As a new teacher, I fancy myself an expert at being overwhelmed. I find myself inundated most days with involuntary illusions of industry (if it’s wrong of me to alliterate so copiously, I don’t want to be right). In other words, I make a strong effort to become as busy as possible because I feel obligated to do so in order to meet: deadlines, potential, standards, personal goals and professional contacts. I use the word “illusion” merely to imply that not every inch of ink I intend to write is invaluable to or interned by others, but in an introspective state I might consider their worth infinitely. Okay, I promise to stop alliterating now; the wrong person could do a character count and measure my “Is” and conclude I’m a bit selfish.
As incredible and infuriating as the first eleven weeks of my teaching experience have been, this weekend easily measured up. I am fortunate enough to have a district who will pay for teachers to go to local and national professional conferences. I got to fly to Philadelphia for the National Council of Teachers of English 2009 Annual Convention with several staff members. I was excited to see Julie Andrews and Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz more than anything. I ran out and bought The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao and immersed myself in its half-page footnotes. A little kid inside of me sang “Spoonful of Sugar” as I became giddy thinking about the celebrity of the events and people at NCTE.
Sadly, the chaos of the flight computer systems on the coast kept us from leaving Chicago O’Hare until hours after our intended departure. We missed Junot Diaz. I was mildly traumatized. I don’t think it’s possible to be jet-lagged from a one hour time-zone delay, but I felt a bit crabby about it. I heard through the grape vine that the only way I was meeting Julie Andrews was if I had a ticket (something I wasn’t aware of how to obtain). Still, I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the Philadelphia Convention Center as well as my textbook of a program; I started to think maybe I should’ve brought a special backpack just to carry it.
The scope of the workshop topics rivaled the venue’s square-footage easily. It may have been possible to cover every inch of convention floor with every page from every program. Every session and section offered a dizzying display of dialogue to dig into (maybe I should talk to someone about my alliteration problem, I can’t seem to control it). Thankfully, the cooperative learner I’ve been trained to be brings sticky notes everywhere (I think of them like blog comments or social bookmarks). I cracked open the spiral-bound giant and rappelled down into it, armed with my yellow flags. Anyone who knows semaphore would know I was immediately signaling for help!
In his own post-NCTE reflection, Alan Sitomer (whom I didn’t get to see speak) compares the feeling of being overwhelmed by so many “keen minds” like a post-Thanksgiving type of meal. I couldn’t put it any better. Being that it was my first convention I felt like a new member in the most welcoming and exciting family on Earth. I was being given so much all the time, that I had a hard time processing it all. I’m still processing in fact (warning: virtual memory full)! Maybe next year for NCTE 100 I’ll have a new netbook to cart around and I can do some mobile processing. More posts to follow dealing with more specific aspects of the convention, its topics, and their impact on my instruction and planning.