Since my last year at Central Michigan, I’ve regularly attended the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference (MCTE). This year, I went out on a limb and requested to attend the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention in Orlando, FL. To my surprise and excitement my request was approved! I was nervous about attending because 1. this was my first time attending and 2. I was going by myself. I couldn’t be more thrilled about going.
The first day (Thursday) was overwhelming considering the flight and all. I must say, I was able to avoid the horrible TSA body scanner. I guess I don’t look “suspicious.” The flight wasn’t bad, but I had to wait almost an hour for my hotel shuttle. Once I showered and grabbed some lunch, I only had time to listen to Lois Duncan speak. Holy cow! She is a fascinating woman. I loved her stories about growing up and becoming an author. My favorite part was when she spoke about not being able to sew a skirt because she was more focused on writing a story. She turned her story into a contest, won $50, and bought herself a skirt! I loved her books growing up, and now many of the covers have been re-vamped for a new audience. We were even given signed copies of her books; I received Don’t Look Behind You.
Friday was one of the best professional development experiences of my short career! I’m still bummed that I couldn’t stay longer and attend the sessions on Saturday and Sunday. The day began with Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers as our keynote speaker. Oh my goodness, she was phenomenal! We were told what most of us know of her story, but it was the added detail she provided and the eloquent way she told her story. Multiple times I found myself tearing up. Her story is heartwarming, but more than anything, it was reassuring that I am doing the right thing in my teaching. I can’t explain how many times I am left feeling like I’m not teaching the “right” way. That I’m not teaching the “right” materials. That I’m not teaching the “right” habits. Erin mentioned that she teaches in an authentic way that her students need. She wants them writing about their personal experiences, their stories. She set up a read-a-thon because she knows they need more than just the “dead white guys.” This is the best quote of her speech: “We teach for that aha! moment. The moment the student finally gets it.”
I’m not trying to sound like I’m some top-notch teacher who knows all. I have plenty to learn and plenty that I want to learn. But I refuse to become lazy and say things like “We don’t need to teach that material to them (reluctant learners) because they aren’t going to college anyway.” I teach knowing that even the students who drive us nuts truly want a chance and want to learn. They need someone who will reach out and listen to them.
I teach “out of the box.” I don’t want to hand out stack upon stack of grammar worksheets. I’d rather teach grammar and figurative language using the texts we’re reading in class. Erin talked about using music in her lessons. On my way home I heard Alannis Morisette’s song “Ironic” and immediately thought of how much trouble my students have understanding irony. I’m going to use that song the next time we discuss irony in class. I promote the importance of reading every day. We have SSR, we have book talks, we write and blog about what we’re reading. When I mention doing things like this, I often hear excuses about why it can’t be done. “Giving tests are easier.” “How will we know if they read it without giving them a test?”
Being at NCTE and surrounded by people who think like I do was beyond refreshing. There were other teachers excited about reading and that look at authors like they’re celebrities (I stand by the fact that they are!). I met teachers with fabulous lesson ideas for book trailers and more. At a session with David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins speaking about censorship, I sat behind the YA goddess Teri Lesesne! I swear I’ll be her in the future; I’m a YA goddess in training 🙂 I left the conference reassured that I’m a good teacher and that I’m only going to get better; it was exactly what I needed.
Now, the exciting part… I met authors! I took pictures with authors! I had books signed by authors! Does life as a teacher and fangirl get any more exciting?! I left a session early to wait outside the room where Neal Shusterman and Brandon Mull were going to present. I’m glad I did because I snagged a seat up front 🙂 I haven’t read any of Brandon’s books, but I’ve heard of his Fablehaven series. If his books are anything like him, I need to read all of his books, like, yesterday. He was hilarious and inspiring. This is a fabulous quote and it’s going up on the wall in my classroom: “Write what you love because passion is contagious.”
Neal Shusterman was A-MAZING. I’m still regretting eating lunch and missing out on his signing of Bruiser. Who needs food anyway? He told us that he hated reading in third grade, until his teacher forced him to go to the library every day as punishment. The librarian gave him a book every day until he found “the one.” After that he was allowed to open up all the new shipments of books and pick from the pile first. He started telling stories when he was a camp counselor; it was the only way to get the younger kids to calm down. His professor forced him to write outside of his comfort zone and explore all genres. He majored in psychology to learn the inner-workings, and drama to learn how we act out. I was taking furious notes because I learned so much from him. Again, I’m still bummed I didn’t get a signed book even though I did get a picture with him.
As I said earlier, I attended a session about censorship featuring David Levithan and Ellen Hopkins. Oh my gosh I was so excited that I got a front seat. I was talking to my mom on the phone when Ellen Hopkins walked in (no I wasn’t on the phone during the session, she came in early) and I about squealed with delight. I had to let my mom go… Anyway, David has a wonderful way with words; he’s so poignant, especially when speaking about his passion. He is a strong and important voice for LGBT teens and he’s correct when he says “Witholding books is taking books away that could save kids’ lives… We need to defend the books AND the kids.” Ellen was, of course, fantastic. Her stance on her books is that “One bad choice can ruin your life.” Reading her books helps students avoid making life-ruining choices because they’ll learn from the characters’ experiences. The “good kids” will learn to be empathetic and understanding of those who are experiencing problems like her characters. She told us that she keeps all of the letters she receives from people thanking her for her books and telling her how they saved their lives. She’ll be happy to send us copies if we need them to fight the censorship of her books. I bought a new copy of Fallout to be signed by her and she was giving away posters of her poem “Manifesto.” She signed one and addressed it to my class 😀 It’s proudly hanging up behind my desk.
Besides all the cool books I had signed (Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Black Hole Sun, Fallout), I also received some awesome ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). Copies of Clarity by Kim Harrington were just sitting out under a sign saying “Take One.” I was happy to! One of my boys in class already borrowed my copy 🙂 I was about to leave, but told myself I should walk around the exhibits one more time. I went past the Penguin booth and saw Across the Universe by Beth Revis sitting on a shelf. I asked one of the reps if they were giving copies away. She had a sly smile and said “Only to those who specifically ask.” I made sure to ask! While she was looking for a copy I noticed Gayle Forman’s ARC of Where She Went. She gave me one of those as well! I was GIDDY. My problem was figuring out how to get all of the books home. I had to throw clothes and a pair of flip flops away. I mean, I can buy more clothes, but ARCs and signed books don’t come around too often. Wouldn’t you do the same?
If you can’t tell by this lengthy, honest post, I’ll be attending NCTE 2011 in Chicago. This time I plan on staying longer, and **fingers crossed** I’ll get to stay for ALAN and meet some fab authors!