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Teachers Go to School, Too!

By Jeanne Sager
LIBERTY — November 13, 2007 — The kids were home, but school was in session last Tuesday in Sullivan County.
Teachers and educational support staff spent Election Day in classes of their own, spread out among sites around the county.
A countywide conference day, Tuesday was the second helping of a program started last school year by Sullivan County BOCES.
Shifted from one location last year to spots for elementary, middle and high school this November, the conference allowed the 1,400-some educators a rare chance to sit with their colleagues, have a cup of coffee, and swap stories.
The make-up of the school calendar makes opportunities like those created at the conference an expectation rather than the rule, said BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Services Barbara Blakey.
“Having the common days is important,” Blakey said. “None of our teachers really want to leave the kids.”
Even when the teachers agree, pulling out entire departments from multiple districts creates a substitute staff crisis.
What the conference day did last week was bring together teachers, psychologists, aides and other folks who are involved with kids on similar levels to learn new ways to approach the same thing.
Keynote speakers at the “elementary” site focused on the expectations of the children themselves, what the kids like about school throughout the day.
A middle school speaker separated out the kids in grades five through eight from the younger and older students.
“Your middle school student is not a tall elementary student, nor are they a short high school child,” Blakey summed up.
For high school staff, the message was behavior – and the dozens of reasons behind why teens do what they do.
Separating the educators into groups this year allowed for that diversified approach to learning, Blakey said.
More importantly, it allowed BOCES to plan one-on-one sessions and common breaks into the day.
Teachers got to chat with people from their own buildings who they don’t get to see on a regular basis. They got to sit and compare Regents preparation tips with folks in similar situations three districts away.
It’s prompted a reawakening of groups that were once active in the county, Blakey said.
Foreign language teachers have already spoken with her about resurrecting the long-dormant Foreign Language Teachers Association.
A similar plan is in the works for social studies staffers.
Blakey’s hope is growth from there – with increased interest from educators in other areas of study.
“Every section of our educational system is a little different,” Blakey explained. “Every educator has to be a little different.
“People really enjoy being in sessions with their colleagues,” she continued. “They’ve said, ‘I know where my students fall down on Regents exams, and I’d love to talk to my colleagues about their strategies.’”
BOCES will be fostering those connections – perhaps with more countywide conferences, perhaps with more specialized programming.
The cooperative system has the tools to make otherwise difficult connections work.
“Every day in the classroom is precious,” Blakey explained. “We have to respect that but still give these educators what they need.”

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