It’s been a while since I’ve written a lengthy post, but preparing for NCTE/ALAN was a lot of work. And then there was the convention itself. It gets better every year I attend, so I can only imagine how awesome Boston will be next year!
It’s hard to decide where to start because the entire trip was fantastic. If you haven’t attended NCTE or ALAN, I HIGHLY recommend you attend at least one of them, if not both. Not only is it an excellent way to connect with other teachers, it’s also incredibly refreshing and rewarding. I love my job, but teaching tends to be an isolating profession. I know many of us collaborate on a regular basis in our buildings and online, but actually being able to attend a vast array of sessions and meet so many inspiring teachers is an entirely different experience. There are literally hundreds of sessions to choose from that range in focus from elementary to college. This year, most of them tied in with Common Core since it’s such a big issue in our profession. I met more of my Twitter PLN in person, but I also made connections with other teachers as well. It’s good to get out of the building and connect with teachers who share my passion for teaching. It’s good to meet these teachers and learn from them and also learn that I’m not alone in what I’m doing in my classroom.
I really wish I could physically spend more time with my Twitter PLN. Seeing Jillian, Jenn, Lea, and others once a year simply doesn’t cut it. Luckily, Beth and Brian live in Michigan so I get to see them more often at author signings and such. We need to find a way to connect our group in the spring or summer so we don’t have to wait until November in Boston to see each other.
I flew into Vegas late Thursday night, so I didn’t get to see anyone until breakfast Friday morning. Jillian, Danielle, Mindi and I presented on Friday afternoon, so we met up for breakfast to chat and go over our presentation. I’ve never met Danielle in person (@mymercurialmuse), so I’m happy we finally met! She’s awesome and a passionate teacher. Plus, our presentation was great! We presented in a small room which was perfect, especially after seeing some presentations in the larger rooms which didn’t feel as inviting. We started with a small group, but eventually it filled up to around 40 people. We received some really positive feedback; some people even stopped us in the hall after to tell us how much they enjoyed our presentation! I was nervous, but it ended up being really fun. I hope to present more often in the future If you’re interested, here’s the link to our presentation via SlideShare.
I was a little more low key this year because I didn’t want to wear myself out like I did last year. If there was a session I was interested in, I went, and if not, then I didn’t bother. Thankfully the ones I attended were great. Jenn and I went to a cool session which featured round table discussions about sports and literature. Geoff Herbach, Matt de le Pena, and Matthew Quick were a few of the featured authors. They had a chance to speak and then went to designated tables where teachers had topics and discussions planned for each table. Jenn and I sat at Geoff’s table and gained so many lesson/writing ideas. There were even extra handouts available from the other tables to take back to school! At the end of the session there was the chance to propose a round table idea for next year. Jenn and I wrote up a proposal for sports and bullying and we’re hoping Joshua C. Cohen will be able to join the session to discuss his debut, Leverage in relation to that topic. **Fingers crossed it works out**
The exhibition floor was much better this year than last year. It was open and all in one space which made it much easier to navigate. I have one complaint, however, that I need to get out of the way before I continue. I hope the people who organize NCTE read this because the exhibition floor policies need to change. There is absolutely no reason for teachers to bring suitcases into the hall. None. Last year I saw a number of carry on size rolling suitcases, but this year teachers were filling up entire full size suitcases with books. They take up too much space and get in the way. They were rolling over feet and bumping into people. It was obnoxious. And on top of that, the greedy teachers were embarrassing. Just because books are free doesn’t mean all sense of professionalism should go out the door. It’s embarrassing watching teachers interrupt conversations and run up to booths simply to grab a free book, especially when they don’t know anything about it. I can’t stress enough the importance of connecting with the publishers. They know which books are best for age levels and which books are parts of series and so on. They’ll be more than happy to tell you about the books they’re excited about. I came prepared with a specific list of books my students and I hoped to receive, and the only time I strayed from that list was when a publisher told me about a book he/she was excited about. It’s not a race or a competition. Most publishers were happy to take my information if a book I wanted wasn’t available so they could send me one later. Or, you know, I’ll just buy a copy when it releases.
End of rant.
