2009 ALAN Gallo Grant Recipient
Thoughts on ALAN 2009
I began my teaching career in the fall of 2009, at a high school in the tiny agricultural
community of Tipton, Indiana. When I went to college I always said that I would never be a
teacher, but I have learned that the things I consider myself least likely to do always seem
to be the things that work out the best for me. I had done well in college, but this teaching
thing was an entirely different mater, and the first few months of leading my sophomores
though English 10 began to wear on my resolve. Was this really what I should be doing?
Was it enough?
When word came that I had received the ALAN Gallo Grant for 2009, I was
encouraged and relieved. I would be able to attend the conference, to meet with so many
authors and experienced educators, and to present my own thoughts and research from
college and my beginning career. It was an honor to know that my colleagues in the field of
education believed that I deserved to be at this conference, and I looked forward to those
few days in Philadelphia with excitement and nervousness.
My first experience with the ALAN attendees at the party the night before the
conference was wonderful. Everyone was incredibly gracious and interested in my story,
and it was really exciting for me to be in the same room as authors like Sarah Dessen and
Francisco X. Stork. My students LOVED these authors, and so did I, and I was already
excited to go back home and tell them all about the people I met. I was also lucky enough to
meet A.S. King, who wrote an amazing YA novel called The Dust of 100 Dogs, and it was an
honor to talk to her about young adult fiction.
The first day of the ALAN conference was an English teacher’s dream. I registered
and was handed a box full of books, and I immediately went to my seat and dropped my
things so I could sort through my new treasure. As I looked around the room all I could see
were ecstatic educators, all enthralled with so many new words and ideas that we could all
share with out students. The joy in that room was palpable, and I anxiously awaited the
rest of the day.
I wasn’t disappointed. From hearing Gregory Maguire’s hilarious and touching
opening speech, to the author panel including Matt de la Pena and Sarah Dessen, I enjoyed
every minute. Every author had an interesting story to tell, and they all gave me so much
encouragement that what I do is important and difficult work. Chris Crutcher’s talk was
particularly inspiring, since I had read some of his books in college and had recommended
his writing to my students already. He has wonderful stories to tell, and I know my
students relate to what he has to say.
The highlight of my day, by far, was being able to hear Stephen Chbosky speak.
When I saw his name on the list for ALAN I was so excited because The Perks of Being a
Wallflower was a book that really hit home for me. It was so honest and real, and I loved
that an author wasn’t afraid to write a character like Charlie. Adolescence is such a difficult
time for kids, and I love when authors really capture the essence of what it is like. Stephen
Chbosky’s book did that for me. His speech was so touching, and when he told his story
about how kids have written to him thanking him for their lives, I felt like my career was
affirmed. He wrote the book, and now it is my job, my privilege, to make sure that I get that
book into the hands of kids who need it.
The second day of ALAN was no less exciting. I was so honored to be able to present
in a breakout session with Dr. Kenan Metzger from Ball State University, and Dr. Jim
Blasingame from Arizona State. I was nervous that people wouldn’t really listen to what I
had to say because I haven’t even been a classroom teacher for a year, but that couldn’t be
further from the reaction we received. Our session was a resounding success, and I am
already looking forward to being able present many times in the years to come.
The day I came back to school from the conference was just as fulfilling. I brought
my box of books into my classroom, and over the course of the day my students dumped
the books out on the floor, went through them, and picked out something they wanted to
read. Particularly exciting for me was the fact that I had several books that appealed to the
boys in my classes. I had been concerned before I left that I didn’t really have anything that
would reach boys, but ALAN did a great job of finding us literature that would reach all
Overall, my experience at ALAN 2009 was just incredible. I met so many amazing
and encouraging people, and I was able to begin my experiences as a conference presenter.
I am so thankful for ALAN and Dr. Gallo for making this grant possible, and I hope that it
will continue to allow young teachers to come and be inspired. I know I will always have
days where I don’t feel like coming to school, but now, thanks to ALAN, I have my copy of
The Perks of Being a Wallflower that is inscribed, “Nicole—thank you for saving the world
entire.” It is a comfort to know that ALAN creates a community where we all focus on
doing just that.