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Students Explore Teaching Field at Future Teachers Conference

Future Teacher Conference

November 7, 2022

A year ago, Nayzeth Hernandez of Greeley was finishing the first semester of her senior year in high school, preparing to be one of 27 Greeley Central High School students attending the 2022 UNC’s Future Teachers Conference with their teacher, Lauren Appelhans ’14.  Now, Hernandez is a freshman at UNC, with the perspective of a college student majoring in Elementary Education just finishing up her first semester. 

The Future Teachers Conference – which draws around 400 high school students and their teachers to UNC’s campus each February – gives students like Hernandez a chance to experience “a day in the life” of an education major and to explore the field of teaching.  

I found it helpful and inspiring,” she says. “I got to learn more about what it takes to be a teacher and the steps and values of becoming one. When I walked into the UC ballroom, I didn’t expect to see it full of students engaged in education. I thought to myself, ‘Wow -- all these students want to change the world and help others.’” 

It’s that experience of exploring the teaching profession surrounded by a community of peers, educators and speakers, that Appelhans finds beneficial for her high school students who may be thinking about becoming educators or working with children.  

Appelhans earned her master’s in Curriculum and Instruction at UNC and has been teaching at Greeley Central for 14 years. Among the classes she teaches is Greeley Central’s Teacher Cadet class, an honors class made up of juniors and seniors who are interested in becoming educators.  

The Future Teachers Conference started as a program specifically for Teacher Cadets, says UNC Professor of Literacy Education Suzette Youngs, Ph.D., who, together with colleague Chris Kyser, Ed.D., assistant professor in teacher education, organizes the conference each year. “Our goal in that first year was to support the Teacher Cadet program and offer sessions or classes that might complement their coursework. After the success of the first year UNC was eager to reach out to all high school and community college students that were interested in learning more about becoming a teacher,” Youngs says. 

Appelhans says it’s an opportunity for her students to see themselves as teachers, and to see others in the teaching profession who they may connect with.  

“I want to expand their understanding of who is capable of being a teacher. I want them to see themselves in the teaching profession. There’s sometimes a sense of seeing every single teacher being a Caucasian female, versus males seen in the classroom, or a Latino male, or an individual who identifies as LGBTQ as a teacher,” she says. 

Hernandez recalls last year’s keynote speaker, Gerardo Muñoz, Colorado’s Teacher of the Year for 2021, sharing his experiences in a way that’s had a lasting impact on her. 

He gave this amazing and inspirational speech about his process as a teacher and his barriers to becoming one,” she remembers. “He explained how he overcame them, and he said, ‘Everything is possible in life.’ He shared this cool, funny story of him growing up and of himself teaching in a classroom. That really stood out to me, and I still play it in my head when times get tough.” 

Appelhans says that in addition to exploring education, students get to experience a day on campus, choose workshops they wanted to attend, eat lunch in the dining hall and participate in a Q&A with current UNC education majors.  

“They got to sit in the dining hall for lunch, and some of the UNC student who were there as assistants for the conference sat with my students. It was really nice that they sat with them and kind of helped build that relationship,” she says. “And the Q&A at the end was really cool, just to hear that student perspective.” 

Teacher Cadets spend 35 hours working in a classroom while they’re still in high school, and Appelhans says workshops provided them with not only inspiration but also practical information.  

“There was a workshop last year on kinesthetic learning and literacy, and my students came back from that workshop and said, ‘That’s so cool! I can use that,’” Appelhans says.  

Co-organizer Chris Kyser says the conference is designed to be multifaceted to offer something for students, teachers and parents.   

“We can support (Teacher Cadets) and give them some professional development, meeting them at their level. And we also have presentations geared towards students exploring teaching. And those sessions are more, ‘Here's what it's like to be a teacher,’” she says, adding that parent sessions run concurrently with student sessions so that parents can get a sense of what their students may learn and experience in teacher education.  

It’s a busy day for both Kyser and Youngs, and after the year-long planning and prep they both find moments of inspiration and validation.  

“There are those hallway moments where students pull me aside,” Youngs says. “They might say, ‘You know, I was thinking of going to UNC, but now I'm definitely going here,’ or ‘I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a teacher, but I was so inspired today.’ Students hear the keynote, they get informed, go to these sessions and then they have lunch and the Q&A panel with students, and I think that they feel a sense of belonging,” Youngs says.  

Kyser says that the sense of community and energy contribute to that sense of belonging. “You look out and you see the ballroom and it's full of young high school students who are just so eager and so excited to be there. It all kind of comes together and to look out across that audience and to see so much diversity is a super fulfilling moment,” Kyser says. “It’s just an all-around great day.”  

Registration for the Feb. 3, 2023 Future Teachers Conference opened Nov. 7.

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