Notes from the 2017 NCTE Affiliate Breakfast

Yesterday, I wrote about attending the NCTE 2017 Annual Business Meeting. I also had the honor to represent the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English at the NCTE Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast.

Affiliate BreakfastNJCTE was among the many affiliates to be honored in a number of categories: Affiliate Membership Recruitment Award (for affiliates whose membership grew by 5% or more in 2016-2017); Affiliate Newsletter of Excellence Award (for NJCTE e-Focus, edited by Patricia Schall  and Susan Reese), Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award (for New Jersey English Journal, edited by Liz deBeer), and NCTE Affiliate Excellence Awards (for NCTE affiliates that meet high standards of performance).

Journal of Excellence Award
NJCTE Board Member Audrey Fisch accepts the 2017 NCTE Journal of Excellence Award on Behalf of New Jersey English Journal

We won the latter award for the 6th year!

We have done some good work together. But there is more work to be done!

NJCTE is beginning an examination of our website, which may need an update. Are you interesting in participating in this task? If yes, please reach out to NJCTE Board Member Sarah Gross (@thereadingzone), who is spearheading this initiative. We are also planning to submit an application to the NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Award, which is a grant intended to support initiatives aimed at recruiting English language arts teachers of color. Reach out to NJCTE Board Member Audrey Fisch (@audreyfisch) about helping with this initiative.

Finally, I want to add that the most inspiring and impressive element of the Affiliate Breakfast was hearing from the winners of the NCTE Student Affiliate of Excellence award winners. These are the amazing teachers and NCTE leaders of our future, and they were a phenomenal group of young people. NJCTE needs to develop a student affiliate (or more than one). Do we have a teacher educator who might help with this initiative? Reach out to NJCTE President Susan Reese (@mrsreese) if you are interested. Or reach out to us through the comments section of this blog or the NJCTE website. We welcome your interest!

Meanwhile, congratulations to all who have worked to make NJCTE a success. Let’s continue to build on that success!

Written by Audrey Fisch, Board Member, NJCTE, Professor of English, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, NJ

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Notes from the 2017 NCTE Affiliate Breakfast

Notes from the NCTE 2017 Annual Convention Business Meeting

This November, I had the honor to represent the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in St. Louis. One of my responsibilities was to attend the Annual Business Meeting, and I want to take this opportunity to share with NJCTE members some of what was discussed.

Chadwick addresses NCTE Business Meeting
NCTE President Jocelyn A. Chadwick addresses the Annual Business Meeting

NCTE President Jocelyn Chadwick, who presided over the meeting, informed the group that there will be three new committees focused on major work for the organization. The first will focus on teacher agency:  how do we talk to administrators, deans, the community; how do we tell our story? NCTE hopes this committee will create more tools to help teachers communicate more effectively with different stakeholders about the work that we do. The second committee will focus on convention planning, so that we can think about what works well and what can we do better. This committee will work with Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick to continue improving our annual convention. Finally, the third committee will focus on policy and governance, with an emphasis on state and local needs and the ways in which the national organization can assist affiliates, who in turn can meet the needs of educators in our local communities.

NCTE Business Meeting Agenda


Next, NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick reviewed highlights of the year, including the NCTE new vision statement. Kirkpatrick indicated that membership is stabilizing after more than 12 years of decline, but that, while expenses have been reduced, the organization is still relying on financial reserves to balance the budget. Kirkpatrick announced that the Folger Library has signed on as substantial sponsor and financial partner and that the organization intends to forge more connections with publishers to come.

Kirkpatrick also announced the overhaul of The Council Chronicle, which will have an expanded base of writers. The next issue will feature a new piece by Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give, who delivered a stirring and challenging keynote address to an audience of more than 400 at NCTE 2017.

Kirkpatrick closed her address with an emphasis on some of the many new initiatives including a new and improved advocacy day, the introduction of lead ambassadors (two members in every section) who have already held local events in five states, a renewed and digitally-focused National Day on Writing – #WhyIWrite, policy engagement, and the new NCTE website.

The next NCTE Annual Convention will be held Nov 15-18 in Houston centered around the theme: Raising student voice starts by raising yours. Convention locations to follow include 2019 – Baltimore; 2020 – Denver; and 2021 – Louisville, KY.

