Thursday, March 16, 2006

I Can't Say I Saw This Coming

So I'm back from my first speaking engagement at a teachers' conference. I don't want to keep everyone in suspense so I'll just say that the trip went well, and I had an excellent time. The food was good, too. And in addition to my fee, I came away with a cool notepad, a pen, and a coffee mug, all stamped with the sponsoring organization's logo.

I drove up to Cortland, New York the day before the conference. The six-hour trip went so incredibly well and the motel was so satisfactory that I began to have a bad feeling about how things would go the next day. What could go wrong? Would people hate me? Would the college's PowerPoint equipment seize up and leave me alone at the front of a room? Worse yet, would I have to speak four times in front of auditoriums full of people? Who would hate me and my PowerPoint presentation, too?

What I never foresaw was a really low turnout for the conference. This had absolutely nothing to do with me, of course. Really. It didn't. This was a regional conference, and I have it on good authority that the state conference, which usually brings in two or three hundred people had only seventy-five, and I wasn't there, now, was I?

We had only forty people at this thing. There were four sessions during the course of the day, and each time a session met there were three authors talking in three different rooms as well as three other events going on. So that means six venues, so to speak, with only forty people spread amongst them.

I had only three people at my first session. Only one at my last one. She said, "Gee, I hate to make you do this for only one person." To which I said, "Oh, no, you don't. I've gotta stay, so you've gotta stay. Park it, honey."

No, of course I didn't say that. I did, however, make her listen to my entire presentation and look at all my slides.

I am slowly making my way toward a point. A couple of them, in fact. Why was turnout so low? I had to leave the discussion in the hallway on this subject, but the general feeling seemed to be that schools are having budget problems and cutting back on funding for teachers to attend these kinds of events. And I know that in my own school district, professional days have been cut back. Teachers can't take as many paid days off from school to attend professional conferences while their classes are covered by subsitutes. There's less money to pay for conference fees or to pay for teachers' time at conferences.

Times are hard, difficult decisions have to be made, and I'm not going to criticize the people who have to make them. I will say, though, that I think conferences can be valuable for teachers. (They're probably valuable for people in any profession, for that matter.) At this particular conference teachers had an opportunity to meet and speak with vendors from educational publishers. Even I was interested in that because I saw a book on 6 + 1 Traits of Writing something I've only just heard about. Teachers also got to hear a presentation from a teacher who had received grant money to develop a "math backpack" project. Her presentation gave me all kinds of ideas, and I'm not even a teacher. And I don't like math.

And, finally, these teachers had an opportunity to listen to and talk with three writers whose books are available for use in their classrooms.

I think this kind of thing can make teachers more excited about their work. It can give them new ideas. It can, in the long run, end up being a really good thing for kids.

Every time I go on a trip, I end up talking about it here for days. My trip to this conference is no different. In the next couple of days you can expect to be reading about people I met or books I read.

I Assume That, Too

Chris Barton at Bartography quotes Terry Pratchett in a book called The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy. Pratchett was asked if he had a daily routine. His response: "I assume that what I'm doing is writing all the time--even though I'm actually doing something else."

I'm doing something else a lot of the time.


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