NJCTE 2018 Writing Contest Winners Celebrated at Reception Held at Union Catholic High School

Michele Marotta headshot
Michele Marotta, NJCTE Writing Contest Director

by Michele Marotta

Thirty-six years ago, John Kendall introduced the idea of a writing contest. Since that time the contest has survived the vicissitudes of changing mandates and shifting emphasis in the classroom.

Michele Marotta has helped the contest to grow from the days of hard copies mailed to judges to an online system that aims to improve both the submission and the judging process. She has been at the helm for over ten years.
NJCTE firmly believes that the contest is about the process and thus aims to recognize at least one writer from every school that submits at least three entries. NJCTE also believes that the classroom teacher is the most important judge in the process. Each teacher may choose and submit the 10 best entries per category. Any entries beyond the designated number are disqualified based on the submission time stamp.
This year, NJCTE received a total of 309 qualified entries from 40 schools. New schools participating this year included Irvington High School, Calvary Academy, Newark Tech and Trenton Central High School. Beth Ann Bates, as Judge Liaison, reached out to judges to update their contact information. Curators Kristen Angelo (Essay), Karen Davidson, (Poetry), and Kathy Webber (Short Story) distributed the entries to judges electronically.
poetry winners all
Our prompt this year asked students to reflect on an experience of race, ethnicity, class, religion or gender enlightenment that was significant for them. Once again the prompt was popular and teachers asked me to raise or waive the upper limit of how many students a teacher might sponsor so that more students might submit the essays they had written in response to our prompt. Unfortunately, we continue to struggle with a shortage of judges. In addition, we prefer to discourage teachers from sending us an entire set of class assigned essays.
essay winners
garcia 1
Roberto Carlos Garcia

Roberto Garcia, the guest author at the Award Reception whose poetry combines technical skill and linguistic colloquialism, encouraged the student winners to follow his example and change the question faced by all who seriously consider pursuing writing as a career from “How can I make money and write?” to “How can I write? I will make money.”  He chose the writing life over a career as a lawyer and has not regretted his decision. Roberto also emphasized the key role writers play in challenging the status quo and bringing a human focus to social challenges we face.

Maressa Park, a senior at Mary Help of Christians Academy, commented that she wished she could still participate in the NJCTE Writing Contest as a college student. Honored for 3 straight years for her poetry and essays, she praised the dramatic performance of the Union Catholic Forensic Team and the high quality of the guest authors.
Kathleen Webber who teaches at Union Catholic High School has stated, “I have enjoyed being a curator for the short story entries, and the best part of the contest is meeting the student authors at the reception. I always am so impressed with the winning short stories when I read them, and I love talking to the students who wrote those stories and hearing about how they were inspired by our prompt or their life experiences.”
julius michele audrey
Contest host Julius Gottilla, contest director Michele Marotta, and NJCTE president Audrey Fisch

Union Catholic High School has been a steady supporter of the contest and under host Julius Gottilla has provided a venue for the celebration. Eleven years ago a dozen attendees met in the library and listened to Peter Murphy read his work and talk about his writing process. Now 60 or more gather every April for this true celebration of Poetry Month.Photos by Susan Reese

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


NJCTE 2018 Writing Contest Winners Celebrated at Reception Held at Union Catholic High School

The importance of teaching students to read against canonical texts like Mockingbird

by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle (originally posted on our blog, Using Informational Text to Teach Literature)

Periodically, on NCTE’s Connected Community, in our hallways, at conferences, and sometimes in our classrooms, we have one persistent and difficult conversation. How do we balance teaching canonical literature on the one hand and offering our students, on the other hand, what Latrise Johnson describes as “texts that include diverse characters but also . . . are reflective of students’ rich and complex histories”? This debate seems to surface, in particular, around To Kill a Mockingbird. Most recently, Will Menarndt argues in “Forget Atticus” that we should stop teaching TKAM.

Mockingbird has a long history of being lauded; Oprah has called it “our national book” and recent research suggests that many (white) teachers use TKAM to address multicultural issues, particularly race and racism (Macaluso 280). Depending on how that work is done with TKAM, particularly if we are spending the majority of our time highlighting the “obvious and overt racism” (Macaluso 282) in Harper Lee’s novel, we may be in danger of telling what Chimamanda Adichie warns against: the single story. Obvious and overt racism have been and remain only part of the complex story of racism. Students need to deepen their understanding of the institutional and structural racism that pervades Maycomb – in its housing, schools, and employment opportunities. The issues that Tom Robinson encounters with Maycomb’s justice system, like the lynch mob, are just the tip of the iceberg.

TKAM can be taught fruitfully in relation to that broader story of racism, and many teachers, before and after the publication of Go Set a Watchman, were doing that important work: complicating and troubling the dominant narrative of Atticus as the white savior and Tom as the voiceless, crippled, black victim. Michael Macaluso offers a thoughtful example of that work in his discussion of the lynch mob scene at the jailhouse. Reading against TKAM, for Macaluso, offers students the opportunity to see Atticus’s racism, even in this moment of defense of Tom Robinson, as “evidence of how racism works through privilege . . . and how it is laced into institutional and cultural practices and behaviors” (285).

This practice of reading against the text, particularly when the text is a canonical staple and as such has been central to reifying our dominant ideologies, is what Carlin Borsheim-Black, Macaluso, and Robert Petrone call critical literacy pedagogy (CLP): an approach that “teaches students to read and write against texts and understand that language and texts are not neutral and always ideological” (123).