Happier exhibition memories. HarperCollins brought Holly Cupala to NCTE which was SO EXCITING. She is a stellar contemporary author and my girls in class love her books. It was exciting meeting her on Friday (?) because I had just included her book, Tell Me a Secret in my presentation, and she was at the HarperCollins booth signing copies of that book and her newest novel, Don’t Breathe a Word. They were giving the copies away for free, so I grabbed both to get signed since they’re both so popular. When I was in line, I told her about one of my students who loved Don’t Breathe a Word so much, she hopes there’s a sequel. I had Holly sign that copy for that student. Holly remembered me because in the spring when some of my students were reading Tell Me a Secret for our To Kill a Mockingbird thematic unit, I tweeted her about their rave reviews. The following day, Holly found me on the exhibit floor and took me out to lunch! It was surprising and such an honor. We had a fantastic time discussing her books, our lives, teaching, my students, etc. It was really special and exciting.
One of the cool things about the exhibit floor and ALAN was the number of graphic novels available. I have a big group of students who love graphic novels, so getting a few in my ALAN box and being able to buy a couple to get signed was pretty fantastic. I was hoping for more LGBT novels as well which I ended up getting. Actually, Jenn and I went to a wonderful session on LGBT issues in sports and at school and how to be an advocate and a safe person at school. It was a powerful session and I’m really glad I went. I also received some awesome resources with lists of books in YA that feature LGBT issues. I have to say that the exhibitors were awesome again this year. I can’t explain just how wonderful and patient they are. It’s a crazy few days for them, but they kept their cool and handed out so many books. I was amazed at how many free finished copies they provided this year. HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster had free copies for almost all of the author signing books. I already have copies of In Honor and If I Lie, but I couldn’t pass up free copies to get signed for my classroom, especially considering how much my students love those books.
ALAN is always on Monday and Tuesday, but it kicks off with the ALAN cocktail party on Sunday night. That was a lot of fun since so many Twitter friends were there. This year I spent most of the night hanging out with Jenn and Jillian. Jenn and I spent a big chunk of the evening talking to Matthew Quick. It was really cool talking to him about his teaching career and how he ended up becoming an author. Even though I was exhausted and grouchy on Monday, ALAN started off great. This year they featured way more author panels than last year. It was really cool listening to so many authors, but I think last year’s amount was perfect. I needed more of a break between the authors this year because it was hard sitting still for such a long time when I was so tired. I will say that my ALAN box of books this year was way cooler than last year’s. I never bash free books, but this box contained so many books that my students want to read. I shipped it home, so hopefully it arrives soon so I can booktalk them at school.
Another couple of author highlights feature Rae Carson and Trish Doller. Martha Mihalik is Rae Carson’s editor at HarperCollins and she invited me and two other teachers (Paul Hankins and Daria Plumb) to have dinner with her and Rae. We had dinner at Fiamma at MGM and it was pretty tasty. Plus, Rae is really cool and laid back. I already love her Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, but after meeting her I like it even more. Getting to meet Martha was cool as well because she’s incredibly sweet. If you don’t know of Daria Plumb, check out her site Get’em Reading! She’s a fellow Michigan teacher. I saw her present at MCTE a few years ago and was really impressed. Now she’s pretty involved in ALAN and is a really cool person. And if you don’t know Paul (@PaulWHankins), you should really start connecting with him because he’s wonderful and such a good teacher.
Trish is the talented author of the fantastic debut Something Like Normal. She and I were trying to meet at ALAN and I knew I was going to miss her panel since it was during my flight home, so we made plans to get lunch on Sunday. I invited her to have lunch at Wolfgang Puck’s restaurant with me, Jillian, Jenn, Lea, Sherry, and Brian. Even cooler? She brought Corrine Jackson (author of If I Lie) with her! I was so excited to finally meet her because I LOVE her book. Getting lunch with them was so much fun, especially after hearing how they geek out about meeting teachers and other authors just like we do Trish told us about her new book which made me want to read it even more than I already did.
I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but it was a full five days. I made some fantastic connections and strengthened existing connections. I brought home quite a few books, but they’re all books my students and I will read. I met some authors and hung out with some too. It was an experience I won’t soon forget, and one I hope will be even better next year in Boston!