Slice of Life #16: NCTE 2015

Slice of LifeI spent a good part of today looking over the workshops for the NCTE Annual Conference. I am noticing a few interesting trends.

First, there seem to be quite a few workshops focusing on using our voices for advocacy. It’s not really surprising that in a time when many teachers feel silenced or ignored, it’s great to see NCTE encouraging teachers to find their voices, and especially to blog. Many folks will say blogging is on the way out, but I maintain it’s still relevant (of course, I must; I’m blogging at this very moment). Time is a very important reason teachers give for not blogging (tech know-how is another). The tools are pretty easy to learn (most of them are WYSIWYG and are familiar to word processor users), but time is not so easy. I maintain, as I frequently do, that we make time for the things that are important to us, and if blogging is important, then we’ll make time for it.

Second, I’m noticing that I am much more drawn to Rainbow Strand and LGBT Strand sessions than I have been in the past. I have been doing some work with inclusive classrooms at school, and I find myself connecting to ideas around diversity. In fact, I have begun to approach my teaching of American literature through this lens.

I am also noticing argumentative writing as a motif in the sessions. I am really not up on the Common Core. I imagine this must be a part of it? (Folks who might not know: I teach in an independent school, and we have created our own Portrait of a Learner.)

I am not sure I can articulate this half-formed thought, but I’m going to try. I find myself at a crossroads of sorts. I’m trying to figure out what I believe as a teacher. I’ve shifted a lot since I started writing this blog. I have written about ideas and beliefs here, and I find that I no longer agree with myself. I don’t think I’ve really processed some of the ways in which I’ve changed. What is non-negotiable? In particular, as my role as a department chair/leader, what do I need to do to bring my department to the place where I want it to be and where the school wants it to be? Like I said, these thoughts are not fully formed. I am trying to figure out exactly who I am as an English teacher. I guess, in some ways, I am working on some identity issues. Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to discussions about students’ identities. I don’t know.

Am I going to see you at NCTE?

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8 thoughts on “Slice of Life #16: NCTE 2015”

  1. This is a very good line of thinking. Like you, I ask myself what my purpose is, and I find myself endlessly experimenting with my teaching — or with my learning in the classroom with students. Most of what I teach is Shakespeare, and, like so much of the best literature, the work can connect so readily to the world in which my students are living, so why, I ask myself, would I not take this opportunity to try and put these worlds in conversation with each other.

    In one of my classes, we’re reading Love’s Labor’s Lost (their choice!). This followed our study of Twelfth Night, and we just found this pairing to be perfect. But, just a few days ago, we were talking about the events around race and racism at Mizzou, Yale, CMC, and Brown. These issues are really important to all of us, and we want to talk about them. But, just as importantly, I want to help students to learn to live with complexity and ambiguity (wonderful qualities that emerge in strong liberal arts learning). I also hope they’ll graduate understanding how to engage in impassioned-yet-civil discourse. How, for instance, can we disagree meaningfully and civilly with each other? How, in the heat of really critical moments (like those at the University of Missouri), can we really hear people and know the difference between hate speech and free speech? How else can we grow and understand? I’d be lying if I thought there was an easy answer, and I, like so many of my colleagues and students, were disappointed that it took the football team’s actions to actually get something done. I was equally disappointed by the story I heard of what appeared to be a lot of categorical thinking on the part of students at Brown when their president held an open forum and was essentially shouted down before she could utter a single sentence. That struck me — and I wasn’t there, so I could be wrong — as a complete breakdown of what meaningful discourse is supposed to be. We have to do better than that. Having passion and convictions isn’t enough — we must know how to put these feelings and ideas to meaningful work.

    So then that got me thinking about the power of The Merchant of Venice, a play that explores (among many things) what “otherness” is not only for Shylock but, at one point or another, for every character in that play. I immediately thought of Ellison’s Invisible Man, a profound book about what happens when we see only our own ideas when we look at others and not whole people in their difference. And then I thought, we should work on these texts together. Powerful in their own right as narratives, these texts also can challenge students to think through enormous complexity.

    So I find myself making choices with students in an improvisatory way. The world is not linear in how it offers its events, and that can be instructive to how we makes decisions about the directions we take. At least that, like you say, Dana, is what I’m working through.

    1. Do you read Robin Bates’s blog Better Living Through Beowulf? You would love it. I am working through some guilt, I think, about my early years as a teacher. Much as I know it’s pointless to feel that way, I wish those students had had a better teacher back then. I feel in some ways like I’m finally getting it. I know that’s not exactly true, but I think you know what I mean. I am really hoping at some point to make a Shakespeare class go. One of my colleagues said, and it was great that HE said it not me, that perhaps as we continue to use Folger methods in our classes, the students will enjoy Shakespeare more and then, the Shakespeare elective could be a go. It’s my understanding that it hasn’t had enough enrollment in the past. I am just finishing a great unit on King Lear and A Thousand Acres. I think the students really enjoyed that play (and the novel!).

  2. I love Bate’s blog. And I sure hope we get to meet up and share ideas at NCTE. Thank you for sharing your messy thinking here–for sharing that shift over time. We do change. Our thinking changes. We do feel pulled in different directions and I believe the more we communicate, discuss and write about it , the more we can learn from it. Thank you!

  3. “I find myself at a crossroads of sorts. I’m trying to figure out what I believe as a teacher. I’ve shifted a lot since I started writing this blog. I have written about ideas and beliefs here, and I find that I no longer agree with myself.” I think this is a vital part of growth. At least, it has been for me. In the same way I try to teach my students to question even themselves, I think there’s great value in revisiting what I think and considering if those beliefs still fit into my life. Keep on holding things up to the light.

    I’ll be at NCTE, too! Starting to get very excited. I’m presenting on Saturday with a group of amazing & dynamic educators on teaching emergent bilingual students, but I’m also looking forward to immersing myself in workshops & books & likeminds. Hope you have a great conference!

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