TCA workshop inspires future leaders in education

East High School junior Emily Bender beamed this spring as she recalled how much she enjoyed playing school in her family’s home when she was little.
She took the next step toward working in a school as a teacher during a special event at The Career Academy.
Bender joined more than 80 high school students from across the Lincoln area at TCA’s education workshop and career fair. They heard lessons from a pair of Nebraska Teacher of the Year Award recipients, listened to several keynote speakers and spoke with people from many education-related fields.
Bender said it has been her lifelong dream to lead students in a classroom. Both of her parents are former teachers and her sister is also in education, which has sparked her interest in having her own classroom someday. She said it was encouraging to learn how many of her classmates shared her passion for teaching.
“Being here and seeing all these people that chose to come away from school to learn more about being a teacher and being with children is really cool to see,” Bender said.

Barbara Miller and Josh Jones said they were happy to hear those types of enthusiastic stories. Miller is the emerging educators empowerment specialist at Lincoln Public Schools and Jones is director of The Career Academy. Both said they hope the event would help students solidify their love of teaching and highlight the benefits of one day working at LPS.
“Having students get an opportunity to take a look at the potential of education as a career, and to hear from those who have been in the positions they’re in, is really valuable,” Miller said. “It is an opportunity for them. Hopefully, it will build that connection with them so they can come back and be a part of our district.”
“I think it is extremely important for students interested in going into education to attend these events,” Jones said. “It makes a difference for students to see that there are other students with similar career aspirations as them. It is a day to see that the career is one full of great opportunities, people and fun.”
Jones, Miller and other LPS leaders organized the workshop and career fair as a way to inspire students to join the education field. LPS is building a broad-based initiative to attract people to the profession. The effort includes an early childhood education pathway at TCA, the annual Educators of Color Summit, future teacher workshops and additional education fairs. These opportunities also relate to the school district’s strategic vision with its “Grow Your Own” goal and developing diverse educators with the All Means All action plan.
Sydney Jensen and Scott Phillips both gave enthusiastic thumbs up when they were asked to participate in the program. Jensen received the Nebraska Teacher of the Year Award in 2019 and Phillips is the 2024 Nebraska Teacher of the Year. Both led breakout sessions for students in classrooms on TCA’s campus.
Phillips, a seventh-grade math teacher at Aurora Middle School, told students that his own middle school math teacher had motivated him to follow in those footsteps. Phillips had originally gone to college to become a television broadcaster, but he switched to an education major after one year. 
“We have some wonderful teachers in our state,” Phillips said.

Jensen shared those sentiments in her breakout room. Jensen is a ninth-grade English teacher at Lincoln High who has become a well-regarded motivational speaker across the country. She has talked about education topics with current and future educators, administrators and policymakers.
Jensen asked students in one of her sessions to decide whether a rope that was curled up on a table had a pre-tied knot in it. They then tried to persuade others to adopt their point of view before finding out the answer.
Jensen said the activity was meant to show them the value of being thoughtful and understanding in their future classrooms. Literature students might read the same words and interpret them differently, and history students might view the same events and dates through separate lenses.
“It’s all about perspective,” Jensen said. “Let that be something that you consider in your teaching.”

Bender soaked in all of those positive lessons at the workshop. She has become friends with many students in LPS buildings who have special needs. She would like to become an elementary special education teacher after her high school and college graduations.
“That would be something I would love to do,” Bender said. “I’ve always loved working with kids, and I’ve always loved working in special education.”
Miller said she was filled with hope after hearing dozens of similar comments. She felt the workshop was encouraging many students to continue pursuing their teaching dreams.
“It is quite exciting to see how many students are interested in becoming teachers,” Miller said. “In six or seven years, this is who we’ll be able to hire.”

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Published: April 5, 2024, Updated: April 5, 2024

2024 Nebraska Teacher of the Year Scott Phillips speaks to students during a workshop at The Career Academy. Future teachers from across the Lincoln area took part in breakout sessions and listened to several keynote speakers.