Part I: #NCTE13

Every year after attending NCTE I struggle to summarize my experience. This year, inspired by my friend Cindy, I have decided to write two posts. Part I will focus on the events outside of the sessions I attended. Part II, coming later this week, will focus solely on the sessions I attended while I was there (and those I attended virtually, because there is no way to attend every session offered!)

NCTE is my home away from home. Even though it changes cities each year, the people make the event feel like home. This year’s conference was in Boston (which is now my favorite city) and it did not disappoint! I always leave physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, inspired, and renewed.

Chris and I arrived in Boston late Thursday night and checked into the Revere Hotel, which was gorgeous. I was presenting on Friday so I got everything ready and crashed. For the record, traveling by train is the way to go. So much better than the airport and airplanes, but just as exhausting! I tried not to spread myself too thin, but I still had a packed schedule for the weekend.


1. Don Graves breakfast Friday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Heinemann. The Don Graves breakfast was inspiring, to say the least. My awesome friend Jen was my plus one and we spent the first few minutes in awe as we looked at the rest of the audience.  “There’s Penny Kittle! And Ralph Fletcher!” The names kept coming.  Plus, the audience was full of NerdyBookClub friends, so it was the best way to start my time at the conference.

The breakfast was inspiring, as many of my English teacher idols spoke about the influence the indomitable Don Graves had on their lives.  You can see Penny Kittle’s intro here and some of the video clips from the breakfast here. Thank you to Heinemann for including me in this inspiring and amazing breakfast.  What a way to kick off the weekend!  I left pondering some new ideas for writing workshop and with a lot of notes in my phone.

2. Ripped from the Headlines and Applied to the Classics I was very blessed to present at NCTE with my amazing editor from The Learning Network, Katherine Schulten.  We had a slight snafu when our 75 newspapers were not delivered for the session, but we made do.  Katherine had a back-up plan and it worked out beautifully.

When I arrived at the room, I was stunned.  I was expecting a few friends and maybe some others, but the room was packed.  As in, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only packed.  I was terrified.  Just as I was about to have a heart attack, the amazing Leeann Spillane introduced herself and handed me a present!  She created a piece of art especially for me and it’s stunning.  It also calmed me down and the session went wonderfully.

You can learn more about our presentation from this post on The Learning Network.   Leeann also wrote a post about the session here and Using Information Text wrote another.


3. Exhibit Hall The exhibit hall is a bit like the Colosseum. It’s overwhelming, loud, and sometimes I’m afraid for my life!  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. 😉  But it’s also a great place to make professional connections.  This year I spent a great deal of time chatting with publicists about upcoming books and ways to use them in the classroom.  I also met lots of authors and chatted with them about my students.

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

4. Nerdy Party Maybe my favorite part of NCTE13.  It began with a dinner with my Nerdy friends and then we made our way over to the hotel lounge around 8pm.  By 9pm the NerdyBookClub had taken over the hotel lounge and there were readers, authors, publishers, illustrators, poets, editors, and so many others mingling and chatting.  Every time I turned around there was someone else to chat with!  Chris and I stayed until midnight and I still didn’t get to talk to everybody! I did get a chance to chat with YA author Gae Polisner, which made the whole night worthwhile.

Four hours of conversation centered on books and writing.  There is nothing nerdier or better.  Thank you to my NerdyBookClub friends for including me in your adventures and throwing an awesome party!  I’m already looking forward to #nerdy14!

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

5. General Session A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Sandy Hayes, president of NCTE.  She asked me if I would speak as part of her President’s speech at NCTE.  Of course I immediately said yes! Then I felt the terror take over.  I worked on my speech for a few weeks, but in true High Tech fashion, I finished it right before getting on the train.

I knew I would be speaking as one of a group of teachers that Sandy had invited to share their stories so I was very intimidated.

I think it went well.  I did not have a heart attack while speaking, though it was terrifying.  But more importantly, I was inspired by the other teachers Sandy invited to speak.  Each one of them made me laugh and a few brought tears to my eyes. Sandy’s idea of sharing the speech was brilliant and I wish more people had made it to the ballroom to see her in action.

And the best part of being part of the President’s speech?

Nancie Atwell spoke a few minutes after I did.

Nancie Atwell.

