The Power of Words: Lessons from #NCTE13

sols_6Teaching is the sort of profession that can wear you down.  You don’t notice it happening.  It might start with an extra cup of coffee and the next thing you know you’re crawling into bed at 8pm wondering what happened to your life.  That’s why it’s so important for teachers to connect with each other around great ideas and renew our passion for our work.

I had carefully scanned the program the night before looking for just the right sessions to fill my Saturday.  I arrived an hour early and the room was already starting to fill.  At a quarter till people were lined up down the hall and negotiating sharing chairs.  At five till I gave up my coveted chair so a guy on crutches could come in and I situated myself on the floor, halfway under the presenter’s table.  This room was packed with people ready to learn, ready to write.

The session I most desperately wanted to see was headed by Penny Kittle whom I have just a teeny tiny teacher crush on.  She’s just so real and she’s the type of person who makes you want to go back to school so that she will read your writing and comment on it.  It was a session about writing and we were going to write.

The strangers in that room took a journey together.  Our presenters became our teachers, modeling their process, sharing their notebooks and strategies, and opening their hearts to take us to a deeply personal place.  I was reminded of the absolute power of words.  Words that change minds, words that express your hopes, dreams, and fears.  In order to be fearless writers we must face fear head on.

I sat on the floor, curled in a ball like one of my fifth grade students, and I wrote.  I revised and I ultimately shared a very deeply personal poem about motherhood with two men whom I’ve never met before.  Two strangers who became my writing safety net that day and who I may never see again.  We shared our words and we will be forever linked.  Here is the poem I wrote.

Dada, ahda, baba

her voice, her smile

fill me.

I quiver, chills of joy

when she climbs into my face

whispers her words

then pulls my hair and gouges my eyeball

with curious fingers.

I fight away the thoughts

not unique, of course

How will I protect her?

How will I prepare her?


I am reliant on humanity

people who are both vicious and/or valiant

A dark fear

I can not say it aloud

That one day we will be parted

Even now, cities away, I am

incomplete (without her)

I shove these thoughts to a deep place

entertain them late at night

(When no one looks)

The rhythm of the chair strong

like her heartbeat next to mine.

I drown these thoughts underneath

new teeth


first steps

her voice, her smile.

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11 Responses to The Power of Words: Lessons from #NCTE13

  1. jarhartz says:

    Your words I feel on deep level. I wish I wrote them. You share my journey as a teacher and a parent. I love being a student at the feel of those masters. I wish I was at NCTE. My teacher days are still here. But those “I can’t stand being away from you” parent feelings have had to lessen as my own have grown. I can’t hold them that close anymore. I have to be “reliant on humanity” so I shove my fears into that “deep place” you beautifully wrote of. Thank you for the power of your words.

  2. Terje says:

    This is an amazingly powerful poem. It must have been a truly safe and inspiring workshop to allow personal thoughts and feelings surface.

  3. Oh, this poem! It’s beautiful, Katie. It captures so much of the same sentiments I have when it comes to my daughter. You really found the right words to explain how hard and sacred parenting is.

  4. elsie says:

    Having a child changes one’s entire way of thinking and viewing the world. You have put words to my thoughts (and my child is 31), but yet I still feel them. What a great session you must have had with Penny Kittle. She is amazing! But then you are too! :-)

  5. Dana Murphy says:

    This is breathtaking. I am so glad you shared it with us. You captured, too, my deepest thoughts about my own two daughters. As though you had crawled in my head and heart and taken my words. Thank you. It’s beautiful.

  6. Tara Smith says:

    Two very different thoughts – one on being a teacher in the midst of inspirations, another being a mother – and being inspired by all that motherhood is. Lovely, Katie – and here’s to meeting in DC!

  7. Ellen Spears says:

    You really captured the importance of being in those sessions with others, learning beside strangers who become safety nets. Reminds me of my slicing safety nets. The details of your poem are just right. The sounds, the feelings, the words.

  8. What a beautiful poem, and such a powerful experience. I love the term “teacher crush”. I have several myself.

  9. Jaana says:

    Beautiful! Made me think of my daughter who is over 3000 miles away. I also found another reason to make plans for DC 2014!

  10. Penny Kittle’s session certainly did inspire you to share “words that express your hopes, dreams, and fears.” Your poem is lovely, Katie! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Linda Baie says:

    Glad you were able to be with Penny Kittle; she is so amazing & look how she inspired/empowered you, Katie. What a powerful poem to come out of what sometimes appears to be a simple teacher session. It is a wonderfully written post about feelings, the downs and the beautiful ‘ups’!

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