Fort Valley State University hosts diversity conference

jmink@macon.comMarch 7, 2013 

FORT VALLEY -- In an African village, a small community center is named for Cynthia Dillard, a University of Georgia professor, who has volunteered so tirelessly that the community has dubbed her “Queen Mother.”

Dillard shared the lessons she learned while working in Ghana -- and throughout her career in education -- with future teachers Thursday during the fourth annual Student Diversity Conference at Fort Valley State University.

Each year, Fort Valley State and Georgia College & State University partner to host the conference, which gives future teachers tips for dealing with a growing, diverse population of students.

“We know that our classrooms are changing demographically,” said Sherry Crocker, a professor in the College of Education at Fort Valley State. The conference will “provide them with the tools necessary to help those students in the classroom.”

About 300 students participated in roundtable discussions, workshops, poster presentations and scavenger hunts to get a taste of the different cultures, ideas and languages they will encounter in the classroom.

When trying to connect with students, teachers first need to evaluate themselves and connect to their own cultures, Dillard said.

After volunteering in Africa, Dillard realized that forming a bond with diverse populations meant understanding who she was as an individual.

“What is my purpose as a person?” she said. “The hardest part of this journey is to answer these questions because they’re clearly not answered yet.”

It’s important for teachers to learn about their own nature, be vulnerable and be open to listening to others. She suggested that future teachers use their own life experiences to enhance their teaching skills.

She also suggested teachers take time to meditate on their jobs and responsibilities. Dillard was not suggesting that future teachers necessarily pray, she said, but simply reflect on their duties.

“I hope you all do that before you go to work with other people’s children,” she said.

Sherrie Whibbey, a Fort Valley State student from Atlanta, loves children, and she doesn’t know what she would do if she could not be a teacher, she said.

Whibbey wanted to attend Thursday’s conference to get a better idea of the backgrounds, language barriers and other circumstances she will encounter in the classroom, she said.

“That’s the most important aspect of being an educator,” she said, “is dealing with everything you’re going to deal with in the classroom.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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