NCTE and ALAN: Hardly Relaxing but Always Rejuvenating PART I

I have always struggled with writing posts about conferences after I have come home. It’s like trying to recapture the best week of summer camp you’ve ever had and explain it to the people who weren’t there – all when you’re so exhausted you can barely see straight. So you get some rest first with the plan to post, but the farther away you get from it, the fuzzier some of the edges of your normally sharp mental photography and the more worried you are that you’ll misrepresent something that happened.

A week has passed since I was on the train home from Boston. I’m still exhausted despite a nice long break. And I’ve decided to toughen up and do my best to share my experience of NCTE13 and ALAN13 with the rest of you.

BECAUSE IT ROCKED.

I learned a little something about being too busy last year in Vegas (when I had a super-full calendar of things going on) – I didn’t know whether I was coming or going – so I had very little on my agenda to start with.

I showed up knowing that I had two presentations, the Don Graves breakfast, a Nerdy Book Club meet up on Friday night, the ALAN breakfast, and a promise to deliver stack of fan mail. (I’ll share about the sessions I went to in PART II – which I’ll post tomorrow.)  So let’s go in some sort of order here:

1. Presentations

On Friday afternoon I got to present in the “Nerdy” session with Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Jenni Holm, Kellee Moye, Katherine Sokolowski, and Teri Lesesne. (You can see all the notes and materials for our session here – and since my Slideshare didn’t post the notes in my Powerpoint, you can see all of it (including my basic notes) by clicking on this file: Building Reading Habits through Student Reflection and Goal-Setting.) I was overwhelmed and delighted (and incredibly nervous – I had to follow Teri Lesesne’s roundtable presentations! That’s a tough act to follow!) to be part of this all-star group.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought this was an all-star group. When I got to the room before our presentation, it was already FULL. Standing-room-only FULL. I could barely get across the room to find a place to put my stuff and to check in with the rest of the group.

What a dedicated audience they were! Despite the heat generated by all of the warmly dressed people packed into this room, I didn’t see anyone leave. By the time we finished, I felt like I’d been running (rather than talking) for the last hour and the only wish I’d had been able to see the other presentations that had happened in the room while I was giving my own. (Thank heavens for Twitter! There were lots of tweets about the session, but it was Chris Lehman who was tweeting at the speed of light trying to record all of it! You can see his and everyone else’s tweets from the session here – just remember to read from bottom to top to go in order.)

I also got to be part of the “Rebel Base” panel (No One Cares What You Think or Feel: Talking Back to the Common Core Standards) with Kim McCollum-Clark, Teri Lesesne, a digitally recorded Paul W. Hankins (who was double-booked for presentations), Mark Letcher, and A. S. King. My brain is still reeling and processing what the others in this group had to say, but the upshot is WE care what our students think and feel. We worry that too many are just accepting the CCSS as what we need to do to get by, as our new reality. (If you looked at the names of the presentations, the professional materials, textbooks, and listened to so many in the exhibit hall say the words “Common Core-aligned,” you would see plenty of evidence that there were lots there willing to help teachers adjust to what comes next in this process.) I think there are plenty of us who have our doubts about the Brave New World it represents, but so many concerns were brought up in our session about how to speak out and question it. What made me want to weep were the questions from the preservice teachers.  I can send you on to the site Kim made to direct people to resources to speak out and also to some tweets about the session.

2. Don Graves Breakfast

If you have not ever seen the work of Don Graves, you certainly have seen the effects of what he started so many years ago. Seeing the films of him working with students was as powerful as it was when I saw Penny Kittle present about it at All-Write this summer. What blew me away were the special guests and audience members who spoke about working with him at various points in his career. You literally could not turn anywhere in this room without recognizing the faces of the people around you, the people who influence my practice, the people who influenced their practice…it was moving in ways I had not expected it to be.

3. Nerdy Meet Up

When I posted about the open invitation to the Nerdy Meet Up, I had no idea of what it would be like. Last year’s party was pretty amazing, but I knew there were a zillion things going on for people in the evening and who knew if they were too tired to join us.

I had a relaxing and quiet dinner with Alyson Beecher that night with lots of catching up. (This is the most amazing thing about this conference – the catching up with friends you only see once or twice a year is fulfilling both personally and professionally.) By the time we wandered back down to the lobby to see if anyone was there at 8 pm, a small group of Nerdy Book Club members had showed up. By 10 PM the place was packed. Every single direction I turned I saw someone else I recognized from Twitter or from their book jackets. UNREAL. I tried to talk to as many people as I could, but at one point I think I needed a break so I went to talk to some familiar faces…and I never did get to talk to all the others I wanted to meet. (Exception: I was too afraid of going ga-ga fangirl in talking to Dan Santat – I am ridiculously addicted to reading and re-reading Carnivores since I first saw it at the Chronicle booth at BEA. If you haven’t seen it yet, go find it and you’ll understand why. On a side note, I might have converted to #teambear after reading it. Maybe next time I cross paths with Dan I’ll be less of a wimp…)

4. The ALAN Breakfast

I ran late getting there but thankfully didn’t miss anything. I found a seat and managed to score something to eat and a cup of coffee before JUDY BLUME (I wish I could figure out how to make that name light up and blink like a Christmas tree!) accepted her award and gave her speech. I teared up in the first seconds of Jennifer Burhle’s introduction and could barely keep it together through the rest. I carried around 5th grade me’s copy of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. for nearly the entire conference. Not really in the hopes that I’d get it signed, but just because I felt like I should be in touch with myself as a younger reader. Boy, 5th grade me would have been seriously overwhelmed by the whole conference.

Walter Dean Myers took the stage after that and got down to the business of talking about diversity. It’s not about race so much as it’s about being poor – that’s the demographic that he’s found is challenged most as readers. He told us that we – the collective WE of politicians, investors, publishers, authors, teachers, librarians, and others who work with kids, not just the WE in the room – need to acknowledge that this diversity exists and that all of these children are valuable. My heart skipped a beat when he said, “You will save lives – by the books you bring them.” So true.

5. Special Delivery

I won’t add too much to this here because I already wrote about this at Nerdy Book Club. I will say that I made my way around the exhibit hall a bit on Friday and Saturday on specific missions to deliver these letters. I think I spent as much time in the exhibit hall as I ever have (there are some pretty amazing conversations that take place there with authors and publishing people and people you just happen to meet in line so I have found that it’s just as professionally relevant to spend time there), but it felt less organized in some ways because I was going strictly by author-signing schedules rather than my usual methodical one trip through in order so I don’t miss anything.

I am sure I missed stuff in the exhibit hall. That’s fine. Getting to come home and tell my guys about meeting their favorite authors trumped it all.

****

I swear I went to sessions. I went to some really rocking sessions. (I missed a ton, too – which is always a problem with a conference this size; you can’t go to all of the sessions you’d like to see…thank heavens for the reflection posts of others!) I’ll post about all of that tomorrow.

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