Yesterday I presented at the DuPage county-wide institute day for “Celebrating Language Arts” based on “How Reading Makes Us More Human.” My focus was “Expanding Your Teaching Toolbox: Classroom Activities to Promote Engagement, Critical Thinking and Close Reading of Any Text” and I gave a version of it at NCTE a few years ago with colleagues. Yesterday I was flying solo.
Presenting is always humbling, exhilarating, and exhausting all at once. I expected the nerves and the tech glitches–I didn’t expect to walk into the room I was presenting in and find a dozen CPR dummies on the floor, but that was a surmountable hurdle and a good laugh. And the fact that people were willing to stand and sit on the floor through my almost hour-long presentation was incredibly gratifying. I hope I lived up to the mission I set forth in Why Next Time Teaching.
My mind has been buzzing all morning and my list of notes to myself for future blog posts, lessons, and research topics is growing rapidly. A few things that stood out:
- How much work it takes to put on a conference of that size (500 English teachers in one building is a pretty daunting thought!).
- How helpful and friendly the student volunteers were–on a day when they didn’t have school and could have been home sleeping!
- How amazing a hot cup of coffee is when you really need it.
- How much I love really good writing. Rick Bass’s keynote speech and the session I went to on rhetoric both made me think about really well-crafted writing: how much time it takes, how rare it is in a world of instant and prefunctory language, and how beautiful and rewarding it is to slow down and take that time to read and write really well-crafted sentences.
- How hard teachers work. I talked to teachers who have 4 preps and are trying to find interesting, meaningful activities for all of them. Teachers of struggling readers whose students lose the opportunity to take music or art because they need reading help. ELL teachers whose students not only speak dozens of different languages, but often have been dealing with so much trauma that they lack an academic foundation and have never been exposed to museums or libraries in any language.
And through it all, I heard the same phrase repeated: “we do the best we can.” We may teach very different students in very different ways, but in the end, what’s holding us together is that we’re all doing the best we can.
The handouts that I presented are all on the resources page and in the coming weeks, I’ll post more of the ideas and tips I talked about. I’m also excited to dig into the question of what makes professional development opportunities useful for teachers. Of course we all care about our students and want what’s best for them. But I strongly believe that we won’t get there by ignoring teacher needs, but by filling them, not by cutting and threatening accountability, but by providing the environment and support that allows teachers to grow, explore, and flourish. After all, the ones who spend their days doing the best they can for students need the best, too. I’m honored to play even a small role in supporting other teachers.