If you’re a teacher looking for useful sessions that will immediately improve your classroom, you might wonder, “Is NAGC’s 2022 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. It took me years of attending before I could put my finger on it: NAGC is an organization run by academics, thus the NAGC conference tends to skew 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 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. The leadership is packed with PhDs. In fact, NAGC’s leadership is so heavily tilted towards academia that they need a position called “School District Representative”!
It’s no surprise that 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 own academic journal pops up as an item on the agenda and how rarely classroom teachers come up 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 teachers by teachers.
As a new teacher, my first NAGC conference cost me over a $1000 when you include airfare, my (far from the venue) hotel room, and registration. After spending all of that money, I was expecting to see the best of the best!
But my state (and even county) gifted conferences were far superior for me as a teacher.
That’s because the majority of sessions at NAGC were led by university folks! People reading papers or explaining research. In this way, NAGC is unlike any gifted education conference I’ve been to. And I’ve been to most of them by now!
You can flip through NAGC’s 2021 at-a-glance sessions, and you’ll see what I mean. Seriously! Flip through. Look up each speaker’s bio. Academics dominate the stage, even though they represent only 12% of attendees.
You’ll even see the tilt towards academia in NAGC’s vendors. Scroll around the exhibit hall and note how many booths are for graduate programs at universities.
You’d think that a national conference would just pull its speakers from smaller conferences. It would be so easy! Just ask state conferences for their best-received sessions, invite those speakers, give ’em a free ticket, and, baby, you’ve got yourself an amazing event! All the best speakers in the country at this one 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 a 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 when the audience is mostly teachers.
- Session proposals are entirely written. Yes, friend, you write about how good your talk is going to be. Obviously, this benefits people who have the time to write well. And that’s not teachers. A purely written proposal also ignores whether someone is, you know, a good speaker or not! This leads to sessions that look good in the session guide, but are awful talks.
- 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 need to be able 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. It is unfair to the teachers paying for the conference.
- 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 an 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 bad speakers because their paragraphs sounded good.
Now, this all seems “fair” to the people in charge. (Believe me, I’ve talked to them about it!) 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 problems that this process leads to.
Back when I still dropped the cash to attend NAGC’s conference, I sat in on a session. A university professor was speaking (of course). I watched as this person gave the audience a tour of Byrdseed.com. Now, that’s fine with me. People are certainly welcome to share my website. Many do!
That year, 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 must happen. Academics crowd out everyone else’s voices because the submission process is based solely on anonymous paragraphs judged by random people turned in ten months before the event.
So, if you work for a school district, find an event run by people who work at school districts!
My favorite gifted education event has always been the county conference that I went to as a teacher. It’s highly connected to the local community, only takes up yor Saturday morning, includes lunch in the price (yes!), and is run entirely by people who work at nearby school districts.
If you want to travel to a bigger conference, I’d recommend Texas’ state gifted conference. It’s an event designed for teachers and administrators with an appropriately small dash of academia.
But, honestly, the best way to get better at teaching is to skip the conferences and just watch great teachers at work.