Editor's Note: Today's KATE Update is by Jenni Bader
On Thursday and Friday of this week I attended the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) Conference in Wichita. As excited as I was in the weeks leading up to it, the conference still managed to exceed my expectations. The mutual goal of educating and supporting young people served as the uniting bond, strengthened by a high level of professionalism. These, along with the warmth and openness of all present proved a refreshing tonic after months of slogging through the current social and political climate. This is what people can achieve when they set aside their differences and work together.
One big surprise of the weekend for me was how much I got out of the first keynote address. I have never read any of Bill Konigsburg’s books and doubted if I ever would. There are so many books and just so little time. From what I had heard about this author and his books, I didn’t think this keynote would benefit me much. Dear reader, it is a foolish and dangerous notion to judge that another person has nothing to contribute to your life. Such thinking goes against my core beliefs, yet I sometimes catch myself heading down that treacherous path, and I am thankful for the warning signs and reminders that put me back on track.
During his keynote address, Mr. Konigsburg spoke very honestly about the emotional turmoil he experienced while grappling with his identity as a young gay man. It takes a lot of guts to share such a personal story with a room full of strangers, and I am grateful for his willingness to do so. Although these are experiences I do not share, this perspective increases my ability to empathize with others who may be going through similar trials, and it informs my words and actions so that they can be imbued with greater kindness, gentleness, and care.
Toward the end of his keynote speech, Mr. Konigsburg said something that particularly struck me. He said that someday he hopes to meet a teacher who is “a Christian, a pro-lifer, and who believes being gay is a sin” and that this teacher will save just one kid who is going through what he did by showing that they care. I had hoped that I would have the opportunity to talk with Mr. Konigsburg later in the day and thank him personally for his speech and especially for saying this one thing, but I didn’t see him when there wasn’t a crowd around him. The description may not fit me precisely, but it’s close enough, and I am certain there are quite a few more Christian teachers and student teachers who feel the same way. It is possible to love and support people individually without agreeing with them on everything. I think the world has forgotten that. It’s time we remembered.
There are so many more things I learned this week. I am still trying to digest it all. Several of the breakout sessions as well as the Thursday lunch keynote speech and the Friday lunch panel dealt with diversity and inclusiveness. All of these fit very well with my own presentation on teaching social justice, and several others offered ideas I would like to incorporate into my teaching on this theme. Kevin Rabas’ Thursday presentation on ekphrastic poetry, poetry in response to art, gave me a specific way to use the art I had been thinking of pairing with some of the written texts I’m considering, and I added this idea to my own presentation on Friday.
Above all, the collegiality at this conference made it such a wonderful experience and really helped build my vision for teaching as a member of this community of teachers and also for working within our individual schools and communities. I am truly blessed to be part of such an amazing group of student teachers who add such depth and richness to my life and my understanding of it. The opportunity to glean from the experience of seasoned teachers already in the field has been priceless, too. My biggest take away from the conference was that together, with love, we can do great things.