The 23rd IRA World Congress is over and it is almost time for me to return to my real life. The end of a good conference is always a bit bittersweet; a really good conference refreshes your professional soul and restores your passion for teaching and learning. You know you will miss the professional community of the conference, but you are eager to explore the ideas you encountered.
I believe that it is essential for teachers to continue their professional development through conferences. I know that many school districts in the borderlands emphasize local professional development; it is more cost effective for the district to bring in someone for a day or two rather than sending teachers out of town for a conference. However, while these district workshops and inservices may be useful, attendance at regional and national conferences allows teachers to interact with educators from other areas and to explore ideas that are not necessarily district-approved, but may be important for their teaching.
There are a number of different conferences focused on literacy that serve different purposes and audiences.
The International Reading Association organizes several conferences. Every year they hold a national conference in the late spring. This conference is huge and very teacher friendly. As a professor, I don’t find it particularly useful, but many classroom teachers I know love this conference. IRA also has state affiliates, including the Texas State Reading Association. Finally, every two years IRA holds the World Congress.
The National Council for Teachers of English has a conference every year the weekend before Thanksgiving. Despite the name of the organization, NCTE deals with all aspects of literacy; reading, writing, literature, and bilingual issues. The conference is teacher friendly, but with a slightly more academic edge than most IRA conferences. Like IRA, NCTE has state affiliates; the Texas affiliate has a conference late January.
The Literacy Research Association (formerly the National Reading Conference) has an annual meeting the first week in December. This organization has an academic focus and the conference sessions present cutting edge, new literacy research.
Finally, the American Educational Research Association holds a national conference every spring around Easter. The organization focuses on all aspects of education, not just literacy, and is definitely aimed at the world of academia.
What conferences do I attend? My favorite conference as an academic and a professor is the LRA Annual Meeting. Without question, this is my academic home. It is a smaller conference, easy to navigate, easy to get to know people. When I leave LRA, I am filled to the brim with new ideas, new possibilities, and excitement about my profession. As an educator, I love the NCTE annual convention. It’s larger, but still fairly easy to navigate. The people are friendly, the sessions are interesting, and I love that even though sessions are aimed at teachers everything is backed by theory and research.
I know that attending a state or national conference can be expensive. To me, however, it is worth spending the money for the professional benefits. Of course, check with your school to see if they can help support you. Some organizations also give out travel scholarships. And in some cases, conference attendance may be used as a business expense on your taxes.