Visitors to the hotels and attractions around Baltimore's Inner Harbor had better watch their grammar this weekend: More than 6,000 English teachers will be in town.
One of the nation's largest gatherings of teachers and professors of English and reading begins today at the Baltimore Convention Center with the annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of English.
Part training session and part social gathering, the convention will focus on such subjects as writing and reading instruction, diversity in literature and assistance for beginning teachers.
"What we're mainly trying to provide is an extraordinarily good professional development opportunity for teachers," said Anne Ruggles Gere, president of the group and a professor at the University of Michigan. "It's an opportunity for teachers to learn and to share what they're doing in their classrooms."
Founded in 1911 and headquartered in Urbana, Ill., the council used to be known for devoting itself almost exclusively to high school English teachers. In recent years, it has expanded beyond grades seven through 12 and is now a kindergarten-through-university organization.
About half of the group's 77,000 members are secondary school English teachers. The rest are almost evenly divided between elementary school and college teachers. The convention, which runs through Tuesday, has the theme "Recreating the Classroom."
"The theme of this year's convention reflects our membership," said Leila Christenbury, president-elect of the group and a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. "One of the challenges of teaching, regardless of the level, is to make it new on a daily basis. That's what the theme of this convention is about."
The group also is working to shake the image of English teachers as being interested in little more than grammar, spelling and Shakespeare. Though those elements of instruction remain part of teachers' mission, council officials say, the convention and the group's other activities reflect a broader agenda.
For example, as middle schools and high schools have seen a surge in the number of children without basic reading skills, the group has offered teachers at those levels more sessions on reading instruction for older pupils.
"Many English teachers didn't know how to teach reading, because that wasn't something they needed to teach in middle and high school," said Kathy Egawa, the group's associate executive director. "But that's become a more of an issue at a lot of schools, and we've had to respond to it."
Maryland is a national leader is turning secondary school teachers into reading instructors. The State Board of Education decided in 1998 to require all teachers at all levels to take an increased number of courses in how to teach reading.
At the Baltimore convention, the group will expand a program, begun at its meeting last year in Milwaukee, to help urban teachers and those who are new to the profession.
Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, is scheduled to give the opening speech at tomorrow morning's urban academy, and a $15,000 grant from the textbook publisher Scholastic Inc. is enabling 55 teachers from Baltimore, Prince George's County and Washington to attend the conference for free.
Sunday's seminars will include 70 sessions devoted to teachers early in their careers, and smaller regional follow-up gatherings may be planned to help those new teachers form networks of support.
"The dropout rate is 10 percent for teachers in their first year, and we're really concerned about that," said Christenbury, who as president-elect of the group planned this year's convention program. "When I began as a high school teacher, I was not a good teacher and I was not sure what was going wrong.
"It was talking with other teachers that really made me the teacher that I am, and that's what we want to encourage among our new teachers," Christenbury said.
For Maryland educators, this week's convention offers a rare opportunity to hear from many nationally recognized teachers and researchers.
"It's challenging to put this on, but it's worth it," said Jacqueline Sachs, a seventh- and eighth-grade language arts teacher at Magothy River Middle School in Anne Arundel County who is overseeing the local planning. "It's the best in-service you could get in your life.
"Attending these sessions brings you right up to date with what the best people are doing in their classrooms," said Sachs, who organized more than 250 volunteers to help with preparations.
The convention also will include speeches from high-profile writers, including poet and children's book author Lucille Clifton, Masterpiece Theater host and Pulitzer Prize winner Russell Baker and last year's Newbery Medal winner, Christopher Paul Curtis.
Filmmaker Ken Burns will talk about his forthcoming Mark Twain biography, and director John Waters and his movie Serial Mom will be the top attractions at a night out at the Charles Theatre tomorrow night.
Retired Orioles star Cal Ripken Jr. and his wife, Kelly, will be presented with the organization's 2001 Literacy Award. The Ripkens' foundation supports adult and family literacy programs in the Baltimore area, and they have helped raise $1.2 million for the Baltimore Reads Ripken Learning Center.