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Thursday, November 17, 2005

You shall know them by their taxi drivers...

and their room service providers.

On my way in last night, my taxi driver was Henri who came to this country from the Dominican Republic. Henri and I had about 20 minutes to talk on our way from the airport to the Doubletree. We talked about our families and about freedom. Henri told me stories about the times he feared for his life in the Dominican Republic--while going to the dentist, going to vote, going anywhere late at night. He said he despairs that Americans often lost sight of the freedoms they have.

We then launched into a discussion of education, and particularly of English education. Henri told me about the way in which his teachers had inspired and fed his love of reading. He asked what I had brought to read, and I told him only professional books. He was horrified and asked if I would like him to take me to a bookstore before we went to the hotel. He said it would only take minutes because if I hadn't yet read it (I hadn't) I should buy One Hundred Years of Solitude--the book that had most recently changed his life. For the remainder of the trip we discussed the books that had changed both our lives and the teachers who had inspired such a love of reading and learning.

I was still thinking about that encounter when my dinner arrived. The very young man who delivered it asked if I were "with that meeting of English teachers." When I told him I was, he asked, "Do you know if the New Jersey English teachers are here yet?" Evidently he was from New Jersey and wanted to find the teachers from his hometown. I told him I didn't know, but that there would be a message board in the Convention Center and he could leave a message for them there. He said, "I just wanted to tell them thanks."

Teaching, some days, may feel like a thankless act. It's not. Across this country are people whose lives have been changed by English teachers and by the books that teachers have introduced them to. I must say, I am so proud to be a teacher and so proud to be here surrounded by so many wonderful colleagues. Conferences, for me, are in part about becoming inspired all over again with this wonderful profession.

And the fine folks who are pictured here? They're just a few of the nation's finest...and my inspiration!


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