(More) Reflections from NCTE: Evolving Experiences

I’m going to do something in this post that I usually reserve for my other blog, The FYEwhich is reflect on my own development/thoughts/work. This blog is typically a space to post all the stuff others are up to, things I find, and my opinions about issues in education that come across my feeds. But today, folks, I’ll be talking about me. Me and NCTE, that is.

This past trip to Vegas was not a vacation, that’s for sure. I didn’t really get to “do” or “see” Vegas at all (well, except for the evening walk up the strip with some amazing and hysterical teachers from Boulder… ThePaperGraders themselves, to be exact, and a couple of their other colleagues).

Speaking of The Paper Graders, one of them (Doc Z) wrote this haiku on their blog:

Don’t you dare count up

my haiku syllables okay?

must. Go. To. Sleep. Now.

I told her while we were walking the strip that I count her haiku syllables. Ha. (Yes, Doc Z, I did count your syllables, and there are eight in the middle row. Way to be a rebel.)

And speaking of Doc Z, here we are waiting for the fountain at the Bellagio to spill thousands of gallons of water into the middle of the desert air:

Anyway, this trip was intense. I spent most of it running around like a crazy person because I wanted to see everyone I never get to see when I’m in Michigan, because I wanted to network, because I wanted to make sure I got to a couple key sessions, because I wanted to introduce some people to some other people, because I left late so was only there for two nights… you get my drift. On the last day, I presented, gobbled down some lunch, and jumped onto a shuttle to the airport. I was operating at mach schnell from the minute I got there to the minute I left. Exhausting.

But also: awesome, and awesomely different from previous go-rounds…

The first time I attended NCTE four years ago in Philly, I had finished up my master’s degree and was teaching high school in Indiana. It wasn’t my first conference ever, but it was my first national conference and my first NCTE, and it was overwhelming. I was unable to focus on the conference until after I presented on Saturday afternoon due to nerves. The only people I hung out with were my fellow presenters. I missed some important things because I was trying to figure out how to navigate the program (and the gigantic convention center).

As I move through this process, though, I meet new people in other places — people I need to catch up with at NCTE, when we all descend upon a single city. NCTE becomes less about my session (I barely thought about it while I was there) and more about all the people I want to learn from, catch up with, and meet.

Oh right — I presented. You can link to my slides here and my talk (with click cues and everything) here. My co-presenter, Tiffany Sedberry, went first and talked about how beginning, experienced, and veteran teachers narrate their experiences with teaching in different ways. I followed and talked about identity binaries in the media and in the literature. The basic argument: stop essentializing teachers by placing them into categorical bins. no really. stop it.

The presentation went really well, was well attended (a minor miracle since we were last day, last session), and made me realize how far my work, thinking, and ability to present at conferences has come in the past four years. Looking back on my experience in Philly, I can tell that not only my delivery but also my background knowledge has come a long way since then. So I guess this PhD thing I’m doing is actually resulting in some growth. Good to know, since almost everything I do nowadays makes me realize how much I don’t know.

On the plane ride home, I sat next to a teacher from the suburbs of Chicago. We had never met before, but we talked to each other for the entirety of that 4-hour flight. About teaching. About teaching English. But also about her dog, her husband, my husband, her kid, her pregnancy, marriage in general, our travels, great books, and many other topics. The perfect way to end my NCTE experience. I’ll probably never see her again — her name was Amy — but I hope I do. Because like everyone at NCTE, like most teachers I’ve met, she’s good people.

Looking forward to Boston, that’s for sure.