Some teachers I know have looked at me in amazement when I tell them I pay my own way to NCTE. Yes, it’s a lot of money. No, I’m not doing it for certification points. No, I’m not presenting. The money is the upfront investment in my education; though I won’t get any more fancy letters after my name, I will learn. I come to NCTE to talk, listen, and think. It’s an expensive, messy, wonderful process that’s worth every penny I pay.
Though I did not go to every session, I’ve taken away more than enough to ponder. There have been sessions that were informative, especially about new ways to use technology. I’ve discovered more tools than I can possibly learn and use in a given school year. Other sessions have challenged me to think about how I might interact with my students. I’ve seen student-produced documentaries that blew my mind. I’ve heard ideas about how to get kids to interact with books and with one another.
And then, there were the conversations. I was fortunate enough to steal moments during the convention and to spend evenings sharing dinner and conversations with some of the smarted educators I know, many of whom have been my friends on Twitter for quite a while. They challenged me, listened to me, and shared their thoughts. These “unscheduled” sessions were some of the most rewarding of all.
But I have no idea how to process all of this. I feel like my brain might be leaking a little as the ideas for teaching, considerations of the problems facing our profession and our country, and connections between what I’ve seen, heard, and felt to my own practice press against the boundaries of my attention.
Perhaps the interesting and affirming comment about that very problem came from Tony Romano, an outstanding teacher from Illinois. In his session, he mentioned that he and his co-presenters, LeeAnn Spillane and Gary Anderson, knew they were throwing out a lot of ideas and activities. Tony went on to say that we, the audience, might not even use most of them right away, and that’s ok. Sometimes, ideas take time and we might find that three years from now, one of these ideas will come in handy.
I am reminded again how vital reflection is. All of this learning is just as messy for me as it is for my students. And just like when they encounter ideas that challenge their understandings, I feel excited and disconcerted, like the vertigo one feels at the top of a roller coaster ride. But the real danger is leaving my thoughts unrecorded. Not working through it would allow me to forget and return to a sense of equilibrium, just like I can when my 60-second roller coaster ride ends. Letting myself return to where I was it would make this weekend a wasted effort.
So, I need to force myself to meander down the paths, stopping to rest now and then. Honoring my own messy, recursive thinking is probably the most difficult, but rewarding part of the work I do. It lets me be the learner so that I can be the mentor that reassures my students as they, too, struggle to make sense and make meaning.