I spent the weekend before Thanksgiving in Atlanta, Georgia at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) conferences. As a first-timer, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I have been to local and state-level teacher conferences before as well as national blogging conferences, so it wasn’t my first rodeo as far as navigating session options, eating schedules, and meeting with people. However, I don’t think I was prepared for how affirming this conference would be for me as a professional.
If you are an English teacher and you are on the fence about going to a conference like NCTE and/or ALAN, here are some of the highlights:
The Exhibit Hall
The first thing I did on Friday after I checked into my hotel and checked in at conference registration, was hit the exhibit hall. The Exhibit Hall was open all three days of NCTE and included a ton of different publishers and other educational companies like Crayola and Booksource. Most booths had free teacher resources and advanced reader copies (arc) of books that will be released in 2017. Many of the major publishers (Scholastic, Penguin, etc) also brought in some of their authors for book signings. I shipped home two boxes full of mostly books for my classroom library from what I picked up in the Exhibit Hall.
Plus I met Dav Pilkey (author of the Captain Underpants books), so now my own children think I am some sort of hero.
I don’t think I was prepared for how affirming this conference would be for me as a professional Click To Tweet
NCTE has a spectacular selection of breakout sessions that begin Thursday at noon and run all-day, every day through Sunday afternoon. You can be as busy or as relaxed about attending these as you want to be. I focused my Saturday on presenting and attending sessions. Since I didn’t arrive in Atlanta until Friday, I made Saturday my big day of sessions: I presented two and attended two. The hardest part about this was trying to decide what I wanted to attend. There were at least five in each time slot that I would have liked to participate in.
The Scholastic Dinner
Saturday evening Scholastic hosts a turkey dinner to thank so many educators for giving up the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend at a professional conference. There is no sign-up or RSVP; you just show up and get a great free dinner. It was great food, fun conversation with other educators and friends, and a wonderful way to feel appreciated as a teacher.
ALAN Author’s Reception
For a book nerd like me, this may have been one of my most favorite parts of my entire trip to Atlanta. On Sunday night, the night before the ALAN conference officially starts, ALAN hosts an author reception. This is a cocktail hour with hors d’oeuvres where attendees can meet and mingle with the YA authors who are present. I admit, I totally fangirled. I was on a mission to shake hands and talk to all of my favorites: Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, A.S. King, Laurie Halse Anderson, David Levithan, Eric Gansworth, Neil Shusterman (who eluded me! Ugg!) and more.
The ALAN Conference
I only stayed for Day 1 of the ALAN conference (it’s two days) because I had to get home so I could teach on Tuesday, but that one day was intense and exhilarating. It was the perfect way to end my time in Atlanta. After checking in with registration, we were all handed a giant box and a bag of books. Combined with the ones I shipped home from the exhibit hall, I ended up adding a total of eighty-eight new books to my classroom library–all for free!
The keynote speaker was A.S. King and she made me want to stand up and shout AMEN! She is such a champion for kids needing books and stories that reflect themselves. She is a champion for letting kids choose what to read and how to write. Following Ms. King was Matt de la Peña. He talked about perspective and complexity of empathy. I was so inspired by both authors (I had previously been able to speak to both during NCTE and thank them for writing books that my students love).
Kids need books and stories that reflect themselves. Click To Tweet
The day continued with panels of YA authors speaking about themes or topics in their books: Jason Reynolds and Ibi Zoboi discussed the weight and complexity of the label “urban fiction;” Eric Gansworth was on a panel of Native American YA authors discussing the need to decolonize our classroom libraries; Sara Zarr answered questions about writing about families, and MT Anderson spoke about breaking rules.
After the authors spoke, they were set up at tables to sign copies of their books (that were included in the box/bag we received as we came in). I really thought spending the day with authors was maybe just for me, but it really solidified my purpose of putting quality, diverse books in my students’ hands. It lifted me up as an educator because it backed up everything I believe about loving my students enough to be invested in helping them become readers.
Next year, NCTE/ALAN will be in St. Louis, Missouri. I would encourage you to either submit a session proposal (due by Jan 5, 2017) or to attend. It’s by far the most quality, inspiring, career-affirming professional development you can do.
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