Better Together: Tell us about yourself. Where do you teach, and how long have you been a teacher?
Justin Lim: I started teaching high school English in the 2006-2007 school year. I taught reading intervention, and then I became a literacy coach in 2010. I was actually the El Monte Union High School District’s first literary coach. Now I’m a full-time instructional coach at Rosemead High School. What that means is I do teacher professional development.
BT: What made you want to get into teaching, and how did you decide to become an instructional coach?
JL: After I finished my undergrad, I was working and attending law school at UC Hastings in San Francisco. I was also a reservist in the Marine Corps. During that time, I was deployed to Iraq. When I was there, I was put in certain situations that made me rethink what I wanted to do when I came back stateside. I felt that I wanted to go into education. I felt that way because education provides people with opportunities that they just wouldn’t have otherwise. There are many places in the world right now where no matter what a child might do, he or she is going to be stuck on a particular path in life. I don’t believe that’s true in the United States. That greatly influenced the reason why I went into education.
When I came back from deployment, I got my teaching credential, and I started teaching English. I specifically worked with English learners and students who were in intervention classes. It was very much, from the beginning, a calling for me to give kids every educational advantage possible. I became an instructional coach because I felt like I could impact more students by working with teachers. I really enjoy it. It brings a brand new set of challenges, but at the same time, it brings a lot of opportunities for me to impact more students.
BT: Why are professional development opportunities so important for teachers?
JL: For many teachers who don’t get a lot of changes to work together, and for most of what they do, they work in isolation. Usually, by the end of the day, they’re so exhausted or so caught up with trying to keep up with what they have planned already that it’s difficult for them to seek professional development on their own or even to know what’s out there that’s available to them.
BT: Tell me about your experience at the Summit last year. What made the day special or unique to you?
JL: I love the way that it’s organized, and I love how it really allows teachers to work together in an Edcamp type of environment where they can share best practices and the focus is on teachers. There’s so much knowledge out there that is untapped. The Edcamp model really allows teachers to have opportunities to speak and to share. The environment at the Summit is really different than what you might find at another conference or workshop. Educators show up because they want to be there, and they bring a lot of energy. It helps to develop your networks, and I’ve done that. I’ve met some teachers I still keep in contact with.
BT: Who were you able to connect with at the Summit last year?
JL: One of them is Peter Paccone. He’s a teacher at San Marino High School. He’s just been a great point of contact for me, because he keeps really up to date with certain educational trends, and it goes both ways too. He asks me a lot of questions when it comes to educational technology, which is one of my fortes. We bounce ideas off each other a lot. I’ve received emails from a number of other teachers also, including younger teachers who are often just seeking advice.
BT: Why is it important for teachers to connect with other teachers outside their districts?
JL: I think one reason that is often overlooked is simply that building your network of educators who have a lot of energy and a lot of passion helps you to have a lot of energy and passion. Simply just knowing other people who are like-minded and who are experiencing the same things that you’re experiencing helps. That is an often undervalued aspect of having a strong professional learning network. There are practical reasons as well. Different districts and teachers do things a little bit differently. They use different educational technology platforms. They have different strategies. It always helps to see what other people are doing in other districts.
BT: What would you say to a teacher who is considering attending the Summit for the first time?
JL: First of all, I would say to definitely go. I know that life gets busy, but definitely go because it’s going to pay dividends later on. I would say to be very intentional about building your professional learning network. If you find someone who has a lot of really good ideas or even just someone who really encourages you, exchange contact information with that person. I would also say to come in with a really open mind. There are going to be a lot of different opinions and a lot of different perspectives that are going to be shared. Some you may agree with and some you may not. But it’s really important to keep an open mind, because as educators, we have to be lifelong learners ourselves. I just want to encourage all of the teachers who are considering going to the Summit to get out there, and keep on doing what you’re doing.