Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Story Shorts from #NCTE15: #SOL15

When I first attended the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention, I'd already taught many years. I traveled to Philadelphia thirsty for knowledge and camaraderie with like-minded English teachers. I've now attended the past six NCTE gatherings, and while I'm not as idealistic and excited as I was, I'm still grateful for the stories shared and created each November.

This past NCTE presented me w/ many responsibilities. First, I was part of the Folger Shakespeare Library team of presenters. I presented with Peggy O'Brien to a crowd of around 200 teachers. I missed the Allison Bechtel keynote because it was right before my session, and I had helped w/ setup. We moved tables, rearranged chairs and placed handouts prior to presenting. I also worked in the Folger booth on Friday and presented WILL lessons, a mini, one-on-one segment of the session, on Saturday.

"Getting Started with Shakespeare's Language," my session w/ the Folger Shakespeare Library
My Saturday began w/ an 8:00 a.m. session with two fabulous teachers, Lee Ann Spilane and Paul W. Hankins. The star of our session was the spectacular Melissa Sweet, author of Balloons Over Broadway and illustrator of many award-winning picture books, including The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus. Both Lee and Paul are amazing teachers and presenters. Melissa makes me want to write picture books, something I'd never thought I'd consider. All three inspire me to be a better teacher and person.

W/ Paul W. Hakins, Melissa Sweet, and Lee Ann Spilane
Saturday afternoon I chaired the panel for which I'd written a proposal. The three presenters are ladies I've worked with in the past, my colleague and friend Debbie Greco, Ami Szerence from California, and Cherylann Schmidt from New Jersey. I always learn from each of them.

I've uploaded my session schedule for those who want to peruse the online program and grab the handouts from each session. 

Of course, NCTE affords opportunities to embrace my inner fangirl. I managed to get pics w/ Deborah Wiles and Kwame Alexander, and I had a conversation w/ Jason Alexander at the Nerdy Book Club party.

W/ Newberry Award winning author Kwame Alexander
at the Nerdy Book Club party.

Deborah Wiles, author of COUNTDOWN and REVOLUTION. 
NCTE typically falls on or around my birthday, November 19. Getting to celebrate with friends from around the country and hear their wishes for happiness means much to me. Throughout the weekend in Minneapolis, friends asked about my big day.

Leading up to NCTE, I was feeling very stressed. My schedule has been full, and we had just two days w/ students in our new trimester before I headed out to the conference. Getting away from the normal pressures had a decompressing effect on me. That's the best gift of all. 

I did face some challenges during the conference. I broke my toe Saturday morning when my alarm startled me from a deep sleep and I forgot where I was and which side of the bed I was sleeping on. I rolled and crashed onto the floor, hitting my nose on the bedside table and smashing my toe. 
My friends worried more about my mishap than did I. I know my gift of gracelessness well and have several scars on my face to prove it. Undeterred, I hobbled around and looked for the humor in my klutziness. The worst part of my toe mishap is not being able to go to the gym. I can't bend my toe or put pressure on it, but it is improving, albeit slowly. 

While my Folger session drew a huge crowd, my other two sessions were poorly attended. I blame NCTE for this. As Dana Huff writes in her reflections about NCTE, our organization has created a rock-star following for some in our profession. Admittedly, I get a little star-struck, too, which is why NCTE SHOULD NOT schedule popular teacher-author sessions so that they conflict w/ other presenters. We, too, work hard on our proposals and presentations. I have presented at the past five NCTE annual conventions and have not repeated a presentation. Each proposal has been unique. Each one showcases new and tested lessons from my classroom. How can I and the other teachers who present only occasionally compete against a lecture hall featuring those who travel the nation and command speaking fees for their appearances? These stars among us need their own time-slots, similar to those afforded keynote speakers, or they need to be scheduled opposite one-another. 

This NCTE I attended a session that frankly was quite insulting in that a speaker in it was woefully unprepared. It's the first time I've witnessed a teacher who had not prepared at all. I finally walked out, even though I had wanted to stay and ask another speaker on the panel why she has her students research topics w/out considering the credibility of the resources. In yet another session, this one a round-table, a presenter had canceled at the last minute, so there was a fill-in speaker. He, too, was not well-prepared, but he did know his book. These two sessions were the worse ones I've ever attended at a conference of any time. I felt as though I'd wasted my time, and had I paid my own registration fees, I'd have felt as though I'd wasted my money. 

