Teacher-teacher conference

Rambunctious cheers, noisy chatter, and a fidgety audience filled the cafeteria of Pilsen’s Orozco Community School. This wasn’t the prelude to a mandatory assembly, but the beginning of the eleventh annual Teachers for Social Justice (TSJ) Curriculum Fair. The public educators, students, and activists assembled last Saturday were insistent that teachers have as much to do with the formation of young citizens as with that of young scholars.

Presenters came from as far away as Honduras and Puerto Rico to discuss their ideas on social justice in the classroom. The result: a science fair of sorts, complete with tripartite display boards and hands-on activities. Tables lined the main hallway, proudly showcasing colorful displays, including an array of drums to use in an Origins of Music lesson, anti-violence textbooks, and a poster detailing “the ritual of transformative recycling.” Presenters called out to passersby, eager to explain their offerings. Conversations were loud, impassioned, and optimistic– the entire fair hummed with ideas.

On the second floor, small group workshops brought together teachers and activists to discuss topics such as social justice oriented math curricula and the state of public education in Cuba. “[Teachers] are forming human beings in the classroom…we are defending our students, our sons and daughters,” said Mercedes Martinez, a teacher and activist visiting from Puerto Rico.

The curriculum fair, as well as the formation of its umbrella organization TSJ, was motivated by the desire for a community of educators. TSJ member and organizer Aisha El-Amin is a former fourth-grade teacher and now works in adult education and teacher training. “Teachers really need a space where they can collaborate,” she said. “At times, it’s isolating to teach toward social justice.”

Keynote speaker Jitu Brown, an organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, echoed El-Amin’s sentiments in his address, saying, “It’s hard to find real allies in this work.” But Brown shared the hopeful energy of the fair’s attendees.  “I love being underestimated,” he said with a smile.