Let me begin by saying how totally awesome it is to have wifi. I had no idea how much I rely on it to do my thinking and my work and to interact with the world. The iPhone screen is just too small and claustrophobic. I think Mister S is working on a broader post about this issue and the complete irony of the lack of wifi at this national conference of English teachers, so I won’t say too much more. You don’t need to get the vitriol from both of us about this.
We’re sitting at a Corner Bakery down the street from the hotel. There really wasn’t lunch time built in to our schedule today, so we were pretty hungry. Now that we’ve had some dinner, I think I can attempt to reflect on what I experienced today.
I will do that by pulling up the tweets we did today and looking them over for the juiciest tidbits. I’m tweeting! More today than in the last year easily.
What follows here is somewhat of a pastiche–some tidbits I tweeted, some of which I feel like I want to say a few things about and some I will just let speak for themselves.
Our day started with the general session key note from Linda Darling-Hammond:
“It’s not an achievement gap but an opportunity gap our politicians are unwilling to face.”
“We cannot use 20th century methods to teach 21st century skills.”
“Teaching reading IS rocket science.”
I especially love that last one. I get so frustrated at the idea that anyone can teach, even without training. Teaching reading is particularly complex. Nothing short of rocket science if you ask me.
From there we went to a session about bullying that started off with an address from Kevin Jennings:
“Silence helps the tormentor, not the tormented.”
Jennings used a combination of statistics and story telling that nearly brought me to tears. Definitely got me thinking about the ways I can be more proactive against bullying in my school community. I ducked out of this session early (it was a double session) so I could go to the panel on Paulo Freire, but Mister S stayed to hear Matthew Shephard’s mom speak–something he’ll write about at some point.
So the Freire panel had several voices on it, including Ernest Morrell who asked:
“Why are we afraid of the L word in education? (Love)”
All of the Freire panelists said again and again that Freire’s methods are at the center about love and the idea that we must work to love our students before we can teach them effectively. And I agree with Ernest that we ARE afraid of this word in education. But that IS what effective teaching revolves around. It’s a love that demands I look beyond my own issues, whatever they may be, to see my students clearly as individuals. I must know them well to be able to invite them to engage in my course meaningfully, and the invitation looks different for each student too. There’s no way I can get there without working genuinely to know them as individuals, not just as the people who file into my classroom each day and file back out again when the bell rings. How do I do this? I learn their names in the first week of school. I greet them kindly when they enter my classroom. I demonstrate passion about our subject matter. I go to their games and performances and make sure that they know I was there. I ask them what they think and then really listen. The first writing assignment they do is a letter to me in response to a letter I have written to my class as a whole, a letter wherein I ask them to tell me what I need to know about them as a reader and a writer in order to be their teacher. All of this is oriented around love.
But Morrell has also challenged me to go farther with this (both today and at his key note address at the CLAS conference back in Colorado in September)–I’ve always worked to present meaningful work for my students in my classroom, but I want to up the ante. I want the work to be meaningful beyond my classroom, meaning I want my students to work on their world, to think about it and find ways to change it for the better. It’s that action piece I want to add.
And then there was an assistant professor who did slam poetry instead of a typical academic presentation and I hope he understands how completely awesome it was. Thank you sj Miller.
From there, we were silent in the tweetspace for a time because we were involved in a round table conversation about using online spaces to reflect on teaching, which as you know, is pretty much what we do here. I’m definitely writing at present thinking more explicitly about what I’m using this writing space for (to reflect over what’s resonating for me from this first day at my first NCTE annual convention–I’m exhausted and I do NOT want to lose these thoughts) (that’s for you, LH. You know who you are). Great conversation. Lots to think about.
I took a two-hour break in the afternoon to go run along the lake for a bit, get some lunch, and meet author John Green to get him to sign a copy of Paper Towns and to tell him about how the weblog he and his brother did for a year a while back just about helped me survive some of the awful parts of studying for PhD comprehensive exams and writing my dissertation prospectus. I would make myself write for a while and then let myself watch a few videos as a reward. Oh, and he signed the book with “DFTBA” (don’t forget to be awesome).
Then finally, a panel on why we teach literature wherein I picked up a couple of very juicy tidbits:
“We can’t be transformed unless we’re willing to converse with people who think differently than we do.”
And Carol Jago:
“English teachers are the last bastion of defense against barbarity.”
Mister S and I have already decided that last one is going up on our office door in large letters when we get back to school.
And the conference has been a real mash-up of the different spheres of my life: I’ve seen a former Illinois colleague, a former Illinois student, the wife of a former Illinois student (great to meet you today!), one of my classmates from my doc program, a professor from my doc program, folks I know from CLAS, people from my work world at the school where I teach… oh, and all the “famous” people I see walking around–the people whose books I’ve read and studied. Too cool.
So there it is. Time to leave the cafe and head back to the hotel for a tweet-up with other conference tweeters. Then a walk to the train station to greet my husband and kiddo who have been on the train literally all day. They’re coming to play in Chicago for the weekend.
Thanks for reading… we’ll be back at it (thinking and tweeting and seeking out wifi to write) tomorrow.