When I attend NCTE, I'm looking to be fed, to be rejuvenated, to find collegiality, to renew old friendships and make new ones. I'm not looking for discord. I'm pretty good about following education news. I found the PEARSON PROTEST troubling. The rebel in me at first thought, "oh, look, social activism at NCTE, how cool." A moment later I began pondering and questioning the objective. As presented, and as I witnessed it, the protest looked like it was aimed at Pearson. I've since read that the protest's purpose was to raise awareness about the corporate takeover and incursion into public education. Seriously? I doubt those attending NCTE annual convention are unaware of the corporate influence and money-grabbing policies of Pearson, an organization I've criticized openly and often, an organization I've boycotted for a number of years. 
Pearson Protest: Not all in the photo participated in the protest.

While standing in line at the UPS store later, I spoke with the teacher in charge of planning the CATE conference. She asked what I thought of the protest, and I shared my concerns that I worry about collateral damage. She, too, shared her worry that the protest will undermine support for the conference she is planning. A friend who teaches in California posted on FB her concern that the protest will mean a loss of funding of registration fees and an inability of many teachers to attend the CATE conference. 

I understand the need to push back at Pearson, but I don't understand a preaching to the choir protest. It doesn't take much courage to protest among those who share a dislike for Pearson's role in sucking the financial life out of the public education coffers.  

This year I missed my opportunity to attend ALAN. Boo! Typically, my district holds classes through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, but this year we have the week off. I did not realize that until I had my flight book and convention planned. Maybe next year. That seems to be my mantra. 

Finally, I missed meeting some important people I want to meet. I'm thankful for the books publishers share w/ conference-goers via give-aways, displays, and discounts. The authors themselves give, and give, and give. I'm in awe of the way they embrace teachers and students. We are lucky to live in a time when writers embrace social media and accept our friendship requests and honor us with their words. 

HAPPY THANKSGIVING. Thank you for stopping by and sharing this and your own corner of cyberspace with me.

The Slice of Life Tuesday story challenge happens each Tuesday as a gift from the team at Two Writing Teachers blog. Thanks, Stacey and all on the SOL team for all you do, for all you give. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Too Little Time on Tuesdays #SOL15

In preparing to write this post, I noticed I have not blogged since October 20. Yikes! I've thought about blogging often. I've planned many posts. I've written in my head. I have not transferred those thoughts, plans, or mental etchings onto the virtual page that is this blog. 


Simply, I have too little time on Tuesdays. 

In truth, I have too little time most days this fall. 

Even when I plan the post in advance and set a goal of writing prior to Tuesday, something invariably interferes with these best laid plans. 

Take the past two days for example. 

I had planned to write today's slice Sunday evening and again Monday evening. However, I underestimated the amount of time I'd need to edit the state DKG newsletter, a responsibility I agreed to accept last July. To date I've completed two installments. I've had quite the learning curve. 

First, I haven't published a newsletter before. I worked on my high school newspaper and occasionally wrote for my college one. I was the newspaper advisor one year in the mid 1980s, but that was at a small school that printed the paper on copy paper. 

I still remember much of what I learned about news and feature writing from my high school journalism teacher and have found that information useful as I've embarked on my new service. Still, the task has been ridden with obstacles. 

Since I use a MacBook Pro, I needed to find a publishing platform for my computer. I purchased Publisher Plus from the Apple store for a nominal fee. 

Next, I had to figure out how to use the program. It works on a grid, and I'm still learning it. For example, when I work on a page, here's what I see: 

The page layout is in the middle. This shot is of the November edition I just finished and is the first page. The font appears pretty small, so I either sacrifice visual acuity for seeing the layout for a complete page or vice versa. I still don't know how to insert frames around text boxes. 

Sometimes the margins get mucked up or a sentence gets chopped off. This happens if I alter a page. It happened several times w/ this issue, so even though I'd already devoted around 20 hours to the work, I still had to fix errors after exporting to a Pdf file. 

The first issue earned criticism for numerous problems, including distribution. I now have help w/ that, but I'm still having problems w/ proofing well. I attribute this to my own busy schedule and vision problems. I also received an unpleasant email after the first issue because I inadvertently omitted two stories from one chapter. This time I was told that the newsletter is too long. I was not given a length and have taken my guide those other newsletters sent to me. 

Since I want to see my own chapter represented in the newsletter, I've found myself writing stories, too. All this eats away at the limited time I have available. 

