Last Tuesday, as the NCTE Conference approached, I found myself opening a window in my browser and searching for flights to Minneapolis. The flights, surprisingly, seemed reasonable, so I searched for hotels. While most of the hotels were booked, I did find a few vacancies a bit farther away from the convention center. I’ll need a car then, I realized, and then quickly searched Expedia for car rentals. Then there was the registration fee, I remembered. Just one day, I thought. Maybe I can fly out Friday night and make it to Saturday’s sessions.
Long story short, after indulging in my brief fantasy and calculating the costs (too much), I spent last weekend at home.
I’ve been to NCTE twice, once a few years ago when it was here in Philadelphia and then again last year in D.C. I’ll blame my wonderful experience last year for the severe case of FOMO I suffered this past week. (FOMO―fear of missing out―is a term I learned last year on the PA Writing/Literature Project Blog from Cindy Minnich, who mentioned the term in her reflection on why face-to-face meetings with colleagues are so important). Yet as much as I wanted to go, all the reasonable voices in my head―I was just there last year, I’ve been to a few other conferences already this year, I can’t ask to go to another one, I just took a week off for a family vacation, I can’t miss another day of school, etcetera etcetera―won out. So I followed the conference from afar via Twitter with a mixture of regret and envy.
Social media like Twitter is both blessing and curse, of course. While my Twitter feed offered me a window in the conference, pointing me to resources and words of wisdom I’m grateful for, I was also constantly reminded that I wasn’t there. In the days leading up to the conference, I found myself purposefully avoiding Twitter and tried hard not to think about the conference at all (well, except for the moment of weakness I had when I was looking up airfares).
Now that I think about it, I wonder if my feelings of regret, of envy, of being left out, were the reasons I also tried so hard to focus on the positive last week. For example, at the last minute one morning as I was planning my lesson, I asked my students to write about what they were thankful for. With Thanksgiving coming up, the writing prompt seemed timely, of course, but I realize now that these moments of reflection on the positive were a way to buffer against any negative feelings in the air, whether it was my own case of FOMO or my students’ general exhaustion from a busy fall. By the time Thanksgiving approaches, everyone seems to need a long weekend.
We ended up writing to the “What are you Thankful for?” prompt for the ten days leading up to Thanksgiving break, spending about 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class “being thankful” as I would announce. We shared quickly each day, too, which was important. Although some of my students joked(?) that they were out of things to be thankful for by the time we reached Day 5 in our writing, hearing each other’s small expressions of thankfulness―for family, friends, health, education, a warm cup of tea, a good pair of fuzzy socks, car lights on a dark road, the scent of vanilla―put everyone into better spirits.
On another last-minute whim (teaching is, after all, equal parts planning and spontanaeity, deliberation and inspiration), we decided to turn our moments of thankfulness into a campaign. “Writing,” I found myself telling students, “doesn’t have to stay in our notebooks. There are times when writing should be shared with the world.” So last week, one week before Thanksgiving, we spent part of class taking the writing from our notebooks and copying them down on colored paper we then posted in the hallways. Each 8.5 x 11 paper had an open space for writing, with the words “What are you thankful for?” printed along the bottom. “If we can just make one person stop to think about what they might be thankful for,” I joked (not really), “then I think we’ve done our job.”
I started by offering students just one piece of paper. “Choose one thing from your notebooks to share,” I encouraged them. But here’s the thing about positivity: it’s infectious. After students happily wrote family on one sheet of paper, they wanted another sheet to write my best friend, and another to write my dog, and another and another. Some students worried at first about writing anything too specific, but soon enough, they were declaring their thankfulness for specific people―including names of specific friends and even teachers!―on the brightly colored paper. “There’s just too much to be thankful for,” one student quipped.
Our thankfulness campaign hit the hallways and expressions of thanks lined the walls. “Are you authorized to do this?” one cautious student asked me as he headed into the hallway with his papers and tape. I admited that I hadn’t cleared our project with the administration (everything that gets posted in the hallway is supposed to be approved by an administrator). The student just smiled, “That makes this even better.”
As I walked the hall this past week, I found myself feeling happy and not surprisingly, grateful. I overheard several conversations among students who stopped to look at the posters and agree with them. “Macaroni,” I heard one student read from a poster, “That’s a good one. I love macaroni!” On a poster that had the “Video Games,” another student had scribbled “Preach brotha” underneath. Another poster featured “My Best Friend,” and underneath, an anonymous student wrote, “Me, too!” I smiled as I walked by the science classroom and saw that some students had written things like polar bonds and diploid and haploid cells.
So while my week may have started out a little green with envy, I realized that there was so much around me, here at home, at school, to be thankful for.
And here’s a gallery of some of the posters from our hallways: