WVCTE’s Best Thing this Month: The WV Book Festival!

In which Jess and Karla reflect on the weird and wonderful experience of bringing WVCTE to the WV Book Festival…

Jess: On October 28th and 29th, Karla and I brought WVCTE to the West Virginia Book Festival. Our goal was to promote WVCTE, connect with educators in the Southern and central part of the state, and educate teachers and book lovers alike about our mission, purpose, and reason for existence. When reviving WVCTE, we knew that reaching beyond our geographic homebase would be a challenge, and the Book Festival seemed like the ideal place to spread some English teacher love. 

So, armed with a banner, some brilliant rack cards, a t-shirt no book lover could refuse, and some sweet bargain-bin, battery-operated lights, Karla and I descended on Charleston, WV like a couple of book-loving, English-teaching valkyries ready to scoop any English teacher interested in our WVCTE Valhalla.


.Karla: Here’s how a typical conversation between me and Jess goes down:

Me: I don’t know, dude. Do you think people will actually want to talk to us about this?

Jess: Of course they’ll want to talk to us! Look at our shirts!

Me: I mean, teachers don’t want one more thing to do. Do they? They’re already overextended and underpaid. But this is a good thing! Teachers do so many good things together!

Jess: Karla, if we don’t like what we see when we look at the world, it’s our job to change it.

Karla: [thought bubbles of inspiration]

So, here we are…

The Festival Day 1

Jess: First, let me just say, that Karla crushed it on our booth display. I’m sure you saw our barrage of tweets, but just check out these pics of our booth below:

Great, right? Our space looked awesome.

The crowd on day 1 was a little thin, but we did manage to connect with a few teachers on Friday. One of my favorite parts of Friday was hanging out with our new pal and YA novelist, Craig Halloran. You can read more about Craig HERE. Check out him and his amazing booth below!  Here’s an excerpt of my favorite Craig Halloran conversation:

Me:  So what’s this book about?  I love the cover!

Craig:  It’s a post-apocalyptic novel.  But here’s the twist:  DRAGONS.

**Craig, you had me a dragons.  

craig-copy craig3 craig2-copy

Karla: Jess is right. The booth was bangin’, and Craig Halloran is the bomb. So, as you can imagine, I had some fun stringing lights, artfully arranging t-shirts, and chatting it up with our battle ax wielding neighbor.

But here’s the weird conversation I found myself in more than once on Friday: defending STEM education. I’m teaching Honors English 10 within Spring Mills High School’s STEAM Academy (which you can read a bit about here and here), and as weird and counter to my teacher-MO for all these years, I talked to some folks about how creativity is alive and well in our schools, and how creativity is thriving in STEAM education.

What I realized is: you can live in both worlds. You can be an English teacher and support science and math, and you can be super duper STEM-y and support the arts. There’s room for all of us.

The Meet and Greet


Jess: The idealists that we are, in addition to our Marketplace Booth, we planned a meet and greet for Black Sheep Burrito for the first night of the festival, Oct. 27th. Our plan was to give interested teachers a chance to stop by for free drinks and burritos, and current members to participate in a Shakespearean Lesson Plan Swap. This restaurant is awesome–cool atmosphere and great waitstaff. But though, we had a lot of interest in the event, our only show was Kayla from Hurricane! (Yay, Kayla!)

Still, we had a great time, and plan on making this an annual event. And Kayla gave us a ton of great feedback on how WVCTE can service the southern and central part of the state.

Karla: A few things became clear at our Black Sheep meet-and-greet. One: Kayla from Hurricane is lovely and awesome. Two: current, engaging, and relevant domain-specific professional development is needed in West Virginia. Three: Curry burritos exist and we should be able to buy them anywhere.

Although we didn’t have a big turn out, for me, the meet-and-greet was great — right up my ally. I love hanging out with teachers and talking shop. And talking shop about different approaches to teaching Shakespeare over a few brews? Even better. I find teachers fascinating and inspiring, and I always feel like I end up walking away with more ideas than I offered.

