We invited the NJCTE members who were awarded a grant to attend NCTE 2021 to share a reflection on their experiences at this year’s virtual convention. The first of three appears below, written by Megan Tenery:
In the midst of this year’s NCTE convention, I had the great fortune to hear George M. Johnson speak this truth: “Books aren’t exposing children to hard things, they are already experiencing hard things.”
As an educator for the past 17 years, I have always strived to make my classroom a place where students can learn and grow, not only as students but as people. Students come to our classrooms often burdened with the complexities and hardships of their lives, and it is important that they see their stories in the books that we read. Seeing themselves reflected in the stories we read helps them to recognize that they are not alone and perhaps learn how to navigate the challenging waters that they are in. However, this school year has proven to be challenging when trying to uphold this philosophy. Concern over age-appropriate and controversial material in the classroom has muddied this process and has caused me to second-guess every move that I make for fear of backlash. Fortunately for me, I was able to attend this year’s NCTE’s annual convention.
This convention was a breath of fresh air and a source of strength and inspiration for me. To hear notable people such as Michelle Obama, George M. Johnson, and Amanda Gorman emphasize the importance of what we do in the classroom and how vital it is for students to see themselves in the books we teach was invaluable. Session after session afforded me the opportunity to share ideas with incredible educators and help me reflect on my own teaching.
Through the various sessions at the convention, I learned how to use different portals to lead my students into the medium of poetry. I learned how to select texts that will afford my students the opportunities to experience lives unlike their own as well as seeing their own reflected in the words. But most importantly, I learned from Kylene Beers that it is time for us to be brave and take a stand. We need to take a stand for our students and for their freedom to read and learn in ways that will challenge, comfort, and teach them. We cannot sit idly by and let others dictate, due to their own fear and discomfort, the books we teach and give to our students. We must not be silent.