I’m heading for my last appearance of 2014 this weekend, and it’s a celebration of a few things and, in a way, a full circle.
Our big day at St. Andrew’s in Flushing, Queens
First, it’s my husband’s birthday. Here we are over 30 years ago when we got married – much against everyone’s advice due to our age, the fact that we hadn’t finished college yet, that we were broke, and that, frankly, we were somewhat incompatible in terms of our interests. Well, we finished college; the rest is kind of the same. I honestly can’t remember not knowing Javier. We met at the factory where both our mothers worked when they first arrived in the US. It would later be the same factory where we got our first summer jobs being bored to death testing transistors alongside our mothers. Those of you who have already met him know that this hot-headed mess is a truly lovely man, a solid dad, and for me, the whole world.
Unfortunately, he’s stuck with a birthday that falls on the same day that President Kennedy was shot, and also so near Thanksgiving that he often has to share the fun with the dead bird and its dressings. This year, it also falls during the NCTE Annual Convention, too. Miss his birthday? Yikes! So, since the conference is being held at the fancy schmantzy Gaylord Resort in Alexandria, he’s coming along. Javier isn’t a book man. He works in health care. So, the guy who struggles with commas but deciphers the hardest math or science problems is going to go party with the nation’s English teachers, authors, and librarians. (Happy Birthday, I think….)
At the Palm Beach County School of the Arts, 1992
For me, it’s different. Being at NCTE is like a gigantic homecoming. I was a creative writing teacher at an arts magnet school for a few years in the 1990’s, a job I truly loved. Maybe it’s in my blood. I come from a long line of teachers, all the way back to my grandfather, Cleto Antonio Metauten, who taught in rural Cuba. My mom and aunts were all teachers in Cuba, too.
My grandfather with his students in Cuba
I remember distinctly my life in the world of middle and high school education. Here’s the stuff I hated: hall passes, bus duty, meetings, occasionally mean kids, never having enough time to grade papers. But I loved laughing with students and watching them experiment and create strong work.
NCTE helped shape me back then. I’d always wait for my copy of The English Journal, an NCTE publication, so I could get edgy ideas about how to make English come alive for the kids who spent their day with me. That’s what these organizations do for the educators who do the heavy lifting of inspiring kids and educating them. It keeps them thinking and connected outside of their own classroom. That’s why administrators shouldn’t skimp on sending teachers to conferences. An investment in a teacher yields growth and optimism in the classroom so far beyond just one teacher. It touches every kid who comes through his or her class.
But what I also remember of my time as a teacher is that I knew I might be in the wrong place, despite how much I loved my students. I was always secretly hoping to find the courage to write something myself. Sadly, in my twenties, I just didn’t have the courage to step out into a life in the arts. I worried about health insurance and stability. I worried that I would miss my students. I worried that I would fail; then, what?
In time, teaching helped lead me to writing anyway. I approached slowly, studying craft and teaching at an arts magnet school in Florida. Eventually, I published tiny pieces in local papers, a few poems, an essay here and there, working slowly, slowly on having the nerve to say, I’m an author. I was trying to do exactly what I was trying to teach my students to do: Dare to make a living doing what I loved. I wonder how many of the teachers I will meet this weekend are looking for the same courage?
It has been a busy year of travel since last January, and I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving with Javier and our children – and to several uninterrupted weeks to finish edits on my next novel. It will be so nice to pack away the suitcases for a while and get back to the place where the joy is really found: in making the work.
But this weekend, if you’re at #ncte14, please stop by to say hello (and happy birthday to Javier.) Otherwise, Happy Turkey Day, everyone, and thank you for all the reading and support and friendship that you sent my way this year.
FULL NCTE CONFERENCE SCHEDULE HERE:
Saturday: Nov 22, 2014
2: 45 PM We Need Diverse Books panel (with Ellen Oh, I.W. Gregorio and leaders of the NEA and NCTE) on what’s happening with the movement and how you can diversify your class readings.
4:15 PM, Signing at Candlewick Booth #319 – 321
Sunday: Nov 23, 2014
Signing at ABC Fair booth #153
1:30 – 2:45 Are We Creating a Nation of Impatient Readers: YA authors on writing compelling realism. (With Bill Konigsburg, Sandra Neil Wallace, Rich Wallace, Chris Crutcher)