In which Jess and Karla reflect on the weird and wonderful experience of bringing WVCTE to the WV Book Festival...
Jess: On October 28th and 29th, Karla and I brought WVCTE to the West Virginia Book Festival. Our goal was to promote WVCTE, connect with educators in the Southern and central part of the state, and educate teachers and book lovers alike about our mission, purpose, and reason for existence. When reviving WVCTE, we knew that reaching beyond our geographic homebase would be a challenge, and the Book Festival seemed like the ideal place to spread some English teacher love.
So, armed with a banner, some brilliant rack cards, a t-shirt no book lover could refuse, and some sweet bargain-bin, battery-operated lights, Karla and I descended on Charleston, WV like a couple of book-loving, English-teaching valkyries ready to scoop any English teacher interested in our WVCTE Valhalla.
.Karla: Here’s how a typical conversation between me and Jess goes down:
Me: I don’t know, dude. Do you think people will actually want to talk to us about this?
Jess: Of course they’ll want to talk to us! Look at our shirts!
Me: I mean, teachers don’t want one more thing to do. Do they? They’re already overextended and underpaid. But this is a good thing! Teachers do so many good things together!
Jess: Karla, if we don’t like what we see when we look at the world, it’s our job to change it.
Karla: [thought bubbles of inspiration]
So, here we are...
The Festival Day 1
Jess: First, let me just say, that Karla crushed it on our booth display. I’m sure you saw our barrage of tweets, but just check out these pics of our booth below:
Great, right? Our space looked awesome.
The crowd on day 1 was a little thin, but we did manage to connect with a few teachers on Friday. One of my favorite parts of Friday was hanging out with our new pal and YA novelist, Craig Halloran. You can read more about Craig HERE. Check out him and his amazing booth below! Here's an excerpt of my favorite Craig Halloran conversation:
Me: So what's this book about? I love the cover!
Craig: It's a post-apocalyptic novel. But here's the twist: DRAGONS.
**Craig, you had me a dragons.
Karla: Jess is right. The booth was bangin’, and Craig Halloran is the bomb. So, as you can imagine, I had some fun stringing lights, artfully arranging t-shirts, and chatting it up with our battle ax wielding neighbor.
But here’s the weird conversation I found myself in more than once on Friday: defending STEM education. I’m teaching Honors English 10 within Spring Mills High School’s STEAM Academy (which you can read a bit about here and here), and as weird and counter to my teacher-MO for all these years, I talked to some folks about how creativity is alive and well in our schools, and how creativity is thriving in STEAM education.
What I realized is: you can live in both worlds. You can be an English teacher and support science and math, and you can be super duper STEM-y and support the arts. There’s room for all of us.
The Meet and Greet
Jess: The idealists that we are, in addition to our Marketplace Booth, we planned a meet and greet for Black Sheep Burrito for the first night of the festival, Oct. 27th. Our plan was to give interested teachers a chance to stop by for free drinks and burritos, and current members to participate in a Shakespearean Lesson Plan Swap. This restaurant is awesome--cool atmosphere and great waitstaff. But though, we had a lot of interest in the event, our only show was Kayla from Hurricane! (Yay, Kayla!)
Still, we had a great time, and plan on making this an annual event. And Kayla gave us a ton of great feedback on how WVCTE can service the southern and central part of the state.
Karla: A few things became clear at our Black Sheep meet-and-greet. One: Kayla from Hurricane is lovely and awesome. Two: current, engaging, and relevant domain-specific professional development is needed in West Virginia. Three: Curry burritos exist and we should be able to buy them anywhere.
Although we didn’t have a big turn out, for me, the meet-and-greet was great -- right up my ally. I love hanging out with teachers and talking shop. And talking shop about different approaches to teaching Shakespeare over a few brews? Even better. I find teachers fascinating and inspiring, and I always feel like I end up walking away with more ideas than I offered.
If this sounds like anything you like to do, then you should totally join us for the next lesson swap social.
Day 2: So Much Awesome
Jess & Karla: Day 2 of the Festival was hopping. And it was a busy, amazing, weird, wonderful, and productive day.
