NCTE Annual Convention has been a life changing experience for me as an educator. When I first attended NCTE in Philadelphia in 2009, I vowed that I would never miss another as long as my health or my family’s health would allow me to be in attendance. And I have not regretted a minute of it every year that I have attended since. This year is not different.
The first day of NCTE 2012 sessions is under my belt and while Vegas is alluring it is also one of the most contrived cities I’ve ever been in. Happily I can say that it stands in stark contrast to the offerings and attendees of our convention. NCTE is one of the most sincere and right-based thinking arenas I have ever known. The atmosphere here is one of true collaboration and love for our shared profession. Every session I attended today was imbued with passion and a clear love of learning and sharing that learning. That is one of the most amazing things about English teachers: most of us have a genuine love of learning that we can’t help but share with those around us. Get thousands of us together in a room and just watch what happens. There is laughter and sorrow and empathy and true professional development of our craft. Even at meals, we’re still sharing ideas and encouraging one another.
The day began with Sir Ken Robinson and a discussion on creativity and celebrating diversity. It was a magnificent way to begin the day to focus on the very thing that makes teaching both extremely challenging and incredibly rewarding. Sir Robinson is right, loosening the reigns and allowing our students to show us what they can do is the best way to serve them. We need only step in when they struggle and NEED assistance. Isn’t that what good teachers do? We shouldnurture the exotic and build up the weak instead of pruning every student down to a standard shape.
My next session was one of encouraging free thinking and discussion about text. Giving students a way to voice their thoughts about text without paring their thinking down to multiple choice answers. My third session was with some of my Twitter friends like @jennann516, @katsok, and @kelleemoye who trumpeted the liberation of providing reading choice in the classroom to grow readers and thinkers. Then it was on to a session about bringing students’ media savvy into the classroom and creating products that showcase their technological acumen paired with their growing skill of analysis and synthesis of text. I spent the afternoon with a panel of authors led by Joan Kaywell discussing YA Lit and poverty: both in the books and in the lives of the students who read them. Then I ended the day watching a former colleague, Jose Paco Fiallos, and his co-presenter discuss broadening the canon to reflect the changing face of our student population. No more Dead White Males dominating the literary landscape but including all cultures to reflect the multicultural landscape in education.
Every year my mind is blown by the people in my profession who share my love of connection with students. Because ultimately, that’s what it boils down to: getting to know students with their talents and needs and successes and failings. If nothing else, that’s what we’re here to do as teachers. KNOW our students and help them get what they need to define themselves and succeed in becoming that self. I’m so excited to see what tomorrow offers and how much more I can learn about how to bring my students closer to their goals. It’s an honor to be planning and sharing and laughing and crying with people who know deep in their bones that we have to be in it for the students first. Otherwise, why be in it at all?