One of the greatest joys in my professional life for the past nine years has been attending the National Council of Teachers of English annual conference. For the past five of those years, I have attended with my friend and colleague Carmen. And for four with Rich. Not only did NCTE always land on my birthday, but it allowed us to travel to new cities in the USA, meet new English teaching wonders, and stock up on as many free books as our suitcases could hold. NCTE was my teaching crack. I would eat only cucumbers and take second and third jobs just to pay my way to whichever city the conference was that year. About this time of year, I am getting a little distressed with work. Kids are driving me nuts, the routine has become monotonous, and (in the states) it is getting bloody cold. NCTE came at the perfect time when I needed a professional pick-me-up.
Throughout the years I have met mentors and friends in my profession – teachers who truly love what they do and excel at it. These are professional men and women who make a difference in kids lives everyday and then offer to share their tips and tricks with other teachers. What is better than that? NCTE was also a place where I got to geek out over young adult authors. No matter how many times I saw David Levithan, it was always a nerdy treat!
The day I met Sherman Alexie and S.E. Hinton was one of the greatest moments of my life. I got to shake hands with Sir Ken Robinson and talk with Alison Bechdel about Fun Home. I became good friends with the National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling, who helped start The Teaching Channel. She even graciously offered to be my keynote at our Tennessee Conference the year I was president. None of that would have happened without NCTE. I networked with English teachers from around the USA, sharing our successful and not so successful stories from the classroom.
Moving to Uruguay, one of my first questions was about attending NCTE. I had full confidence that I would be able to travel to St. Louis and celebrate teaching and my 30th birthday with my dear teaching friends and partners. Then I discovered how expensive trips back home were. Even the professional development money my new school provides would not make a dent. NCTE was just not going to be monetarily possible this year. Plus our school is getting accredited so taking the time was also problematic. However, I wasn’t prepared for how sad this has made me. This year there is no fancy dinners with Carmen and Rich where we splurged on hundreds of dollars worth of fine foods and wines. There is no rushing from session to session and debriefing with my peers about which ones were the most effective. There is no giant hug from Gretchen as we discussed why teaching is the best profession ever! There is no session that brings me to tears as a teacher and her students relate incredible learning and engaging that takes place in a South Side Chicago classroom. There is no book recommendation session with Alan from Penguin books as he fills my arms with novel upon novel that “I simply HAVE to read!” I really have no idea where my yearly book list will come from this year.
There is no standing in lines, waiting for an autographed copy of the new Ellen Hopkins book. There is no feeling of warmth as Ellen Hopkins writes “To Miss Coyle’s students: Be the only version of you.” There is no free sticky notes and dry erase markers. No Shakespeare poster that I absolutely love but have no idea how to get it home. There is no lugging a hundred pound box filled to the brim with books into the FedEx store. There is no getting back to school and watching the students’ eyes light up as they open the box and pull out each new book, carefully reading the jacket cover. There is no brand new lesson I have learned that I simply cannot wait to try with my standard students. NCTE was my professional rejuvenation, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t need some of that right now.
So to all of my NCTE friends and colleagues: I miss you and love you. You are doing wonders and changing lives everyday. And to my beautiful friend Carmen, this birthday is simply not the same without you. I miss you beyond words and wish I was there with you. Have a fabulous time with Ashley. I can’t wait to hear about all that you have learned. Know that I wish beyond wishes that I could be there, too.