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Conference Conversations: Reflecting on the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention in Atlanta

This post was written by member Kate Walker. 

This photo was taken at the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention when Kate pretended to be a Spelling Bee Champion.

Attending NCTE Conventions has become a favorite activity of mine, and not just because the event falls near my birthday. I love the serendipitous conversations in the airport with other attendees (you can usually identify English teachers by their comfortable shoes, cardigan sweaters, or canvas shoulder bags). I love the facilitated discussions during presentations about issues important to teachers from around the country and the world. I love the meaningful talks with strangers who have become instant friends while waiting in line to talk to a favorite author. Clearly, I like talking, but what I like even more are the meaningful connections these conversations create and how they eventually impact my students in a positive way.

When I meet people attending the Convention for the first time, I like to tell them the biggest secret of longtime convention attendees: the publishers in the Exhibit Hall want to have conversations with you. Real, meaningful conversations about the books you teach. For example, after telling a publisher I wanted to find a modern companion piece for Their Eyes Were Watching God, she pointed me to Jacqueline Woodson’s Another Brooklyn, which is also a bildungsroman exploring women’s friendships. (The accuracy of her suggestion prompted me to buy a few more copies of Another Brooklyn to pass along to students for choice reads.)

The NCTE Convention also allows me to talk to all kinds of writers: famous authors, new authors, academic writers, blog writers, and people hoping to someday have the time to sit down and write between all the grading and lesson planning. I fangirled about S. E. Hinton with e.E. Charlton-Trujillo, I talked to Sharon Draper about recent reads (and dropped off a copy of Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing for her), and I talked shop with Jim Burke about teaching seniors. These conversations would probably not have been possible for me at my first NCTE Convention, when I felt insecure about meeting authors. At the New York Convention in 2007, starstruck, I literally walked into Louise Erdrich when she left an escalator, and I couldn’t even summon words when I had Dave Barry sign a book for me. But NCTE Conventions have helped me understand the human side of authors I’d previously idolized–they, too, have favorite authors, have favorite books, and have classroom stories.

While talking to publishers and authors constitutes a huge reason I attend the NCTE Convention, ultimately, the conversations with other teachers are the reason I return year after year. Other teachers provide me with the best ideas. Sometimes a presenter introduces me to a new poem or article that worked well for their students, and sometimes an impromptu conversation with a teacher over lunch generates new ideas for writing exercises. Attending the Convention offers me professional development from the best resource: other teachers. So every year, around November, I gather my comfortable shoes, my cozy sweater, and my canvas shoulder bag, and I prepare to talk to anyone who’s willing to answer my various questions about becoming a better teacher.

Kate Walker teaches in State College, PA, and edits the Pennsylvania State Affiliate (PCTELA) blog.  She was the 2014 NCTE Secondary Teacher of Excellence for Pennsylvania.

This photo was taken at the 2016 NCTE Annual Convention when Kate pretended to be a Spelling Bee Champion.