MHS Teacher Speaks at TEDxUWMilwaukee Event


Abigail Sajdak, Author

On April 13th, Muskego High School English teacher Heidi Edwards was given the chance to take the stage at the TEDxUWMilwaukee event and present her very own TED Talk. The event, which was titled Enlighten Up and followed the overall theme of enlightenment, was organized by UW-Milwaukee student volunteers and featured multiple speakers that touched on topics such as health, gender equality, and how to reach one’s highest potential.

MHS English teacher Mrs. Edwards

So how did a high school English teacher get involved in a crazy event like this? Well, Mrs. Edwards has actually taken part in similar events in the past. In previous years, Mrs. Edwards volunteered her time to speak at state level English conferences and present on various topics concerning education. Her speeches caught the attention of the TED executive board and for the past two years they have invited her to give a talk at one of their events. After taking a year off from participating in the English conferences and discovering that a former student of hers was on the executive board, Mrs. Edwards finally decided to take the opportunity.

Mrs. Edwards presenting her TED talk at the TEDxUWMilwaukee event

While registering all the way back in August, all speakers were told about the theme of enlightenment and had to write a speech about something that had changed their minds. Mrs. Edwards immediately thought of her daughter and how becoming a mother had changed her perspective on language usage with raising children. The whole process began with submitting a draft of the speech with the application and was then followed up with monthly curation meetings from August to February. During the month of March, there were multiple meetings that lasted about two to three hours, where speakers would discuss their talks, set deadlines, practice, and receive feedback. The process was very tedious and difficult because of the strict guidelines TED places on the talks in order for them to be broadcasted online. For example, the speech must be between 16 to 18 minutes long and memorized word for word so the sign language interpreter matches up with the speaker correctly. Mrs. Edwards commented that it was “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

A sketch of Mrs. Edwards’ talk by Sherrill Knezel
The stage setup at the TEDxUWMilwaukee event on April 13th, 2019

All those hours of preparation and hard work paid off in the end when everything came together to create Mrs. Edwards TED talk: “My Daughter: My Identity.” Through her talk, Mrs. Edwards shared her own enlightening experience of raising her daughter and how it caused her to refocus on how powerful language can be. Mrs. Edwards stated, “People take it for granted. Language can change minds and it affects daily life.” The main message she wanted to communicate is that the use of language, especially surrounding gender, can be so important in determining how children’s lives turn out.

Despite this process being very long and challenging, it seemed to be another enlightening experience for Mrs. Edwards. She shared, “I wanted to quit several times, but I didn’t. It just reminded me how much you can gain from discomfort and what it’s like to be evaluated again like a student.” Essentially, no matter who you are, learning is something that is done anywhere and everywhere throughout life, not just in the classroom.

For those who would like to watch Mrs. Edwards’ TED talk, it should be posted online very soon.