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NCTE November: Embracing the Professional Journey

By Pauline Schmidt

For years, I heard about NCTE during my undergraduate and masters programs, but I could never afford to go. The schools where I was teaching didn’t support teachers traveling for professional development (or if they did, I didn’t know about it); and, I didn’t have the voice to advocate for myself…yet. Once I went back to the University at Buffalo for my doctorate, I knew I’d find a way to get there!

In the Fall of 2007, everything came together. I could get a relatively inexpensive flight from Buffalo to NYC, a tiny hotel room near the conference, and the college where I was teaching had funding to support faculty travel. So, there I was, six months pregnant with my daughter, and preparing for my FIRST national conference. I paid the extra $20 to get the program mailed to me ahead of time and went to town highlighting and tabbing pages for ALL the sessions I’d plan to attend! It was a challenge, but I had a session selected for every time slot! After all these years of missed opportunities, I was going to make the most of this experience!

In my excitement, I didn’t realize that some of the sessions were held at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square and some were held at the Javits Convention Center (about a mile away from one another). I had to quickly revise my plan to accommodate for the travel time, but still successfully attended meaningful keynote addresses and smaller, more intimate roundtable sessions. I knew, without a doubt, I would never miss this opportunity again.

Pictured above (from left to right) are authors Gregory Maguire, Amy Tan, and author-educator-hero, Jonathan Kozol.

I have kept my word. I have not missed the NCTE Annual Conference since that first experience. I waited until 2009 to submit a proposal to present – mostly because I was still working on my dissertation & wasn’t sure what I’d present. I was invited to share the results of my study at the WILLA (Women in Literacy and Life Assembly, now called Gender and Literacy Assembly) session. The teacher that I wrote about agreed to co-present with me, and here we are in Philadelphia:

Since this time, I have certainly grown in my approach and in my professional network as well. I have presented in a variety of sessions, chaired roundtable sessions for the Commission on Arts & Literacies, connected with people via social media, met some of my favorite authors, seen some really cool cities, and have even made the case to bring preservice teachers to the conference as well! I’ve received funding from WCU to support and mentor the experience for our students. Here they are in Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis, and Houston!

What I’ve realized about the conference over the years, is just how much I missed in my early years; I can’t go back in time, but I can get as many of my preservice teachers to see how valuable this annual experience is. As we prepare for this year’s conference, I shared some of my tips.

Tips for First-Timers:

  • You can’t do it all, so don’t even try! Plan for a rich experience, but know when to take a break.
  • If you are flying, back your smaller suitcase into your bigger one and then you will have space for all the books and goodies you will bring back.
  • Pick 1-3 sessions for each time frame. If you are in a session that doesn’t seem to be what you thought it was, quietly leave and head to one of your other choices. Remember, you are in control of this learning & this professional development.
  • Bring your writers’ notebook and your favorite pens! You are going to want to take notes!
  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring snacks that you can eat in between sessions. Of course, stay hydrated!
  • Enjoy the downtime – conversations in line at the exhibit hall – eating lunch with friends. It’s all part of the experience.
  • Don’t forget to experience the host city! Check out a local restaurant or bookstore or one of the local attractions.