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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

If You Had Asked Me About TCEA 2014

Carolyn Foote at TCEA14 (@technolibrary)
This is not a "bash the conference" post. It's not designed to be negative at all.  So as I progress please keep that in mind.

This is my 4th or 5th TCEA conference that I have attended and it has gotten B I G! This morning I arrived about 30 minutes later than usual and it felt like a SXSW morning. Parking garages were full and traffic was crazy. What the heck is going on with this conference?

That last question actually came to me a couple of days ago as I was looking at the session offerings for my one day I could be here. This is a tech conference and tech still dominates the sessions. However, there are more sessions with teachers presenting the use of technology in their classroom. And there are sessions with teachers talking about PBL. Lots of sessions with the letters PBL in them.  

So is this an education conference with a heavy emphasis on technology or is it a technology conference with a heavy emphasis on using technology in the classroom.  In keeping the phrase "technology is the invisible tool," I would say it is both and it is neither. The TCEA conference has become an educational conference, period.

Education Conferences need educators attending. (Well, duh). But I would extend that one step further - we need teachers to attend education conferences. This week we have 5 or 6 teachers from my school here at TCEA. They submitted session proposals and their proposals were accepted. Because we don't have to pay for transportation and lodging our district is able to pay for these teachers to attend. But what other "costs" are involved in this endeavor.

The cost of having a teacher out of the classroom is, almost, incalculable.  There are the hours spent planning for a substitute. There is the cost of paying a substitute. There are the headaches administrators and other teachers in the school have to endure because the regular teacher is out of the classroom.

Headaches? If you have to ask then you probably haven't been a teacher. Students act silly (at best) when their regular teacher isn't there. This ends up requiring hours by assistant principals and principals dealing with discipline issues. Then there are the subs who don't show up and teachers are covering other teacher's classes and losing their conference periods. I'll stop there but I could write a whole post about what happens when a teacher isn't in school.

I'd like to get back to my premise that we need teachers to attend the conference. I'm going to make another bold statement: teachers, in state-led assessment states, should NOT be allowed out of the classroom for the two months leading up to the assessment. I'm serious. I know that is not enforceable, but it's how I feel. If we are going to be serious about closing the education gaps then we need teachers in their classroom meeting their students' needs. (Excuse me while I get off my high horse...)

We need teachers in the classroom. We need teachers attending conferences like TCEA. So where do we go with this dichotomy? We need to change the dates of the conferences. No three or four day education conferences should occur between January 1st and the end of the school year! Now THAT is a bold statement. We need no excuses for teachers not being where they need to be.  (How'd that horse get underneath me again?)

Getting back to the TCEA conference - we need to move the dates that we are here in Austin filling our brains with all kinds of wonderful information.  And I would suggest either the early Fall or during the Summer. One problem with Summer is the TCEA - ISTE connection but that is an option. I think the Fall might work best, though.

Having an education conference in the Fall would allow teachers to take things, that they have learned, back to their classrooms.  It still doesn't solve the issue of teachers out of their classroom but it gives the teachers time to get their classroom back to normal and teach/reteach what was lost because of their absence.

The TCEA conference is a pretty darn good conference. We need to make it an event that ALL teachers can attend without push back from their school or district and we need to make it something that has a minimum impact on the teacher's wallet. It's too late to change the dates for 2015, but let's work on changing this for the 2016/2017 school year.