Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Story Shorts from #NCTE15: #SOL15

When I first attended the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, I'd already taught many years. I traveled to Philadelphia thirsty for knowledge and camaraderie with like-minded English teachers. I've now attended the past six NCTE gatherings, and while I'm not as idealistic and excited as I was, I'm still grateful for the stories shared and created each November.

This past NCTE presented me w/ many responsibilities. First, I was part of the Folger Shakespeare Library team of presenters. I presented with Peggy O'Brien to a crowd of around 200 teachers. I missed the Allison Bechtel keynote because it was right before my session, and I had helped w/ setup. We moved tables, rearranged chairs and placed handouts prior to presenting. I also worked in the Folger booth on Friday and presented WILL lessons, a mini, one-on-one segment of the session, on Saturday.

"Getting Started with Shakespeare's Language," my session w/ the Folger Shakespeare Library
My Saturday began w/ an 8:00 a.m. session with two fabulous teachers, Lee Ann Spilane and Paul W. Hankins. The star of our session was the spectacular Melissa Sweet, author of Balloons Over Broadway and illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Both Lee and Paul are amazing teachers and presenters. Melissa makes me want to write picture books, something I'd never thought I'd consider. All three inspire me to be a better teacher and person.

W/ Paul W. Hakins, Melissa Sweet, and Lee Ann Spilane
Saturday afternoon I chaired the panel for which I'd written a proposal. The three presenters are ladies I've worked with in the past, my colleague and friend Debbie Greco, Ami Szerence from California, and Cherylann Schmidt from New Jersey. I always learn from each of them.

I've uploaded my session schedule for those who want to peruse the online program and grab the handouts from each session. 

Of course, NCTE affords opportunities to embrace my inner fangirl. I managed to get pics w/ Deborah Wiles and Kwame Alexander, and I had a conversation w/ Jason Alexander at the Nerdy Book Club party.

W/ Newberry Award winning author Kwame Alexander
at the Nerdy Book Club party.

Deborah Wiles, author of COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION. 
NCTE typically falls on or around my birthday, November 19. Getting to celebrate with friends from around the country and hear their wishes for happiness means much to me. Throughout the weekend in Minneapolis, friends asked about my big day.

Leading up to NCTE, I was feeling very stressed. My schedule has been full, and we had just two days w/ students in our new trimester before I headed out to the conference. Getting away from the normal pressures had a decompressing effect on me. That's the best gift of all. 

I did face some challenges during the conference. I broke my toe Saturday morning when my alarm startled me from a deep sleep and I forgot where I was and which side of the bed I was sleeping on. I rolled and crashed onto the floor, hitting my nose on the bedside table and smashing my toe. 
My friends worried more about my mishap than did I. I know my gift of gracelessness well and have several scars on my face to prove it. Undeterred, I hobbled around and looked for the humor in my klutziness. The worst part of my toe mishap is not being able to go to the gym. I can't bend my toe or put pressure on it, but it is improving, albeit slowly. 

While my Folger session drew a huge crowd, my other two sessions were poorly attended. I blame NCTE for this. As Dana Huff writes in her reflections about NCTE, our organization has created a rock-star following for some in our profession. Admittedly, I get a little star-struck, too, which is why NCTE SHOULD NOT schedule popular teacher-author sessions so that they conflict w/ other presenters. We, too, work hard on our proposals and presentations. I have presented at the past five NCTE annual conventions and have not repeated a presentation. Each proposal has been unique. Each one showcases new and tested lessons from my classroom. How can I and the other teachers who present only occasionally compete against a lecture hall featuring those who travel the nation and command speaking fees for their appearances? These stars among us need their own time-slots, similar to those afforded keynote speakers, or they need to be scheduled opposite one-another. 

This NCTE I attended a session that frankly was quite insulting in that a speaker in it was woefully unprepared. It's the first time I've witnessed a teacher who had not prepared at all. I finally walked out, even though I had wanted to stay and ask another speaker on the panel why she has her students research topics w/out considering the credibility of the resources. In yet another session, this one a round-table, a presenter had canceled at the last minute, so there was a fill-in speaker. He, too, was not well-prepared, but he did know his book. These two sessions were the worse ones I've ever attended at a conference of any time. I felt as though I'd wasted my time, and had I paid my own registration fees, I'd have felt as though I'd wasted my money. 

When I attend NCTE, I'm looking to be fed, to be rejuvenated, to find collegiality, to renew old friendships and make new ones. I'm not looking for discord. I'm pretty good about following education news. I found the PEARSON PROTEST troubling. The rebel in me at first thought, "oh, look, social activism at NCTE, how cool." A moment later I began pondering and questioning the objective. As presented, and as I witnessed it, the protest looked like it was aimed at Pearson. I've since read that the protest's purpose was to raise awareness about the corporate takeover and incursion into public education. Seriously? I doubt those attending NCTE annual convention are unaware of the corporate influence and money-grabbing policies of Pearson, an organization I've criticized openly and often, an organization I've boycotted for a number of years. 
Pearson Protest: Not all in the photo participated in the protest.

While standing in line at the UPS store later, I spoke with the teacher in charge of planning the CATE conference. She asked what I thought of the protest, and I shared my concerns that I worry about collateral damage. She, too, shared her worry that the protest will undermine support for the conference she is planning. A friend who teaches in California posted on FB her concern that the protest will mean a loss of funding of registration fees and an inability of many teachers to attend the CATE conference. 

I understand the need to push back at Pearson, but I don't understand a preaching to the choir protest. It doesn't take much courage to protest among those who share a dislike for Pearson's role in sucking the financial life out of the public education coffers.  

This year I missed my opportunity to attend ALAN. Boo! Typically, my district holds classes through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, but this year we have the week off. I did not realize that until I had my flight book and convention planned. Maybe next year. That seems to be my mantra. 

Finally, I missed meeting some important people I want to meet. I'm thankful for the books publishers share w/ conference-goers via give-aways, displays, and discounts. The authors themselves give, and give, and give. I'm in awe of the way they embrace teachers and students. We are lucky to live in a time when writers embrace social media and accept our friendship requests and honor us with their words. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING. Thank you for stopping by and sharing this and your own corner of cyberspace with me.

The Slice of Life Tuesday story challenge happens each Tuesday as a gift from the team at Two Writing Teachers blog. Thanks, Stacey and all on the SOL team for all you do, for all you give.