I always enjoy the annual conventions of the National Council of Teachers of English. I’ve been attending them since 1991, give or take a couple I may have missed. This year’s NCTE Convention was especially meaningful for a few reasons. I wanted to take some time to reflect on what I’ve observed and learned.
My Six Take-Aways
1: Is there a larger number of colleagues of color at NCTE?
I *think* the profession is finally beginning to see more people of color involved. The number of presenters and attendees of color seems to have increased, and the amount of discussion about confronting racism and being anti-racist seems to have increased as well. There is much more work to be done to ensure the profession is a better reflection of the ethnic make up of the nation, but I think we are seeing some progress. I say this as a white man, who sees through the lens of a white man. I am not in a place to make a judgment beyond my personal impressions about these movements, what’s needed and what is considered real progress.
We need to hear from people of color and follow their leads. I am only sharing my impression that we are making some progress. I hope I’m right. Let’s keep going. If you are a white reader interested in learning more about anti-racism, check out this post: Two Books All (White) English Teachers Should Read. And think about reading these books, too: White Fragility and How to Be Less Stupid about Race.
2: Are we hearing more from African American Colleagues at NCTE?
Teachers of color, particularly African American teachers, appear to be speaking more often and with more impact. There seemed to be far more critical truths spoken at this year’s NCTE. It seems like groups such as Cultivating New Voices, the Black Caucus, the powerful women behind
#DisruptTexts, and other anti-racist, pro-teachers of color activists may be helping people of color to be more empowered and encouraging more white teachers to hear them. I think there are more teachers of color showing leadership in sessions, as presenters, in official leadership positions, and on social media. This is
something our profession–and the nation’s students–need. Challenging statements are made, ill-informed statements are confronted, and eyes & ears are opened. When teachers of color are empowered, they raise important problems and suggest valuable solutions. For example, a pair of teachers (also two co-founders of #DisruptTexts) even led a successful effort to fund day passes to NCTE for Houston teachers who were not able to afford them; thank you, Lorena Germán (@nenagerman)and Julia Torres (@juliaerin80)! Thanks to their creativity and leadership, this initiative will likely be systematized for future conferences and will remain an important part of NCTE activism. What empowers teachers of color actually and ultimately empowers all teachers and students.
I hope I am correct about this positive trend and that it continues. I know there is much more work to be done.
3: Get on Twitter!
If you are not on Twitter, you are missing a great deal of what goes on at NCTE. Take a look at the hashtags
#NCTE2018 and #NCTE18 to see all kinds of important reflections, responses, enhancements, and actions related to NCTE events.
For example, I learned on Twitter that there was a panel of authors in which one author went off on a homophobic and racist rant and another author and some audience members reacted powerfully to that author. A very useful and significant conversation
developed on Twitter, including a statement from NCTE and some reactions to that statement by NCTE groups. This is an important conversation. In other examples, audience members tweet information from presenters, and people at (or not at) the session can respond to those tweets with support, relevant links and other information, or with useful critique. Whether you attend the NCTE Convention or not, get on Twitter. It’s become an incredibly valuable medium for communication among active English teachers.
4: Cultural Appropriation is not tolerated
Cultural appropriation will be called out–and should be. Colleagues, be aware that when you present on a topic, if it’s not a topic for which you are an “authentic” speaker, you should be prepared for public critique. It’s not enough for people to present on a topic that hasn’t been represented fully; people who are “authentic” representatives of that perspective (and other NCTE members) will expect to be a significant part of that presentation. If you are someone who cares about a culture that you are not a member of and you want to participate on a panel about it, be sure to invite very significant “authentic” voices to be the main speakers of the panel; even better, agree to chair a panel and put in the work to propose the panel, but let the “authentic” voices be the presenters. This is a way to use power to create space for the underrepresented topic and members of that culture.
I’m aware that the idea of an “authentic” voice or perspective is complicated. That’s why I have the word in scare quotes. That said, sometimes it’s not so complicated. Don’t speak for others. Instead, create space for them to speak to us themselves.
5: Getting Promoted from Associate Professor to Professor
Right before the NCTE Convention, I was promoted from associate professor to professor (sometimes called “full professor”) after being an associate professor for probably an unusually long time (15 years). Quite a few peer college teachers came up to me at NCTE to mention that they feel or felt “stuck” at the associate rank and were happy to see me move out of it. There are
many reasons some people are long-time associate professors, and often it has nothing to do with how productive they are as scholars and teachers. It has more to do with institutional politics or policies, or even personal situations. Sometimes promotion policies can change very suddenly and very dramatically, rendering someone who would easily have been promoted last year now far from eligible. Also, promotion requirements differ vastly from one institution to the next.
It would be a valuable service to some NCTE members to have some conversations about this situation. Perhaps there could be some mentoring of associate professors. Even just providing a space for associate professors to gather to share information and stories about these situations would be helpful.
6: The Privilege of Attending NCTE
Attending the NCTE Convention is an honor and a privilege. For some teachers, it can be a profession-changing experience: teachers meet their favorite authors, get access to tons of new books, meet editors, develop a national professional network and a few very close friends. I wouldn’t miss it. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to attend. High cost, lack of time off, no access to child care, and many other obstacles may prevent teachers from being able to attend NCTE. Those of us lucky enough to attend should work to expand
this privilege to our colleagues. We can donate funds, share materials and experiences, become more involved in state and local NCTE events (if we are not already) and we can be activist. We know that attending NCTE can greatly enhance a teacher’s quality. We should encourage local school boards and state and local government agencies to support teachers attending professional conventions in their fields of study. For too long, educational leaders (of many kinds) have been able to attend conferences, but the teachers in the classrooms have not. We all need to work to change that.
NCTE results from a ton of work of hundreds of people. Thanks to all the NCTE leaders, staff, and exhibitors, who put so much preparation work into this great conference. Thank you to all the presenters, tweeters, and participants who make the NCTE Convention such a wonderful experience. 2018 will be always be a stand-out year for me, I think, but 2019 might be even better!
Hope to see you in Baltimore! The theme is Spirited Inquiry. How about submitting a proposal?
I’d love to hear responses in the comments to my reflections above, whether they be supportive, enhancing, or challenging. One of the best things about NCTE is the engaged discussions. Thanks to any who take the trouble to contribute.