Finally, the Business Meeting concluded with discussion, editing, and final passage of three resolutions. The resolutions are as follows (although please see NCTE for official and final wording):

#1: Resolution on Support of Undocumented Students and Teachers

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English call for the immediate renewal of the Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program in support of the protection of all undocumented K-20 students and teachers, and endorse their rights to remain in the United States.

Be it further resolved that all students have the right to a high quality education, regardless of immigration status.

#2: Resolution on Professional Learning in the Teaching of Writing

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English recommend ongoing, high quality professional learning in the teaching of writing for all teachers across all disciplines at each grade level, K-20.

Be it further resolved that NCTE actively encourage school districts, colleges, and universities in providing high quality professional learning to give teachers the necessary strategies and curricula to deliver effective writing instruction.

#3 Resolution on Amplifying the Voice of Literacy Leaders

Resolved, that the National Council of Teachers of English advocate for and support literacy teachers who embrace opportunities to amplify their voices and tell their stories.

Be it further resolved that NCTE urge literacy teachers to share their expertise with other education stakeholders and strive to wield more influence in shaping education policy and reform. As teachers and NCTE members we reaffirm an essential principle of our vision statement: “We must more precisely align this expertise to advance access, power, agency, affiliation, and impact for all learners” (NCTE Vision Statement, May 2017).

Written by Audrey Fisch, Board Member, NJCTE, Professor of English, New Jersey City University, Jersey City, NJ

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Notes from the NCTE 2017 Annual Convention Business Meeting

Notes from ALAN 2017

This morning I booktalked half a dozen new and upcoming books to my students, most of which don’t come out until next year. Next week I will bring in a huge box of books that UPS is slowly shipping my way over the holiday weekend. Most of these are books I received at ALAN, sponsored by the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents.  I stuffed 46 lbs of books into my suitcase (thank you, Southwest!) and shipped home another 30 lbs. There are advance reader’s copies, signed books, and brand new hardcover books in those boxes.  My classroom library shelves have been cleared for the day they arrive and my students are waiting with bated breath.


Alan books
All the books Sarah took home from ALAN this year!


Walking into ALAN is like celebrating every gift-giving holiday at one time- the publishers have generously donated hundreds of books to the attendees and sponsored the attendance of many of their authors.  Over the course of two days, immediately following the NCTE Annual Convention, ALAN allows teachers, librarians, and pre-service teachers to learn from some of the greatest artists of our time.  While NCTE is huge, busy, and fast-paced, ALAN is focused solely on the relationship between books, their readers, and the authors. The pace is much slower, but it’s no less inspiring.  Each day, dozens of authors sit in conversation with the attendees.  They discuss topics ranging from race to research skills, sex in literature to the power of series books, history and current events to fan fiction and writing. Imagine spending an entire day learning from Laurie Halse Anderson, Julie Murphy, Chris Crutcher, Angie Thomas, Nic Stone, Jewell Parker Rhodes, Jason Reynolds, Brendan Kiely, Holly Black, Mitali Perkins, and so many more!  Then imagine meeting and learning from new-to-you authors like Samira Ahmed and Nic Stone.  And to top it all off, you have copies of their books to read!  The authors also offer signing lines after their panels so you can get your books personalized.

ALAN is one of my favorite professional development experiences each year.  The authors and attendees push me to think critically about the books I read and the books my students read.  They challenge my assumptions and push me out of my comfort zone.  This year, I left with some big ideas that I’ll be mulling over for months and conversations that will continue on Voxer and social media.  If you’ve never been to ALAN, I highly recommend attending.  You don’t need to attend NCTE in order to attend ALAN, so if you can’t get four days off from school, you can just register for ALAN.  Plus, registration comes with an ALAN membership. You don’t need to wait for the conference to join; sign up now! Membership includes an amazing journal and the opportunity to serve on committees.  I just started my tenure on the Amelia Elizabeth Walden Award committee and I’m also a state rep for ALAN.  Please reach out to me if you have any questions (or just want to talk about books!).

Written by Sarah Mulhern Gross, Vice-President and Board Member, NJCTE, NBCT and English Teacher, High Technology High School, Lincroft, NJ


Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Notes from ALAN 2017

Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 3

In Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Parts 1 and 2, I discussed how teachers can stay awake and remain alert to our “brave new world” without getting overwhelmed. Here are some more ideas.

