How do I begin to recap one of the most memorable experiences of my teaching career?
For those of you who don't know, NCTE stands for National Council of Teachers of English. I never thought to go to this conference before because it was always held in some far-off locale and it just never crossed my radar. But 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of the NCTE and the convention was to be held in Chicago, a mere 4-hour drive from where I live. So upon the encouragement of my Uncle Tom, who has been going to NCTE for 25 years, I asked my principal over the summer if the school would help pay for the trip. She agreed and the rest is history.
If you are an English teacher, I highly encourage you to try to make it to NCTE sometime. It will reinvigorate your teaching. As my friend Jillian from Heise Reads and Recommends so aptly put on Twitter, in a time where teachers get kicked down and treated like they don't matter, NCTE "reminds me that what I do is invaluable & that I am supported & appreciated."
For that reason alone, the conference is worth the time and money.
So what memories do I bring back from NCTE? Too many to properly quantify, but I'll try my best.
Getting to see my teaching mentors like:
|My uncle, Tom Romano|
Meeting Twitter friends like Jillian (@heisereads)
Meeting favorite authors like:
|Laurie Halse Anderson|
|Carolyn Mackler and Jay Asher|
I met many other authors that I didn't get pictures of, but whom I'm equally grateful to have met, like Kate Messner, M.T. Anderson, Chris Crutcher, Linda Urban, Linda Tashjian, John Coy, Tommy Greenwald, and many others.
And let me tell you something about YA and middle grade authors. They are such wonderful people. Every single author that I met at NCTE was so amiable and if they didn't have a long line, would sit there and chat for a while. I just happened to catch Jackson Pearce and M.T. Anderson at a time when there was a lull in their line and I had such lovely conversations with both of them.
Something else I cannot speak of highly enough is the generosity of the publishers who came to NCTE. I never in a million years imagined that I would be bringing home so many books. I am not lying when I tell you that it was almost 100! My husband drove to Chicago with me so we could make it a little vacation in addition to a professional trip and thank goodness we drove instead of took a bus or a train because this what our backseat looked like when we packed the car to leave:
When we got home, I pulled all the bags of books out of the backseat and started making piles. These are all the books I got signed:
As my NCTE weekend came to a close, I had dinner with the person who encouraged me to come in the first place: my Uncle Tom, along with my Aunt Kathy and cousin Mariana, who is also an English teacher. As the evening began to wind down, I hugged my aunt and uncle and thanked my Uncle Tom profusely for encouraging me to come to such career-affirming experience. No wonder he's been going every year for the past 25 years.
When times are darkest in my teaching career, I am lucky enough to be blessed with a principal who can talk me down off the ledge and tell me that I'm doing the right thing. I know that not everyone else is that lucky. Which is why NCTE is such an invaluable experience. For me however, it was another one of those opportunities during a rather dark time to help me see that I am, indeed, doing the right thing.
But just what is the right thing? It's really very simple: practice what you preach. Model the life of the writers and readers you want your students to become. Reject all notions that test prep and/or mindless worksheets should replace authentic learning. Reach for the hearts as well as the minds of your students. The rest will take care of itself.