I had an incredible three and a half days at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in Philadelphia last week. I wrote a kid-friendly summary of the experience on my class blog, but before too much time passed, I wanted to get down a quick list of things I might change next time around and things I wouldn’t.
Things I’d Do Differently
I was both attending and presenting for the first time at this year’s convention. About 10pm on the night before my presentation I went into full-court panic. That fear was a double-edged sword. Because of it, I went in search of poetry on my iPhone and stumbled upon a site containing Seamus Heaney’s poetry read by the author. I tweeted one out, which resulted in this exchange on the EC Ning. The fear also pushed me to tighten up my presentation and make sure I could do it with out notes, but it meant little sleep that night.
So this is only partly true. I got in late on Thursday night due to traveling snafus. I could have headed straight to bed, but instead went to have a quick drink with some folks from the EC Ning. It was one of the highlights of the convention for me, especially after such an awful day of travel. But I certainly could have gone to bed much earlier on Friday, see above.
Plan, But Be Flexible
For those of you who haven’t been to NCTE, the program guide is huge. For any given session slot, there were up to 50 presentation options. I’d spent a little time looking at these online but not enough. I wish I’d thought about my time at NCTE a bit more holistically instead of only thinking ahead to the next session.
Take More Pictures
Seriously! How did I end up with so few pictures?!
Things I Wouldn’t Change
Bring a Thermos
I calculated that I saved at least 15 cups + sleeves by bringing my own insulated mug. (I drink a lot of tea, ok? 🙂 )
Ask for Recommendations
In the absence of good planning on my part, I found it really useful to canvass other folks, especially those who are long-time attendees of NCTE. Their recommendations led me in good directions.
Focus on the Relationships
If you looked at my attendance record for the sessions at this year’s convention, it would be a bit sad. There were at least two or three times where I made a conscious decision not to attend a session in order to have a meal or continue a conversation. As a younger teacher, I feel how much need I have for information, for honing my craft. But I believe that it will be these relationships, rather than pedagogical theory, that will sustain me.
Go for the Speaker, Not Just the Information
There is a glut of information at NCTE. It’s like candyland for teachers. I found, though, that the sessions that impacted me most deeply were those presented either by people I knew or by those who were good speakers. Given the limited resource that is time at the convention, it seemed the best stewardship to seek out people who are able to convey their information in a way that adds value beyond what I would get if I just read their slides. Being able to present well is a gift. I saw and participated in really great presentations by Tom Liam Lynch, Jeff Wilhelm, Kelly Gallagher, Jim Burke, and Jeff Anderson.
Tweet Like a Maniac
I’m a steady twitter user generally, but I really spent a lot of time on it during the convention. It was a great way to make notes for myself and others, connect with people who were at the convention, and take care of logistical issues. Some examples:
For a couple sessions, I decided not to tweet, knowing that others were. It was nice during those times to be able to just soak things up and not try to simultaneously process and type. Tweeting requires a really high level of concentration which can be exhausting.
Tweeting before the conference (pre-tweeting?) was a great way to connect with others who were attending and eased some of the social awkwardness I usually feel in starting a conversation with someone I haven’t met before.
The Take Away
I expect more writing will percolate from the experience, but that’s what I have for now. 358 days until Orlando….