Everyone wants to tell teachers how to do their job, and everyone seems to know more about schools and teaching than teachers do.  Needless to say, this is frustrating.  I doubt that many patients tell their dentist how to do a root canal because they have had them done before. Why do so many people assume that they know more about teaching than teachers do? Don’t accept those assumptions. Use your own writing and speaking skills. Be proud that you are a teacher who specializes in the teaching and learning of language. Be heard! Let your authentic, informed teaching voices be heard!

letter to editorWrite letters to the editor.  Be sure to check the requirements of each newspaper or magazine, since they often have word limits. Include personal stories. They always get the attention of readers. Challenge yourself to write as clearly and concisely as possible. This is a good exercise for us, since we teach writing and expect our own students to master these skills.

Contact lawmakers in writing. It is easy to reach out to members of congress now via their websites or through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Old-fashioned letters often garner a greater level of attention. Use aps like Countable or Resistbot to easily reach your legislators. Countable provides summaries of legislation and other initiatives moving through congress and allows you to easily contact your members of congress. Resist Bot will let you FAX your legislators.

Call or visit your legislators. Develop and use a script when you call. Stick to the script and do not ramble.  If you call, be patient. It could take you some time to get through to the office. If you get the answering service, hang on if you can and wait to speak to an aide. If you cannot get through, leave a succinct voicemail. It is better than nothing, and it will be logged in. If you can, try to carve out some time in your busy schedule to visit legislative offices in person. Taking a colleague with you is helpful, since it is reassuring to team with another person, and you can keep each other focused. When you call or visit, you generally will talk to a staff member rather than the legislator. This is fine. Remember, staff members are required to log in all calls and visits and report your concerns to the legislator. Whether you call or visit, focus on one point, and keep reinforcing it.  Include personal stories in your commentary during calls and visits. Stories are easily remembered.  We are English teachers and know narrative is powerful.

I have learned in my own advocacy training sessions that legislators pay most attention to personal visits and phone calls. Actual letters come next, followed by email. I have heard that they disregard all those “sign your name” e-petitions. You are a busy person, so do what makes sense for you, even if it is just an email or tweet. Even brief contacts serve a useful purpose. They are recorded. Remember that most legislators are hungry for data about their constituents and their views. My recent experience with a telephone town hall organized by the legislator who represents my district in the House of Representatives unintentionally demonstrated the power of phone calls. At one point in the telephone town hall, since he refuses to host in-person town halls, he got rather testy and irritable saying, “So you people can stop calling my office. My aides have better work to do.” Really? And who gave you your job, sir? Needless to say, the calling continued. We had justifiably hit a nerve!

Finally, take care of yourself! Attending to your own needs is vital to your physical and mental health. I have been a teacher for more than 40 years, and I recognize from experience that teachers’ work is intellectually and emotionally demanding enough without adding on the time it takes to engage in political activism. Huddle for comfort, reassurance, safety, and increased power. Cultivate your friends and colleagues who share your concerns. Take time to enjoy a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, and meal together. Engage in rituals that bring you joy. Find time for yourself, your family, and your friends. Carve out time to do things you enjoy.

I retired a year ago, and I have been spending an extraordinary amount of time volunteering as a political activist. It is not exactly what I expected to do in retirement, though I always aimed to continue to advocate for teachers. My “job” has morphed.  I no longer find myself restricted by an academic schedule. I have no sets of papers to grade or classes and courses to prepare. Now I belong to citizens’ organizations. I rejoined NEA and NJEA after thirty years of working in higher education and have become active in retired educators groups.  I remain committed to my favorite professional organizations, NCTE and NJCTE. While I no longer have the responsibilities of a working educator, I still have to take care of myself.  An early morning class at the gym works for me, as do yoga and long walks in beautiful places and writing I enjoy. Find what delights you. The people and activities you love keep you refreshed and positive.

It is too easy to become trapped in despair and hopelessness in our current political climate, which leads to the loss of our locus of control. We owe it to ourselves and others to take time to awaken to a new dawn within ourselves, become prepared, make our voices heard, and care for ourselves so we can continue our mission as educators and citizens in service to others. Action is healing.


Nelson, J.L. & Stanley, W.B. Protecting the right to teach and learn (2001). In Daly, J.K., Schall, P.L., and Skeele, R. (Eds.) Protecting the Right to Teach and Learn: Power Politics, and Public Schools. New York: Teachers College Press.

Pat Schall


Written by Pat Schall, NJCTE Board Member

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 3