Monday, December 13, 2010

Why High School Matters

by Tara Seale

I recently returned from NCTE 2010 in Orlando. As always, High School Matters was my favorite session, packed with the best presenters and the best teachers sitting shoulder to shoulder. If only the whole room could work at the same school. What a school that would be.

First, Carol Jago related her favorite books for the year, and she provided a complimentary bookmark for each attendee. If you were unable to attend, and you would like to see Carol Jago's recommended reads, please click on this link: Carol Jago Recommended Books for 2010
As a bonus, she shared a book that was not on her bookmark. It was called The Room by Emma Donoghue. I also heard another recommendation for The Room by a fellow attendee at the NCTE, so it will be a Kindle download and a holiday read for me. Carol Jago's recommended reads are not only interesting, but inspiring. If someone as busy as Carol Jago can come up with 8 incredible reads for the year, what is my excuse? What is your excuse? We should all be reading and sharing in 2011.
On a more humorous note, Carold Jago also shared the YouTube video, "It's a Book" by Lane Smith. It is funny, but scary at the same time. Did you see Wired Magazine's cover from November titled "The Web is Dead." Will we have a magazine cover in the near future that announces "Books are Dead?"

Carol's talk was followed by one of my favorite ice breakers. Everyone at the round-table shares their favorite book of the year, and in the process, we get to meet everyone at our table. Never enough time, but it doesn't really matter because we all enjoy sharing, interjecting, and enjoying one another. It is a time to discover that English teachers attend NCTE from all over the country, and they are interesting, intelligent, and fun people to know (we did not make it around my table, but it was okay because we all bonded and connected).

There are usually three speakers. Last year, a poet performed in the middle, but at this year's High School Matters, a local Shakespeare group performed. I loved how the theater group utilized gestures created by the audience members who volunteered to paraphrase Shakespearean language. It had my head spinning as to how I could incorporate this into my classroom. I will, but I need to contemplate the best method.
As always, NCTE throws so many ideas at me that I need Christmas break to recover and incorporate.

High School Matters incorporates two round-table discussions. This year, I found myself at two tables titled To Hell with Romeo and Juliet and Exploring Zines. If you have not attended High School Matters at NCTE before, I suggest you attend this session because not only will you meet round-table leaders in secondary English, but you will connect with everyday high school teachers who just happen to sit next to you, like me! When you walk into High School Matters, you will see a number on each table. This number is important. If you look on the paper printout on each table, it will describe each table's discussion focus. Who wouldn't want to attend To Hell with Romeo and Juliet? If nothing else, could I use this as ammunition not to teach the next month or so? Alas, it was not a session to throw out Romeo and Juliet, but to accurately place the characters in their proper place in Dante's Inferno. What a great idea! My second table discussion involved creating small publications for passion, not profit. That is the definition of a Zine. I was unfamiliar with Zines, so I am glad I attended this round-table discussion.

The last speaker at High School Matters was Jim Burke. He has impacted many English teachers as the creator of the English Companion Ning which has almost 24,000 members. Jim Burke is funny, witty, and real. His senior moment talk was almost too real for me. We both have children who left home this year which is a scary realization involving not only our own life, but our control or lack of control over our children. Jim pointed out how literature reaches not only the kids we teach, but the kids we raise, and also the lives we live. Jim Burke made the audience re-live books we are all familiar with, but in a different light because every time we read them, it is a different point in our lives, and that is significant.
He created an heroic journey chart that rivals Joseph Campbell. I hope he will post it online. I have too many arrows, notations, and annotations in my composition book as I tried to keep up with him, but fortunately, he also provided an incredible visual for students and teachers alike by taking his students to the football field.

Although I scribbled many notes before this, I have very little here. I think it is because it was so poignant. Burke had his students sit on the yard line of their age. Most sat on 17 or 18. Then he sat (on his age) more than double the yards away from his students; later, he said this was a bad idea and doesn't suggest it. But fortunately, this is the best part, he had his students look back and walk the few short yards to their 9th grade year, not many steps. Look at how far you have come (but on a big football field, it isn't much). Now, let's hypothetically say that you live 100 years. Look down the field. That is how much you have to learn. That is how much you don't know. What a significant visual to the know-it-all teenagers. Maybe they don't know much after all.

Now do you see why High School Matters?


Anonymous said...

Great review of High School Matters, Tara! It has long been my favorite session, and I know it will continue to be. I'm woefully behind on Carol's recommended reading list, but I keep at it. Just finished "Stealing Buddah's Dinner" and "Short Girls," both by Bich Minh Nguyen, the speaker at CEL's high tea. Good reads.

garth3368 said...

Shouldn't the word in your first paragraph be "tout" instead of "taut"?