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 second of three appears below, written by Allison Kriess:
As a child, I hated to read. I know; it is so taboo for an English teacher to admit hating to read. But I feel like the honesty of it all helps me to connect with my students. I almost feel like hating reading is like a rite of passage. Everyone goes through it at some point. I had to struggle to see that I wouldn’t always be faced with books that I was being “made” to read, but that I would have choices. I’ve gravitated towards historical fiction and fantasy books for as long as I can remember. They were my escape from reality when things got tough, or my dive into the past to scratch the history itch that I often felt. When listening to the Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, talk about the profession of teaching and, “…doing what you can in the time you are given,” it reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Because I’m also an avid movie watcher, I imagined the following being spoken by Sir Ian McKellan in his glorious British accent. He says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In a lot of ways, the two quotes are similar. As teachers, we have a certain amount of time with students. It can be a month, a semester, or even a year. But our time with them is limited. It’s up to us to decide how we want to spend that time; how we want to try and connect and reach them and help them to understand our passion as educators. We have to be courageous and tread uncharted territory in the classroom because, let’s face it, how many people do you know before 2020-2021 who taught during a pandemic? We have to be purposeful in our pedagogy and mindful of the needs of our students more than ever. And they may not thank us. They may not ever cross our paths again. But trust and believe that you’ve made an impact.
The convention for me was a welcomed escape. I was able to sit and focus on the things that make me feel good about teaching and what I do. I was able to explore areas of interest to me such as the choice and voice of teachers and students, and using film to unlock literacy. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the convention, I wouldn’t be planning how to use these tools to try to enhance the connections I make with my students. I wouldn’t have the ability to do my best with the time that is given to me. I’m truly grateful for this support and opportunity and look forward to not only the next convention, but many more to come.