Last Christmas, in a fit of restlessness, I started applying to random things at 2AM. These random applications ended up changing and making my trajectory for 2019. The first was a summer job in London, which I ended up getting and allowed me to work for 6 weeks in England over my summer break. The second was an application to present at NCTE. Mostly on a whim, I submitted a proposal to speak on my most successful teaching ideas so far- The Renaissance Faire (article on that coming soon!). Two months later, I found out my application was successful and was finally going to achieve my dream of going to the National Council of Teachers of English Conference and Convention!
This weekend marked that very conference and I honestly have no words for how amazing it was. It was the best of everything I could imagine: sessions on how to become a teachers that tackle justice issues in the classroom, keynotes full of inspiration, and so many authors who I admire ready to share and sign books. On top of that, being surrounded by “my people”: teachers who are imagining and advocating for better, more just futures for our students. And, on top of that, SO so SO many free books. It was truly the best environment I could think to be in. I wanted to write about some of the highlights for me, so that if teachers are interested in going in the future, they can get an idea of what to expect.
Keynotes and Sessions: As most teachers do, I love learning! The opportunity to dive into so many different professional development experiences was so amazing. I really enjoyed going to sessions with ELA all-stars: Kylene Beers, Penny Kittle, Ernest Morell, Bob Probst, Linda Rief, and others. Despite the fact that these sessions were always packed and involved me sitting on the floor, these sessions gave me awesome practical techniques that I could apply immediately to my classrooms to make ELA real and meaningful to students. I also loved sessions that were run by YA authors, such as Elizabeth Acevado, Tiffany Jackson, Renée Watson, Brendan Kiely, and Padma Venkatraman. It was really cool to hear from authors who I admire and who speak to my students through their literature. I’m really excited to take their messages home to students. I also liked learning from other educators more informally in Round Tables, where learning was more engaging and interactive. Finally, the keynote speakers: George Takei, Henry Louis Gates Jr, Tommy Orange, and Tara Westover were SO inspiring and interesting to hear from- especially in these tough times. Throughout the weekend, I took furious notes, listened with both head and hearts, and honestly teared up during a lot of the sessions.
Authors: I LOVED sessions with authors where it was easy to just grab a seat (or stand) and hear from some of the most inspiring voices in YA and adult fiction. Their panels covered pertinent issues like empowering students to tell stories, confronting toxic masculinity, and supporting our black and brown girls in the classroom. I also loved how many opportunities there were to interact with authors outside of panels. The Expo Hall was a true wonder where there were authors everywhere to get signed books from and talk to. I loved getting to talk to Sandhya Menon who wrote When Dimple Met Rishi and From Twinkle, With Love. I grabbed a signed copy (and got one signed for my best friend) of Kim Leggett’s The Grace Year. After Padma Venkatraman’s amazing session on The Bridge House, I was trilled to get to speak to her and pick up a signed copy of her book. However, my two favorite moments with authors was getting to speak to and get signings from Laurie Halse Anderson and Tara Westover. I read Speak when I was in high school and I know it shaped me empathetically early on. I was so excited to pick up a copy of the graphic novel of Speak to share with my students. Laurie Halse Anderson is an absolute dear in real life. A few women in front of me teared up upon meeting her and she hugged them as they told her their own stories. Moments later, she was making funning faces with me for pictures. Laurie Halse Anderson is truly a gift. Educated by Tara Westover was one of my top reads in 2018 and I was so delighted to have the chance to listen to her speak and attend her signing. She spoke about abuse, resilience, and the importance of education. I really loved hearing her speak in real life about her story. I even more enjoyed getting to speak with her afterwards and letting her know how much I loved her book. I’m so happy I had this opportunity.
Presenting: While at NCTE, I got to do what I came there to do- present my own approaches to teaching. My presentation was relatively low-key, all things considered. I presented at a round table, which is truly a great way to present if it is your first time. I set up a table in a room with other presenters and then, through a series of 5 rotations, did my presentation to educators, grad students, and others in the field. It was really invigorating (despite the initial nerves) to share my ideas and a lot of teachers seemed to be really receptive to my ideas, asking questions about implementing Renaissance Faires in their own classrooms and schools. I got rotation “off” to visit another teacher’s table who was doing a presentation on LARPing, which was definitely really interesting and I want to try to integrate into my own classroom. Overall, I highly recommend round tables as a first presentation style. It was very low key and supportive, which made it less intimidating for my first conference. I think a lot of teachers get nervous about presenting, but in the end, it’s a lot easier and more approachable than I thought it would be.
Amazing Other Educators: One of my favorite parts was getting to interact with other teachers at the conference! While a lot of schools bring their whole departments, I came alone which forced me to get out of my comfort zone. The amazing Emily from Teaching Saves Lives put together a group chat for like-minded, justice-focused teachergrammers to meet up. Through the group message, I was directed towards a lot of awesome sessions that aligned with my goals as an educator and I was able to meet up with other educators during the sessions. We had a Teaching Saves Lives meet-up on Friday evening that was really amazing. It was such a supportive environment to talk about the hard work we have to do as teachers to make the world a better place and stand up for our students. Seeing and standing by other teachers who have the same beliefs and drive makes it a lot less lonely!
Books: Okay, so people told me that there were a lot of free books at NCTE, but I was pretty confused about that for the first half of the conference. I knew that a lot of authors were signing, but I didn’t really want to buy more books because I’m a third year teacher who hardly has any money. However, when I got to the Expo Hall, I realized that 95% of the signing include free copies of the book. In addition, if you talk to publishing vendors, they almost always will give you a few ARCS (especially if you mention that you teach high school at a diverse school). I almost started crying when a HarperCollins publisher passed me an ARC of Becky Albertalli’s new book. I ended up leaving the conference with 30 new books! I have immense gratitude for the publishing companies that were so generous with their gifts for teachers. As a third year teacher, I hardly have a classroom library and these donations are going to make a huge difference in my classroom!
This was such a long blog, but I really wanted to share my NCTE experience. I had always dreamed of going to it and knew it would be cool, but overall the conference shattered my expectations big time. I feel like it challenged me, inspired me, and prepared me even more to become the kind of educator I’ve always aspired to be. I really hope to be able to continue going back every year.
I'm Megan and I teach high school ELA. I'm all about literature, creativity, and aesthetics!