Reflections from NCTE18: Part One

The National Council of Teachers of English Conference is such a complex undertaking and often times overwhelming experience that I decided to split my observation into three parts. Part One focuses on resources while Part Two will be my overall takeaways.  Part Three will be a recommended reading list from NCTE18.

For the first fourteen years of my teaching career, I was not a member of the National Council of Teachers of English or of my state organization, the Virginia Association of Teachers of English. I chalk this up to one major reason:  I never understood the benefits of being part of a larger collaborative group of teachers of English working together towards a common goal. Being tucked down near the North Carolina border, teachers from Southside VA often feel disconnected from meetings happening in Richmond or Norfolk, not to mention Texas and Colorado. It seemed like just another thing to pay dues for yearly.

Once I started making connections with my Twitter and Voxer Tribes of teachers, I began to hear about, see, and experience the benefits of belonging to NCTE and VATE. I joined online and began to look for opportunities to attend conferences. I thought that I would have a better chance of getting funding and the days off if I had a proposal accepted. And so it began, now the fall is not just football season but also conference season.  

This year’s NCTE 2018 Conference was held in Houston, Texas, and is an English teacher’s dream. Imagine classroom teachers sharing best practices, keynotes delivered by inspirational speakers, free book giveaways, and famous authors speaking and signing books. Yep, English teacher Disney World.

Not only do I enjoy attending sessions, but I love being a part of the conversation and providing teachers with real, straight from the classroom, resources. Writing proposals, preparing, and presenting sessions is hard, grinding work (especially if you rearrange your entire presentation at midnight the night before…cough, cough…Susan Barber), but the effort transcends into the classroom where you put these ideas to work. Presenting makes me a better teacher. I would not do it otherwise.

I co-presented Write This, Not That (click title for presentation link) with Susan Barber to more teachers than we could have ever imagined. I think many teachers there were looking for the same thing that I look for in a session: practical ways to take my students’ writing from point A to point B. The link will give you all of our slides and resources (be sure to check out the final resource slide), but unfortunately you will not get the benefit of all the jokes. We have decided that our session is part practical application and part standup routine, which is kind of what it is like being a teacher sometimes.  

tlp groupDuring the Teach Living Poets session (click title for presentation link) co-presented with Karla Hillard, Jori Krulder, Susan Barber, Sarah Soper, and Melissa Smith, I actually got chills listening to my co-presenters talk about their passion for incorporating living poets into their classrooms. The #TeachLivingPoets movement can be as simple as teaching a single poem in companion with another canonical work or as complex as starting a poetry club or arranging poet visits. I love that this session is accessible to all teachers at any comfort level.

NCTE committeeThis year I also was elected to a position and served on a committee for NCTE, and while it took away several opportunities to attend sessions, I am grateful for the opportunity to see some of the inner workings of NCTE while being able to participate in that conversation. Shout out to fellow committee members Elena Garcia (chair) and Andrea Zellner who made this process fun.  

The main problem I see, especially for teachers from rural areas, is that a conference like this remains a dream only because there is little funding for attendance. Teachers from rural areas typically already make less than other teachers in their state. Not to mention, there are additional hidden costs when you live more than an hour away from an airport. I would like to work to increase accessibility for these conferences for all teachers who would like to attend. I am excited that next year’s conference is a driveable(ish) distance to Baltimore, Maryland.

In my opinion, the main reason to attend NCTE is for the keynotes and sessions from fellow educators. The sessions I attended pushed my thinking. The conversations I had in elevators and over dinner pushed my thinking. To me, that is one integral purpose of a conference.

Part Two of this series will include those observations and Part Three will be my NCTE18 recommended reading list…both coming later this week.

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