In 2009, I had almost completed my second year of teaching, trudging toward the CST state-wide test in a small charter school in Pomona.
The ruthless ass-kicking that was my first year as a [terrible] teacher was replaced with the draconian rule of a plucky 24-year-old who wasn’t about to be pushed around by some teenagers.
Note: By year four, I had found a happy medium, where I could focus the class without yelling and still enjoyed my job more than 60% of the time. That jumped to 90% once I left that school.
I packed my bags for the enormous San Diego Convention Center and spent two-and-a-half days meandering through sessions that were over my head and gathering free pens from the exhibit hall.
‘Twas a simpler time.
Eight years later, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics and its selection committee have selected my co-author and me to share what we’ve learned about classroom assessment, a topic that certainly was mentioned to me in 2009 and immediately forgotten. Forty copies of my book are riding beneath this plane as I type, and teammates — many of whom I’ve never met — will chat in an exhibit booth alongside me, attempting to evangelize new and veteran teachers to share the awesome and improving snapshots from their classrooms on Twitter.
Did Twitter even exist in 2009? [UPDATE: Yes.]
Regardless, I feel a calm sense of purpose and this 700-series jet barrels toward Austin1 for NCTM. My innards churn with an amalgam of excited wonder and professional urgency.
With that sense of urgency, here are some conference tips I’ve learned from attending a bunch in the last ten years, both as an attendee and a presenter:
Vaudrey: Okay, we’re here, we’re caffeinated, we’re registered. Where are you two headed for the 8:00 session?
Diane: Oh, man. I haven’t even looked at the book yet.
Chiara: Me, either.
Vaudrey: Did y’all see the link I sent you last week? There’s a digital book with all the sessions, and you can filter them… want me to show you?
Chiara: I didn’t bring my computer, I’ll just sit at one of these tables and plan out my conference.
Diane: Ooo! I’ll join you!
Vaudrey: …Okay. Well, I’ll be in the San Jacinto room if you can’t decide and want to join me.
Do your homework. You can burn an hour of conference time figuring out where to go. If you’re unsure, pick a stranger and follow them; you’ll likely stumble into something interesting and unexpected.
And if that workshop ain’t your style, you can go through the schedule and plan out your next few sessions.
My pastor wife once mentioned from the pulpit that she keeps granola bars in her purse, just in case her husband (me) gets hungry and cranky. She may have referred to me as “a grumbly bear who really needs a salmon,” which the youth group in the audience thought was hilarious.
True story; I keep snacks in the glove boxes of both our cars and my purse, too. Especially at conferences.
At most conference venues, there are a limited number of food locales for breakfast and lunch and the lines are likely to be enormous. Plus, what if I want a snack at 10:00, but really want a good seat for the 10:15 session?
Then Clif bars are my friend and I can power through until 12:30.
This tip I mooched from David Theriault, an ELA teacher from Southern California. He does his homework picking out a great place to eat, and then — rather than listen to an admired speaker give their usual 60-minutes — he’ll take them to lunch and get some quality time with them. I’ll quote him directly:
Paying for someone’s lunch or dinner is the “catch and release” (fishing term) of spending time with someone. Even if the conversation goes south at least they got a great free meal. Not just a free meal, a great free meal.
…It’s not enough that we talk as teachers and friends, it’s not enough that we eat together, we need to take the time to make our “hobby” (teaching) something worth celebrating. Sean Ziebarth and I always joke that teaching isn’t just our job, it’s our hobby.
In addition, dinner and drinks are a great time to have candid conversations with like-minded folk from outside your sphere of influence.
Even better if they’re unlike-minded. What a great time to challenge your perspective and learn new things than to have a martini with someone who doesn’t work in your district. Or your state.
Bonus if you’ll never see them again; they’re sure to be honest with you.
If your 8:00 session on Wednesday is free, come see John and me talk about Dessert.
We’ll be in costume.
— John Stevens (@Jstevens009) March 29, 2017
~Matt “and wear comfy shoes” Vaudrey.
1. Yes, Austin. Even though NCTM is in San Antonio. I booked a flight to the wrong airport and it’s more than a little embarrassing.↩
2. If the real Diane and Chiara read this, thanks for being pseudonyms. You — of course — were always well-prepared for literally everything, including CMC.↩