Calling all English Language Arts teachers: It’s worth the time to prepare lesson plans and save up to attend the annual NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention. The benefits of attending far exceed the cost.
The keynote speaker for the 2022 conference in Anaheim, CA was poet and author Javier Zamora. His memoir, Solito, tells the unforgettable story of his harrowing migration from El Salvador to the United States at the age of nine. On stage at the conference, his humble presence was riveting as he described his twenty-year emotional journey from the initial migration experience to being able to actually speak aloud about it. Unaccompanied, his debut poetry collection, explores the effects of the war that propelled his journey and its impact on his family. Zamora has been a Stenger Fellow at Stanford and a Radcliffe Fellow at Harvard. Teachers, it is worth the time and effort to attend the conference and hear speakers of this caliber challenge us on such huge and timely topics as immigration and the struggles of immigrants.
Attendees also participated in a candlelit opening to symbolize the conference theme, “Pursuing the Light” while Idina Menzel (Elsa’s voice in Frozen) sang one of her songs from the stage play, Rent. Menzel has written a children’s book titled Loud Mouse, with her sister, Cara Mentzel. It’s a story about letting your voice be heard—something we can all espouse.
Not only are the inspiring main session speakers well worth the time spent to hear them, but the multitude of break-out sessions include every level of teaching, from pre-K to college, and every imaginable topic within the sphere of Language Arts education. For example, I gained access to a semester-long writing unit for my creative writing elective and single-sentence prompts appropriate for journaling such as “Define ‘joy’ without using the word, ‘happy.’” Another takeaway for my middle school class focused on writing a thank-you note to a teacher. How many worthwhile mini-lessons for middle schoolers can be incorporated into this project? I can count at least three.
Prior to attending this year’s conference, my agenda was to attend as many poetry sessions as possible. Creative ideas I gleaned include writing odes to favorite foods, creating Black-Out poetry, and writing emotion poems. “Wellness” poem writing was a concept I hadn’t considered previously, but the need for the space for students to create in this genre is extensive.
Another reason for attending the 2023 NCTE Conference is to visit the Exhibit Hall, where many book publishers and language arts vendors provide specific author book signing times and the opportunity to obtain free books for your classroom libraries. I visited Penguin Random House, Scholastic, and Norton Publishing booths, as well as smaller, independent publishers including Gareth Hinds, Selected Readings Editions, LLC, Ember (Nic Stone’s publisher), and Finding Forward Books. Genres of free texts I chose included narrative nonfiction, sports, poetry, and a copy of selected readings of a translation of Don Quixote. I also purchased a copy of Solito by Javier Samora and Dear Martin by Nic Stone, who was, by the way, an excellent and powerful, additional general session speaker.
Teachers: not only are the main speakers, the vendors’ exhibits, and the breakout sessions worthwhile, but the time spent away from the classroom in a positive, uplifting atmosphere with like-minded professionals is invaluable. A group of us went together to rent an Airbnb, and our conversation and laughter in the evenings was relaxing and healing. We usually fixed what we wanted to eat at the Airbnb and walked to the conference site together. The rental was a great idea that saved each of us a considerable amount of money, and getting to know our co-laborers from a different perspective, as well as carving out individual downtime made the conference a refreshing experience. However, if you prefer the hotel experience without the snack prep, there are always hotels with a conference discount close to the conference site.
I really encourage you to attend the 2023 Annual Convention. The dates have always been Thursday through Saturday, the week before Thanksgiving break. Next year, the NCTE convention will be in Columbus, Ohio, so the travel costs will be within your budget. What you will gain from the experience will enhance your teaching, encourage your spirit, and help you reconnect with the passion that first brought you to our profession.
Deborah Meister is a high school language arts teacher at Fellowship Baptist Academy in Carson City, MI, and a Teacher Consultant at the Chippewa River Writing Project. She co-directed the CRWP Middle School Writing and Technology Camp for three summers at Central Michigan University with author Jeremy Hyler. She has presented on various writing topics with Dr. Liz Brockman, Kathy Kurtze and Janet Neyer at the NWP Midwest Conference, and the National Council of Teachers of English Conference. Her work has also been published in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan.
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