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Beyond Reading, Writing and Math: Local Educators Gather to Address Social Justice

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Students and professionals in education attended the second annual Madison Area Teachers for Social Justice (MATSJ) Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Saturday. 

“I think that oftentimes as pre-service teachers, we learn about educational theory but we don’t actually know or learn about educational practice,” conference co-organizer Eric Washington said. 

He said learning how to deal with challenges facing students in and outside the classroom is just as important as learning how to be strong math teachers or strong English teachers. Washington said teachers should know how to create a safe classroom environment for undocumented students, students with fewer resources and support at home, and the hindrance of black children in schools.

He and his co-organizer Theresa Nepomuceno wanted to start a conversation that they hoped would end with some learning and tangible solutions for educators to bring into their schools. Nepomuceno and Washington, both seniors, are student teaching in Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) as part of their program through the School of Education.

“I feel like we talk a lot about theory when we talk about educational practices but we don’t talk about people and how we best help the people,” he said.

The conference focused on promoting equitable teaching practices in various panels, workshops, and group sessions. Topics included restorative justice, inclusive educational environments for LGBTQ+ students, the education gap, working with undocumented students and their families, and other informative sessions. 

For the entire conference, teachers placed content off to the side and looked to social justice instead. Nepomuceno and Washington wanted to build off the dialogue from the conference held last November.

“I unfortunately was not able to go to last year’s event so my colleague Theresa Nepomuceno attended and thought it was incredible and the discussions were fruitful,” Washington said. 

Black educators and parents sat on a panel on how to support Black and brown students and their families right after breakfast. Wright Middle School Teacher Jessica Fleischmann said teachers should build relationships with students and have their backs. This includes doing extra work to develop cultural competencies and learn students’ interests to support their growth. 

“While it takes a community to raise a child, it also takes a community to destroy a child,” Madison School Board member Savion Castro said.

This panel and other sessions throughout the day acknowledged issues facing historically disadvantaged populations in education while discussing opportunities to create equity in learning for those students. Madison Area educators, future educators, university faculty, and community partners convened at the Educational Sciences building on UW-Madison’s campus.