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First Conference: The Aftermath

I’m back. As expected, I survived despite my anxiety. The trip to New York was great, and I gladly accept the resulting exhaustion. Since I went primarily for a conference, and conferences are for learning, I’ll share a few things I learned.

The bottom line is that I need to head back to NYC before too long. (And yes, I know my sister will insist on coming along that time.)

Being Liked is Nice, But Not at Another’s Expense

When it comes to teaching, I know I have things to work on, but I also do some things pretty well. A lot of kids like my class and like me as a teacher.

That feels nice. It’s helpful, too, when a kid who doesn’t normally like math likes you as a teacher. They try a little harder, which often leads to doing a little better. I’ve even had a kid or two come away with a totally different opinion of math as a subject.

Like I said, it feels nice.

You know what doesn’t feel nice, though? Students convincing counselors to let them transfer into my class mid-year because they think I’m somehow better than the other teacher who teaches the course.

Flattering, but … wait a minute.

The two of us prep together and teach from exactly the same materials. We have essentially the same training. We see eye-to-eye on most mathematical topics and how to approach them. Sure, our personalities are a little different. But here’s what it really comes down to.

I don’t have a reputation yet.

The other teacher falls into the tough-but-fair category. That’s a good thing, but kids who don’t like the “tough” part spread the word that she’s “mean.” (Oh, please.)

Letting kids bail from one teacher to the other just because they feel like it isn’t fair to her—it undermines her. She’s been teaching for years and teaching well, and she deserves more credit than these kids are giving her.

It’s also not fair to me. It puts me in a position I don’t want to be in, playing me against my colleague. That sucks. On a more practical note, I don’t like it because it means my classes keep getting bigger. They’re all between 36 and 39 students now.

(My colleague could see it as great for her, because her classes are smaller, but she doesn’t. She’d rather we each have a fair, even class load.)

And you know what? Kids (and people in general, I’m sure) do this all the time. Playing favorites. Choosing sides. Trying to get everyone else to like/not like the same people they do. Often without much—if any—solid basis for that opinion.

I don’t like it.

Not sure what I can do about it.

First Conference Anxiety (Hold Me)

I’ve been to a number of math ed or deaf ed conferences, but never a writers’ conference. It’s something I’ve been interested in doing, so I was on the lookout for a good one to start with. Something local. Maybe regional. If I could just find one with the right timing.

But no. Thanks to Peer Pressure Practitioner extraordinaire Mindy McGinnis, I’m kicking off my writers’ conference experience at the winter conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in New York.

This is a good thing. I’ve been wanting to go back to New York since the first (only) time I went, when I was a teenager. I’ll get to hang out with Mindy and MarcyKate Connolly. I’ll get to meet people like my editor, my agent, and friends from AQC.

But I’m an introvert. And a worrier. So while there’s a lot of anxious-excited going on, there’s also plenty of just-plain-anxious.

A sampling:

Okay, this sounds dangerously close to complaining about something I really am excited for.
Just anxious, too.
Sometimes being a grown-up is overrated.

Age is Relative

I already knew our perception of age is relative. When you’re five, a 16-year-old is practically as old as your parents. When you’re thirty, that same 16-year-old may seem like barely more than a tiny child.

I also knew age differences are relative. An eight-year difference is huge between a 12-year-old and a 20-year-old. But between people who are 72 and 80? Not so much.

Here’s a new one I just noticed, though. The context and timing of when I met a person affects how I think of their relative age from then on. A 24-year-old I met fairly recently will fall into my mental category of “around my age.” (I know they’re younger than I am. I said “around.”) They’re definitely adults.

Then there are the people I taught my first year. They’re all around 24 now. But when I taught them—when I met them—they were 8th graders. (That means they were 13- to 14-year-olds.) Those are forever stuck in my category of “definitely younger than I am.”

It doesn’t mean I treat them like kids when I see them now. On the contrary, I’ve reconnected with a couple and definitely see them as adults I can treat as equals. But they are younger.

Similarly, people who were already adults when I met them as a little kid are solidly “older.” But I could meet someone that same age—say, pushing 50—right now and they still might fall into the “around my age” category.

It’s all about context.

Not like it’s a big deal, but one of the weird things about perception.

Lynn Phillips should be happy. This means she’s forever young. At least to me.

Experience vs. Expertise

There are a couple of things I could say I’m an expert in. Math and deaf education, for instance. I have the degrees and the training, plus actual years in the classroom. (Not that I can’t still improve, of course.)

Then there are areas I have experience in. Some coincide with my expertise (such as those years of experience in the classroom), while others are just experience, making me far from an expert. I’d put writing and the publishing industry in this latter category, though I think it’s transitioning to the former.

I have expertise, I have experience, and I also have opinions. On just about anything. Some of those opinions are on subjects I have NO experience in, much less expertise. I try to make it clear that those opinions fit into the “very theoretical” category.

My opinions on writing and publishing are a little less theoretical, because I’ve actually done some stuff. I’ve written a few novels. I’ve queried a lot. I’ve critiqued a few manuscripts, and I’ve talked to some agents and editors. But in a business as fickle and subjective and super-in-flux-right-now as publishing, my individual experiences are only worth so much.

Still, people ask for advice. I offer my opinion, and I try to back it up with the reasoning or experience that led to it. They can take it or leave it as they see fit.

That pretty much goes for all the advice and opinions I offer in any area, including education. Yes, I favor certain ways. Yes, I get frustrated when other people seem stuck in what I view as outdated or unsubstantiated opinions. I get even more frustrated when those people don’t have the expertise to back up what they’re spouting.

I’m pretty sure beating someone over the head with what I think won’t do much to change their mind.

So I’ll say what I think, especially when asked directly. I’ll try to keep my mind open to understanding the reasons behind opposing views. And I’ll give experts a fair shot, while considering the source of their credentials.

Your Excuses May Vary

As writers—heck, as people in general—we have things we’d like to accomplish. Write a new novel. Start querying. Revise an old novel. Complete edits before a deadline.

So we set goals. We post them in places like the Writing Odometer at AgentQuery Connect. We round up Twitter friends for a high-motivation Word War or #1k1hr. Public declaration of our goals and intentions can help us follow-through.

Sometimes we stay on track and celebrate. Sometimes we don’t, and then we might publicly confess the cause of our demise.

Sometimes we have really good reasons. Sometimes we’re just making excuses. Sometimes it’s somewhere in-between and can be hard to tell whether we’re being too hard on ourselves … or not hard enough.

My excuses may not be your excuses. I don’t have kids and/or a husband to take up time, which can make me think, “Why am I not getting things done?” Then again, some of you may not have a day job outside of writing and wonder the same. Some of you have both, or other things getting in the way that I can’t even imagine.

Those things are pretty valid, I think. There are only so many hours in the day, and only so much we can pack in before our neurons explode. It’s okay to cut ourselves some slack, especially since beating ourselves up doesn’t actually get much done.

Then again, there are also plenty of times I think, “Just one little round of this mind-numbing game to decompress from school,” and it turns into an hour or two I could’ve used to get something done. Yes, taking a break to relieve stress is important, but I know from experience that falling behind on things that need to be done only creates more stress.

I think my own goal for now is not to fall back on my good reasons so much that they become lame excuses.

Your excuses, of course, may vary.