Anything Can Happen, and That’s What’s So Exciting

We talked with English teacher Rebecca Mieliwocki about the importance of community, how teaching is evolving, and her favorite experiences from last year’s Better Together: California Teachers Summit.

RebeccaBetter Together: Thanks for sitting down to talk! Tell us about yourself.
Rebecca Mieliwocki: “This is my 20th year at the Burbank Unified School District. I’ve taught seventh grade English for 16 years, and before that I taught high school English.”

BT: Let’s talk about community. Do you think it’s important for teachers to have a community outside of their school?
RM: “Super important. Most all of us find someone on our own campus — a work BFF. Teachers need a network of critical friends to receive new perspectives and teaching ideas from, and also bounce ideas off of and get support from when times are difficult.”

BT: How have you seen teaching change over your 20 years?
RM: “The newest challenge is the expectation that educators do far more for children, families, and communities than in the past. That burden is quite heavy. You can feel like you’re giving it your all, but don’t get as far as you’d hope. You can be board-certified, highly effective, and well-regarded, but still can’t lift kids out of poverty.”

BT: What do you think can help with that?
RM: “There are two kinds of lifelines your teacher community throws to you. The first is practical support: a lesson plan from your neighbor teacher that saves the day, or a suggestion on how to handle the paper load but still provide meaningful feedback to students.

“The second is respected colleagues who put it all into perspective and keep you off the ledge. Who remind us to not be so hard on ourselves and know we’re making a difference. One lifeline without the other is not enough. The Summit provides that by throwing us together with people working at the policy level of education and the teachers down the hall.”

BT: What was your most memorable moment from last year’s Summit?
RM: “I loved the energy in the room. The deep thought, contemplation, laughter. There were so many commonalities, from misbehaving students and getting papers graded to wanting more support from admin. So many solutions were provided, teachers left bummed out that they still had four weeks of summer before they could put what they learned into practice!”

BT: What did you think of the Edcamp discussions?
RM: “I loved watching the teachers congregate around the Edcamp display board of possible topics. The conversation becomes about what is most needed in the moment, someone is elected to facilitate, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to contribute in meaningful ways, like asking probing questions, or providing support and advice. Anything can happen, and that’s what so exciting.”

BT: Every teacher deserves recharge time. What would you say to someone trying to decide whether to use their summer recharge time to attend the Summit this year?RM: “Summer is when we rejuvenate and rest. But the kind of teacher who really, really cares about their career is never not thinking about teaching or their kids. Summer is a low-stress opportunity to read up, research, and explore and play with your learning. It’s a few hours of your time to meet with other people and grow professionally outside of your school site. We’re all doing it anyway — why not make this an exciting component of our work?”

BT: It’s been a pleasure to talk with you! Is there anything else you’d like to share?
RM: “Thanks! I’d say to any teacher who needs to top off their fuel tank of passion, inspiration, and joy for teaching, this is the place to go get that fuel. The kind of teacher who goes to this sort of thing is always thinking about how to do better and be better. And there’s no better way to spend a day than with people who’ve also chosen your life’s work.”

Be sure to check out Rebecca’s EdTalk from last year’s Summit about the greatest gift a teacher can give their students. EdTalks are TED-style talks given by local educators.