Last Friday, I attended and presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) annual fall conference held in Lansing, Michigan. This was my third consecutive year attending and presenting at a professional conference after many, many years of not going at all. I do not think it’s a coincidence that the past three years have also been my best, most inspired years of my teaching career.
For eleven years, I taught high school English–mainly juniors and seniors–in my district. In what would be my final year as a high school teacher, I voluntarily attended a workshop with Penny Kittle. It was there that not only a new love of teaching was inspired, but also a renewed quest for best practice, research-based teaching strategies and self-betterment as a teacher. I had forgotten the value of getting out of the classroom every once in awhile to learn new techniques and practices.
That summer after I learned I would be moving to our junior high to teach eighth grade English, I voluntarily signed up for a workshop with Donalyn Miller. I was officially hooked on workshops and conferences. That fall I officially got back into the habit of attending yearly English teacher conferences by going to MCTE. Being around great teachers and having real conversations about what works best in the classroom is not just inspirational, it’s essential for keeping my own practices from getting stagnant and ineffective.
The keynote speakers alone are worth the price of the ticket (which my district pays for because they value good professional development too!) This year Nancie Atwell, the winner of the 2015 Global Teacher Prize and author of the renowned book In the Middle, was the morning keynote. As my colleague and fellow presenter commented, listening to Atwell talk about teaching reading and writing is like getting guitar lessons from Hendrix. She is a master. Last year Jeffery Willhelm spoke about how choice reading is a social justice issue. And in 2014, Penny Kittle spoke on the importance of giving students choice and time to read.
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