This post was written by NCTE first-time Convention attendee Anthony Lince.
Curious. Excited. Nervous. These words illustrate my feelings before I arrived at my first NCTE Convention—2022’s event themed “¡Sueños! Pursuing the Light!” in Anaheim, California.
Just having finished my MA in English, this event would mark my first foray into academic conferences: sites full of brilliant teachers and scholars who care so deeply about their work and want to share their ideas for the betterment of the profession. Am I good enough to belong in these spaces? I wondered. I wasn’t so sure.
Thankfully, I wouldn’t be completely out of my element, as Anaheim was just a short hour-and-a-half drive from my home in San Diego. If things went sideways, I could always get in my car and ride off into the sunset.
Day one of the conference. I’m ready to go with all my sessions planned out. But the three words I mentioned at the beginning of this post don’t completely cover one feeling I was having as I stepped into the convention center—overwhelmed! So many different presentations, poster talks, and educators from all grade levels, K–16, and varying institutions. It was a lot to take in. My car, it seemed, was calling my name. As the day progressed, however, I found my footing, thanks, largely, to some wonderful colleagues who welcomed me, helped me navigate the space, and showed me the ropes.
And now, looking back a year later, I can say that as a teacher and scholar, I have also more securely found my footing. I’ve been teaching first-year writing at the University of California San Diego and local community colleges, have published in academic journals, and look forward to attending future conferences. My first NCTE Convention, in a few unique ways, has made a lasting impact on me, and I’d like to share why below.
Maybe surprisingly, I won’t be focusing on the insightful sessions. Neither will I be writing about the meaningful connections made along the halls or during lunch. And, alas, I don’t have a powerful narrative about how my imposter syndrome completely disappeared. That’s something I still wrestle with, especially since I see so few Mexican-American scholars in my discipline and in academia more broadly.
No. Instead, I’d like to talk about—as we English majors are wont to do—a theme I’ve been thinking about after that first Convention, this idea of hope that (sometimes) persists: those who, in spite of all the obstacles, continue in the profession, and, perhaps more importantly, those who don’t.
For some of the teachers I saw in Anaheim, this was their 13th, 14th, even 15th Convention. As I think about them, I’m amazed at how they have been able to carry on in the face of so many hurdles over the years: the changing of school standards (for better and worse), racial inequities, restricting of teacher agency, and, more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite it all, they were right there attending and presenting—listening intently and sharing their wisdom—with a hopeful demeanor and a strong belief in an educational system that looks to provide much to future generations. This is the sort of fire I hope to have as I continue my career as an academic.
But I also wonder: how many educators were not at the conference? Glancing ahead to Conexiones—NCTE’s 2023 Convention—I am curious about how many won’t be persisting with hope. Looking at where we are now, versus just a year ago, it doesn’t look like teaching conditions are much better. In fact, they are, in many ways, much worse. Teachers, both in K–12 and college, are losing more autonomy, with state mandates deciding which books can and can’t be taught, which discussions on race are allowed and which ones aren’t. Further still, funding for entire departments is being erased. If all that wasn’t bad enough, we now have AI to contend with. Is this a tool that will completely upend our profession? Or is it one that we invite into classrooms? Certainly, from hearing that colleagues are leaving the profession to media coverage on worsening teacher shortages, it seems that the upcoming Convention will be missing out on many valuable voices.
With Conexiones right around the corner, I know there will be exciting sessions, powerful keynote speakers, and wonderful classroom ideas.
But I’m left wondering a big question: what efforts need to be made to change the systems in which teachers work, to change public perceptions on the value of teachers in society, and to help make the profession better for incoming teachers? Even if changes aren’t made, some educators will persist with hope through new challenges (though I wish they didn’t have to), and some, through no fault of their own, will not.
Anthony Lince, a Latinx educator and scholar, teaches first-year writing courses at UC San Diego and local community colleges. His scholarship is focused on writing about writing, writing-related transfer, and equitable assessment practices—specifically, labor-based grading. His writing has been published in journals such as California English and WPA Writing Program Administration. He also has a forthcoming chapter to be released in Effective Alternative Assessment Practices in Higher Education. You can view more of Anthony’s academic work and an Ungrading Toolkit on his website at anthonylince.com.
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