Seeing the Unseen, Opening the Gate - National Council of Teachers of English
Back to Blog

Seeing the Unseen, Opening the Gate

This blog post by NCTE member Julieanne Harmatz was reprinted with permission from her blog.


Why should you attend the NCTE Convention this year? We’re sharing a series of reflections from teachers who attended the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention to help you answer this very question! 


November 20, 2017

Five years ago I read a blog post about NCTE in Boston. That post got me to commit to my first NCTE conference in Washington, DC. I haven’t missed one since. It has been and continues to be a place for inspiration and hope.


This week I’ll unpack the experience, bit by bit.


The books are piled on my dining room table.
Books signed by authors.
There is something about having a stack of new books.
One done. One started. One settling in my brain waiting to be reread.
There’s safety in it.
A sense of calm.
It is an entitlement to have access and ability to find books I want to read.
Ones that speak to me.

This week I heard writers share.
How they write.
Why they write.

Jason Reynold’s words dug deep. Demanding attention and action:

I’m trying to write books that are protecting young people from invisibility of their personhood. You’re not just a problem, you’re not just an issue or a disenfranchised child. . . . I refuse to let you be discarded.

We need to bolster humanity in the kids that we pity. They don’t need pity. We need to see them as people, not pitiful.

Kids are just like us. Books that speak to them will be picked up and read. They are not the problem. We are when we don’t see or hear our students.This demands we look closely at our books and our practices around books.

If those books do not fit a child, that child does not fit in our classroom, and that child is unseen. Why should they want to read?

We might start out our school year with a reading inventory.

With questions like, what books do you love?

But how many of those books are on our shelves?

How and how often do we explore what our kids want to read?

It’s there to be seen. But do we look?

How many students don’t know there could be books to love?

What are we doing to see our young people? What are we doing to protect them?
We need to ask and listen.
Provide some white space as Jacqueline Woodson does in her books.

Woodson’s words ring in my ears:

. . . not only do you have a right to be here you have right to be here fabulously . . .
I want to stay visible . . . the people I love to stay visible. I want people to be seen. I want their lives to matter.

And these words:

The DNA we are walking through this world with is complicated. How do we teach people we consider as ‘others’ when we are the gatekeepers?


Time to look and listen deeply.
Think about the time we have with children.
Commit to our beliefs and figure out how to open the gates and let them in.