I brought home more than just additional books, posters, bookmarks, totes, brochures, study guides,lecture notes and handouts from the National Council of Teachers of English Conference in New York City, New York. Yes, it’s true, I paid the fifty dollar charge for my overweight luggage, but, as I reluctantly handed over my VISA for this fee, I realized exactly how priceless this national conference and trip to New York City had really been. I knew that I couldn’t put dollar signs on the knowledge that I had gained, the experiences that were etched in my memory and the overwhelming sense of pride that I had for Nebraska when I was juxtaposed with representatives from the other states.
As a new member on the Nebraska Writing Project Board, I really felt like I was wearing an additional and important “hat”. This “hat” would give me the privilege of not only being an attendee at the conference but would remind me that I had a welcome duty as a “representative” for our great state when I attended this national conference. There were several impressionable moments that I had while attending, and I will discuss some of them here:
- National Writing Project–As a board member, I wanted to attend seminars, meetings and other beneficial forums so that I would be able to assist Nebraska in making future decisions about our site and its success. I went to a round-table forum that focused on finding and keeping first-year teachers involved in the Writing Project. To me, this was an interesting discussion as I heard other people’s perspectives on their struggles and successes to make the Writing Project sound appealing enough to already over-worked brand-new teachers. Though this is my sixth year of teaching and I have been involved in the Writing Project for several years, I felt that I offered a “voice” from Nebraska when I recollected my “shaping years” and realizing how influential and pivotal my involvement in the Project would be. I stated that I thought that in many ways the Writing Project has to sort of sell itself, and I whole-heartedly believe that this was the BEST professional development and the BEST springboard for my personal writing life and professional work as a teacher that I have ever done. I think that many of the other Nebraska Board Members also attended meetings and forums that left them with favorable experiences and ideas to bring back home. The people involved in the Writing Project who did attend included: Josh Call, Cathie English, Katie Elsener, Chris Gallagher,Suzanne Ratzliff, Kim Ridder, Kim Larson, Jane Connealy, Mary Birky, Anne Walden, Cyndi Dwyer, Robert Brooke, Susan Martens-Baker, Sharon Bishop, Sally Burt and myself, Paula Hohman.
I must say that meeting and becoming better acquaintances with these folks was another added benefit of attending the Conference. We shared ideas, we offered advice and tips about teaching and writing, we laughed, we shared stories, we told one another about the conferences we attended, we discussed our classrooms and teaching tactics. We also shared meals together, rode in crunched cabs traveling at speeds close to that of race cars in the Indy 500 with construction cones and oblivious pedestrians all in the name of New York and a love of English. There was an obvious bonding among those people from Nebraska as we congregated together informally and formally throughout the Conference.
- Nebraska Presentation by Robert Brooke, Sharon Bishop and Susan Martens-Baker: Though the room wasn’t as densely populated as we may have desired, the people in attendance could attest to the tremendous presentations that these folks had prepared for us. I must say that as I heard these famous people speak at a National Conference, I felt a huge sense of pride and overwhelming joy to belong to something as great as the Nebraska Writing Project. I knew that I was involved in something big…but I didn’t realize its full implications and impact until I was in a situation where people from our state, Nebraska, were on the same even playing field as top schools and Writing Sites from all over the nation. In fact, I feel like Nebraska is one of the better sites and the advancements we have made in the field of technology for the writing site, the writing forum and the website that is maintained are top-notch. What an accomplishment! Nebraskans should have more to brag about than just the Henry Doorly Zoo! We are doing spectacular things in the field of writing, and our teachers are working diligently to improve their own writing and their students’writing as well. This was confirmed when I heard Susan speak about the collaborative forum work that she and Jeff Grinvalds students had done (and the excellent brochures they created!). I also am slightly biased when I talk about the excellence of the Place-Based Conscious Writing Course that I am taking online with Sharon Bishop facilitating when I talk about all that I have learned from the class and the experience. Robert Brooke’s knowledge of Nebraska and the Writing Project are clear, and his vision and willingness to improve the Project (possibly employing something similar to a Facebook program in the future) were evident. There were many questions and discussion that ensued following the presentation. I was, as I have said previously, glad to be a part of Nebraska and an amazing Writer’s Project.
Aside from this main presentation, there were additional presentations that represented Nebraska very well. These included Cathie English and Josh Call who presented on the videotaping EQUIP project for a NWP New Sites workshop on Technology in the Summer Institute.
Additionally, Kim Larson, Chris Gallagher, Suzanne Ratzliff and Nebraska State Education Commissioner Doug Christensen presented a well-attended panel on the Nebraska assessment program.
- The Dinner…at O’Lunney’s (the “Social Aspect”): What an enjoyable and pleasant ending to a tremendous trip and fulfilling experience in New York. There were several members of the Nebraska Writing Project in attendance and we even had additional guest including the Nebraska Commissioner of Education and some out-of-townfriends of Katie Elsner. The food was delicious, the atmosphere was casual and content and the company was fabulous. People from Nebraska were clearly enjoying the New York atmosphere and sharing experiences of the previous days’ events.
Nebraska is my home, and I must say, that returning home after this whirlwind of a weekend taught me more than several lessons, but I’ll try to sum it up in the magic three:
- Look no further than your own state for tremendous teachers, invigorating and innovative ideas, but don’t be afraid to go somewhere else to learn something new.
- Experience the moment and cherish all that your present has to offer. Enjoy the presentations, the speakers, the people surrounding you, the readers, writers, teachers and other people around you who share something you love: English.
- Don’t overpack. You’ll pay $50 to bring everything home, and you’ll hurt your back attempting to lug your suitcase back to the car. Trust me. I know.