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The Thing to Remember About Conferences

The Thing to Remember About Conferences

Written by Andrea Marshbank
November 16, 2017

Conferences are a traffic intersection. They are jam packed, a five lane road that crosses a one way street with a slow light. There are jaywalkers and honkers, texters and screamers. On occasion, someone gets out of the car, slams the door self-righteously, and we all watch in fascination. While conferences may seem as streamlined as meeting in a room and listening to others talk about teaching, they are as complex and chaotic as anything else.

You come to a conference with your entire life pushing behind you. The eighty-seven essays you have yet to grade, your distraught about meeting the in-laws for dinner, the pressure of knowing your own presentation is a mere hours away. These stressors press in at you from all sides and you must be careful to remember to breathe. As much as you want conferences to be as clear cut as: sit down, learn, and talk when you are instructed to, they aren’t. They can’t be. They’re checking emails and quietly taking phone calls outside of the room. They’re stressing about finding parking in downtown St. Louis and trying your damnedest to keep track of every receipt. But in some ways the glory of conferences is found in this cacophony. Waiting in line for twenty minutes at the Marriott Starbucks, you meet a fellow English teacher who also desperately wants to know, what is blended learning? When a woman compliments your lanyard, so you sit at the same table as her, and now you’re exchanging email addresses and laughter. Turning in your seat to find a photographer holding a lens inches away from your face, and when he cracks a joke about staying calm, you can’t help but smile even though you’re pretty sure you were supposed to stay still. Appreciating the work of your presenters who painstakingly cut out colorful fish with writing prompts on them and wore goggles with pride to stay in their ‘writing flow’ theme. These moments are meaningful. In these tangled messes that are conferences, they are the sweet gems that motivate the rest of the experience.

I forget that sometimes. I forget that while, sure, the sessions are going to be helpful and the speakers will be insightful, it’s the people I meet who will make this conference outstanding. It’s these small moments where smiles and conversation sneak in between the sessions and sometimes burst the sessions themselves wide open like a pinata of happiness and learning and education. Conferences are clustered and busy and they are beautiful. In the same way that I listen to city traffic to put me to sleep at night, the buzz of this conference lull me into bliss. It is a mindful moment of learning. We are all here to meet with each other for only a moment. This is simply an intersection, in our winding journey; it is only one stoplight that seems to go by unusually fast.