Recapping NCTE: Reflecting on the Importance of Community

There is a home in my 300-house subdivision sandwiched between two other houses that has a wreath on it that says “Welcome to Our Farmhouse”. I never thought I’d identify with and/or relate so much to an inanimate object. We pass it every morning on our 2 mile walk, and every time, it makes me think about identity and community and place and what it means to fit in. 

Last week, I got to be at NCTE for the first time in three years. I was so excited and living in the moment that I didn’t get selfies with everyone I wanted to. And even though it was in Anaheim, California – thousands of miles away from both of the places I call home – it is the most at home I’ve felt in a long time. For one thing, my mom and sister were able to join me and hang out in between presentations. Which was great since it had been the longest stretch of time we’d ever gone between visits. 

And then there was getting to be with my English ed people. I didn’t realize how much I was missing feeling like part of a community until a van full of my colleagues drove by, hollering my name and screaming their greetings. I couldn’t even see who all was in the van, but it was a total Cheers moment where I felt at home because they new my name. On a couple of other occasions, folks hollered at me while I was walking in various conference buildings, and came up to talk to me after my presentations. 

In each of these moments, I realized how adrift I had been feeling. Not only am I away from my home community and family where I don’t have to explain who I am because people know me, but I’m also consistently away from my colleagues whose kinship feels similar to the little rural community I grew up in. All of this has my mind reeling from all the connections to space and place and how our identities (both individual and communities) are shaped by and move across places. Not to mention the opportunity to get to talk about two of my passions: rural YAL and how to teach critical approaches for reading social class. 

Some brief presentation notes and reflections

The Whippoorwill Award panel (co-sponsored by the National Rural Education Association) was amazing. They say never to meet your heroes because you’ll always be disappointed, but that couldn’t be any farther from the truth in this case. I’m deeply grateful to Darcie Little Badger, Nora Shalaway Carpenter, Carly Heath, and Jeff Zentner for taking the time to talk about their approaches to writing rural stories. I was excited about the turnout and interest of attendees and their engagement with the ideas presented during the panel discussion. My Takeaways: (1) Not only are we always reading through place but we’re always writing through it too and (2) we need to think and talk more about how rural language varieties are included in rural YA and how that is connected to power. 

The YA Commission Roundtables were super fun as always. I learned a lot about critical comparative content analysis and got to think about how retellings of canonical texts can inspire critical readings of and conversations about culture. Arianna Banack’s presentation on Ibi Zoboi’s Pride illustrated how such retellings can work to expose whiteness as another culture rather than further its acceptance as what’s “normal”. My Takeaways: My wheels are turning with how this can be used with rural YA too–especially books like Christina Henry’s The Girl in Red which is a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood and features a Black girl protagonist with a limb difference who is from a small town/rural area.  

My final panel presentation was Toward a Social-Class Visible ELA with Dr. Sophia Sariginides. This was also an incredible learning opportunity. The audience was so engaged and asked really important questions that I’m still thinking about. My presentation was a critical comparative analysis that examined class through a critical place lens. I discussed the similarities and differences of the experiences of Remy in Funny How Things Change by Melissa Wyatt and LaVaughn’s in Make Lemonade. In conversation with Sophia’s presentation on the experiences of her teacher ed students as they learned about and grappled with class, my biggest takeaways were how much this work is needed to both challenge systemic issues with class structure as well as to help teachers and students make sense of their classed experiences – especially their emotional and affective experiences of class. 

I’m so grateful for all of the learning I was able to do and engage with my community, and I’m already looking forward to next year!

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