Nourished Soul: NCTE 2013 Was Incredible

I had a different post on deck, about grammar in my classroom, but I’m on the bus back from Boston right now scrolling through notes and pictures on my phone and what I really need to write about is NCTE 2013.

The National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention is my yearly rejuvenation. It’s a chance to hear from the best and brightest in education: Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, Linda Reif, Cris Tovani, Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Donalyn Miller, Nancie freakin’ Atwell, and this list goes ON.

It’s an opportunity to replenish my classroom library with classics, worn-to-the-seams favorites, and brand new titles that have yet to hit the shelves, many completely free. Not to mention building up my professional library.

These aren’t even the best parts. Teachers of all grade levels and lengths of experience present to a national audiences. This weekend I saw amazing performances, glimpsed into the inspiring classrooms of teachers from across the nation, culled brilliant ideas from elementary teachers, delved into inquiry, examined student work, and got my hands dirty playing in the recreated classrooms of these brilliant presenters.

Sitting down for our last Boston meal with my dear friend, conference buddy, and co-presenter Alie, we tried to list our top three NCTE moments. We quickly exchanged three for five, acknowledging that three was impossible, and then five had to be traded in for 10, and now it’s a blog post from my phone at the back of the bus because how can we even begin?

We met Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird and she asked if she could come visit our classrooms.

I hovered over Linda Reif’s shoulder as she paged through a student’s notebook from her class and revealed that, even when you’re Linda Reif, grading is hard.

I got to present to a room filled with dedicated and brilliant minds about the value of struggle and collaboration, and I got to do so with two of my favorite people on the planet.

Laurie Halse Andersen stopped signing books to hug me because six years ago I shyly approached her at an NCTE event to show her that I, too, have a Beowulf-inspired tattoo on my wrist.

I met Temple Grandin, and listened to Ishmael Beah tell us the most beautiful stories about his life and language, and I was transformed forever by the spoken word performance of First Wave Hip Hop.

I was blown away by the great work being done by students and teachers in Wamogo, where the school has gone paperless and fully digital. It is a sight to behold.

Donalyn Miller pulled a baby blue Polaroid camera out of her bag to take a picture with us at the Nerdy Book Club Cocktail Hour. There was a Nerdy Book Club Cocktail Hour!

I could take the next three days off of work to process and write about this experience, and forego Thanksgiving dinner to continue, and type furiously through Black Friday and on, and I would not come close to doing justice to the inspiration, revitalization, and motivation coursing through me after this weekend, the fuel that will sustain me and push me farther and higher for months to come. Years, even. So much of what I do that works dates back to my first NCTE convention eight years ago.

Along with being the most useful and engaging and successful professional development I’ve ever experienced, the NCTE convention is a family reunion. When I reconnect with Toby Khan-Loftus and Jeff Williams, I wonder how I survive with these pieces of my heart scattered across the country, coming together only once a year. Even some of my New York kin (looking at you, Christy Kingham) are only closer geographically, but rely on NCTE to transcend our busy schedules and being us together. Every year, our family grows, and as we sat around the table for our annual Saturday evening dinner, I felt the warm comfort of being in one place with so many kindred spirits, dedicated educators who do not necessarily replicate but complement my mindset. I felt at home.

My mentor teacher and heartprint soul sister, Jennifer Ochoa, teaches 8th grade and she often asks her students to share “one smart thing” they heard a classmate say during class. Here are just a few smart things I heard people say at NCTE 2013:

“You’ve got to show kids interesting things to get them interested in things.” -Temple Grandin

Students are not really digital natives but digital tourists, and they will gravitate toward what’s popular, like McDonald’s in Paris. -Linda Bickford, Wamogo English Dept.

“You have to teach the way you believe is right.” -Penny Kittle

“We read nonfiction and informational text because we want to learn something.” -JoEllen McCarthy

“The purpose of a story is to pass it on. If it is not passed on the story dies.” -Ishmael Beah

What about you, #NCTE13 ? What smart things did you hear this weekend? Share with us in the comments!


6 thoughts on “Nourished Soul: NCTE 2013 Was Incredible

  1. “At some point you need to find the part of your mind that still dreams.” – Ernest Morrell

    I think these words from our new president echo Priscilla’s moving tribute to the conference. After attending many conferences, I find that beauty of this experience lies not only in what is said, but what is awakened when we listen. I cherish the opportunity to stop the clock, pause on the agenda items, phone calls, and meetings to immerse myself in conversations with brilliant educators from all over the country–even world.

    Ernest reminds us that in order to teach our 21st century kids, we need to reimagine the future of ELA class. We need to lift ourselves from beneath the rocks of standards, assessments, and evaluations that weigh us down and make space to dream. This conference gives me this space, which is necessary for the nourishment Priscilla describes.

    First Wave Hip Hop’s lyrics still echo in my ears: “You can build a world with all you know.” Their astute social commentary also offers teachers a call to action. In this difficult political climate, we can find strength when we tap into what we know. Though strapped with time and weighed down with responsibilities, we can encourage one another to trust our instincts so that our world becomes one of possibilities rather than mandates.

    Build on, dreamers, and thanks for your dedication to the blog, P. You are a dream catcher.

  2. What a great conference! I’ve only had two days of school this week but have already tried two new strategies shared by wonderful presenters. I’m already planning for DC next November and encouraging my colleagues to join me!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s