Conferences: fairy tales, thrillers or crime novels?

I am a slow thinker, and when everybody else is moving to the next page, I am still mulling on the first, and usually when I arrive home, is when I have the best comments of something that already happen. If I go for a run, or a bike ride, then, everything is clear and crisp. Being in Spain is giving me the advantage that I am 9 hours ahead of California, so I can feel that I am posting my second blog entry for the Reflective Writing Club on time #CCCWrite

I haven’t attended too many conferences because my position as a school librarian is difficult to fund by schools. Conferences are expensive, you don’t only have to pay the fees but also room and board during the days that the conference last, and ask for leave days which are a nightmare for administrators.

In the early 1990s,

I remember when I was a graduate history student at SUNY, Stony Brook. I attended a history conference in New York city. Paying the fee was very affordable as a Fulbright student. I was very excited. There were so many lecture options to attend, and they were so many books and papers given away, that at the end of each day, I could barely walk with all the weight I was carrying. I got overwhelm by the amount of information and possibilities. I couldn’t stand the fact that two sessions I was interested in, where given at the same time.  Soon enough I realized that almost all the presentations were very boring. Professor just sat in front of an audience, and read their papers out loud in a monotone voice. I couldn’t stand it. I figured out that the best way spending my time at the conference was by going to the rooms of the lectures I was interested in, and collect a print copy of the papers that they were giving away, and read them at home. I still have great memories of them. I learned that I can be more exciting that an old professor, and thankful that now papers and conferences can be posted and found online.

In the  mid 2000s,

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As a  certified teacher-librarian in Oregon, I had a very supportive principal and attended three very exciting and engaging conferences in which I met authors such as Susan Patron (The higher power of lucky) (Making Waves, OASL 2007 Conference Seaside, OR),  or Frank McCourt (Angela’s ashes), John Green, Pete Hautman, and Palestinian-American poet Naomi Shihab Nye, at the joint OASL/WLMA 2008 Conference in Portland, Oregon, exactly 5 days after I ran the full Portland marathon with my sister-in-law;

MarcoTorresatworkor at the Instructional Technology Strategies Conference (ITSC) sponsored by OETC in February 2009, in Portland, Oregon where I heard keynote speaker Ken Robinson, and attended a workshop with high school history-film teacher, storyteller, and guru Marco Torres . Funny thing was that when this last conference was over, I was laid off by my school district due to the economic crisis, where school librarians and newbies like me were the first one in letting go.

All these experiences, I tried to transmit them in my daily routine, by joining committees in my school district, collaborating with other organizations in the community, helping teachers integrating technology in their classrooms, and exposing my students with new readings, authors and ideas.

In the 2010s,

Here in Spain I have to rely on my own capacity for attending conferences. The last two I attended where in October and November of last year. In both cases, I was able to attend just because I am taking a year of leave, so I have the time to go without fighting with the system for going, and also because they were affordable for my pocket. Actually, one was free and in the same area I live in (II Jornadas de formación para la promoción de la lectura y escritura, Sevilla), and the other one, only two hours away (XIX Jornadas Bibliotecarias de Andalucia in Huelva).

In the latter, I found the cheapest room in Airbnb that I could find, and talked to the public librarian from my town (who I knew was going), to catch a ride with her. Fortunately, I am not very picky with food, and my stomach gets full very rapidly. I just need to get a coffee in the morning, and then I  can survive anything.  I can mostly fill myself with the snacks they give you at conferences and keep going.

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In both conferences I got really enthusiastic, and fired up. I have to confess though, that I am not very picky.  I appreciate any opportunity outside of the work routine, even if they are boring. I think they are a chance to get out, to think, to meet people, to establish contacts, and relationships. To hear other perspectives and ideas, and to learn to be more flexible.

The only thing I have found in every event I have attended as a long ranger is that I am an outsider. I would love to contribute and collaborate with people, but I am not sponsored by anybody or come with any group. The social part is also tough. It seems that everybody knows each other, and it’s difficult to break through. I try to find my own way by exploring other aspects of the whole experience.

I love to see other cities by discovering the daily life and atmosphere of the place. The best way for my budget (and also because I enjoy doing it that way)  is by walking, entering in little stores or local markets, buying food in supermarkets, talking to locals, trying to get out of the touristic section) or going to the touristic section undercover), and by taking public transportation (taxis are not allowed if it’s possible). I also enjoy taking photos, so any opportunity I have to travel due to a workshop or a conference, I take photos and post them in Instagram and Facebook, and also keep them in my files to help me illustrate later my own presentations. I also love to go for a run either early morning or in the evenings. It’s a great way to see a city when you don’t have too much free time outside of the conference, and also helps to get rid of all the stiffness caused by the amount of sitting time spent during them.

I remember one time I went for a three day IB training in Geneva, Switzerland. The hotel and site for the training was very far from downtown (at least 5 miles), with not very good transportation. The training was so intense, that we didn’t have time in the evenings. The only way I had to see the city was by running at 5:30 in the morning. It was dark, but still I got to see a little bit of a somber and quiet downtown. At least, I saw it. Part of going to conferences away from your home is learning from people and places.

I have thought that maybe I can attend a conference by giving a paper or a workshop but never have very clear what should I talk about, since I see so many wonderful professionals so knowledgeable and prepared. Last week,  I saw one call for papers at an international school librarian conference, and I decided to apply. I started thinking what are my skills and strengths as school librarian, and came up with a very fun workshop (I won’t give details, because it’s on review). Probably I won’t get picked, since I am not sponsored by any institution but by myself, and who will believe that I am good? Nobody but me. But I am not giving up. If I get to present, I will be so excited! It will be like being called to be cast as an extra for a Netflix series.

Conferences are mostly like a fairy tale, dreaming on attending one, sometimes being successful, sometimes not. If you are in, there are like a thriller, you get so pumped up! When your district sent you to this nice or expensive conference, and then doesn’t have time for you to share your experience, or doesn’t care less, is just like being in a dark crime novel.  I am hoping for more thrillers in the late 2010s and early 2020s.

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