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I remember, as a young teacher, reading about the SAA conference and thinking that it might be a good idea to go. I knew there would be interesting speakers to hear, important people to meet, and ideas to stimulate my growth as a teacher. And yet, for many years, I did not go. The cost of travel and lodging was a hardship, but the primary reason was that I didn’t have anyone to go with. What made me decide to attend my first conference? It was the invitation from a friend and her suggestion that we room together. Suddenly the prospect of attending a conference no longer seemed daunting. Not only was I going to nurture my soul, I was going to have fun!

My friend, Lucy Shaw, related a similar story about her first conference. Several years ago, her mentor, Judy Offman, created a conference opportunity for her. Judy made all of the arrangements. When they arrived, Judy advised Lucy as to which sessions might be most interesting and beneficial to her. Divide and conquer was their motto! They ended each day by sharing what they had learned. It was as if each had attended twice as many sessions.

Here’s what Lucy remembers about her first conference:

“In the early nineties I was encouraged to take some Suzuki students who had been studying with a teacher who was leaving Houston. When I enrolled in an introductory Suzuki course with Judy Offman, she said to me,“… and of course you will be at the Conference in May?” I was not really aware of what the SAA Conference was all about at that point, but Judy assured me that it was not to be missed. I have not missed one since that first Conference experience. In that one weekend, my understanding of Suzuki philosophy and the art of teaching grew far beyond my expectations. I remember clearly my growing inspiration as I attended one great session after another given by thoughtful, experienced, intelligent and articulate members of the Suzuki community. My vision of what was possible and my understanding of how I could implement these fresh ideas soared. Attending the SAA Conference not only invigorated my teaching and commitment to excellence but also the students and families I worked with. I look forward to seeing you there in 2010!”

This is what Judy has to say about the experience:

“I loved the experience of mentoring Lucy at her first conference. That was a very special time for both of us. There were many teachers that I had talked about and I could not wait to introduce her to these people. It was fun and fulfilling to share our ideas together every evening and learn from each other.

“I try desperately to encourage every Suzuki teacher that I train to attend the very next Conference. I give helpful ideas about saving money each month so that they will be able to attend the conference. I feel that teacher training classes and institutes are wonderful learning venues, but nothing can have the same impact on teachers and their teaching as attending every Conference. Once a teacher attends the first Conference, they will be hooked for life.

“The Conference gives you a solid feeling of connection to all of the other Suzuki Teachers. It makes you feel that you really are a part of something great! You feel a bond with all of these other people, many of whom you have never seen but you now know that you are one of these people.”

My first conference was amazing. Now I wouldn’t dream of missing one. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t go sooner. So this year I’ve invited my friend Kat Fritz to be my roommate. She’s never been to a conference before. She is eager to attend, but I know that she has no idea of the rich experience that awaits her. Here is how Kat anticipates the opportunity:

“I look forward to meeting other teachers, sharing ideas, and feeling inspired by community that is built around this great method. I was really excited when Sue asked me to room together. It is always fun to travel with a friend, and it will be nice to have a conference “expert” to guide me.”

The theme of this year’s conference is teamwork. One way we can model this concept is if each seasoned conference attendee serves as a mentor to someone who has never had the opportunity or taken the initiative to attend a conference before. Resist the comfortable temptation to room with an old friend. Open the door of your hotel room to someone you know who has never attended a conference before, someone that might have a bright future in our Suzuki community. Christie Felsing, our 2010 Conference Coordinator, is excited about the idea of having many first-timers accompanied by veteran mentors at the conference.

“I welcome both the young and old, new and returning teachers, and encourage all to reach out to the fellow members of our Suzuki community. Whether it is greeting someone on the hotel elevator, asking someone to join your dinner table or meeting Sue’s mentoring challenge, I encourage you to bridge the generations. Such nurturing, large or small, cultivates the future of the SAA. I recall attending one of my first conferences, when I was in graduate school (on a shoe string budget, driving for over eight hours to attend, packing snacks to survive upon in lieu of the fancy dinners) and appreciating every “hello” or “smile” that I faced, whether or not I knew that person. Such mentoring is vital in the world, and even more important in a field such as ours. I thank you veterans in advance for welcoming the first timers who will be present in Minneapolis…and I look forward to meeting the many new faces who will be in attendance!”

See you there!