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Teaching and Learning and Writing and Exhaustion


This is the second part of a three-part exploration of the Teaching & Learning 2014 conference, hosted by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. You can read Part I here and Part III here.

I'm writing this post during the session "Passion and Practice in the Teaching of Writing," a workshop on developing student writing, and as soon as the attendees settled down, the panel gave them an assignment.

We're supposed to be writing for 10 minutes about, um ... something. I'm not entirely sure what—something about life or ambition, maybe?—and I'm not sure what because I was busy tweeting a photo of the Starbucks line. To be fair, it's a good photo.

Nothing like a Teaching & Learning conference to make me feel like a high school sophomore again, attention-deficit, mind wandering, trying hard not to doodle. (Or, in today's technologically blessed world, DoodleJump.)

It's the only planned interactive experience I've had today. Most of the sessions have been lectures and panels, which seems just a little bit odd for a teaching convention. Lecturing has its supporters, but also its limits.

I'm also in one of the most packed rooms; a lot of the other panels are modestly well attended, the ones with big names like Darling-Hammond and Coleman and such, but few have an audience like this. While teachers might want to have substantive discussions about their profession, they seem more interested in the day-to-day work that could ultimately, perhaps, improve student learning and therefore improve the profession indirectly.

Wait, interruption: We're now being told to break up into groups and discuss what we wrote. I work with a couple teachers from Charleston, S.C. One gets distracted by a friend walking in, so I discuss my short attention span with the other, Jennifer. She informs me that the prompt was on the overhead projector the whole time, and I, feeling like an idiot, admit that I am mentally lapsed. Conferences can be exhausting, and especially so when navigating the giant halls and confusing outline of the many-storied Walter E. Washington Convention Center, trying not to accidentally walk into one of sessions hosted by the concurrently running dental convention. (We get it, floss.)

The panel regains everyone's attention, and it's sharing time; continuing my streak of only paying half-attention, I'm continuing to write this post; hey, I'm on a streak, don't stop me now.

The teachers, having become the students, offered a full spectrum of reactions:

"I can't remember the last time in my life I had 10 minutes to write."

"We're tired. We weren't expecting to have to do anything ... My friend left."

"We enjoyed the writing. As we came across things in our writing we liked, we hoped [you would ask] us to share."

The discussion evolves to how students, then, must feel about writing. As one teacher put it, "Whether you're in the mood or not in the mood, you've got to produce."

I've heard similar sentiment to that in other parts of the conference: that students have to learn they can't not do things because they don't care; they have to find a way to care. They can't just walk out of the classroom, after all—it's not like they're attending a conference.

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