by Michael Henry
Energized, excited, recharged, perhaps even reborn are the words that come to mind when thinking about my experience of the 57th Annual Convention this year in Chicago as a newly minted member of the International Reading Association’s Teacher Advisory Panel (TAP), the conduit between IRA members and the board of directors.
Because of TAP, my convention began a bit early on Sunday when I was introduced to the most amazing, dedicated group of teachers from around the world whom I will be working for the betterment of IRA over the next three years. Although I could not possibly address everything I learned throughout my three days with the panel, what immediately struck me was that it does not matter if a teacher teaches second grade in a classroom of seven in rural Nebraska or has a class of 68 in Nairobi, Kenya—all the teachers on the panel had the same goal in mind: improving literacy instruction for students.
Never in my life have I had the opportunity to spend so much time with so many dedicated professionals. This experience was the most cognitively stimulating, professionally challenging experience of my career. While we, as members of the TAP, will all be assigned to tasks forces with specific focus areas such as professional development, international relations, or the planning of the convention itself, we are all excited about contributing to the wonderful organization that has given us all so much over the years.
It does not matter whether your students are familiar with evacuation plans, as those in Louisiana, an earthquake plan as those in California, or a snow plan as those from Wisconsin and Minnesota. The members of the panel want the same benefits for all students: to be engaged, to be excited, and to have a voice in the classroom and in the texts they choose to read. Our mission now is to support teachers in their endeavors to realize this goal.
While being a member of TAP was certainly the best way I have ever experienced the annual convention, it was the energy throughout the entire IRA Chicago that was so enlivening. Whether it was teachers discussing the common core or literacy coaches presenting coaching models, a shared and unwavering concern for students came up time and again—I found that common commitment to be most invigorating aspect about this year’s convention. It was clear that IRA members care deeply about their teaching and work tirelessly to improve the lives of their students, a sentiment I hope to strengthen during my tenure as an advisory panel member. In every meeting, every interview, every workshop, every presentation, and every speech, the student was at the center of the conversation, an indication, I believe, of the strength of the International Reading Association.
My spirits were boosted and my sights were brightened when I heard that even in our day of high-stakes testing, extreme accountability measures, lack of teacher respect, and an achievement gap, teachers can still care about each and every student, enough so to put them in their “balcony” of inspiration. Whether it’s buying students the uniform they need, giving them the choice of what to read, reading edgy books, recording stories, or writing about art, working always to empower students was the true theme of the convention.
As an IRA member, I could not be more proud of my organization. As a newly appointed member of the TAP, I could not have had a better convention experience. As a teacher, I could not have been more motivated to be great for my students. And as your colleague I cannot thank you enough for all that you do for improving the lives of all our students through your literacy instruction.
New TAP members Thomas Leis, Michelle Cardaronella, Maura Rose McMahon, Mary Lou Benesch, Margaret Muthiga, and Michael Henry meet at the IRA Annual Convention in Chicago. Photo by Chuck Fazio Photography.
Michael Henry is a high school reading teacher and literacy coach at Reavis High School in Burbank, IL.