35 years of IRA and still inspired

Apr 09, 2013
Ruth Culham, author of Traits Writing, shares her first experience at the International Reading Association conference and looks forward to attending the 58th Annual Convention this year! I attended my first IRA in—!!!—1978.I was teaching fifth grade in Montana then, and it was a really big deal to get approval to travel all the way to Houston, Texas, for the conference. I arrived high on anticipation and expectations. My memory of that event is still vivid. The school district booked me into the cheapest hotel possible, near the Astrodome. It was a long bus ride to the convention and a long ride back…but I didn’t care. I was at a national conference and my head and heart were being filled to the brim. I was encountering new ideas and meeting generous, committed people, not to mention catching fleeting glimpses of cockroaches lurking in the dark hotel hallways—a new experience for this Montana girl. I’ll never forget standing in line for hours to see Wilson Rawls talk about writing Where the Red Fern Grows, and I wept right along with the other ten thousand educators when he told of his passion for writing and the incredible obstacles of poverty and low self-worth that he overcame to bring his timeless story to readers of all ages. I was mesmerized by Bruno Bettelheim’s presentation about classic fairy tales and their importance to children’s well-being. In fact, I found myself so caught up his brilliant book, The Uses of Enchantment, it became the focus of a big-old research paper for me later in graduate school. And those were just the headliners. The rest of the sessions were rich and varied. And on the final day, I had a hard time stuffing into my suitcase all the autographed books, notes, and convention goodies. My students treasured the books I brought back signed by their literary heroes, and I lived off the professional energy of that conference for years. And now, in 2013, I am looking forward to going to another Texas IRA. This time in San Antonio – and I’m not planning to share my room with anything creepy or crawly. Once again I’ll be in line to see favorite authors: Rick Riordan, Mo Willems, and Chris Soentpiet. I’m looking forward to the sessions on writing with humor and the lure of Dystopia – a place I fell into last summer. I’ll drop in on sessions by professional authors whose work sits on my bookshelf at home, just to get a fix of their latest thinking. And I’ll meet up with old and new friends as we take in the best of San Antonio’s Riverwalk – complete with guacamole and margaritas (not necessarily in that order.) The best part of IRA may be just hanging out in the Scholastic booth with my extended family of editors, marketers, and other staff members. You’ll find me standing to the side, eagerly eavesdropping on teachers and administrators as they discover and thumb through my new writing program, Traits Writing: A Complete K-8 Program–the culmination of my life’s work. It turned out so beautifully not only in terms of what it contains for teachers of writing, but also how it looks. The ooh’s and ahh’s will make my day, and I’ll step in to introduce myself to anyone who wants to talk more about the program specifically or writing instruction in general. What a pleasure that will be. I can’t wait. Preparing my own IRA presentations pushed my thinking about teaching writing. In “When Giants Unite” I’m talking about the Common Core State Standards and Texas STAAR, and how the 4Ws of writing –writing traits, writing process, writing modes, and writing workshop—will prepare students for both. And, I’m part of a symposium with educators I admire tremendously: Greg Tang, Danny Brassell, and Steven Layne. Am I lucky or what? We’re doing a 2.5 hour session entitled “Readin’, Writin’, and ‘rithmetic with the Common Core State Standards and Texas STAAR.” We’ll each lend our perspective on how these initiatives work within our respective disciplines and for learners of every ability and of every first language. I hope to see you at one or both of these sessions. And I hope to run into you at the Scholastic booth, in line getting children’s books autographed, or on the Riverwalk. We’re about to have some pretty great experiences together at IRA this year. I feel so fortunate to be attending and continuing to learn and grow along side each of you. Since my first IRA those many years ago, this conference continues to enrich my life as a teacher, writer, and reader. Meet Ruth Culham at the Scholastic Classroom & Community Group Author Gala and her Traits Writing Breakfast! Reserve your spot today: http://teacher.scholastic.com/products/classroombooks/ira-2013.htm#.UWLX6jeokzI