Going to conferences has played a major role in my life as a professor over the last seven years.
Seven years! Time flies. I speed towards old age. Want an example of what happens to you after you’ve been a professor for seven years?
“Dr. Tanner,” one of my students said to me during class the other day, “your sock is inside-out.”
We were sitting in a circle. I was leading a discussion. Probably about teaching and learning. I’m an education professor. I’ve led lots of discussions about teaching and learning. Usually with socks that aren’t inside-out.
I looked down. My sock was, indeed, inside-out. I went to take my shoe off. The class groaned collectively.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m going to fix my sock,” I told the students innocently.
“Nobody wants to see your old man feet,” one of them said.
Did you know the shortest verse in the bible is Jesus wept? Lazarus was dead. And Jesus didn’t appear to like death. Good for Him. I don’t like death either.
I didn’t actually weep about my old man feet. I laughed instead. The idea of a professor taking their socks off in class is pretty funny to me. I hid my foot behind a table and fixed my sock. An absent-minded old man fixing his sock during class?
Fortune, what have you wrought?
Look, I’m writing about going to academic conferences. Not about old man feet. Let’s try again.
The Literacy Research Association met in Atlanta this year. In-person, nonetheless!
I was expecting the conference to be virtual. Like every conference I’ve attended since the pandemic began. But no. These folks wanted to gather.
The last time I traveled to a conference was March of 2020. The National Council of Teacher’s of English Assemblies of Research met in Nashville. Talk about a long name for a group. I flew back from Nashville in March, the NBA cancelled the season, and the world ended. Since then, I’ve attended four or five conferences virtually. Talk about a nightmare. I still had all my other work commitments, but I also had to log on and attend and present at Zoom sessions. Those days were a grind. Not my cup of tea. Or coffee.
I haven’t flown since March of 2020. So heading down to Atlanta as the pandemic continues shook me a little. I flew out of Harrisburg. The capitol of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is about 90 minutes east of the fine city of State College. And Harrisburg’s airport offers direct flights to Atlanta. Unlike the airport down the road from me. None of the stress of connecting flights. I figured that would be an easier way to get to Georgia.
I left on a Tuesday. Got back on a Saturday. It’s always great to connect with and learn from colleagues around the country. To present and to share and to try to get smarter about things with smart people. I continue to think that sort of thing matters. Building knowledge with others despite a culture that, so far as I can tell, would rather craft their worldview from whoever posted whatever on this platform or that. Give me people around a table thinking hard and reading hard and figuring things out instead. Drinking together and laughing together. That’s the heart of what is good about academic conferences for me. The game of academic celebrity and prestige aside. I like getting the chance to catch up with smart people working hard to be smarter.
So I do like that about conferences. But I also hate leaving my family. I haven’t been on a trip away from Katie or the boys for nearly two years. Solomon got so sad when I left. Some professors, so far as I can tell, enjoy the liberation of traveling around the country for conferences. Get wild, y’all. Not me. All that social activity wears me out. I often end up in my hotel room, gorging on room service, watching the NBA. Missing my family. Eager to return home.
That’s quite the image, I suppose. Especially after setting you up earlier in this blog with ideations on my aging feet. Ew. And gross.
My feet really aren’t that old. Neither is the rest of me.
I’ve spent the last seven years traveling the country for conferences. New Orleans. The Rio Grande Valley. The fine city of Cleveland. Like Johnny Cash, it feels like I’ve been everywhere.
Who knows the future of academic conferences? What with the pandemic. I was safe as safe could be on my way to Atlanta. A direct flight. Masks. Vaccines. The works, baby. Still, it was strange to fly again. Even though I know many friends who have been jet setting during this pandemic. Good for them. It was a real trip for me. Got me worked up. Anxious. I would’ve backed out of the conference, but I was scheduled to present with one of my close friends and mentors at Penn State. And she would have slapped me upside the head if I hadn’t gone.
So I went to Atlanta. And I came back again. I continue to live the life of a professor. And as much as I like to joke about the idea of me being old, I know I’m not really old. 41. I have years of this work ahead of me, I think. Thinking hard. Working to be wise and to share that wisdom with others. That seems to be at the heart of the sort of things I do. Teaching and writing. Even improv when you peel back the layers of wackiness. I build stuff. With others. As a way to cope with being alive. To make sense of things.
And there’s more of that to do, baby. Lots more.