable at the Educators Rising Arizona Fall Leadership Conference, where more than 560 education majors, faculty, specialists and students from across the state focused on one major point: becoming accomplished teachers.
Ramirez talked of how excited she was about taking an early childhood education elective as a sophomore, where she was in constant care of a simulated baby, whether at school or at home. Like a real baby, the simulated baby cried when hungry, in need of burping or a diaper change.
“In the same way, when it comes to teaching, we have to learn to think like our students and observe them – it’s learning by seeing,” Ramirez said. “As teachers, we learn with our students.”
Educators Rising Arizona is a career and technical student organization dedicated to ensuring that the future is full of high quality educators starting in high school. EdRising provides students with the opportunities to take what they learn in their classes about early childhood education and the education profession and apply them in relevant, scenario-based competitions at the annual state leadership conference.
GCU President Brian Mueller opened the conference by telling the story of working 80 hours a week in high school to save money to go to college and pursue his teaching dream. It was that initial determination that led him where he is today, and he said it became the biggest blessing of his life.
“I graduated when I was 17 years old, but I come from a family of eight and I didn’t have the money to go to college,” he said. “Though it was the toughest time of my life, it was the best thing I could have ever done. I could have gone a less expensive way, but I wanted to have the total campus experience. I made enough to pay for my first three years of school in doing that. You can do it – do not limit yourself.
“I’m in a leadership position now where we’re managing 12,000 employees, 70,000 students studying online, 19,000 students on our campus … where do you get the confidence to do all of that when you start at a point from having zero confidence in yourself? There is no better position in life, in my opinion, that prepares people for leadership roles like teaching.”
Next up was Lennon Audrain, a junior at Arizona State University who teaches Spanish at St. Gregory Catholic School in Phoenix and serves as the National Student President of Educators Rising. Five months before he graduated from high school, Lennon graduated from Rio Salado College with an Associate in Arts degree in Elementary Education.
In his keynote, Audrain first challenged students to think about teachers who had impacted their lives and referenced three teachers who had led him to his teaching journey.
Then Audrain shared several classroom stories to touch on the ups and downs of being a first-year Latin teacher, such as realizing that “teaching was more than theories and following a script and lesson planning … it was having students pulling chairs from under each other and speaking Spanish thinking I didn’t understand.”
To cap off his keynote, Audrian reminded the audience that “teaching is a profession where you have a constantly changing environment and you are constantly adapting to the needs of others. … You have the opportunity to get better as a teacher each time you go into the classroom, and you don’t get better by doing the same things as before.”
During three breakout sessions, participants had a choice of 15 workshops at various campus locations, including “Disability in the Inclusive Classroom,” “Stress Management” and “Intro to Culturally Responsive Teaching.”
In their presentation, Lindy Gaudiano and Stacy Rucker shared ways for future teachers to develop lifelong motivation in themselves and their future students.
“I keep a binder filled with positive notes from students and parents, and every once in awhile I’ll look at it,” Rucker said. “We also want to make sure that we vocalize our appreciation to our teachers so that we keep them motivated, because we are going to want that someday.”
Gaudiano asked students to think about their support mentors, school counselors and faculty and encouraged them to “use them as much as possible.”
“Your teachers are already in the spot that you want to be in,” Gaudiano said. “So always ask: What was your path? What do you recommend I do? Where should I start?”
Finally, Rucker told the students to turn to their peers for support.
“You are the ones that are finishing up assignments. You are the ones that are studying for a test. You are the ones that are preparing to be successful in the classroom. Use each other,” she said.
In the College of Education, Jennifer Fowler, a teacher in the Glendale Union High School District, lectured on developing a growth mindset for success. Students also took a quick assessment of their mindsets.
“It’s really important to know where students are in their thinking to help them grow and improve as learners to impact instruction,” she said.
Dr. Lisa Mayberry, State Advisor for Educators Rising Arizona, a GCU alumna and an adjunct faculty member, has experienced the growth of Educators Rising firsthand.
“I am very passionate about teaching, and I don’t think there’s anything else that I could do or would want to do,” she said. “Everyone is a teacher in some aspect whether we know it or not, and sometimes kids don’t see their potential in being a teacher and it takes us to show them that they can be.
“The motto for Educators Rising is, ‘There’s power in teaching.’ There is such an extreme power in teaching every single day, and as teachers in the education profession we need to realize that power and take it up a notch. Teach up.”
Dr. Marjaneh Gilpatrick, Executive Director of Educational Outreach for GCU’s College of Education, added, “Teaching is a great, noble profession and the only profession that teaches all others. We are finding those students who have a heart for teaching and want to learn about the art and science of teaching to inspire others. At GCU we are all about learning, leading and serving, so this is a wonderful opportunity to make our programs and our campus available to students who are thinking about become teachers and a great day for professional development and networking.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at [email protected] or (602) 639-6631.