A warm breeze ruffled his hair as he walked through the hotel patio. A quick glance at palm trees waving in the Arizona sun brought a smile of recognition that he was indeed far from his frozen Midwest home. As he pushed through the glass doors of the hotel lobby, carrying his monogrammed black briefcase, he stepped into the retro '60s chic of the Hotel Valley Ho and felt not a little like Connery Bond. Striding across another patio, he was greeted by the smiles and welcomes of newly familiar faces and took his seat at nothing short of a Lucullan feast for the body, the mind, and the soul.
There was, of course, the food, actual food. Five star offerings at breakfast, lunch, and dinner formed a savory backdrop for even more delicious conversation. No rubber chicken dinner, this. Gourmet offerings of meats and vegetables and soups served with china and linen strengthened body and spirit and allowed the mind to begin to imagine once again.
The mind, thus refreshed with physical sustenance, then partook of an intelligent, meaningful, useful buffet of workshops that combined the best instruction with ample opportunity for reflection and practice. Technology training, policy discussion, communication techniques and avenues were all a part of the magnificent spread. Talks, activities, and opportunities to process were arranged in seamless orchestration to produce an abundant flow of nourishment to minds remembering what it means to think and dream and live.
Yet it was the banquet for the soul that made the week complete. A delicate combination of semi-structured and free opportunities for intelligent, educated adults to gather led to a soulful rejuvenation. Beneath the cloudless blue of the Arizona sky, a truth was recovered. Anything is indeed possible.
I am, of course, talking about the 2014 National Teacher of the Year Program Conference hosted recently in Scottsdale by the Council of Chief State School Officers, ING, the National Teacher of the Year Program, and People to People. Some may think my phrase "of course" a bit misplaced. After all, isn't it rare for teachers to have an experience like this? Yes, it is rare, but it should not be. It should be as expected as and more acceptable than the amenities-laden trips and conferences enjoyed by other professionals in our society.
"Ah, there you teachers go, asking for more things. Why can't you accept your role as martyr-saints, put on your hair shirts, and be content with your locusts and honey? We always knew you were just in it for the money and material goods."
The apostle Paul and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., both did great work from prisons. It is possible, but it should not be the norm. When the Roman emperor Augustus, after bringing peace to the Mediterranean world, turned his attention to domestic affairs in Rome, he wanted to bring about a flowering of the arts. He did not attempt this by locking poets in a dungeon and ordering them to write with their own blood. He instructed his friend Maecenas, a wealthy citizen, to provide for their needs. The result was nothing less than the polymetric masterpieces of Horace and the Aeneid of Vergil, that magnum opus that has delighted and inspired generations for two thousand years.
Make no mistake, teaching is both a science and an art. The scientific side receives much attention, but less so the artistic. Not every teaching conference or professional development can feature all the components of the NTOY Program Conference. Every teaching conference and professional development can, however, come close. They can be guided by the spirit that acknowledges the humanity of this enterprise called education. This is not about providing a soft life for teachers. It is about creating the environments in which their bodies, minds, and souls can flourish, where they can dream, and where they can be inspired yet again as they lead our children on the shared journey of discovery. As I rediscovered in Arizona, anything is possible.