Conference Representation for Full-Time Teachers

So, recently I wrote a set of tweets in a response to my friend Sherri Spelic’s call for representation of teachers in Keynotes and Plenaries. I have gotten the sense that I need to unpack these replies further, so here goes.

Here’s Sherri’s original tweet (which says speakers but then clarifies in a second tweet that she was specifically thinking of Keynotes and Plenaries) and my first reply:

And then my second reply:

(Yep, that second reply probably didn’t help. At all.)

Let me first be clear about something for those who don’t know me. I deeply love both BCCE (Biennial Conference for Chemical Education) and DPL (Digital Pedagogy Lab). These conferences have changed my perspective and my pedagogy. I would call both of them transformational in my learning and understanding of who I am as a teacher and as a researcher. My commitment to these conferences is extremely strong: I serve on the ACS Division of Chemical Education’s committee that oversees all of the BCCEs (@acsbcc) and I am faculty for DPL 2020.

To criticize these conferences at all means that there was something specific on my mind when I wrote these tweets. And that something specific was that representation matters.

I recognize that both conferences, in their own unique ways, cater to full-time teachers FAR MORE than most conferences (educational or chemical or other). BCCE regularly has workshops and symposia exclusively hosted by high school teachers, community college faculty, or university teaching faculty (lecturers or tenure track/non-tenure track professors of practice). A fairly large percentage of DPL faculty are regularly from a non-chemistry specific pool of the same kinds of full-time teachers (high school teachers, community college faculty, or university teaching faculty (lecturers or tenure track/non-tenure track professors of practice)).

BCCE and DPL truly have a very strong commitment and connection to full-time teachers.

And yet, only once to my (albeit limited) knowledge, has either conference had a teacher from this faculty pool give a keynote or a plenary – DPL 2017 had two of my favorite people from this pool – Maha Bali (@bali_maha) and Chris Gilliard (@hypervisible) – give keynotes. And yet I question their inclusion as folks from this faculty pool because, while they both definitely work as full-time faculty at their institutions, was the interest in their work (and why they did excellent keynotes) really about their teaching expertise or more about their extensive work online (via blogs, Twitter, Virtually Connecting, etc.) regarding their personal research interests?

I have a feeling it was more of the latter.

So, if you’re keeping score – that DPL = 2 (ish); BCCE = 0.

My call is for the teachers who don’t have a side hustle (i.e. extensive experience doing something else (like research) on the side). Where are the folks from this faculty pool who are just experts in teaching their classes? Where are the high school and elementary school teachers? Where are those folks who daily live the praxis of theory and application?

Where is the representation of folks who come from this faculty pool but don’t have a side hustle?

Is it that we, as full-time faculty, don’t have much to say?

Or is it that we, as full-time faculty, don’t have much interesting to say to a broader audience unless we work endlessly on our “side” research interests?

Or is it that there is a very real hierarchical system in academia (particularly higher ed) that prevents those of us in this faculty pool from speaking to larger audiences the vast majority of the time?

I am as interesting now as I was 5 years ago as I will be 5 years from now. And, yet, 5 years ago I had zero offers to be a keynote or a plenary speaker. Recently, because of my research, my chapter in Susan Blum’s book on ungrading, my work on the use of statistics in education, my discussion of STEM and Critical Pedagogy, etc., etc., etc. (my side hustle (on top of school)), I’ve been asked to do more panels and workshops than I ever have before. An invitation for a plenary or keynote may be elusive or it may be just around the corner (I honestly have no idea).

But I cannot bank on that invitation, because, while there are notable exceptions of folks with extensive side hustles who have made it to the keynote or plenary stage, most teachers in this pool so rarely get the opportunity to keynote or plenary.

And, yet, we have a lot to say that needs to be heard right now. Our teaching expertise, our creativity, and our deep thoughtfulness about our jobs and our students are critical to the welfare of public schooling, including higher ed. We have a lot to share about our experience and our expertise and the time we’ve spent figuring this teaching thing out.

Yet what’s the likelihood that we will be heard?


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