Being a teacher is a bittersweet profession for many reasons. We pour our souls into our students and very seldom get thanks or appreciation we deserve. And God knows we don’t get paid enough for what we do. Most of us have to buy materials just to get through the year. Teachers love the subjects we teach and ache on days we have to circumvent subject matter to check off someone else’s boxes. We invest nine months in students – watching them grow and mature, struggle and succeed – only to have them gleefully bound out of our classrooms in June. This is why I have been thrilled to attend NCTE/ALAN’s annual conventions for the past several years. This community of educators has challenged me, convicted me, and supported me throughout my teaching. Even in my early years of teaching, when the most I could do was skim articles in Voices From the Middle or English Journal, I still felt there was a place I could go, outside of my own building, for new perspectives and interesting applications of teaching ideas.
This year’s conventions were no different. Thursday evening was time to meet and greet friends from previous years’ conventions. I attended the Middle Level Section get-together and thoroughly enjoyed Dashner, Gallo, and Roberts. For the remaining days, I really tried to focus on sessions about writing this year. I know my strength is in reading and literary analysis so I wanted to really push myself to work on the areas I feel I could improve. I really had to fight with my inner author-stalker to choose writing sessions over sessions featuring authors.
On Friday I attended a session about using video games to engage students with literature. It was intriguing but I’m not a gamer and I felt a little in over my head. One of the presenters mentioned that she had written an article about it in English Journal so I want to find it and do a little more exploration. I particularly enjoyed Jolene Borgeses & Stephanie Romano’s session where we actually wrote a short piece and experimented with concrete revision strategies. I headed to another session on helping students generate writing ideas, particularly in the middle grades. For the last session of the day, I succumbed to my need to see authors and attended the session with M.T. Anderson, John Scieszka, and Chris Van Allsburg discussing Harris Burdick and how to use it to inspire stories for student writers. All three authors were engaging and hysterical. But it was also interesting to listen to them discuss craft and how they play off each other to continue writing. It gave me several ideas for group writing projects with my students’ written pieces.
Saturday saw me headed back to writing sessions AFTER the ALAN Breakfast. Jacqueline Woodson was inspiring and as I listened to her speak, I was struck again with how lyrical her writing is. Even her speech to the ALAN-ites was beautifully poetic. Then I took in a session of YA writers who had used Chicago as the setting for one of their novels. The session included Simone Elkeles, John Green, James Klise, Jillian Larkin, and David Levithan. It was really interesting to listen to their thought processes about how and why they include setting in their writing. And, of course, it was hilarious. Between Green, Leviathan, and Elkeles, there was much laughter. After lunch I prowled the exhibits and got books signed by Simone Elkeles, Veronica Roth and Laurie Halse Anderson. I headed over to the Palmer House for the most anticipated session of the day: the Middle Mosaic. I passed Chris Crutcher on the street walking between sessions. I was too shy to say anything and I tweeted about it. Y’ALL – HE TWEETED ME BACK. I was ecstatic and mortified at the same time. I sat with Gordon Korman and Alan Wolf at their tables discussing their books and why they write. We also got to hear the fabulous Teri Lesesne and Kate Messner, among others, do what they do best: talk about books!
Sunday was the day of our presentation. I spent the 9:30 session prepping for our presentation. Luckily, there was no one in the room during the 9:30 session so plenty of time to set up and meet with the co-presenter. The presentation covered using YA books as a bridge to more complex, more “classic” texts – specifically epic poetry. Click here to link to the handout we provided and definitely email me if you’d like more information! The presentation went well for a Sunday, mid-day presentation. There was positive feedback and overall I feel it was a success for my first time presenting. I already have an idea for a proposal for NCTE ‘12. And then, Sunday afternoon, we rested. Seriously. We all went back to the room and took naps. Anyone who’s ever been knows that by the end of the “week” exhaustion sets in. Plus, we were going to the ALAN reception Sunday evening so we needed to be rested and limber for author-stalking at the reception.