Slice of Life: NCTE16 — a privilege and a necessity

Today I sat, sifting through the words, ideas, and images of NCTE16.
The sense of urgency and responsibility is overwhelming.
Now more than ever, teachers need to honor words that matter to students.

Students need words that make them think; they need opportunities to share their thinking, their stories. If we don’t, we will lose what we cherish most. We will take away our children’s ability to interact and think critically. We will take away their freedom.

Classrooms have to be spaces of light. That’s our revolution. What you do on Monday at 8:30 is gonna change the world.
Ernest Morrell 

I spoke with Tamia, a 7th grader from Atlanta about books. In a roundtable discussion,  she asked us, why don’t teachers consider graphic novels books? Why aren’t there more of them in her school library?

Why not?  In the exhibition hall, I saw beautiful graphic novelizations of Darwin’s Origin of Species and Fahrenheit 451.  Reading is about thinking. These books provide access critical ideas. Why not?


I listened to Tamia and other middle school students who came to ask teachers those “why not” and “how come” questions about learning, technology, bullying, and books. They want to know, and they want to take action. Middle schoolers matter. It was an honor to hear their words. I hope we gave back a fraction of what we got. I am grateful to them, to their teachers, and to Chris Lehman and Roz Linder for the opportunity to listen.


I came home with the words of children, poets, novelists, educators, and dear friends. They fill my notebook and book bag,  my mind and heart with energy for the students who walk into the classroom every day, every year.

Words heal, grow and can make a change in the world. Here are some of the words I heard this year at NCTE.

Books are a safe place to practice out life. Readers bring themselves to the book. Readers make the book better.
Linda Sue Park

We don’t know how our words will affect others.
Kirby Larson

The (character’s) journey is an echo reaching out into the world. The music fades, but it stays inside you.
Augusta Scattergood

You have to allow yourself to be imperfect. Err on the side of love
Irene Latham

We all can do something, and it is with the small things we do. We can give students opportunities to write about what is happening in the world.  We take these opportunities and write from it.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Value students for their values, their beliefs. I  want to see you who you are as a human being.
Laura Shovan

Metaphor is how poets survive in difficult times. We can speak in metaphors. You can’t stop words.
Margarita Engle

Dig for truth. Ask, what is our truth? Understand sorrow, grief, build empathy, and compassion.  Become engaged in the world. Sow the seeds of advocacy and empowerment by unpacking poems to find the meaning
Tara Smith

Literacy is democracy.
Pam Allyn 

We have to be courageous in the hope that we can move forward. We (teachers, librarians, writers) are the purveyors of hope. We need the courageousness to become more human.
Kwame Alexander

 One of the virtues is courage is the willingness to take risks. We need to have self-love when there is so much self-hatred. We need self-love and self-recognition. What was considered politically correct, may become very politically unpopular. We will manifest our courage when we decide who are we communing with.
— Ernest Morrell 

If we want children to think: shift to meaning-based reading conferences. It’s about the meaning the student is making. We weave what we understand. To weave and unweave our understanding along the way. Comprehension, understanding, and evaluation happen at the same time.
Vicki Vinton

Until the student speaks, nothing can be done in the writing conference. When we invite them to talk, we are asking the student to construct a narrative about themselves as a writer. We need to guide students to keep creating that narrative of themselves as a writer.
Carl Anderson

Essay is transformative
Writing about things you dare not write about
Buried truths
Edgy truth
Freedom and excitement
Essay as journey
Writing to think
People can use words as a language as thinking.
It is inviting for a reader.
It makes it interesting to follow.
It is literature because it has an idea.
It circles around an idea.
It may come to a realization, but it might open up a whole can of worms.
It has a voice.  We fall in love with the voice.
It takes a risk.
— A professional, personal risk.
— Potential of feeling shame.
— Opening up to coming to know ourselves and each other.
— To find ways to make us human
Writers are not born; they are made.
Katherine Bomer

We are our students’ representatives of hope.
We are there to help negotiate the dips and peaks.
We do it with words.
Plan on NCTE next year. It is a place to clarify the mission and to fuel teachers for the work.

NCTE. It is a privilege and a necessity.