My English teacher hero.  I babbled and looked like an idiot, but we had a great conversation.  She even took a few minutes to speak with me about my writing.  Bucket list item? I think so!

6. Catching Fire Scholastic invited some of the NCTE attendees to a private screening of Catching Fire. Greatest idea ever?  I’d say so!  David Levithan introduced the film and I definitely squealed like a fangirl.  Then I spent the next two hours gasping and covering my eyes alongside a theater full of fellow English nerds. Absolutely amazing! (And if you haven’t seen Catching Fire yet, what are you doing reading blogs?!  Get yourself to a movie theater, pronto!)

7. ALAN Cocktail Party I love ALAN.  This was the first year I stayed for the conference after NCTE and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll write more about ALAN later, but the cocktail party capped off my NCTE experience. The ALAN cocktail party is a low-key event where teachers and authors get to mingle, provided you aren’t too shy to go up and introduce yourself.  I chickened out when it came to introducing myself to Laurie Halse Anderson (next year!), but I did meet Andrea Cramer.  Love her! I also stuck with the wonderful Paul Hankins for a bit and he introduced me to Nancy Garden, who was an inspiration. Special thanks to Paul for taking me under his wing for a bit.  That guy knows everyone!!

Oh!  And I met Judy Blume! I totally babbled and I think I said something like, “You’re Judy Blume!”. Pretty sure she already knew that.  But Judy Blume!

And the ALAN party also provided me with the opportunity to finally meet Eliot Schrefer in person. I read Endangered last year and then our school book club also read it. Endangered is probably my favorite book of the last year and it was brilliant getting a chance to chat with Eliot. We’ve chatted over social media but meeting in person was fabulous.  We spent about 25 minutes chatting and Eliot also introduced me to David Levithan and Bill Koenisburg.  What great guys! (My new mission is finding a way to bring Schrefer to do a school visit at HTHS…)


Me, Eliot Schrefer, Jen Ansbach (thanks for the photo skills, Noah!)

The ALAN cocktail party was the best way to cap off my NCTE conference.  And it led directly into ALAN and the many panels that inspired me to be  a better reader and teacher.  But more about those sessions later….   Part II: NCTE Sessions and ALAN to come later this week!

Deadline by Chris Crutcher

I’ve been working on catching up on all the YA titles I missed over the last five years or so.  While I read a lot of YA as a sixth grade teacher, there were certain books that I knew did not have a place in my classroom, with my particular students.  Thus, I rarely purchased those books.  (See, I justify buying books because I put them in my classroom library after I read them.  Really, I buy them for my classroom and I just get to read them first!)  Now that I teach freshmen and sophomores, there is a lot of YA I can finally add to my library.  I have been stalking book sales and finally picked up a copy of Chris Crutcher’s Deadline.

At a routine summer sports physical, Ben learns that he has a terminal blood illness.  Without treatment, he will most likely be dead within the year.  With aggressive treatment, he will most likely be dead within a year, and incapacitated for most of that time.  After considering those he loves (a mother with a mental illness, a father with too much on his plate, and a brother who is also his best friend), Ben decides not to seek treatment and not to tell anyone about his diagnosis.  As an 18-year old, he has that right, despite his doctor’s misgivings.  Ben is determined to live, really live, as normal a life as possible while trying to experience as much as he can in the following twelve months.  What follows is an amazing look at life, death, religion, love, immortality, and so much more.

Crutcher tackles a lot of tough topics in Deadline– mental illness, child molestation, death, suicide, trust, censorship, and the meaning of life/living.  But what could be a depressing book is inspiring and full of humor.  Ben’s voice is spot-on for a teenage boy, with just the right amount of self-assurance and lack of that same self-assurance.  Ben’s an 18-year old boy who knows when his life will end.  He wants to accomplish great things: confronting the bigotry in his town, helping his brother secure a college football scholarship, and trying to help his mother heal.  But Ben also wants to accomplish typical teenage boy goals: hooking up with Dallas Suzuki (the girl of his dreams), playing a great game of football, and annoying his least-favorite teacher as much as possible.

Deadline is a fantastic book and one I highly recommend for high school libraries.  It has some mature themes, so I wouldn’t have shared it with my sixth graders, but it definitely has a place in any upper school library.