What Happens in St. Louis Shouldn’t Stay in St. Louis

One week ago yesterday, I was on my way home from NCTE 2017 which gave me several strategies to take back to my classroom but also the inspiration to do the work of teaching. There’s no way I can put into words all I learned, but here are some thoughts that continue to linger in my mind:

from Donalyn Miller's Ignite session
from Donalyn Miller’s Ignite session

Choice in Reading –

Student choice is so important in education and specifically in reading. I loved hearing several people including some prominent authors and teachers talk about how they hated school. HATED. But then they found that book – the one where a character was like them and suddenly they were no longer alone but rather swept into a world of fiction and understanding. We MUST be committed to getting the right books into the hands of students. In addition, whole class novels cannot be taught to death but rather presented in a way for students to build reading skills, discover meaning on their own, and be a platform for rich classroom discussion and learning. I will say it over and over: we are not teaching a text; we are teaching students how to read and make meaning of texts.

Relationships Matter –

Students need to know that teachers are advocates for them. I can just copy and paste the sentence from the paragraph above and substitute teacher for book. Because we provide stories to consider, English teachers often have an advantage in getting to know our students. Build community in the classroom. Smile. Ask questions. Speak encouraging words.

I'm excited to add a signed copy of The Hate U Give to my classroom library
I’m excited to add a signed copy of The Hate U Give to my classroom library

More diversity in Reading –

Today’s classroom should extend beyond the canon. I’m amazed that I even have to write this because it seems so obvious yet so many teachers continue to only teach the “pillars” of literature and do not include modern and diverse voices. The problem for me is not a lack of desire to teach different works but rather keeping up with the multitude of modern voices; this is where being a part of an active learning community is key. We must share new texts, new writers, and lesson ideas.

NO TEACHING TO THE TEST – (Yes – I realize that all caps means I’m shouting)

No matter what pressure we are facing, we must not teach to the test. We are reading and writing teachers, not test teachers. If we are teaching students how to read and write, the test will take care of itself. Forever and ever amen.

Stand up to Teacher Bullying –

Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak) discussed how schools have made great gains in bullying; however, the group of bullies that has not yet been called out is teachers. We all know those teacher bullies in our building who take great enjoyment in exercising their power over students by belittling them. This must stop.

Teachers should be Lead Learners –

Teachers must be active readers and writers and share our reading and writing with our students. We need to do this so we can be better teachers. Share what you’re reading with your students. No time to read? Read when your students read during their independent reading time. Don’t do independent reading? See bullet #1. Write alongside students and share your writing with them. Ask for their feedback on your writing.  Write for a site like this one (more information about this next week or email me).

#aplitchat crew
#aplitchat crew

Collaboration Makes for Better Teaching –

I love being around passionate educators – the kind you find hanging out at English conferences on the weekend before Thanksgiving or on Twitter in their freetime. I am always inspired and encouraged. These are the people I can go to when I need to problem solve or tweak a lesson. NCTE gave me the opportunity to collaborate with two groups of people for presentations, and I am a better teacher because of the planning and ideas we shared in our preparation. In case you were not able to go to NCTE, here’s the link to Textually Active Teens from the #aplitchat crew.

Here are some more voices from NCTE:

NCTE reminded me that amazing teachers and researchers are working passionately to improve the state of ELA education for all students. I connected with my brilliant PLN, and my Twitter friends quickly became “real” friends and colleagues.   I was inspired to try new strategies, and I shared strategies from my practice with fellow practitioners across the country.  NCTE is a recharging station and an opportunity to learn with and from passionate educators.  I can’t wait for next year in Houston!   – Roy Smith

What I realized more than anything this year at #NCTE17 is that it’s about people. Although I walked away from many sessions with nuts and bolts strategies for Monday morning, I left Saint Louis with so much more than lesson plans. I left with a renewed commitment to making my classroom a place kids want to be every day, and I deepened friendships with educators who I not only admire, but who inspire me to be my best.  – Karla Hilliard

I was immersed in conversations about classroom all over the country, including Canada, where wonderful things were happening. I asked questions, wrote copious notes, and took down contact information, including several Twitter handles, and made so many connections with brilliant educators. It was glorious and, writing this, my mind is still aswirl with all of the things I will try in my classroom in the weeks to come. – from Teacher in Wonderland by Jori Krulder

If you attended NCTE, what were your takeaways? If not, make plans to attend a national conference such as NCTE or the AP annual conference next year. 

2 thoughts on “What Happens in St. Louis Shouldn’t Stay in St. Louis

  1. How can not teaching to the test take place in an AP course? It’s that elephant that can’t be ignored. Of course we teach reading and writing, and yes, the May exam is a benefit and an opportunity for our students, but it still needs to be addressed. Classics still remain among THE (here I shout) best ways to build that strong foundation of knowledge. Yes, I want to include John Green and other contemporary voices, yet time marches on and there isn’t enough room in the curriculum to fit it all in. And why not teach to the test? It’s a great test.

    • I completely agree. The test comment is more about state standardized tests since the focus of NCTE is English education and not specifically AP Lit. The AP exam (which I happen to like) is different than those type of standardized tests (at least in my state) because it is more skill focused. I tell my students on the first day “this class is all about the AP exam and this class is not at all about the AP exam” and we live in that dichotomy all year. I teach to the AP exam in that my lessons are planned around building their close reading and analysis writing skills. Other than that, there’s not really a way to “teach to the AP exam” (other than a few test strategies that we review) because the exam measures their skill level rather than their knowledge base. I also teach classics but I have also brought in modern texts such as Mudbound, Beloved, The Things They Carried, The Kite Runner, and most recently Counting Descent by Clint Smith. We also read a lot of living poets in addition to the traditional poems. Thanks for bringing these points to the discussion.

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