Escalators were the theme of the day for us.
We took the bus from Boulder to the Denver airport and took a very long escalator up from the bus depot to the terminal. A bus driver had told Tracy that it was the longest escalator in the country. We didn’t think that was the case–I can remember an impossibly long escalator in the D.C. subway system from a couple of years ago that I’m certain is longer than the Denver escalator.
We had no idea there would be so many escalators today. Down to the plane train at the Atlanta airport. To the MARTA station, around inside of the MARTA stations, up from the MARTA stations, up into the hotel, down into the conference center, up to the ballroom for the opening session… on and on. While we were on the train from the airport, we even got the following text from Jay: “Meet you in the lobby. Loooooong escalator at Peachtree.”
Up, down, up, down, at snail’s pace, often in crowds, often encumbered by luggage…out of control of the pace, at the mercy of the machines that take you from one place to another. There was even a moment when Claire and I both started side by side on two separate escalators but hers was moving more quickly than mine, and she got to the top first.
I’m not a fan of big machinery that I can’t control. Elevators. Revolving doors. Escalators. I’m worried I’ll get stuck in a dark elevator between floors, or hit by the revolving door behind me if I don’t move fast enough, or caught up in the cogs of an escalator due to an errant shoestring or edge of a shoe. I try to stay clear of the dangers, keep myself safe, remain balanced so I don’t teeter off the edge.
And what on earth does this have to do with my first day at NCTE this year?
As teachers in American schools–especially in public American schools as my colleagues and I are–we are often at the mercy of machinery over which we have no control. We’re on an escalator or elevator heading up? heading down?–sometimes it’s not clear which direction we’re going. But we’re often moving at a pace set by someone else and we have no control and there is danger of getting caught in the cogs or trapped in the darkness. Or we’re caught in the middle of something revolving–and you have to keep up or your might get knocked down by the things spinning spinning spinning. Just stay on your feet and keep focused on getting through.
Maybe while you’re reading this, you’re thinking about budget cuts or education policy or testing mandates. Or maybe you’re thinking about the uncertain next challenges for schooling considering the recent election results. The machinery manifests in any force beyond your control that impinges on your teaching world–often without being focused on what best serves your students.
Diane Ravitch’s Skype conversation with us at the opening session hit on the machinery currently at play. She said she thinks that we’ll see more and more efforts to privatize public schools–an assault on our democracy. She said that we’re grading schools, teachers, children to no end. She said forces blame schools for failing, but it’s the wider societal machinery that is failing instead. We need to defend our public schools against the forces that want to destroy them.
She also said to find something that gives you hope and to cling to it with all you’ve got.
I find hope in my students–they are wise and clever and kind.
I find hope in the thousands of ELA teachers temporarily residing in the hotels surrounding the convention center here in Atlanta. I can see a wall of hotel rooms outside of my window, lights glowing through curtains, TVs flickering, and I feel I am part of a band, a nation of warriors. We are here because we believe in the power of reading and writing to remind humanity that we are all in this together.
I find hope in my umpteen teaching colleagues across the country who are right now at home on a Thursday evening, maybe reading student work, maybe planning lessons, maybe helping their own kids with homework, maybe reading a book. There is something that unites us in the work that we do.
Doug Hesse reminded us today that all teachers are writers. I find hope in words. I find hope in struggling to find words to capture ideas, to work through confusion, to reflect over experience, to connect with others.
Thank you for being here, all of you. Despite the machinery we all exist within and alongside, you help me to find balance so I don’t teeter off the edge of an escalator step. You help me to remain focused so I can make my way safely through the revolving doors. You help me to stay calm if trapped in a dark elevator.
I can’t wait to learn from you over the next few days.
Cast of characters for NCTE16: Sarah, Paul, Jay, Tracy (who have been to several NCTE conferences together now), and Claire, who is on this adventure with us for the first time.