So the AASSA Conference was this weekend in Rio. My two friends and I from school took the 7-hour overnight bus from Campinas and arrived at a sleepy 7:30 in the morning in the Central district, whereupon we grabbed a cab and arrived in Sao Corrado, south along the coast from Copacabana and Ipanema. The conference was for teachers in South America and so over the course of the weekend, we met people from Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, Venezuela, and Chile. The 500 or so participants–American school teachers and administrators–spent two full days here attending workshops and discussion groups focused on making our teaching better. I spent all day on Friday, Day 1 of the conference, going to important meetings. I mention this only because this is rare for me. I would have much rather spent the time out at the pool or going shopping in Ipanema, but I was so starving for professional development that I went to every single workshop time. Same with Day 2. Overall, it was a fabulous couple of days and I am so thankful I was able to go.
It occurs to me just how important it is for teachers to get professional development, and to be able to choose what it is they need and want to do for the PD experiences. So often, schools offer blanket professional development–a one-size-fits-all kind of experience. But that’s just bullshit. If we know that the basis of education is to make it diverse so that we can reach as many students as possible, the same holds true for teachers. I know my areas of weakness and I sought out workshops that spoke to those weaknesses. Therefore, the choice I had in this weekend made it an incredibly valuable weekend for me. I think it’s a dangerous and careless practice for schools to decide what teachers need. Teachers need to decide for themselves, to be reflective enough to understand and acknowledge what it is they need. If administrators decide what teachers need, it takes the reflection out of the practice and increases the frustration. I spent all of last year aching for professional development, and so upon arrival in Rio, I was eating up every opportunity to talk with colleagues and more experienced teachers, those from whom I could draw energy and expertise, models of how I can run my own classroom, and inspiration to take their experiences and individualize them according to the needs of my classroom.
At night, since the workshops ended at 5 or so, we went out. On Friday night, the three of us went to Ipanema to a fabulous restaurant with pillows on the floor and short tables. We stayed for hours and talked and ate amazing food, then headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep. On Saturday we met up with several teachers from Sao Paulo and Venezuela and went to dinner, again in Ipanema, and then headed over to Lapa. The Venezuela teachers hadn’t been to Rio before, and so we stayed out almost until sunrise dancing in small bars, wandering the streets and listening to Funk music blaring out of cars parked at gas stations, and buying cans of beer and bottles of water on the street from vendors. We stopped and leaned in the window of a salsa club, watching dancers twist their legs around each other and twirl around the dance floor, while just across the cobble stone street were a line of hippies selling their jewelery made of multi-colored seeds–bright reds and greens, calling prices for potential buyers and holding up mirrors so customers could see themselves.
At four in the morning, we drove away from Lapa for a good twenty-minutes, past the old buildings, huge and delicate, covered with years of graffiti, and drove along the windy coast road, back to Sao Corrado. Rounding a giant curve, the sea to the left and a wall of earth and rock to our right on which thousands of people have built make-shift homes, I drank in the salty smell of crashing waves below us and the fresh, cool, red dirt from the earth to our side and rising above us. I stopped my talking and breathed deeply.
I was refreshed many times over this weekend.