Monday, July 08, 2013

Dispatches from the Convention Center

Being at a teachers' conference is like being in the world's biggest Dress Barn. Everywhere you look: floral. Sensible blonde hair cuts, sensible sweater sets, sensible (cute!) shoes, pops of color from costume jewelry.

So much matching.

Sit on a bench and watch a parade of lives lived smartly. Good decision-making walks the halls in gaggles of three or four, making lunch plans. Women in capri pants and wedges who wear lanyards like they mean it. The occasional dude in a polo shirt: clean cut, and looking as though he's just going to go to whatever salad place "the girls" pick for lunch. He's mastered the non-threatening male bit, but he also doesn't take crap from 15 year olds on the field. You sense the phantom whistle around his neck.

Perhaps it's because I'm not often alone at these things--generally I'm in my own gaggle--or perhaps because today's conference comes on the heels of spending a significant amount of time with writers (one could not make the same observations there about floral or decisions -- tattoos and an over-abundance of feelings would be more apt to describe my tribe), but I spent so much time people-watching today. Feeling not quite of that world in the same way that I initially didn't feel of the world at residency.

I started to look for different and it was hard to find.

Just one person who might be wearing something not-quite-perfect?

There was one 40-something woman at breakfast with bright purple hair, and I wanted to know her. I realized half a second after this thought occurred that perhaps it was more of a writer-residency thought than a teacher-conference thought. (She might not have appreciated a stranger wanting to know her at 7:45 AM, either.)

Still.

When it came time for my "strand" to start (the specific session I'm attending), I signed in and chose a half-empty table because it offered a seat where I could sit with my back to the wall and my face to the LCD screen. (Important.) I waited for the table to populate. It did, randomly, with a teacherly crowd that didn't fit any stereotype. Quirky, awesome, interesting people with stories.

To my delight.

By 5:00 PM my table-mates had bonded: rolling our eyes when other classmates got passive-aggressive with the presenters, asking each other what's wrong with people? Actually enjoying the time spent discussing educational strategies with each other. This is not to say that anyone in the sweater-set crowd couldn't have been interesting too (I love me a sweater set and a floral). But somehow I ended up with the right people. The reasonable, rational people, regardless of how they painted themselves up this morning. The ones that were a little odd.

I have some thoughts:

1) All those bright colors don't cover rudeness. And I am amazed at some people's gall when talking to the hardworking folk who are giving their time to teach us amazing teaching strategies. Rude is rude, and there's no call for being a jerk, even if you think you already know something.

2) Somehow by the end of the day, I managed to create a little table-party of oddball friends. At least for the next few days. Fun.

3) I kind of wish there wasn't such a preconceived idea of what a teacher had to look like. Especially for women. I think it makes kids respond to us all a certain way, and I'm not sure that way is always good. I have no alternative to propose, only the thought that today it occurs to me why to some kids, we all look exactly the same.

I asked E to pick me up on the back corner of the convention center today after the workshop so I could duck down the back stairs and avoid the crowds. There's a stone church just past the exit, and as I waited for him, I took off my heavy backpack and sat on the big steps.

"Heeeey, Heather," a voice called out behind me. It surprised me a bit, since this was midtown. I was half thinking it could be a homeless person randomly calling out my name, so I turned around carefully.

It was my "elbow-partner" (to borrow a teacher term) from this afternoon, a funky Santa Cruz American Lit teacher. She was grinning at me.

"I was just telling her," (she nodded her head to her friend) "how glad I am that my table-mates aren't weird."

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