This post by NCTE member Jori Krulder is reprinted with permission from her blog post Teacher in Wonderland— My First Time at NCTE’s Annual Convention.
Why should you attend the NCTE Convention this year? We’re sharing a series of reflections from teachers who attended the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention to help you answer this very question!
I never really considered attending NCTE until this year. I thought it was too big, too extravagant, too far away, and overall just too far out of reach, budget and otherwise. I had attended state conferences in my early days of teaching, and remember coming away energized, my head swirling with possibilities.
But as my teaching career progressed, somehow this type of professional development seemed to become less and less of a possibility. So, when a group of teachers on Twitter started tossing around ideas for proposals to present at NCTE 2017, I’m not sure what made me jump on board and join in.
This group of teachers is special, though. Sprinkled throughout the country, from East to West Coast, we’ve collaborated for the past two years on Twitter and Voxer, a messaging app that allows you to not only send text, but also voice messages.
Sharing lesson ideas, troubleshooting classroom frustrations, and even building curriculum together across the miles, we built a learning community that empowered me to step out of the safe routine I’d built for myself over my nineteen years of teaching. I began experimenting in the classroom again, trying new techniques and sharing my triumphs and flops with my colleagues while they did the same, and we grew from discussing what we did and learned so much from each other.
What has been even more groundbreaking for me has been my renewed desire to write. I’ve been writing posts for aplithelp.com, a website created by my friend from New York, Brian Sztabnik—aka Talks With Teachers—and edited by Susan Barber from Atlanta, Georgia, another amazing educator I have the privilege to work with.
I write about my teaching practice and ideas I’ve tried in my classroom and the reflection embedded in the writing process has made me a better teacher. Teachers know about the myriad demands for our time and attention and frankly, I’ve always thought I was too busy to write. But, this motivated, reflective group of educators that I met on Twitter helped me understand that writing, reflecting, and sharing ideas about teaching makes my job more joyful and engaging.
So, when not just one, but two of the sessions we proposed to NCTE were accepted, I was suddenly faced with a choice: bow out or find a way to make it to St Louis, the city where NCTE 2017 was being held.
I quickly realized that I simply had to go; as much as I really don’t savor the spotlight, the idea of sharing ideas with educators all across the nation was just too much to resist. I held my breath and asked my administration if they could help me go to the conference and they were so supportive, paying part of my expenses. Suddenly, St Louis seemed like a lot more of a possibility.
My group proceeded to collaborate on our presentation digitally over Google slides and Voxer, and when we arrived in St Louis on a chilly November evening, it was “ready or not, here we come!”
We were set to present the following afternoon, and it was an exhilarating experience. Not only did we each share practical ideas and activities for engaging students in close reading, but the audience interacted with us and each other in a way that made my heart sing.
I attended several inspiring sessions over the course of my three days in St. Louis, and for the rest of the conference and even on the flight home, I was immersed in conversations about classrooms all over the country, including Canada, where wonderful things were happening. I asked questions, wrote copious notes, and took down contact information, including several Twitter handles, and made so many connections with brilliant educators.
It was glorious and, writing this, my mind is still a-swirl with all of the things I will try in my classroom in the weeks to come.
This experience has shown me that teachers can build their communities in many ways, but it’s crucial that we build them, because we need others to help us grow and learn and thrive as educators. Going to NCTE 2017 and getting to meet and work with people who have become so important to my practice and, yes, my life, has been an incredible adventure—one which I am determined to repeat next year in Houston for NCTE 2018.
Jori Krulder is a teacher, mentor, writer, and reader at Paradise High School in Paradise, California. Find her on Twitter @jorikrulder.