I left on a jet plane. I know I’ll be back again on Sunday, but I’m not going to let knowing that the hallelujah teacher revival known as NCTE will come to an end damper my spirits. There’s a lot of rightful frustration and negativity surrounding our annual gathering this year. I’ve decided not to let that drag me into the doldrums either. Why? Because. I’m. Totally. Selfish. There. I said it. I NEED NCTE.
I need NCTE for so many reasons, the least of which is not doing some deep thinking and tough self-analysis to hone my teaching. But more than anything, I need NCTE for the same reason I’ve needed it since I began attending the conference a decade ago: I need my people. I need my people to vindicate my beliefs. I need my people lift my spirits and reenergize me. I need my people so that I know I am not in the battle for child-centered, progressive education alone. I need my people to hold my hands as we rededicate ourselves to the cause for all children because, though it gets disheartening to stay the course, I still believe.
I still believe that children become better readers because they spend increasingly more time with increasingly complex texts – both those they read and those that are read to them – and have all the time in the world to talk about them, not because they practice discrete skills through endless mouse clicks. Speaking of those mouse clicks, I still believe that the best way to assess young readers is for a real teacher to sit next to them with real texts and listen. I still believe there is no substitute. I still believe children need teachers who listen and books that speak. I still believe that carefully curated classroom libraries are the most essential component of nurturing lifelong readers and, incidentally, educators living in the opportunity gap.
I still believe that readers are made in the loving arms of other readers. Hence all young kids, but especially those who are experiencing word poverty, need to be read to all day, every day at school. I still believe that oral language is the foundation of all knowledge, but especially all literacies. I still believe that because of this and SO many other reasons, kids need to be provided with authentic opportunities to engage in thoughtful conversation, which means they must have sacred, uninterrupted choice time every single day that teachers guard with their lives. So, yeah, I believe that reading aloud to children and play are intervention!
I still believe that anyone who says they are preparing kids for “the future” while prioritizing their interactions with computers over those with books, repeatedly presenting children with texts where they do not see themselves, and engaging in any practice that suggests that one size fits all – you know, a script – has lost their way. I still believe that anyone who says they value human diversity in all its forms while imposing a narrow definition of success on all children and failing to provide access to the resources needed to achieve that success is fooling themselves. I still believe that our education system as a whole, not necessarily its parts, is colonizing the minds of our children and their families.
I still believe that words do not bring realities into existence no matter how great they sound. I still believe that actions – our collective, everyday ones – are what matter most. I still believe that we teachers, not I or you, who work with children day in and out, are the smartest in the room and ought to be the ones who decide what happens to the kids in our care. I still believe that those of us who fail to think and reflect in the company of others are enacting violence.
I believe all of these things because I believe in children. And I believe children are the truth. I’ve got their backs! The research does, too!
#ncte17, I’m coming for you. I’m coming to get my learn on. I’m coming to get my deep conversation on. I’m coming to get my solidarity on. I’m coming to get my hugs! And, you know it, I’m coming with an empty bag to get me some of dem free books. (Yeah, I still believe in being a teacher vulture, too!) And then I’m gonna go back home with the progressive teacher blues, yet renewed and ready to wage on, beliefs intact.