I'd like to say I'm enjoying this work, but I'm not. Maybe in time I will when I get better. I try to represent myself well and strive to perform tasks such as the editing of the newsletter in a way that represents both myself and the organization I represent well. I fear neither is happening right now.

The newsletter is only one time-sucking obligation in the way of blogging. I'm also teaching a night class at Idaho State University from 7:00-9:30 p.m. I have office hour obligations, so I arrive at 6:00 p.m. so I can try to get home by 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night. I'll be teaching the class on Tuesday nights during the spring semester, too. 

Additionally, I have a new prep at my school this year. I'm teaching AP Literature and Composition. While I enjoy all my teaching duties, having a new prep makes me feel like a newbie all over again. 

Thus, while I plan to slice each week, finding the time in a schedule with the slices of the pie already cut thin has been a challenge. I'm hoping that after NCTE in Minneapolis I'll be able to carve more time out of my schedule and discover ways to renew my commitment to blogging. I have lots of lesson ideas and student brilliance to share. 

Next week I'll share my NCTE15 convention schedule. It includes three sessions and exhibit hall work. Hope I'll see many friends there and that they'll carve a little time for catching up out of their convention pie. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

"Threaten Them with an Essay" #SOL15

I sat in a meeting yesterday and listened to some of my colleagues discuss how to encourage students to register for college when we have our first "Focus on ISU Day." Our local university has declining enrollment from students in our county and the one directly to our west, so to increase enrollment for the 2016-17 year, we will take seniors to the lab and have them complete the admissions application. 

A colleague asked, "What do we do with students who insist they aren't going to college?"

In all seriousness, the question engendered this response: "Make them write an essay explaining why they aren't going to college." This response was echoed. 

One person said, "Threaten them with an essay." 

"Can we not punish students with writing?" I asked. 

How often have we English teachers used learning as a gavel rather than as a gift? 

Is it any wonder that the words "I hate reading" and "I hate writing" buzz in a cacophony of noise among many students. 

On this National Day of Writing, I have a simple wish. I wish students will see in their teachers the joys of reading and writing. For that to happen, we must stop with the threats. We must cease using writing as punishment. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

We Were NOT Afraid #SOL15

Wednesday, October 7, 2015 began as most Wednesdays begin.

I arrived at school around 7:55 a.m. That's where the normal beginning diverged into an increasingly common school moment.

8:05 (approximately) Faculty were called to the library for a mandatory meeting.

8:10 a.m. We whispered among ourselves, trying to ascertain the reason for the meeting.

8:15 a.m. My principal announced that a student threat to other students was being investigated, and to insure the safety of students and staff we would be on a "limited access" lockdown the rest of the week. We were told that the threat originated on Twitter and had migrated to other social media. Additionally, we learn that the threat was against female students and that it was under investigation.

8:25 a.m. We returned to our rooms and began the day.

Learning commenced and continued.

Within the walls of our building, the day functioned much like any other, with the exception that students could not use a hall pass.

Shortly before lunch, an announcement informed students that they could not take backpacks into their afternoon classes but would have to leave them in their cars or lockers.

When the going gets tough, the tough find humor.

Lunchtime: A group of students congregated in my room and entertained one another--and me! Since most are in my 4th period, they stuck around for a normal learning period.

3:42 p.m. The day ended. Students and staff went home, to practices, to work. We all expected another day of "limited access" when we returned to school the next day.

5:45 (approximately): I received a text saying we would have a normal day on Thursday.

I later learned that the perpetrator  of the threat had been located. More importantly, I learned via social media and conversations at school the next day about the panic among many in the community; even my brother who lives in our basement arrived home from work in an agitated state of worry.


Being in our building must be like the calm in the eye of a hurricane. We were not afraid of being shot or attacked. Students did what students do. Teachers did what teachers do. We studied and learned and created a strong community among our school family.


To those who have asked, I have responded by saying this: Our principal and other administrators did everything right. Our resource officer and his colleagues did everything right. They took the outside threat that originated on social media and wafted into the school via a threat to enter the building and harm members of the student body seriously. They acted calmly and appropriately to the threat. Student safety was the priority.

Because the administration and police acted as they did, we were not afraid.

Returning to school the next day, some students said their parents had plans to homeschool them. Others said they went home because of the lockdown. Those parents don't realize how safe our school environment is and how safe we all felt.

We can't live in a bubble, or in a coconut, or in an acorn. The best we can do is protect one another and stay safe together. That way, we will never live in fear.

The Tuesday Slice of Life challenge is sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers.