Brenda Johnson, a veteran D.C. public schoolteacher and one of thousands who attended a citywide teachers convention last week, said she felt "charged" and strengthened by the two-day gathering and found the workshops thought-provoking, the speeches challenging.
While it was concerned with poverty, truancy, drug abuse and many other negative aspects of educating the city's schoolchildren, the convention apparently proved to be a positive, inspiring gathering for many of the estimated 7,000 teachers, school administrators and parents gathered at the D.C. Convention Center Thursday night and all day Friday.
"What was important to me was the interaction with people, the sharing of concerns," Johnson said.
"Most of us want to see the children succeed and really believe they can," said Johnson, who teaches at J.O. Wilson Elementary School. "That sense of positiveness has given me a charge."
The convention, the first of its kind in the District, was part of the D.C. public schools' annual staff development program. Schools were closed Friday so teachers could attend the convention.
In past years, the teachers convened for staff development events in smaller, separate groups representing the schools in various regions.
D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Del. Walter Fauntroy, school board president R. David Hall and Randall Robinson, executive director of TransAfrica, were among the convention's speakers.
Of the many workshops conducted during the convention, two led by psychiatrist Frances Cress Welsing on the psychological development of poor children from broken homes were among the best attended.
William Johnson, a drug specialist with the school system, told a group of teachers that the best way they could battle drug abuse among students was to build their self-esteem. "People use drugs to feel good," he said. "You have a headache, you use a drug, you feel better. So, when you are dealing with young folk, ask: 'Where is the pain?' The bottom line is to improve their self-image and self-esteem. If they feel good about themselves, they won't abuse themselves with drugs.
"Based on research, there are a lot of kids who experiment [with marijuana, PCP and alcohol] and [later] leave it alone and go on to function as healthy human beings," he said. But a small percentage end up "dead or in jail" or emotionally disoriented for a long time, he said.
Attendance counselors Murale Atkins and Doretha Carroll told workshop participants that absenteeism can be reduced by working closely with parents of chronic truants and establishing team peer counseling groups at the schools. "We're finding that most of them are not just hooking [skipping school] for the sake of hooking. They are working or taking care of their parents or siblings. So we tried to deal with each case comprehensively, and we are making tremendous progress," Carroll said.
Patricia A. Russell, an attorney, echoed some teachers' concerns that the convention's gains would be short-lived when she delivered the keynote address. "What does it mean to get together 7,000 teachers if you don't do it again and again? Teachers can make a difference. Teachers need a network, [and] parents are going to have to get involved," she said.