On April 8, a year after the initial invitation, the Student Association for Bilingual Education (SABE) and the National Center for Urban Education (NCUE) welcomed best-selling author and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) teacher Dr. Gregory Michie to deliver the keynote address for Bilingual Advocacy Week.
Dr. Pauline Williams, ISU Education faculty and SABE advisor, shared that “Dr. Gregory Michie and I have been friends since graduate school, and we worked as colleagues in teacher preparation at two universities. Therefore, I am well aware of his impact on teacher candidates. I suggested that SABE invite Dr. Michie to be the keynote speaker for SABE’s Bilingual Advocacy Week because I wanted my students to see how his teaching centers on anti-bias and anti-racist education. I also wanted them to learn about how Dr. Michie incorporates his students’ identities and funds of knowledge into the classroom and the curriculum, and see how he encourages them to be agents of change in their community.”
Dr. Maria Luisa Zamudio, NCUE Executive Director and SABE advisor, echoed these sentiments. “Dr. Michie has always been a strong advocate for underrepresented students and the way he cares for them is something special. He is the personification of Culturally Responsive Teaching practices and lives it by example in the classroom. He is smart, humble, and a great scholar. He is an amazing teacher who can communicate with students in a very effective way. I believe our pre-service teachers deserve to learn from the best.”
Michie spent 10 years as a teacher in the 1990s on the south side of Chicago, and much of his early journey is captured in his book Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher & His Students. After a decade as an education professor (some of that time at Illinois State University), he returned to the classroom at the same school and the same grade where he had spent most of his early teaching career. This current experience is outlined in his recent book Same as It Never Was: Notes on a Teacher’s Return to the Classroom. In his keynote speech, Michie discussed his attempts to navigate the new realities of public schooling while at the same time trying to engage in authentic, culturally responsive learning experiences with his mostly immigrant, Latinx students.
The event was attended by close to 100 participants with the audience ranging from current ISU students and faculty to graduates and practicing teachers. Acting president of SABE, Tony Nicolalde opened the event, introducing Michie, and later reflected, “I was amazed by how many resources were available to me that I had not even heard about as a person of color. It really was eye-opening, and I hope to be able to become as resourceful as Dr. Michie in the future.”
Other ISU students offered their thoughts on the impact of Michie’s presentation. Lindsay Alvarado noted, “I feel it is appropriate to acknowledge the fact that the speaker himself was, in my opinion, one of the most impactful speakers that I have experienced during my time at ISU. I feel he really had a lot of good advice, especially since he was talking to future teachers, and it eased a lot of my own stress when it comes to the idea of one day running my own classroom.” Michie shared many specific examples from his current teaching practice. Grace Schwandner resonated with the idea of “windows and mirrors” and remembers that Michie “emphasized how important it is for students to see themselves and to see their own experiences in others. Of course, everyone has differences, but we can see each other as whole through our religions, genders, and other categories. This concept goes into another part of his presentation that stood out to me; ‘seeing (and hearing) our students.’ When it comes to the classroom, I have learned from many classes as well as this speaker how important it is to support our students through support groups and community events. Learning about support groups in his community, such as those supporting LGBTQ+ and anti-racist or anti-biased groups, I am glad to see young students standing up for what they believe in.”
Many students shared their appreciation for Michie’s honesty. Melena Mizuk expressed, “Another thing that stood out to me was what he said about being a white teacher. I, myself, will be a white teacher just like Dr. Gregory Michie. Just like him, I will want to confront my own biases, recognize and check my own privilege, and speak, act and teach against racism.”
Bailee Flanagan also noticed, “During the presentation, he was so genuine and honest and assured us, pre-service teachers, that struggling is okay. I also noticed how he is constantly reflecting on his implicit biases and realizing that as a white teacher, he needs to continually educate himself, check his privilege, and speak and act and teach against racism and other forms of oppression. The key is listening and learning from other colleagues of color.” Flanagan continued, “I am leaving this presentation really inspired and grateful that I got the chance to hear someone as amazing as Gregory Michie talk and teach us and just being honest and genuine. It inspires me to want to be half the teacher he is in the future. I will remember this presentation throughout my teaching career and use it as motivation to be that person for students despite the education system and its flaws.”
Bayza Senbetta ’18, ISU Bilingual/Bicultural Education major and current CPS teacher, heard about the SABE event via Facebook and shared “I knew that I wanted to tune in. I was part of SABE during my time at ISU helping to plan Bilingual Advocacy Events and wanted to show my support. I also was excited to hear Greg Michie speak since I have read one of his books and I am currently teaching in Chicago close to the neighborhood where he teaches.” Michie stressed the importance of connecting curriculum with current events and issues throughout the talk. Senbetta reflected that this is “something that I want to do more of to engage students and let them have a safe place to process what is going on in the world. The more students are able to see themselves in what they learn in school, the deeper their connection will be to the content.” Senbetta expressed that the event “was a wonderful resource for students and teachers alike. Staying connected to ISU as an alum has been very helpful to me during these first few years of teaching.”
SABE and NCUE are thrilled that Michie’s speech was received so well by ISU Education students and graduates alike, making it well worth the wait. As Williams expressed, “Dr. Gregory Michie did not disappoint!”