Phone it in Friday IV: Conferencing

It’s been a very busy week, and with a slew of lessons and some open mic nighting yesterday—plus an early start this morning—I was unable to get a post written last night to go live this morning.  Further, I attended a teachers’ conference in a city about 90 minutes from my school, so I was unable to sneak in any surreptitious blogging amid sessions.

For tomorrow’s SubscribeStar Saturday post, I’m going to write more about one of the conference sessions I attended, which was about the importance of faculty culture to the functioning of an independent school.  I think it holds within it some important lessons about culture more broadly, and is worth discussing in more detail.

For this evening, though, my time is quite limited, so I thought I would share some general reflections on today’s conference.  I’m scooting off to a very cold pressbox for the evening, from which I’ll be announcing a playoff football game, and getting some hastily-rehearsed singers out onto the field for a brief Veterans’ Day presentation.  When the head of your Board of Directors wants something, he gets it.

I’ll begin by writing that, as much as I hate meetings, I love conferences—if they are done well.  I’m not one for the big flashy super conferences that last for days in some crowded urban center with jacked up hotel rates and rubber chicken dinners.  But a good, one- or two-day meeting of like-minded people to discuss their passions is an invigorating experience.

I will hasten to add that I do not consider myself an education nerd; that is, I don’t get my jollies discussing theoretical pedagogy.  But I do enjoy teaching (though lately, I will confess, it’s lost a bit of its luster), and I appreciate practical advice from colleagues about what has worked in their classrooms, and how such approaches can be applied to my own.

I also enjoy—despite my general dislike for crowds—the hum of activity, as all the teachers gather for a day of workshops and discussions.  Like most teachers, I love school—not just the teaching aspect of it, but the whole institution and culture of school.

That includes being a student.  While I will never darken the door of a school as a formal student again (if I can at all help it), I like being in a classroom.  My need to be noticed and rewarded for my [perceived] intelligence and cleverness stroked and soothed when I receive kudos for saying something productive or humorous in a session.

My school has not attended this conference in recent years for one reason or another—hurricanes necessitating makeup days, other forms of professional development, etc.—so I was pleased to get back there.  The conference, as a whole, did not disappoint.

Other than the session on faculty culture, about which I will write more tomorrow, I attended a particularly lively session on teaching children a lifelong love of music, which was inspirational and edifying.  The workshop instructor was a longtime choir director, who showed us video of at least two generations of her students singing “Like a Bridge Over Troubled Water,” a song which always reminds me of my father.

There was only one social studies/history-related session, which was geared more towards middle school teachers, but I’ve found that I get far more out of music-related sessions than history ones.  Perhaps that’s a sign of where my passions genuinely rest, or perhaps music is just a lot more fun.

Before closing this meandering post, I will relate a story from a past teachers’ conference, many years ago.  I was in a session about the Founding Fathers and slavery, and we read the confession of Nat Turner, the notorious rebel slave who slew men, women, and children in their sleep in an ill-fated, wicked attempt at gaining his freedom.  The discussion leader posed the question:  was Nat Turner justified in striking back against an evil institution, slavery, in such a horrific way?

I answered, emphatically, no.  This raised the ire of a very angry middle-aged black man.  After trying all the predictable counterarguments (“was it justified to drop the atomic bombs on Japan”—yes, of course!), he resorted to the last gasp of the irate progressive:  he alleged I was racist.

Specifically, he said that if I saw four black men loafing in front of a grocery store, I would lock my doors.  Rather than giving him what I wanted—a denial that I would do any such thing—I doubled-down, Donald Trump style (and this incident was several years before Donald Trump’s raise to political prominence, so I’d like to take credit for his combative, scrappy approach).  I said, “Well, if they’re dressed like me, I’m not going to worry about it” (after all, our sartorial choices do send clear signals about who we are, whether it’s popular to admit such a thing or not—you don’t wear pajamas on a blind date, for example).

For context, I was wearing a sweater vest, a tie, and a coat—my hobbit-style wardrobe.  The angry black man responded, “I see a guy like you, and I think of a serial killer!”

What happened next is, I will ever argue, my finest moment.  I don’t know if it was the heady experience of the fray, the horrified female science teacher I was trying to impress, or my lightning fast wit, but surely God put the words on my lips.  I replied, “Well, I do have a certain Bundy-esque sensuality.”

The tension in the room broke amid gales of laughter.  The angry black man—as is the custom of such types—continued to fume, but I’d kept my cool and won the day.

Nat Turner was a sociopath and a murderer.  Bombs away!

5 thoughts on “Phone it in Friday IV: Conferencing

  1. […] “Phone it in Friday IV: Conferencing” – I despise meetings, but I love conferences—if they’re done well.  Just as there are best practices for meetings, there are best practices for conferences:  offer relevant sessions, keep the entire conference short in length, and have some decent food and coffee, appropriate for the length and nature of the conference.  A good conference is an opportunity to learn, network, and re-energize. […]


  2. […] “Phone it in Friday IV: Conferencing” – I hate meetings.  I’ve been in enough of them to know that they are typically a soul-sucking waste of time, and their agendas are often way overstuffed, usually with information that could be explained easily enough in an e-mail.  That said, I love conferences.  This post was a review of a private school association’s annual teachers’ conference, which our faculty had not attended in some years due to various conflicts.  I find that, unlike meetings, conferences are full of opportunities to learn and to network.  There’s an air of sociable conviviality at a good conference—and cheese Danishes. […]


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