The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference was in Washington, D.C. again this year. An old post of mine I looked through today about NCSS made me smile, as I seemed to be pretty gung-ho about the organization, if a bit sarcastic. In the post I mention a few different approaches to attending conferences. At this year’s the following things enhanced my experience: the fact that I’ve taught for a while and attended with closer colleagues; having helped to implement a curriculum piece substantial enough that its write-up is being published twice this year; and, the fact that I’ve attended 4.5 previous NCSS conferences (one was just virtually).
The last proved helpful in a number of ways. I was able to identify fruitful sessions more easily in the program, talk people up about the sweet, sweet giveaways in the exhibitors’ hall, and I was less stressed about wringing everything possible out of the conference, and more interested in relaxing, learning a lot, networking, and enjoying the city. My first NCSS conference was in DC while I was an undergrad and, after madly attending every possible session for two straight days, I asked my advisor, “Should I keep attending sessions or go see the city? I’ve never been here before.” He smiled a bit at my pre-service dedication and told me to get heck out of the conference center and see the nation’s Capitol.
A few years of teaching experience gave me some insight into what to look for in sessions and materials, but also on keynote speakers, and conversations happening that addressed policy issues and trends in the field. The relationships I have with peers, friends, and colleagues are substantially different, lending to a better conference. My first year, I was a squirrelly undergrad from Kansas with a brand new suit running around D.C.’s convention center trying to figure what the heck it means to be a history teacher and wandering around the city by myself in awe of all that it is. This year I took a train down from New York, as did my fiancée, met with my friends/colleagues, and was a bit more interested in relationship building.
One new development stemmed out of the cross-continental discussion effort my colleagues and I have supported over the past couple years. At the very least, we talked the talk well enough to get some people in our session room interested in our work and in starting another major initiative similar to, and potentially substantially larger than, ours. Divulging details at this point is premature, but the very prospect of an international collaborative effort and even the opportunity to have a conversation about it was fairly exhilarating. If there ever is more on that (knock on wood), I’m sure I’ll post it. Regardless, networking was a much larger focus this year, instead of figuring out the definition of social studies or finding tools to get things under control in my classroom.
Overall I’d say this year’s conference was a success. I’m already looking forward to next year’s, which will be in Seattle, as well as the National Council for History Education (NCHE) conference, which my colleagues and I will be attending in the spring. It’ll be good to get a look at a different organization specifically geared for history teachers and compare the free swag they give out to the free swag I get at the NCSS conference.