The past week and half has been a whirlwind. Last Thursday I was in Houston for NCTE. This past Thursday I stuffed my face at my fiancé’s family’s house for Thanksgiving. Friday, I stuffed my face with leftovers at my family’s house in PA. Today I found myself back in room 6 in WV, trying to convince myself that I do remember how to teach and that I will survive to Christmas.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to attend the NCTE Annual convention this year. It is my fifth time, and I think it was the best one that I’ve attended. I came back both exhausted and rejuvenated. NCTE is always a needed dose of feel-good-teacher-magic.
As I finally have time to unpack my NCTE experience (literally and figuratively), these are some of the things that I realized:
- Finding a teacher Fam is just as important as your morning coffee:
I’ve known this for a while. My immediate teacher family in my school and county have always pushed me to do my best for my students. It was nice to meet the extended family in Houston. I’ve heard some people joke that NCTE is the family reunion that you actually want attend.
Seriously though, I can’t say enough about the importance of getting connected with other educators that unabashedly love their job and are eager to develop their craft as teachers. I came home with 30 pages of notes from the sessions I attended, and I found a ton of new twitter friends.
When we can’t get to conventions, there is still so much opportunity to connect via twitter. So many Rockstar teachers across the country share their ideas on twitter and through blogs. I rarely ever resort to Teachers Pay Teachers. Partially because I’m stubborn and picky, but partially because of the amazing ideas I get from my twitter family. Looking for some new twitter buds and blogs to follow, check out #3 of this list.
Momentary shoutout: We’re lucky to have our West Virginia chapter of NCTE, WVCTE, and I’m looking forward to connecting with more Mountain State educators in March. Have you seen the lineup??? Kwame Alexander, Folger, Ann Pancake, Jocelyn Chadwick.
- We should embrace discomfort and disruption
The opening keynote speaker was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian novelist, speaker, and overall brilliant human being. And, not going to lie, she was reason #1 I attended the conference this year.
In her keynote, Adichie said “It is important that we make peace with discomfort. Discomfort opens us to meaning”.
Being uncomfortable is a good thing. Why? Because being uncomfortable prompts us to make change. It prompts us to look at what is (and is not) working with the status quo—and to do something about it. Making our students uncomfortable is essential as well. In challenging them, we encourage them to think about what, and why, they believe.
I found this theme of discomfort echoed throughout the weekend. I was constantly reminded of the need to further open our curriculum, and to embrace views and voices that are not yet represented. I saw this especially reinforced in a session called #disrupttexts. This movement was started by @triciaebarvia (who will be at the WVCTE conference March!) and several other rockstar edu-revolutionaries.
How much of our classroom curriculum is still primarily the canon of old white writers? I was challenged to think; whose voices am I not including? Or rather, how are the texts that I use further marginalizing? Are my lessons for me because I love the story? Or are they for my students?
#DisruptTexts seeks to extend the canon, to find and consider counter-narratives, and to encourage all teachers to consider how our curriculum can allow our students to critique their world.
- If you’re not on twitter, you’re missing out!
Okay, so you don’t have to be on twitter. But, there is a lot to be learned on the interwebs! Twitter chats are a great way to build your network, and to think critically about our work as educators.
I’ve learned gotten lots of excellent ideas, simply by tweeting a question to @ncte. Almost always, they’ll retweet my question, and I’ll get answers from teachers across the country. Recently, when building a mini-unit on civil rights poetry, I asked for suggestions, and ended up with more poems than I could possibly handle. And, my 1 day filler lesson turned into three days of amazing discussion with my students.
Check out these hashtags and twitter chats:
- #THEBOOKCHAT: Scott Bayer and Joel Garza run this monthly chat on great new texts that disrupt the canon. They also provide hyperdocs of resources to use in the classroom. I have intentions of jumping in this chat
- #TeachLivingPoets: One of the BEST sessions I attended at NCTE. Our own WVCTE VP, Karla Hilliard, is a part of this team. An amazing resource of contemporary poets and ways to incorporate them to disrupt the canon and get kids to actually love poetry.
- #DisruptTexts: As mentioned before, super important. This group has a monthly chat on how to disrupt current canonical texts.
- We need to be readers, and writers
So. Many. Books. Of course, I came home with a suitcase full of new ones for my students.
Back to #TeachLivingPoets, NCTE reawakened my love of poetry. Have you read Clint Smith, or Jose Olivarez? No? Get thee to Amazon and buy Counting Descent and Citizen Illegal. Or, browse their work online. Contemporary poetry has heart that connects with our kids in a way that canonical poetry doesn’t. Living Poets give students models that make sense to them.
So, we need to be readers. We know that as English teachers. But do we make our reading life visible to our students? NCTE reminded me to have intentional conversations with my students about what I’m reading, and that they’re reading.
What about writing? Do I show my students my own writing process? Or just the finished product? Do I write, or do I just teach how to write?
- Always pack snacks, but sometimes you deserve the baked potato
When I travel, I want to get the absolute most out of the experience. Sometimes— in the case of this year’s conference—that means I sacrifice eating to attend another session or make another round of the exhibit hall (free book central). On Friday, there was no break for lunch in the schedule, so between 8 AM and 7 PM, I had one bottle of water, a bagel and half a bag of almonds. By my last lap through the exhibit hall, I started to feel dizzy.
On Saturday, took a break for this beautiful baked potato (we won’t discuss how much it cost).
Moral of the story: Even as we strive to do the most, to be the best, to love our students with our whole hearts— we also need to take care of ourselves. Burning out does no good for my students.
We must find those parts of our teaching life that gives us joy—that which builds us up. Whether that be a grading-free weekend, a good book, a national conference, or a really amazing baked potato— Self-care essential.
So, as I gear up to finish this semester strong, I’ll remember all the joy of NCTE, read some good poetry before I go to bed, and keep working hard at this work that’s so worth it.
WVCTE is wondering, who is in your teacher family? What professional resources have been beneficial to you? What would you like to see at our affiliate conference? Connect with us on Facebook or @WVCTE on twitter.
Jeni Gearhart is a member of the WVCTE Executive committee and has been teaching at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County for the past 7 years. She is a graduate of Grove City College in Western Pennsylvania. Though not a WV native, she loves to call this place her home, especially since recently becoming a first time homeowner. Currently she teaches AP English Language and 10th grade Honors. Jeni loves books and coffee and exploring new places. If given a million dollars, it would probably be spent buying more books, or perhaps a pet unicorn.