Let’s start with some weird:
Jess: Weird thing number 1: My phone vanished. Really, readers of this blog don’t need to know more than this caused to run around like a crazy person for the first hour of our busiest day at the Festival, only to discover it in the mulch outside our hotel. (Pro-tip: Don’t sling your purse off your shoulder to the ground before throwing your suitcase into the car.)
Karla: Weird thing number 2: Everybody thinks English teachers want to talk about Garrison Keillor. Don’t get me wrong. We LOVE Garrison Keillor, but it became pretty bizarre how many folks were like, “English teachers! Wow, too bad Garrison Keillor isn’t here.” (Garrison Keillor, if you're reading this: we love you.)
Jess and Karla: Weird thing number 3: People were really confused about what we were doing. There were folks who thought we were there to promote a book we wrote about teaching (we wish). There were folks who thought we were advocating for the speaking of ONLY English-- like that we were some sort of crazy language-purists. And there were folks who couldn’t believe that we were teachers who liked teaching and who wanted to talk to other teachers about it.
This became at first frustrating, but then cemented for us the need for our organization. If people are confused by teachers who genuinely LOVE their jobs, and who are using their free time to advocate for other teachers, then it becomes clear that West Virginia really needs WVCTE.
And now for the wonderful:
Jess: We saw so many “excited to see us” faces from both teachers and community members, including the former president of the Maine Council for Teachers of English Language Arts.
Karla: We met several fellow English teachers who enthusiastically asked how to join/become involved/spread the word. It was so nice to see how excited so many teachers were about the revival of this organization.
Jess: Authors are generous and inspiring, and they love English teachers! We got to chat with Newbery winner, Matt de la Pena; current voice of Appalachia, J.D. Vance: and the incredibly cool and wildly popular Maggie Stiefvater.
Karla: Books really do change lives. They impact people -- they speak to them, for them, about them. To say our books board was inspiring would be an understatement. People of all ages perused and pondered, contributed and considered. And did we mention that Matt de la Pena, J.D. Vance, and Maggie Stiefvater all posted their book picks?
Karla: The Book That Changed My Life Board was a great conversation starter, and I learned that Matt de la Pena and I share the same favorite vignette from The House on Mango Street: “Darius and the Clouds.” Here I am freaking out about it:
Jess: And finally, the last bit of wonderful is that the WV Book Festival itself is truly wonderful. I'm embarrassed to say that this was my first visit, AND I CAN'T BELIEVE I'VE NEVER GONE! It's really great. There were kids activities, a STEM center, a turtle lady, a live action Cinderella and Prince Charming, and mountains and mountains of used books for sale. In addition to the brilliant authors pictured above, there were many more with booth displays, signing books and chatting with book lovers, I walked away with my arms full of a stack of books, both new and used, and my heart full of all the book joy I was surrounded by all weekend.
Kudos to the Festival organizers! I can't wait for next year!
Karla: Ditto all that. And as a native of Hurricane, I doubly can't believe I've never been. My takeaway is this: West Virginia celebrates writing, writers, and their craft.
Realizing the Purpose of WVCTE
Jess and Karla:
We returned to work on Monday exhausted, but inspired. And after sorting and sifting through the mountains of contacts, business cards, and notes on the weekend, we realized that our two very busy days only cemented for us that by bringing WVCTE back to life, we are giving WV ELA teachers something they desperately want and need.
So here’s to the future of WVCTE. To connecting, learning, and growing together. We hope to see you at some of our upcoming events. Not a member? Consider joining! Get involved! And check out the list of tentative upcoming events below:
NCTE National Conference and Convention: Atlanta, GA
December 9, 2016: Holiday Book Swap at Domestic in Shepherdstown, WV
Bring a WRAPPED new or gently used book that you would recommend to someone else, and let the white elephant book swapping begin!
Spring 2017: TBD
October 2017: WV Book Festival and Lesson Plan Swap
March 2018: WVCTE state-wide ELA Conference: Dates and Location to be announced
By Karla Hilliard
Background: Teaching can be a lonely job.
