Equity, justice, and anti-racist teaching was the theme of the 2021 National Council of Teachers of English annual convention this year. There was quite the lineup of speakers, from Michele Obama at the opening session to Amanda Gorman at the closing session, with Nikole Hannah-Jones, George Johnson, and Colson Whitehead in between. However, every teacher, researcher, professor, author, parent, community member, and leader at this convention brought joy, light, brilliance, grace, and love to our world of humanity and literacies.
One session discussed the power and beauty of transformational stories. Kylene Beers, as the moderator, began by asking the panel members the following question by Ernest Morrell.
The responses fell along the lines of how isolation during pandemic brought time for reflection, especially since most of the panel members were “people people”—how much they loved to travel to conferences, visit elementary and high schools, coach educators, and meet with college students.
And suddenly, they needed to be with themselves.
Their responses reminded me of a photo of me as a child. Here I am, shortly after being diagnosed with a profound hearing loss in both ears. Isolation from people permeated my walk through my days over my lifetime, a state of being that I must constantly battle as I make persistent requests for people to face me when speaking, for accommodations, and for belonging.
In the beginning of my professional career, I attempted to attend a few state and national conventions. Yet, I would return to home utterly exhausted with very little benefit from my attendance and networking opportunities. Later in my career, captioning for presentations could be requested, but I still struggled with not hearing on airlines, in shuttles, hotels, restaurants, and during networking. I decided that reading professional journals and books was a much better use of my time, even if it was all in isolation, such as up on the sixth floor of the graduate library in a tiny study room. Well over thirty years ago, I attended a convention on the western side of the state. I became quite ill with the flu that I could not drive home. I stayed at a friend’s house an hour away until I recovered and decided that would be my last time registering for a convention.
And it was.
Until this year.
Many people desire to go back to “normal.” Numerous NCTE attendees commented that they missed meeting in person. But “normal” wasn’t working for me. The pandemic provided me with opportunities that I have never had before. I was able to read captions (and there was an ASL interpreter at all live sessions for those who use sign language). I was able to see live faces—their mannerisms, gestures, and smiles—of researchers and authors whose names I am so familiar with from my years of reading. I was able to read and contribute to conversations on the chat feature of Zoom. I made new friends and contacts. And I even lost sleep for a few nights with my mind spinning words of wisdom and stories.
Many of us are safely gathering together for the holidays after more than a year of isolation during the pandemic. It is, however, still a time of digging deep within ourselves reckoning with social media disinformation, election results, mass shootings, January 6, Covid-19, climate change, Black Lives Matter, and significant political polarization.
How can we transform our national systems and structures, based on theft of peoples and lands and designed with underlying concepts of intentional and unintentional deficits, mistrust, and barriers, to places of social justice, intersectionality, and humanity?
How do we fully listen, sit with, and respond to the stories in each of us and all of us?
And how shall we unearth our joy, light, brilliance, grace, and love?