If you’re a teacher looking for useful sessions that will immediately improve your classroom, you might wonder, “Is the NAGC conference worth the cost?” (Now, I’m talking about the National Association for Gifted Children, not the other NAGCs!).
NAGC is strangely different from other gifted ed conferences. That’s because NAGC is an organization run by academics so the conference skews towards academia – even though the vast majority of attendees are teachers.
If you’re a teacher, I’d recommend attending a state or local conference designed by and for people like yourself. NAGC’s 2024 conference isn’t worth the cost… unless you’re into academia.
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79% of NAGC’s attendees work at school districts while only 12% are academics graph. So the leadership should reflect that, right?
Well, look at NAGC’s board and you’ll see a pretty obvious problem: it’s packed with PhDs. An organization run by academics leads to a conference for academics. You can see this in action by browsing the board’s minutes. Note how often NAGC’s academic journal is on the agenda and how rarely classroom teachers appear as a topic.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with having an organization or an event for academics. The problem is that, when 79% of attendees work at school districts, that means the event is paid for by school districts and should be planned for this audience.
As a new teacher, my first NAGC conference cost over a $1000 to attend. I expected to see the best of the best! You’d think that a national conference would pull its speakers from the smaller conferences. It would be so easy! Ask state conferences for their most popular sessions, invite those speakers, give ’em a free ticket, and, you’ve got yourself an amazing event! All the best speakers in the country at one, convenient conference!
But, because NAGC is an organization of academics, they’ve created a session proposal system biased towards academics. Now, I don’t think they do this on purpose. It’s just the consequence of such limited voices in their leadership.
Here are a few ways that NAGC’s proposal process leads to an over-representation of academics.
- Session proposals are entirely written. Yes, friend, you write about how good your talk is going to be. Obviously, this benefits people who frequently write about their topic – and that’s not teachers! Written proposals also hide whether someone is, you know, a good speaker or not. This leads to sessions that look impressive in the session guide, but are awful talks. I walked out of more sessions at NAGC than any other conference I’ve been to.
- You aren’t allowed to put your name in your session proposal! To pick good speakers, don’t you kinda need to know who will be giving the presentation? You have to say, “Oh, this person is an amazing speaker!” or “Oh heck no!! This person was awful last year!” Hiding people’s identities protects bad presenters. And that’s unfair to the attendees.
- Proposals are due in January for a conference in November. That’s ten months in advance. It’s only two months after the previous event ended. Who has well-written submissions ready so far in advance? Yep! Folks who are already spending lots of time writing about their topic. (Again, not teachers.)
- Random people choose the sessions. It’s not some elite team of experts doing the picking. It’s whoever will agree to do it! Heck, I judged submissions back in my third year of teaching! What did I know about picking sessions? I’m sure I added to the very problem I’m writing about! I’m sure I picked academics because their paragraphs sounded so fancy.
Now, this all seems fair to the people in charge because it mirrors how their papers get submitted to academic journals. But, an event for teachers should not be treated like an academic journal!
A Personal Anecdote
Here’s one example of the kind of problems that this process leads to.
Back when I attended NAGC’s conference, I sat in on a session where a university professor was speaking. I watched as this PhD gave the audience a tour… of my own website!! Now, that’s fine with me. People are certainly welcome to share Byrdseed at conferences. Many do!
That year (like so many years), NAGC had rejected all of my own session proposals! I wasn’t given a chance to speak, yet a PhD got to present _my work). To me. Because… they wrote a better paragraph than I did?
Now, I randomly bumbled into this one incident, but you can imagine how often things like this happen – academics stand up front while folks who are actually doing the work sit and listen.
Now, I’m certainly not the only person who’s been turned off by NAGC’s focus on academia. For a national organization, its membership is tiny!! In 2021, NAGC had just 2,995 people. Read that page and it appears that 2021 was a good year for membership! (For context there are 13,000 public school districts in the US.)
NACG’s membership problem has the same cause as its lackluster conference. The benefits appeal to academics, not teachers. You get access to journals and newsletters and the right to vote for the board 😴 I was a member for one year and one year only. The membership benefits didn’t help me as a teacher.
Honestly, I think the best way to get better at teaching is to skip the conferences and just watch great teachers at work. This is a big reason why I stopped speaking at events. Listening to conference talks is just not an effective way to become a better teacher.
But, if you really want to go to a conference, look for smaller, local events that are run by folks who deal with the same problems you deal with. My favorite education event has always been the local conference that I went to as a teacher. It’s highly connected to the local community, only takes up a morning, includes lunch in the price (yes!), and is entirely run by people who work at nearby school districts. This kind of event meets the needs of its attendees.