Ever have that stuck feeling? It’s just you, your brain, and some ideas that are either genius or ridiculous, there’s no telling which? Ever have the unfortunate realization that you are more or less constantly surrounded by teenagers and now regularly use the words Same!, Right?, and It’s Lit? Ever want to FaceTime the teacher downstairs after something weird or wonderful happens in your classroom just to know another living, breathing, available adult “gets it”? Ever have someone pop their head into your classroom to find you singing this:
Yeah, me too.
For this week’s Best Thing, I give you: COLLABORATION. It is truly the best.
I teach Honors English 10 and English 10 at Spring Mills High School in our brand new STEAM Academy. Because 20% time is our guiding principle for STEAM enrichment, we spend every Friday, periods 1 through 4 as an 82-person class with four content teachers – Biology, Mathematics, Social Studies, and English (that’s me) wearing many hats, some of them uncomfortable (like anytime I have to math).
Like most everything, we learn by doing. And designing and running this academy is no exception. Some weeks, we know exactly the thing to do – the concepts to scaffold to, the seeds to sow, the supplies to gather. Some weeks, we have no idea. The four of us gather in my room in our STEAM-centric flexible seating and throw ideas at the wall to see which ones stick.
During one recent meeting, not many ideas were making it to the wall and not much was sticking. We knew where we needed to go: hydroponic gardening systems. We knew what we needed to do: design a challenge that highlighted for students the parts of a whole. We Googled, we Pinterest-ed, we took stock of our supplies: leftover papier-mâché, a disassembled Homecoming float, various cardboard, straws, popsicle sticks, some spaghetti noodles, and standard bio lab equipment and classroom supplies.
We hemmed and we hawed, we thought and we discussed, we became frustrated and weary. After some time of this, we turned off the Google machine and tapped into the real power of collaboration.
We began with the basics – Where are we going? What do the students most need? How can we effectively design a challenge that nurtures and grows these ideas?
Suddenly, our bio teacher says, “What about Rube Goldberg machines?! You know, they can see how one action causes another and how each one depends upon the next for the machine to function as a whole.”
What happened was collaborative magic. It was one of the most organic lessons we’ve pulled off. The next day, all 82 of our STEAM Academy students were tasked with building Rube Goldberg machines in three class periods using only the supplies they could find.
Here are a few results of the challenge and four STEAM teachers’ willingness to fight the good fight:
Karla Hilliard teaches STEAM Academy English and AP Literature and Composition at Spring Mills High School in Martinsburg, WV. She has been a classroom teacher for 11 years. When she isn't teaching, you can find Karla hanging with family, cooking up a good meal, reading up on educational trends, crocheting soft things, or eating spoonfuls of peanut butter.
Karla serves as Executive Vice President and Head of of Secondary Affairs for WVCTE and she is a contributing writer at www.movingwriters.org. See what's happening in her classroom at www.hilliardsclass.com or connect with her on Twitter @karlahilliard.
Background: Parking Lot, Spring Mills High School
It was Monday. I was grouchy. I got out of my car, juggling my coffee, school bag, and lunch box.
“Good morning, Mrs. Salfia!” called a young lady dressed like the Statue of Liberty. Another student walked by me wearing a giant Uncle Sam hat and a fake white beard. Around me a horde of red, white, and blue clad students filed into Spring Mills High. One young man zoomed past me, his American flag cape flapping behind him. All around me were wild costumes and excited chatter. I looked around at the joy spilling into and down the hallways, and I felt my bad mood dissipating.
It was ‘Merica Monday, the first day of Spirit Week.
The Best Thing: Spirit Week
For you non-teachers, Spirit Week is the week leading up to Homecoming, and most schools allow themed dress-up days. For teachers, Spirit Week is a difficult time to get any real intellectual heavy lifting done, but I’d like to argue that for many schools Spirit Week is one of the “Best Things” of the year.
Here’s why I love Spirit Week:
So next time Spirit Week rolls around, and your knee jerk reaction is to grumble about loss of instructional time and changes to your schedule, try to see this week through the lens of a "best thing." As another way for us to reach our students, and get them to take ownership in their community, schools and classrooms!
And also, there's a chance you'll get to have an ancient Greek hero in class--which is never a bad day at work.
Happy Fall Everyone!