It's day three of my NWP/NCTE conference adventure. This morning I woke up and felt completely exhausted and achey. I couldn't breathe and had a splitting headache. I'm thinking I have officially come down with a sinus infection. This afternoon I had to sneak away for cold medicine and a thirty minute nap, but I'm still kicking.
So far I've attended sessions on youth writing programs in National Writing Project sites, teaching argument in a variety of ways, an amazing keynote delivered by the hilarious and insightful Sir Ken Robinson about the importance of creativity in education, how to start and maintain a high school writing center (part of this presentation was delivered by a high school student who started a writing center at his high school!), Pecha Kucha presentations, connecting community to literature, research in social justice and the implications it has for English education, and igniting discussion in the LA classroom. This afternoon I'm planning on attending a session about moving composition beyond the classroom, and tomorrow morning I'll attend a breakfast for state affiliates before I fly back.
Currently I'm sitting outside of the MGM conference center enjoying the 71 degree weather. I'm surrounded by palm trees and lots of tired looking English teachers. I had a mentoring session I marked down to attend during this time, but I feel like I needed time to digest more than I needed another session. The downfall of national conferences like this is that it's three to four days of non-stop sessions with no time to process the information. I could've cooped myself up in the hotel room each evening, but I found myself, instead, hanging out with teachers into the wee hours of the night, which is way more fun. But I need time to think, and I know that the minute I step on the plane tomorrow, I'll be working like crazy trying to grade papers and lesson plan for the week ahead. Tonight I'm vowing to stay in and just write.
Today I sat in on an incredible session that was a round table discussion about research in social justice and what teachers are doing with it. One of the facilitators shared about a high school in his Missouri town that was reestablishing itself on the premise of social justice concepts in order to teach the whole child. The school sounded amazing. He shared a few beliefs of the administrator of the school that are profound:
First, this administrator asks her teachers throughout the year, "What kind of heart are you bringing to the students?" The discussion facilitator explained that this administrator wants her teachers to be filled and complete and in the "right place" before they come to the classroom because the work of a good teacher is difficult. It reminded me that I need to slow down a bit. I can't be an effective teacher if I don't have my own life in order, and if I'm not filled first (ironically, my own administrator told me this only a few weeks ago). This administrator also believes in "reaching in to reach out." Essentially, she believes that teachers must have time to develop themselves as teachers before they should let someone else develop them. This made me stop and think a bit because I feel like I've been shaped as a teacher by my professional development opportunities But the difference is, I choose to participate in these opportunities. I wasn't forced or encouraged to participate in them by an administrator. Unfortunately, many districts approach professional development with the latter view in mind. And while I think PD is good for teachers, I do know that teachers can and do become resentful when PD is imposed from the top-down. Teachers can grow even more bitter when the administrators themselves don't take part in this PD.
Last night I spent some time with a college composition professor and a high school principal (one of the youngest high school principals I've ever met) from Louisville, KY, and our chats along with the aforementioned social justice session got me thinking about this question: What do I really want as a teacher? I talked with the principal for awhile about wanting to be involved in educational leadership. I want to impact change in Nebraska schools. I want to help teachers become the best they can be for our students, and I want to help change the climate of education to be more student centered. But, I told the principal about my hesitation to commit to working on an administrative degree because they are known in our part of the country as being watered down and unintellectual. And frankly, I don't want to waste my time taking classes where I'm not challenged. The principal shrugged his shoulders and said, "Yeah, but it's a means to an end." Insightful, right? So simple, but I hadn't thought of it that way. I also realize now how arrogant I probably sounded last night..like I was above "those" programs and couldn't learn anything from them.
At any rate, I'm enjoying my time here in Vegas despite Vegas (I really don't like this city...but that's another post for another day). It's encouraging to be in the presence of passionate and committed teachers. I'm thankful for the learning opportunities I've had this week in the sessions and in networking with other teachers.