This year’s New Teacher Conference (#NTConISU) keynote speaker Greg Michie began his career in education in the early 1990s, when he taught seventh and eighth grade reading and language arts on the South Side of Chicago. He served as a middle level teacher for 10 years before earning his doctorate, where he conducted in-depth research on urban education and educational inequality. Though it was not his initial plan, his collaboration with innovative minds in teacher education led him down a path of preparing future teachers as an assistant professor at Illinois State University.
Michie served in higher education for 10 years, focusing his efforts on readying teachers who came to Chicago to complete their student teaching in Chicago Public Schools. He taught an urban education course every year and taught a multicultural education course for graduate students. He never lost sight of the classroom and what’s best for P–12 students, and wrote several well-received publications for practitioners including We Don’t Need Another Hero: Struggle, Hope, and Possibility in the Age of High-Stakes Schooling. His other works include Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students, now in its second edition, and See You When We Get There: Teaching for Change in Urban Schools. Michie is also an entertaining and insightful follow on Twitter, and is a regular contributor on the Huffington Post.
In 2012, months before his 50th birthday, Michie heeded his internal call to return to the classroom, to the same school he served at the beginning of his career. Recently, he sat down with the College of Education to talk about his life, career, and to provide some advice for new teachers in advance of his keynote presentation at NTConISU this June.
We were thrilled to be able to recruit you to present at NTConISU for a second straight year. In your opinion, what do you think is the value of this conference for new teachers?
You are always learning as a teacher. Some new teachers and young teachers may feel as though when they graduate from college, they have finished their education and preparation for being a teacher. But any good teacher will tell you that they are always learning and with every new class, and every new year, you have opportunities to learn. So any time you have an opportunity to hear from people with experiences out there in the classroom who are doing good things, it’s important to take advantage of it!
I believe it is great that ISU is seeing that need and saying, just because students have graduated, does not mean we are done trying to help prepare them to meet their students where they are and provide them with an education that honors who they are.
Can you give us a preview of what you plan to cover in your keynote presentation?
I am hoping to give new teachers ideas for creating the kind of classroom they envision for themselves and their students. Often, it starts with small steps, but that’s OK.
Also, I am going to help them to connect their teaching to their students’ lives and backgrounds so that they, as new educators, are able to create learning experiences that are more meaningful to the students, learning experiences that promise to resonate with and engage students.
You have now been an educator for almost 25 years. When you sit back and think about how it all started, what do you think drew you to the field of education?
My parents were both educators, so in that sense I suppose that possibility was always there. But when I moved to Chicago in 1989, I really wasn’t planning to become a teacher, and my undergraduate degree was not in education. That all changed when I started working in an after-school program on the South Side of Chicago. As part of that job, I sometimes visited the school where the kids from my after-program went, and that kind of planted the seed of the possibility of becoming a teacher. At that time, certain areas of the South Side of Chicago, had been very neglected by the city and were under-resourced. And I saw a real need.
I was a product of public education, and I have always believed in public schools. All kids deserve a quality education, and I felt drawn to try to be a part of that. I started out as a substitute, but went back and got my degree and eventually had my own classroom. Seeing the energy that kids brought to the classroom—they all share a curiosity and a joy of discovery. But I do not feel as though all kids in all neighborhoods or all schools have an equal opportunity to pursue their curiosity and to learn. So that’s what really drew me; acknowledging the inequity and trying to work to be a small part of making a difference for kids who needed it.
What’s one or two pieces of advice that you regularly find yourself giving to new teachers?
As a new teacher, it can be hard to be patient and easy to be hard on yourself. But I often tell new teachers to start small and build from there. Get away from the thinking that you have to be the “perfect teacher” or the teacher you envisioned for yourself right away. It takes time. Good teachers realize that, and they continue to learn and continue to try to improve. Even when they have been in the classroom for a long time, they are always looking for ways to get better. That’s why conferences like NTConISU are important opportunities that you shouldn’t pass up.
Another piece of advice I would have is to pay attention to the larger context of your work. For new teachers, a lot of times, the support that is offered is centered around instruction or assessment or curriculum, But other things are equally important for new teachers to think about. Getting to know your students, where they are coming from, getting to know the community, the issues that impact families in the community, especially if you are teaching in a place that is different from where you were raised. That contextual knowledge can be just as important as knowledge of curriculum or classroom management or instructional strategies.
What: New Teacher Conference
Where: State Farm Hall of Business
When: 8 a.m.–4 p.m., Friday, June 17, 2016
Who: All Illinois State alumni completing one to four semesters of teaching this spring
Cost: $20, includes lunch, snacks, and classroom survival kit