Saturday, November 29, 2008

NWP National Conference 2008

I started to write a blog entry about being at the NWP national conference in San Antonio several times. And, to be brutally honest, they all sucked. Big time.

I read and reread them trying to figure out why they sucked so much. Basically it came down to all of them being some variation of a report of my notes taken in various sessions. And those notes, in contrast to most of the sessions, were boring. I wanted a blog entry that was something more than a dry report of my sessions. That kind of recap will be done in a different forum.

I thought about writing about my time spent with friends from my writing project. Then I rethought that. We had a lot of intensely personal discussions that are not fodder for a public blog posting. I will say that we need to work on getting everyone to row in the same direction. Also, an end to the circular firing squads would be a positive step as well.

So, what to write about? I decided to go meta. I asked the big question to myself and now will try to work out the answer. The big question(s): Why do I come to these conferences? What do I get out of them?

Being a teacher can be a lonely job. I am surrounded by students all day and rarely get to interact with my peers on a professional level (Let’s face it, most school conversations quickly devolve into bitching sessions.). Being at these conferences lets me interact more professionally. I am seen as a valued, knowledgeable colleague and treated that way. I get to talk about deeper educational issues than I do at home. At this conference in particular, I was able to not just express my personal interest in social justice issues, but share with a tableful of people who all shared that common interest. And to discuss ways of integrating these ideals into a classroom setting.

Every year I get to meet with friends from previous years and friends from a listserv I am a member of. I get to socialize and be a grown-up, no mean trick if you are the father of a rambunctious five year old. I can have some time to try to concentrate for more than a few minutes.

I get a feeling of renewal attending these events. I feel a little more charged up, a little more optimistic, a little more eager to try different ideas and approaches in the classroom.

I also regain a deeper appreciation of my wife and daughter. I love them dearly, but sometimes get so absorbed in my teaching I take them for granted. Being away from them for several days reminds me on a visceral level now much they mean to me and how much their absence hurts.

So I get some professional insights, some site work done, some socializing, and a renewed appreciation of family right before Thanksgiving. Not a bad pay back for my attendance.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Brief Digression

I went all off my plans today. I had to. Most of the students I teach are African American. Last night, for the first time, an African American was elected President of the United States.

When I was five years old my mother sat me down in front of our tiny little black and white TV. Even though I wanted to out and play, she wouldn’t let me. She told me to sit there and watch what was going on. It was important; it was historic. That’s why I still have memories of seeing Neil Armstrong bouncing around up on the moon. My mother knew history was being made and wanted me to be a witness to it.

In 1990 I was up in the middle of the night aimlessly flipping through the channels when I stopped on CNN. They were reporting live about an unprovoked attack on a country named Kuwait by the dictator Saddam Hussein of Iraq. Even then I had a premonition of doom. This premonition was made reality a few months later as I was again watching CNN and watched the bombing of Baghdad. Listening to the three reporters in that hotel room I again knew that I was watching a history changing event.

It is so rare in our lives that we see something of truly historic importance. It is even more rare when we realize at the time it is occurring that the event is that huge and important. Last night, as I watched the election returns come in and Barack Obama make a steady march from three electoral votes to over 300 electoral votes, I again knew this was a reality changer. Our country had crossed a threshold it could never uncross. We had elected an African American to the highest office of our land.

So today I showed them the video of President-Elect Obama’s victory speech.

I talked about history and the importance of history. And I told my students to write what they thought about this event and how they felt about it. I let them know it was not going to be published. It was more personal than that. I gave them a chance to share in small groups or pairs if they wanted to. Two of my classes were noticeably quiet after that announcement.

After they had finished I gave each student an envelope. I told them to write their names and something about what was inside (Election 08, Obama Wins, etc.) and to put the letter inside the envelope. In each class several wanted to know if they were to lick the envelope. It was up to them. I finished by telling them to take it home and put it somewhere safe. That in 10 or 20 years it would be very meaningful to them. If they ever have kids or grandkids ask them about this historic day, they can pull out what they wrote today.

I thought this digression was well worth it.