Better Together: Tell us about yourself. Where do you teach, and how long have you been a teacher?
Kieaira Haggins: I teach summer school at Samuel Kennedy Elementary School in Sacramento, California. This is my second year, and I teach third grade.
BT: How did you hear about the California Teachers Summit, and what made you interested in attending last year?
KH: I went to Sacramento State for undergrad, and I went there for graduate school, too. I received an email to alumni about the Summit, and I was really interested in attending. I’m a professional development addict – I love going to professional development events. So when I heard about the Summit, I thought I have to go and check it out. Last year was my second time going. I went the first year, and it made me say, man, I have to go back again. It was really a wonderful experience.
BT: Tell me about your experience at the Summit last year.
KH: It started with just how welcome I felt there. Everybody was so eager to welcome us and make us feel comfortable. It was really a personal experience. I really enjoyed the Edcamp model, and the speakers were fantastic. The first year, I really liked Yvette Nicole Brown’s talk. Of course, she wasn’t a teacher, but she could really express how much teachers meant to her and how she wouldn’t be doing what she was doing if it weren’t for teachers. She just felt so passionately about teachers and how teachers do matter. And that’s good to hear. As a teacher, sometimes you get really drained and you go through hard times, and hearing that is so refreshing.
BT: What made the day special or unique to you?
KH: It was very unique in the sense that you were able to think about what you wanted to learn throughout this experience. I got to choose what I wanted to learn. And there were other people in the room who wanted to learn the same things. It was great to hear more experienced teachers share their ideas for us new teachers. That’s the reason why I like the Edcamp model so much.
BT: What did learn from the Summit last year that you were able to take back to your classroom?
KH: During one of the Edcamp sessions last year, someone shared about class circles and how it helps establish a circle of trust in your classroom. So I started using that. And this year, my class was a little bit more difficult than last year. So every time we have a problem arise, we use those class circles and the kids, I thought, were more open to discussing problems in the circle than they would just coming up to me and talking to me about it. It’s a place of honesty and a place of trust. I think that has really helped when times get rough in the classroom, just knowing that was something that I can refer to. It was one of the most helpful things I learned from the Summit.
BT: Who were you able to connect with at the Summit?
KH: I still keep in contact with one of the teachers I met, even though she’s teaching fifth grade now and I’m teaching third grade. We still talk and I ask her fifth-grade students to come and read with my third-grade kids because it gives them practice. So now we do that every Thursday – the fifth-graders come to my classroom during recess and read with my kids.
BT: What would you say to a teacher who is considering attending the Summit for the first time?
KH: I would say go. Just go. Don’t be afraid to talk to other teachers, don’t be afraid to connect with other teachers and try to stay in touch. Enjoy the experience, and take it all in.
BT: The theme this year is “Now More Than Ever,” and we’ll be talking about how teachers can make sure classrooms are inclusive and that students are making their voices heard. How does this apply to your work?
KH: I have a lot of students whose parents are immigrants to this country. In recent months, they have been fearful and asking a lot of questions like “Will my parents be deported? What’s going to happen to my family?” What do you say to an eight-year-old who’s wondering if her parents are going to be taken away? I really didn’t have an answer for some of the kids. So I think that topic is important now. More than ever, it’s important now. It’s affecting our kids, and it’s affecting their performance in school. We have to try to help them feel included in the classroom.