Teaching is a lonely profession. At some point in their career, everyone bemoans the fact that teaching, planning, grading, attending meetings, and tending to bureaucratic necessities leaves little time to reflect on one’s practice, much less to talk to another knowledgeable adult about it. It’s one of the paradoxes of education: to get better at something, you need time to reflect on what you can do to improve, but with so much pressure to show improvement, there’s no time to get real feedback on how to get there.
With that in mind, I was thrilled to see how many English teachers showed up in Orlando last weekend for the annual conference put on by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Over three days, teachers attended sessions on everything from using Facebook as an instructional tool to helping middle school students talk more deeply about literature, from improving grammar to being mindful of the social justice obligations of English instruction, and everything in between. Teachers had a chance to hear from other successful teachers what was working in their classrooms and also had the opportunity to mingle with principals, instructional coaches, and professionals whose experiences were drastically different from their own. It was an amazing opportunity to learn from each other’s experience and successes—not to mention a chance to be constantly inspired by the good work that’s going on across the nation.
Of course, the teachers who were there had predominantly been supported by their districts. Most needed to take at least one day away from their classrooms to attend; many balanced their time attending sessions and talking to other teachers by day with time spent in their hotel rooms at night, grading the student work that never quite comes to an end. Regardless, for one weekend, the focus was only on being reflective about one’s practice, about doing things better. To me, it seemed double or triple the worth of any district-sanctioned professional development.
So does it seem reasonable to assume that conferences like the annual NCTE conference, events that bring professionals from all walks of the nation together to reflect on their work, are the way education is going to improve? Sort of a grassroots movement that comes from those who are actually implementing change in their classrooms? To me it seems to embody the way change should happen: brought about by those who are most directly involved and knowledgeable about it. Is it possible that this is the way to make sure the important voices in educational change are heard?