We didn’t fly out of St. Louis until later on Sunday, so we were able to catch some sessions prior to leaving. I stood in line to get into the book hall (and let me tell you, that thing was intense), went to sessions, and functioned as a partial zombie due to lack of sleep.
It was great.
Dark Corners & Dead Girls: Inviting the Supernatural into Our Classrooms
I feel like the title speaks for itself in this case. This morning session covered the eerie, spooky books and stories our students all love. The presenters in this session discussed the obsession students have with the supernatural and the lack of it within the classrooms. Kids clamor for horror, but we tend to shut the door on the very thought of allowing kids to read “dark” texts. Educators were challenged to re-think their closed mindset on these stories and allow kids to choose their own texts, even if they are of the horror variety.
My biggest takeaway from this session was the paper bag test. How have I never heard of this before?! The gist is simple: find objects that correlate with whatever novel or story you are reading, put an item into each bag, set a bag on each student’s desk, and have students write how the objects interact with the story they read. This assessment tool allows authentic answers to be made while students craft responses. It’s one I will definitely explore once I am in my own classroom.
Books Save Lives — Jason Reynolds, LHA, Matt de la Pena, etc.
This panel was, again, amazing. I was only able to stay for this first part before skipping out to catch my flight, but the panel was full of wonderful speakers who care about our students and their lives.
Matt de la Pena made an observation that should be obvious but often times isn’t: “You never know what books can do, good or bad.” How true is that? We often don’t realize the impact a book can have because it didn’t touch us the way it touches others. We bring our own personal experiences to the stories we read, so it only makes sense that we will read them and respond differently. This is why censorship is such a large issue today. Censoring books sends the message that we censor people, and nothing about that is okay. Books should be used to build up; censorship only tears down.
Jason Reynolds is an angel. If it isn’t clear yet, I attended a lot of his sessions. Like a lot. He speaks with such eloquence and power that I was scrambling to copy down every single thing that came out of his mouth. He alone might have been worth the price of attending NCTE.
Here are some of his thoughts from the session:
- We have a hard time dealing with human emotion that makes us uncomfortable
- It’s easy to say peace, but when your peace is challenged, other aspects of humanity begin to show themselves.
- It’s foolish to pretend that our kids don’t see things that are hard.
- Books give us (and our hearts) the opportunity to thaw. They help us grapple with human emotions
- Banning books that discuss difficult topics just continues the fears and perpetuates systemic racism. It takes away the important voices that we need to hear.
- “We are afraid to talk about it, so we ban it. We can’t talk about sex or violence, but kids can go home and simulate war all night on video games.”
The literature we read makes us the people we are. Reading as a mirror is great and helps us to understand who we are, but reading through a window allows us to view others and the struggles and triumphs they have as well. Had I not read Little Peach by Peggy Kern I would never have had my eyes open to the business of sex trafficking and the impact it can have on an individual. If I had never read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, I would never feel the tug between cultures and the prevalent systemic racism that occurs even in my area of the country.
Books teach respect, empathy, and love. They show us humanity – both good and bad – and challenge us to look into ourselves and see how well we are treating others and recognizing the bad that happens in our lives. Reading diversely and voraciously creates a society that is empathetic and knowledgeable; what more could you want?
Thank you, NCTE, for the 60,000+ steps in 3.5 days. Thank you for the new tools, tricks, and methods of presenting material. Thank you for igniting the spark to teach again after a long semester. Thank you for making me believe in my abilities.
Thank you, NCTE, for making me a better educator. I’m excited to return.