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The Future Begins Now

When you spend over two years planning a national conference, you tend to become almost a parent to that conference. So, when it came time to write this month’s President’s Message, I quickly realized that I was too close to be totally objective. As I struggled to find the words to wrap up NCSS Chicago, my mind kept drifting back to the “Building the Future” part of the conference theme. Returning to the mentoring message from Friday morning, one line kept coming to mind: “…find that person who can challenge you, advise you, celebrate you, help you embrace being reflective, and encourage you to take risks.”


With that in mind, I approached my mentee, Jennifer Madden to ask her to reflect, take that risk, and guest write this month’s message. Jen and I first met in 2017 while I was serving as the facilitator for her Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute cadre.  Now in her seventh year of teaching, she took advantage of an opening at Lakeland High School and joined the Cavalier staff this past fall, fulfilling the desire to teach in a community closer to where she hopes to live. She currently teaches AP Psychology and both Ancient and Modern World History. If she is any indication, the future of social studies promises to be bright!

—India Meissel, NCSS President 


I’m a lucky person. It is not every day that you can say your mentor is the current NCSS President, so when the opportunity arose to attend my first NCSS conference, I decided that it was the right time for me to go. 

As many first time attendees can tell you, a national conference can be an overwhelming experience but I felt that I was ready.  After touching down at O’Hare and collecting our luggage, my colleague and I headed to the hotel and conference epicenter. As we headed into the lobby you could sense the excitement of educators from across the globe, and I was introduced to the conference scene very quickly with an impromptu introduction to social justice activist Karen Korematsu. It was an honor to meet her, and at that moment I knew with much more solidarity that I was in the right place and ready to start my weekend in social studies nerdvana.

My friends will tell you that I am not a quiet person and Thursday night at dinner I was not my normal chatty self. However, when you’re having dinner with three powerful and successful NCSS presidents (Peggy Altoff, Sue Blanchette, and India Meissel), you tend to listen and not talk. Their conversation regarding today’s political climate and the impact that it has had on social studies education was thought provoking. After dinner, we proceeded to “the room where it happened” to catch a performance of the greatest social event to hit social studies education since the development of the Oregon Trail game. It was an evening at the theater with Alexander Hamilton! As a History and theatre geek, the performance was all that I could have dreamed of and left me on cloud nine even after we returned to the hotel. Thursday was over and I was energized with the unknown excitement of what was still to come.

Despite being on “professional vacation” from my classroom, I awoke early on Friday morning to attend the President’s Breakfast. This is a wonderful way to start a conference by honoring your best and brightest teachers with Teacher of the Year Awards, and sandwiching them with amazing speeches given by two very powerful women. The first speech of the day was by Sylvia Acevedo, CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, who not only spoke of her experience as a Girl Scout but also her work as a rocket scientist. Her story of perseverance when selling cookies and not taking the answer of ‘no’ brought back many memories of my own cookie selling experiences. Having been a Girl Scout for thirteen years, I found the opportunity to hear her speak captivating, and when I had the opportunity to meet her after breakfast and receive my first Girl Scout Patch in 14 years (and the official CEO patch at that), I could not even get out the words to say thank you, turning into a pile of happy tears after a very special hug.

The second address could not have made me any prouder. I listened as NCSS President India Meissel spoke to a ballroom full of educators about the importance of what we do as educators but also the importance of mentoring. This has been a theme that the two of us have discussed over the past year as I transitioned from my previous school division to my current one. As she spoke of her mentor of 33 years and how she is still influenced by that still active mentorship, I began to think about my possible future as a mentor and the impact that I may have one day just as my mentor is having on me now.

The remainder of my morning was spent in the exhibit hall collecting resources for my classroom. The only way to describe the exhibit hall is likening it to when Charlie Bucket walked into Wonka’s candy factory for the first time. It was huge, overwhelming, and I just did not know where to start my journey first. Eventually I chose my path and spent what seemed like hours visiting with exhibitors regarding products and opportunities for my students and myself. (A word to the wise, even though you receive a bag when you come in for the conference, bring an additional bag or backpack to stuff as part of your carry-on when you go home.) There were so many great exhibitors that I filled my backpack with not only classroom materials but also lots of swag! (And who doesn’t like swag?)

Throughout my brief time as an educator, I have tried to instill in my students the importance of participating in their government and therefore felt compelled to attend the House of Delegates meeting. It is much like what you would expect to see from our members of Congress: resolutions, amendments, discussions, and debate. All done with professional collegiality by educators from all aspects of education. As I listened, I learned much about the variety of issues facing educators across the country and what is important to some is not necessarily important to all. Thank you Sue Blanchette for clarifying things when I had questions. I enjoyed the opportunity to be able to see this legislative body working towards the betterment of social studies.

My day concluded at a dinner held in honor of Spirit of America Award recipient Khizr Khan. While waiting for the Board and other guests to arrive, my colleague had the opportunity to share a memorable personal conversation with Mr Khan. His words brought her to tears. However, as quick as it started, the day was now over. It was a busy, but good day and I was ready for the next day of unknown adventure.

Saturday began much as Friday did with an early start to another outstanding day of learning. After a quick breakfast I hurried myself to the Bears, Beets, Battlestar Galactica...And Behavior presentation. As this is my first year teaching AP Psychology, I was excited to have quality PD in the subject area. I quickly began to think of ways to incorporate this session into my class to give my students a similar relevant learning experience. From there I rushed to hear the story of Khizr Khan. I was captivated by his experience leading up to his appearance with his wife at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It brought tears to my eyes when he spoke of the middle school students who left a note in his mailbox pleading for his help as they were in fear of their classmate being deported, and the impact that the note had on the choice to appear at the convention. This is why I teach. To inspire my students to speak out at injustice they see and find ways to change the world.

My Saturday afternoon was spent taking advantage of the opportunities for educators to become members of NCSS communities, and I joined two: the Psychology Community and the Tech Community. I have a passion for both and am excited to become an active participant. Community meetings are a great opportunity to meet other educators with similar passions to yours and to share ideas on how to advance those passions throughout the NCSS community.

For my final Saturday session, I attended the session on the Moton Museum as it is a Virginia institution and one I can more readily use with my students. It was a great session, full of information presented by the managing director (and my friend) Cameron Patterson. Another action packed day complete, I joined my colleagues and some new friends up in the suite relaxing as the excitement of the past three days had finally caught up to us. We ordered some deep dish pizza (as you HAVE to do in Chicago) and enjoyed the company of our guests as we discussed our various conference experiences.

The Sunday of the conference is a travel day for many, but were still opportunities for attendees to take advantage of. I packed my bags, knowing that I would be leaving shortly after the final speaker, and was thankful that I had brought the backpack earlier as I needed a place for all of my new swag. The closing speaker was immigration rights activist and undocumented alien Jose Antonio Vargas and I was most interested in his remarks as I knew some of his story but not all. His story struck chords on the current political climate of the US and the impact that it has on individuals who live here. He referenced a guide to difficult conversations that is now available on his webpage, and I will admit to having read before having conversations with my own family during the holidays. It was a fantastic way to wrap up an amazing conference.

And just like that, it was time to return to reality and board a flight back home. I began the weekend with an excitement that I still find difficult to put into words. I’ve caught the fever and am already planning my trip to the 2019 Annual Conference in Austin, Texas. If you have not had the opportunity to attend an NCSS conference and experience it for yourself, I highly encourage you to do so. You won’t regret it!

—Jennifer Madden, Teacher of World History and Psychology at Lakeland High School in Suffolk, VA.