Thursday, December 8, 2011

On NCTE, Meeting Heroes and Making Dreams Come True

NCTE in Chicago was magical. I'm not talking wands, butter beer, potions or theme parks. The kind of magic I experienced at NCTE ran deeper. I'm talking about make your day, hard to explain, once in a lifetime magic. It probably began last July when my 10 year-old son begged to come to NCTE. Yes, he asked, he inquired, he persisted. I'd let slip that John Green was going to speak at ALAN and Collin was intent on attending. He hasn't read John Green's books. Not yet, anyway, but he's a Nerdfighter and Vlogbrothers subscriber on YouTube. He's participated in Project for Awesome and he knows I taught John Green's genius brother, Hank. John and Hank are two of our heroes.

I registered Collin for ALAN in July. He's currently the youngest member of the organization; Stephen, Joan Kaywell's son holds the record for youngest registered member of all time. Stephen started coming to ALAN when he was a baby. Now he's like 7 feet tall and nearly graduated from college. You can see Stephen in the signing line behind Collin (white hoodie, blue shirt standing at least a foot over my friend Kym). The camera lens had smudge-y stuff on it--think of it as a "soft focus."  Collin worked ALAN as a book sherpa. He stood in the signing lines and got my box of books signed for the classroom. His box of books he had signed for Nerdfigheria. Pictured here, they will be auctioned off during Project for Awesome, December 17th and 18th,  to raise money for charity.

Bringing Collin to Chicago for ALAN was not the beginning of the magic for me. The magic actually began Thursday during Kittle, Rief and Kauffman's afternoon session on conferring with writers. Many of my Twitter friends were there: Jen Ansbach, Teresa Bunner, Donalyn Miller, Meenoo Rami, Chris Kervina, Gary Anderson, Tony Romano and more. The session reminded me of the importance of listening to writers read their work. The importance of sitting with student writers and asking them "How can I help you?" Focusing on the writer not the writing. Penny Kittle shared video footage from some of Don Graves' early work on conferring. Amazing. Linda Rief shared a conference video featuring an 8th grader reading an essay about putting the family dog to sleep. Two days before I'd put my 16 year-old dog to sleep, to say that the writer moved me is an understatement. The room wept as she read.

Friday evening I enjoyed spending time with old friends, Sara Holbrook and Michael Salinger who introduced me to their friend Henry Sampson (King of Poetry Slam and Hemingway expert). We squeezed drinks and conversation between the last session of the day and 9 o'clock appointments. Afterwards,  I ran into Barry Lane.  He invited me to a party. Collin hadn't flown up yet, so I said yes. We ascended to the top floor of the hotel.  On the way, we talked about Florida's new teacher evaluation model and his experience at the Save Our Schools March on Washington this past summer. Barry's work as an activist and advocate reassures me that there are good people out there fighting for my right to teach.

I couldn't have scripted what came next. When we got to the party he introduced me to one of my heroes, Stephen Krashen.

Krashen and I spent the next couple of hours talking. We talked about reading and  about weightlifting. We talked about NCTE's stand on the Common Core and the misdirection of  the media and merit pay systems. He played the piano for me. I could see the Chicago skyline twinkling out the windows as I stood next to the baby grand.   Do you know how many times I've read his work? A dog-eared copy of The Power of Reading has sat on my desk at school within arm's reach since it was first published. Talking with Krashen in person? Absolute magic.

It wasn't all rock stars and fandom (honest). I learned a lot at NCTE and ALAN. Over the next couple of weeks I'll share lessons learned.  I'll be posting video and pages from my journal soon.

Bye for now,