Reflections on NCTE 2012, looking back from a dining room table in Iowa

Okay so I didn’t write yet for conference day three. I blame the Las Vegas strip. After the last session we attended Saturday, we headed out to explore the strip. That means that we walked from the MGM Grand all the way to the Venetian (and back), about 1.7 miles each way as the crow flies. But if you’ve ever walked the strip you know that you don’t go as the crow flies in order to access all the pedestrian bridges over the cross streets. Oh, and we wandered around inside Caesar’s Palace quite a bit looking for the Gladiators I remember seeing there years ago (we found a food court with good, affordable food instead and sat there over salads and pizza and one vegetarian burrito discussing the finer points of the passive voice and five paragraph essays).

Yes. We had a serious English geek conversation in the middle of a Las Vegas casino. That’s just how we roll.

Anyhow, the walk took quite a while and we didn’t return to the hotel until nearly midnight, and the fact that I wanted to get up to exercise before my 7:30 am breakfast session Sunday meant I had to just go right to sleep.

Not even able
To sketch out a few haikus
I just had to sleep

So on the plane back to Colorado, I decompressed after the whirlwind of the last few days And wrote about what’s resonating:

Vegas is an odd place. Not a place I feel the need to revisit in the future. Too loud. Too smoky. Too decadent. Too crowded.

But Vegas is not the reason I made the trip. It was about the people who would be there and the opportunity to challenge my thinking about my teaching. This yearly convention is something I must do. Every year.

I had this moment Saturday while hearing pretty much the same messages over again (stories matter in so many ways, the stories we teach and read with our students, the stories we need to tell of our teaching lives, the stories our stude to bring with them into the classroom) (we are more than the common core standards and we can leverage them to do the work we know we must with out students) (together we can and must operate through informed resistance to what is coming at us from outside of our classrooms) (we are professionals and know our work better than anyone), I began to wonder why if we all (we being those teachers in attendance at the conference) are all in agreement essentially about these big issues, why do we need to keep talking of them?

Then I realized that the teachers in attendance at this conference represent only a slice out of all the literacy teachers out there. There are thousands more who didn’t come to the conference for a variety of reasons, and whereas some of them share the same thoughts anyhow that floated around the conference over the last few days, many literacy teachers who did not attend this conference will never attend such a gathering. Many literacy teachers are overall isolated in their schools and classrooms, far from the work our national and state organizations engage in, far from the conversations I had the opportunity to take part in while in Vegas, far from any chance to be pushed in their thinking by the inspiring teachers I wandered around Vegas with.

And I find this troubling. Our job as teachers of literacy is (and always has been) to help our students grow in the skills they’ll need to be able to read our complex world and write their own future within it. The overall task is the same, but the set of skills we need to teach our students shifts and evolves before our eyes. How on earth we will be able to achieve this in isolation from one another?

We can’t.

And we especially cannot risk NOT working together in the face of the powerful forces beyond our classrooms that think they can better address the issues within them by removing us, the teachers, the professionals, from the solution. In fact, some powerful narratives about schools cast teachers as the problem.

So what does this mean? This means we need to reach out to one another, across the office, the hall, the school building, the district, the state, the country–reach out intentionally often and via whatever avenue will connect us to one another. This means we need to actively engage with our professional organizations at the state and national level. For example, are you aware of what NCTE has been working toward with the National Center for Literacy Education (NCLE)? It has the power to connect us and to enable us to be a unified, informed voice resisting any push that comes at us from outside that we know does not well serve our students. I commit to get involved, to get my school and district involved, to get my state organization involved. And I commit to keep writing, to keep tweeting, to use the journal I edit for the Colorado Language Arts Society to connect teachers and inspire conversation. I commit to working with my department and my district to connect teachers and inspire conversation.

And you know what I think was my favorite moment if the whole conference? The hour or so before our presentation, when we sat together and talked about teaching. We laughed. We challenged each other. We learned from each other. We had the space and time to let the conversation go where it needed to. I look back on that even more in awe of the people I get to teach with. Thanks Jay and Paul and Tracy and Jonathan and Tim and Karen for all of it.

Another favorite moment was catching up with my former high school student, Liz, who has become a teacher and a teacher educator and a researcher and doctoral student since she was in my AP Lit class in Illinois. She’s doing some wickedly cool research and thinking about important literacy issues and doing work that honors teachers. I’m excited to see where this work takes her over the next few years.

And just in case you’re wondering, here’s my list of things I wish to work on, the pieces I’m bringing back with me into my teaching world, the set of intentions to guide me as my teaching adventure continues:

I wish to grade less and to have more frequent authentic conversations with my students about their writing more frequently. This means I’ve got some things to figure out in my senior class especially (where I leverage grades in some significant ways) (and click here for links to all the posts in the blog war that emerged on the topic between Mr. S and me), but I want to really start working on hiding grades to the benefit of getting students to focus on the work instead.

I wish to re-work second semester of my senior class to build a rigorous, engaging, meaningful, research project as the culminating activity. I’m talking the kind of research project that will redefine research for my students as a basic human endeavor, one that they realize they cannot move forward successfully as a human being without. I kind of have this, but it can be way better.

I wish to write, to build momentum (and keep it moving) on two specific projects–making change and education counter narratives.

I wish to be a positive force in my school, an agent of effective communication, a support system, a celebrator of successes, a person who works on solutions and does not just complain about problems. I want to be a good community member.

I wish to continue to keep at the center of my focus what is right for my students. Period.

Thank you once again, NCTE, for the most powerful professional development that I do.

My apologies for not posting this on Sunday or even Monday, leaving you to wonder if I had been lost in the Vegas vortex I’m sure. The issue was no wifi on the plane or in the car from Denver to Iowa, where I sit now at my in-laws’ dining room table for a few days celebrating Thanksgiving with my husbands’ family.

Oh, and please be sure to check out yet another set of Vegas/NCTE-inspired haikus! I wasn’t the only conference attendee who saw the value of the haiku to comment on the experience.

 

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3 Responses to Reflections on NCTE 2012, looking back from a dining room table in Iowa

  1. Amanda Goss says:

    Enjoyed your session! The students at your school are fortunate to have teachers who think deeply about their craft and collaborate to become better! Inspired to continue thinking about how to put more time and emphasis on conferences with my students and less on grades. Thank You!

  2. Pingback: NCTE Reflections: What we write down IS what we value, or why I still don't like CCSS | The Paper Graders

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