Live at CATE!

Things are heating up here—literally!  It’s Valentine’s Day but who needs romance when you can cram into a tiny side room at a seminar with 40 or so English teachers at the California Association of Teachers of English convention in San Diego?

On the plus side, love may not be in the air (at least not for the four frazzled, middle-aged English teachers crammed into my row struggling to balance laptop, bagful of swag and handouts without elbowing each other) but it’s kind of awesome to look around a room and feel pretty sure that every single person you see has impeccable grammar.  How often does that happen?

I’ve wanted to go to CATE for years and have never been able to pull it off.  In palmier days, when schools had budgets devoted to anything other than bare survival, departments would often send their teachers to conferences where they could learn new techniques and learn from experts.  By the time I hit the classroom, those days were over.  And on a teacher’s salary, who could afford the $380 fee plus three nights at a hotel? 

But since I’m taking the year off to learn, I treated myself and I’m here, blogging live from the conference right here at poolside at the charmingly un-hip Town and Country resort, a place chock-a-block with trellises, statues, fountains, palm trees and several million gazebos.  My mom, a former English teacher, is with me; she left teaching in 1987 to become a psychologist.  I’m extremely curious to hear her impressions of whether the profession has changed or whether all of this talk of Common Core is just old wine in a new bottle.

Filled with envy?  Well, for the next three days you can live vicariously through me and Mom as we wend our way through a mind-numbing array of seminars, clutching our handouts, entering raffles and hearing product pitches at the expo.  I’ll keep posts short and informative so that you can skip stuff that doesn’t interest you in much the same way that Mom and I crept out in the middle of a keynote speech by a very nice-seeming older man in a cowboy hat who was punning indefatiguably, to the delight of many present but not, alas, to me, though I will say that my pun-loving grandfather would have relished it.

If you’re here at the CATE convention and want to compare notes, find me on twitter @gatsbyinla or at  If you’re not here but wish you were, check out the convention schedule and email me about a seminar you’d like us to visit.  We’ll try to check it out for you and report back!

All I can say from our first morning here is that already I’ve learned a ton of really useful techniques and ideas.  I’ll give more details in short later posts, but in general I want to say that this is the kind of self-structured Professional Development teachers desperately need.  When we get it at school, we’re always exhausted, grading, prepping and under the gun.  The chance to be around teachers from other communities is really exciting.  The ability to choose topics of interest is essential.

When did we decide as a society that giving teachers the opportunity to learn about their field was a luxury they’d have to pursue at their own considerable expense, in free time they do not have because they’re teaching so many classes and have hundreds of students? 

Again, when we demand excellence of teachers, how can we make this demand without providing conditions—like this conference—that make excellence possible?


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