ALL THE BOOKS. And not just the free and discounted ones in the Exhibit Hall. All the ones I learn about at different sessions. All the ones by authors who present. All the ones I spy fellow English teachers reading in the halls in between sessions. I don’t travel with an extra empty suitcase as I know some attendees do. I’ve never paid to ship books home. I try to be choosy–knowing the limits of my suitcase and knowing my readers and what they will like. I also try to limit my time in the Exhibit Hall. If I’m wandering the aisles in search of free books, I’m not learning or connecting with other teachers. But it turns out that wandering the aisles of the Exhibit Hall is the perfect thing to do when I’m too tired to sit through another session but not tired enough to go back to my hotel to rest. I’m rarely organized enough to schedule the author signings I’m most interested in, so I depend on serendipity. I also don’t like waiting in long lines, so if it’s too long, I usually skip it. That’s why I don’t have any signed books from Laurie Anderson or Jason Reynolds or Angie Thomas. But that’s ok. I don’t really understand the appeal of the signed book anyway.
SPONTANEOUS CONVERSATIONS. I’m an introvert. A very introverted introvert. Who also happens to love people and small talk. So if you find yourself standing next to me in line anywhere, I’m going to be eyeing you and trying to figure out how to strike up a conversation. Since many of my fellow English teachers are also introverted, it can make for an awkward few moments as we try to find some way to connect but can’t think of anything to say. But I’ll still be making the effort because I want to hear what your biggest insight was today or what your favorite presentation was or what book you’re most excited about getting.
TRAVEL. For various reasons, I don’t travel as much as I’d like to, and I really, really love to travel. I love walking through airports and people watching. I love figuring out public transportation. I love being surprised by a new place. Las Vegas was my first NCTE Convention, and I almost chose not to go because it seemed like such an undesirable location to travel to. But Las Vegas is a hoot. And now I try to keep an open mind. There’s not really much time to sightsee, so it helps when a major attraction is literally right outside my hotel window.
I do try to make time to visit a museum if my visit happens to coincide with extended opening hours. Houston has the Menil Collection, which I’ve always wanted to visit for the Renzo Piano building, as well as a Fine Arts Museum that sounds excellent, and both are open late on Thursdays (the Fine Arts Museum until 9 pm!). I also try to find a good local independent coffee shop, which can sometimes be challenging in the areas where convention centers tend to be located. And I walk as much as possible to get a feel for the city.
ALL THE TOTE BAGS. I’ve got to be honest: I’m a little bit obsessed with the free tote bags distributed by publishers in the Exhibit Hall. Of course the Scholastic Bags are the gold standard of conference swag, and I’m afraid I totally join the stampede when news travels that Scholastic is distributing bags. They’re roomy, sturdy, comfortable, stylish. In short, best tote ever. But I’ll take basically anything that’s offered. Sometimes I leave the Exhibit Hall with a tote bag full of tote bags. (I carried all three of these to work this morning!)
LEARNING. Of course this really goes without saying, but the learning is the best part of NCTE. I try to identify one or two areas for growth and attend a few sessions about those topics. Last year, I focused on drawing and mindfulness. This year, I want to learn more about culturally responsive teaching. I also like to attend what I call reminder sessions. These are sessions where I probably know everything that is going to be said, but it’s a good reminder of why I teach and what I try to be about in the classroom. Do I really need to attend another session about writer’s notebooks or reader’s workshop? Probably not, but those are often the sessions I find most nourishing. There are some speakers that I’ll go see no matter what they’re taking about or how often I’ve heard the message. Although I have a master list of sessions to attend with (many!) alternates for each time slot, serendipity does drive a few choices. There’s always one session I attend simply because I’m tired and I don’t feel like getting up and moving to a different room.
What I haven’t been as good about is figuring out how to apply the learning once I get home. How to get the notes out of the notebook and into practice. I always come home with good intentions but little follow through. So that’s a new area for learning.
What are your favorite things about NCTE?