There are a million reasons why dedicated individuals become teachers and work to change society for the better.

“Our education students are people making a difference,” said Gretchen McAllister, associate professor of Teaching and Learning and director of the Martin-Springer Institute. “We really want to provide them with the opportunity and tools to do that.”

Northern Arizona University’s College of Education will offer a daylong exploration into the art, profession and challenges of teaching during its annual “There’s a Reason I’m a Teacher Conference,” part of NAU’s Honors Week.

The conference begins at 8 a.m. April 17 in the Eastburn Education Center, building 27, and in Cline Library. The college will virtually shut down that day to give NAU students and other conference-goers the opportunity to interact with some of the nation’s best teachers, McAllister said.

“It’s so exciting to see and feel the energy in that building when teachers are sharing their experiences,” said McAllister, who is in her fourth year as chair of the conference. “Getting everyone together like that is so inspiring.”

The conference will feature talks by Kimberly Oliver, the 2006 National Teacher of the Year from Broad Acres Elementary School in Montgomery County, Md., and Kristin Bourguet, the 2007 Arizona Teacher of the Year from Marana High School. The two also will participate in panel discussions.

This year’s conference theme is “Schooling for Democracy” and will feature a production of The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, a 1971 two-act play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. Freedom and democracy are among the themes that run throughout the play.

“Public schooling is connected to fostering democracy,” McAllister said. “We want to give students the opportunity to question education. The issue with educators is whether we are going to be conformists, happy with the status quo, or whether we want to be teachers to change society for the better.”

The conference also has its practical side. It gives students the chance to meet some of the best teachers in the country and helps current professionals become better teachers, McAllister said.

“This is what Northern Arizona University is all about,” she said. “After all, we were founded as a teachers college.”

For information on the conference, including schedules and programs, visit http://coe.nau.edu/tariat/.