Overcast skies and light traffic greeted me as I dropped off I-35 and wove through the surface streets of downtown San Antonio. The robotic directions from my navigation app contrasted with the view of a city whose facades resemble a city from a century ago. San Antonio, Texas, is a city from the past, reluctantly relenting to the technological whims of the near future.
With ILA having visited Austin this summer and NCTE’s stop in Houston in the fall, this has been a big year for conference opportunities. South Texas teachers may not have this confluence of conferences again for a long time, if ever. How lucky I am that these opportunities coincided with my coaching retirement.
While the setting was a history lesson, the message that Jason Reynolds delivered on Friday could not be more prescient. He spoke of humility, intimacy, and gratitude – ideas I need to weave into my lessons, for the kids and for me. (Also, we learned a lot about dealing with distractions from his talk, but that was one of those “teachable moments”).
Jason Reynolds was a tough act to follow, but I gave it my best shot and, for the first time ever, I presented solo outside of Clear Creek ISD. My time slot, late afternoon on Friday, gave me the false impression that the only people in the room would be my close friends and myself. As the room filled up, I experienced a bout of nervousness, but the subject of my presentation, research writing, overcame my hesitations.
The General Session, Saturday morning, ended with a presentation from the Franki Sibberson, President of NCTE. She spoke about authentic digital literacy and what that mode really looks like in the lives of our kids and the ways in which we can support their digital expression. Oftentimes, I’ve found, the true use of technology as an enhancement of our classroom experience is a difficult target to hit. Sibberson’s talk pushed me to focus my aim.
Jimmy Santiago Baca spoke the hard truth and infused all those attending the Saturday lunch session with an awareness of systemic racism and how it affects our students and us. He opened eyes and hearts with his words, both spoken and written. Learn more about his story here.
Saturday also afforded the opportunity to watch my colleagues work. Dr. Helen Becker and Megan Thompson, women who lead the ELA department at Clear Creek High School, a place in which I am blessed to work, spoke about how books written in verse allow struggling students access to their literacy. Rave reviews followed and their effectiveness was evident.
That session immediately preceded one delivered by our own Amy Rasmussen, extolling the virtues of choice and student centered learning. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from Amy time and again, and I always leave feeling fulfilled but wanting more. She lives workshop and inspires teachers like me to do the same.
My convention experience come to a close with Jeff Anderson. (Dear Penny Kittle: Don’t worry, you are still my #1.) This was my first time to watch him present and, while I’ve learned a great deal from his books, seeing him in person lifted my understanding of writing instruction to another level. His message about authentic writing and revising learning opportunities spoke directly to my teacher heart and forced me to embrace my instructional inadequacies. Just last week, pointing at my compound sentence anchor chart, reminding the kids they know how to fix run-on sentences, a student filled the air with the term “FANBOYS” and I failed that child miserably when I corrected him by calling them coordinating conjunctions. Anderson took me to school, which is what I needed, and my kids will be better for it.
Once again, I left an ELA focused conference feeling invigorated and excited, missing my kiddos and looking forward to seeing them again on Monday.
An important side note that I can’t help sharing is that I also drove away from the conference feeling an even deeper conviction to support our ELA organizations. I want to extend an invitation to all of our Texas high school ELA teachers to join us in the TCTELA High School Session. If you want to help out and join our collaborative effort, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you because your voice is critical. Maybe more so now than ever before.
Charles Moore is reinvigorated by the connections and conversations from TCTELA 2019. He’s excited to take on a new role as the leader of the High School Session of TCTELA. If you want to check out his tweeted experience, look no further than @ctcoach. If you want inspiration about the importance of literacy instruction, look to those amazing educators around you…and don’t forget to look within yourself.