Monday, November 20, 2017

NCTE 2017

I'm trying to decompress after a whirlwind four days. When I try to explain to teachers, to friends, who don't attend NCTE what is involved, they look at me like I'm crazy. I mean who sinks in hundreds of dollars of their own to go sit in professional development for days? (And I'm a lucky one, my district pays for some of it.) Yet, I am not alone. I have no idea how many people attended this year's NCTE, but judging by lines for the exhibit hall, it was a lot.

Today at school someone asked me to explain NCTE, what did I get out of it? I tried to sum it up, but it seemed inadequate. In having the conversation, however, I figured it might make a good blog post. With that notion in mind, here are my top takeaways from NCTE 2017:

Sessions > Exhibit halls
I was floored by the lines to get in the exhibit halls before they opened. I mean, Saturday morning there was a line beginning at 8am. Jackie Woodson spoke at 9am. If you have the opportunity to hear her speak, grab it. It's Jacqueline freaking Woodson! I sat in the room, let her words pour over me, and was grateful. Yes, I missed some books because I couldn't get there in time to be at a signing. I can buy the book later, I can't buy back the experience. 

Jason Reynolds
My students are obsessed with Jason Reynolds this year. I cannot keep his books on the shelves. I understand their feelings, after hearing him speak I am obsessed myself. The man is brilliant. He obviously has a way with words, he's a writer, but listening to him speak is hypnotic. Some of my favorite quote from his over the past four days include...

“When we talk about disenfranchised readers, we should really start being honest...these are kids who are often disregarded and discarded.”

"Maybe it's not just about a kid not finding 'the right book' ... maybe kids need the right person to give them the book."

"You don't gotta be a hero, you gotta be a human. You don't have to save them, you just have to see them."

"You can't make a connection with a young person when you've already disrespected them."

"We only think about brutality when we think about death but most of us survive. Think about the kids in your class who survived."

"This is what love looks like. it is our obligation to be honest with you. if i respect you, i should be able to tell you the truth. i should be able to make you uncomfortable."

“You cannot be more loyal to your fears than to your futures.”

I mean, seriously. Truth spilling over. Brilliance in the air. I wish I could bring every one of my students to hear him speak.

There are so many moments of connection while at NCTE, it's hard to even write about them... 

It is seeing friends that are so close to me, yet live so far away. It's getting tight hugs from those friends who know, without my saying a word, that it is needed. 

It's hearing Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher speak and being so inspired that I want to jump up, get in my van, and head home to teach immediately. They have a book coming out this spring and I can't wait.

It's the words from Matt de la Peña...
"Maybe the a-ha moment doesn’t happen the minute kids finish a book. maybe it happens when they see the moment in the real world."

"Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you have to be the expert. kids can be the experts of the books they read."

"Books don't save lives. Readers save their own lives, using books as the tools."

“The canon of tomorrow is being written today in YA."
It's the new picture book by Matt, LOVE, that took my breath away. Out this January, this book will have a place in my seventh grade classroom library. Beauty.

It's meeting blog readers who come up, introduce themselves, and tell me that my words matter. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Sessions = Worth it
If we've met, if I've shared my anxiety with you, then you are aware that speaking in public is difficult for me. This year I had three session to present in:

The Nerdy Book Club presentation where I talked about reading communities - in your classroom, in your school, and in your town.

The Voices from the Middle podcast session where Sara Kajder talked about how to podcast in your classroom and then the podcast team recorded a live podcast in front of the audience. (That was a bit stressful, but went well.)
Jess Lifshitz, Donalyn Miller, Sara Ahmed, Katie Muhtaris, Pernille Ripp, me, Katharine Hale
And the Storytellers session. This is, no exaggeration, my favorite session I've ever been a part of. These brave ladies all shared a story, a personal story, and connected their stories to our students. They made me think, they pushed my comfort level as I examined my own biases and whether I was willing to speak out, and they tore me up inside as I watched them up close, hands shaking, as they poured out their truths. My heart was filled to bursting.

I left NCTE with far more than I brought - inspiration from authors I love; the push to keep examining myself, to be truthful with my beliefs, to listen to others who are speaking up; ideas to put into practice; the nudge to return to writing, to honor my own voice; and love from friends that made me feel whole. If I saw you over the four days, thank you. If I didn't get the chance, until next time. What a gift of the past four days, my students and I will all reap the reward. Bounty.