If this sounds like anything you like to do, then you should totally join us for the next lesson swap social.

Day 2: So Much Awesome

Jess & Karla: Day 2 of the Festival was hopping. And it was a busy, amazing, weird, wonderful, and productive day. 

Let’s start with some weird:

Jess: Weird thing number 1: My phone vanished. Really, readers of this blog don’t need to know more than this caused to run around like a crazy person for the first hour of our busiest day at the Festival, only to discover it in the mulch outside our hotel. (Pro-tip: Don’t sling your purse off your shoulder to the ground before throwing your suitcase into the car.)

Karla: Weird thing number 2: Everybody thinks English teachers will correct your grammar. It was bizarre how many folks were like, “English teachers! Hang on, let me make sure I’m saying this right!” Guys, we’ve got a reputation…

Jess and Karla: Weird thing number 3: People were really confused about what we were doing. There were folks who thought we were there to promote a book we wrote about teaching (we wish). There were folks who thought we were advocating for the speaking of ONLY English– like that we were some sort of crazy language-purists. And there were folks who couldn’t believe that we were teachers who liked teaching and who wanted to talk to other teachers about it.

This became at first frustrating, but then cemented for us the need for our organization. If people are confused by teachers who genuinely LOVE their jobs, and who are using their free time to advocate for other teachers, then it becomes clear that West Virginia really needs WVCTE.

And now for the wonderful:

Jess: We saw so many “excited to see us” faces from both teachers and community members, including the former president of the Maine Council for Teachers of English Language Arts.

Karla: We met several fellow English teachers who enthusiastically asked how to join/become involved/spread the word. It was so nice to see how excited so many teachers were about the revival of this organization.

Jess: Authors are generous and inspiring, and they love English teachers! We got to chat with Newbery winner, Matt de la Pena and the incredibly cool and wildly popular Maggie Stiefvater.

Karla: Books really do change lives. They impact people — they speak to them, for them, about them. To say our books board was inspiring would be an understatement. People of all ages perused and pondered, contributed and considered. And did we mention that Matt de la Pena and Maggie Stiefvater posted their book picks?

Karla:  The Book That Changed My Life Board was a great conversation starter, and I learned that Matt de la Pena and I share the same favorite vignette from The House on Mango Street: “Darius and the Clouds.” Here I am freaking out about it: 


Jess:  And finally, the last bit of wonderful is that the WV Book Festival itself is truly wonderful.  I’m embarrassed to say that this was my first visit, AND I CAN’T BELIEVE I’VE NEVER GONE! It’s really great.  There were kids activities, a STEM center, a turtle lady, a live action Cinderella and Prince Charming, and mountains and mountains of used books for sale.  In addition to the brilliant authors pictured above, there were many more with booth displays, signing books and chatting with book lovers,  I walked away with my arms full of a stack of books, both new and used, and my heart full of all the book joy I was surrounded by all weekend.

Kudos to the Festival organizers!  I can’t wait for next year!

Karla: Ditto all that. And as a native of Hurricane, I doubly can’t believe I’ve never been. My takeaway is this: West Virginia celebrates writing, writers, and their craft.

Realizing the Purpose of WVCTE

Jess and Karla:
We returned to work on Monday exhausted, but inspired. And after sorting and sifting through the mountains of contacts, business cards, and notes on the weekend, we realized that our two very busy days only cemented for us that by bringing WVCTE back to life, we are giving WV ELA teachers something they desperately want and need.
So here’s to the future of WVCTE.  To connecting, learning, and growing together.  We hope to see you at some of our upcoming events.  Not a member?  Consider joining!  Get involved! And check out the list of tentative upcoming events below:NCTE National Conference and Convention:  Atlanta, GA

December 9, 2016:  Holiday Book Swap at Domestic in Shepherdstown, WV
Bring a WRAPPED new or gently used book that you would recommend to someone else, and let the white elephant book swapping begin!

Spring 2017:  TBD 

October 2017:  WV Book Festival and Lesson Plan Swap

March 2018:  WVCTE state-wide ELA Conference:  Dates and Location to be announced