Using CLP to read TKAM, in other words, reveals a text that on the one hand offers an anti-racist message but on the other hand is bound up with and in concert with a fundamentally racist ideology. This may be what Borsheim-Black, Macaluso, and Petrone call a dissonant realization for students, but it’s an important pedagogical opportunity.

We need to continue to do the important work of welcoming different voices into our classroom and to be sure that our literary curricula change to reflect our current student body. And surely it’s time for us to leave behind the idea that TKAM is an ideal vehicle for a complete and comprehensive discussion of the vast and complex issues of multiculturalism, race, and racism today.

Still, we need to recognize the cultural capital of Harper Lee’s novel: it continues to be idolized and adored (Macaluso 286) in our broader culture. Teaching TKAM, using the CLP model to read both with and against this text, allows students to discover for themselves the ideological complexity of this American novel.

We offer our model of text clusters and companion texts (our series with Rowman and Littlefield) as a productive component of CLP. Reading excerpts from Haywood Patterson and Earl Conrad, two of the Scottsboro boys, about their experience with a lynch mob, students can see for themselves what’s left out of the near-lynching scene in TKAMLoving v. Virginia makes visible the legal and institutional racism that forces Dolphus Raymond’s to feign drunkenness in order to protect his mixed-race family. An interview with white women who grew up with black domestics in the 30s, particularly when paired with excerpts from an interview with Dorothy Bolden, an African-American woman who worked as a domestic in the 1930s South and founded the National Domestic Workers Union, can unpack and unsettle the representation of Calpurnia.

After all, what really matters is not whether our students can read TKAM as racist or anti-racist but whether we are preparing our students to be powerful and resistant readers of the many texts of our world, including those canonical texts that occupy positions of outsized ideological power.

Works Cited

Adichie, Chimamanda. “The Danger of a Single Story.” TedGlobal. July 2009, Lecture, https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story.
Borsheim-Black, Carlin, Macaluso, Michael, and Robert Petrone. “Critical Literature Pedagogy: Teaching Canonical Literature for Critical Literacy.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58.2, Oct. 2014, pp. 123-133.
Johnson, Latrise. “Students Don’t Need Diverse Literature Just Because It’s Diverse.” NCTE, 12 April 2016, http://www2.ncte.org/blog/2016/04/students-dont-need-diverse-literature-just-diverse/.
Macaluso, Michael. “Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird Today: Coming to Terms With Race, Racism, and America’s Novel.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 61.3, Nov./Dec. 2017, pp. 279-287.
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
The importance of teaching students to read against canonical texts like Mockingbird

Introducing: Office Hours, hosted by Dr. Patricia L. Schall

NJCTE is launching a new regular feature on our blog, Office Hours. We invite you to digitally “drop in” to seek advice and chat about professional concerns.

I will host this new feature on our blog and respond to all questions and comments I receive. NJCTE established this dedicated email address for privacy purposes: NJCTEofficehours@gmail.com. I will anonymously post questions and responses in the style of an advice column, using “Dear Doc” as a salutation and “Inquiring Educator” for the advice seeker.

Let me introduce myself for those of you who don’t know me. It is important to know something about a person dishing out advice! I hold the position of Professor Emeritus at the College of Saint Elizabeth, where I directed and taught in graduate and undergraduate programs in education. I hold a BA in English from Montclair State University and an MA in Communications in Education and a Ph.D. in English Education from New York University. I taught high school English for 13 years, primarily at Watchung Hills Regional High School in Warren, NJ, before moving into higher education as the Director of the Educational Media Center at Seton Hall University. I served two terms on the North Plainfield Board of Education. Teachers College Press published a book I co-wrote and edited on teachers and academic freedom. I have written journal articles, presented at conferences, and currently am co-researching and writing a non-fiction book on a notorious 19th century murder that happened in my town. I remain active as a retired educator in the National and New Jersey Councils of Teachers of English, the Morris County Retired Educators Association, the NJ Education Association, and the National Education Association. NCTE recently appointed me to a two-year term as a policy analyst for higher education in New Jersey. I am spending significant time in retirement working with organizations focused on social justice and political change. I am committed to continue advocating for quality teaching and learning.

While I’ll serve as the host of this new feature, I hope our readers will respond in the comments section and provide a lively and supportive forum, enriched by the knowledge and experience of the many educators who read this blog. There is strength in many voices. Of course in responding we will expect respectful on-line discourse—no flaming or trolling. NJCTE reserves the right to delete comments that are hostile or disrespectful. Please respect people’s privacy. Use pseudonyms to protect others if you describe people, incidents, or situations. Do not mention the names of communities, schools, or districts.

As a teacher educator, teacher, and educational leader, I have sought and offered advice on many issues. Here are some questions based on 40 plus years of conversations with students and colleagues. I pose them to “prime the pump” and launch this advice column. I am sure you can think of many more, and I invite you to submit them in the comments section. Here’s a start:

  • How can I find a real mentor I can trust?
  • How do I handle a new teacher who is my mentee and is not performing well?
  • How do I handle professional jealousy, either as a new, untenured teacher or a seasoned educator?
  • How do I challenge an evaluation I think is inaccurate or unfair?
  • Is it possible to work for a supervisor who is not a people person and doesn’t understand my teaching?
  • How do I handle the paper load so typical of English teaching?
  • How do I resist the pressure to pass non-achieving students to maintain the graduation rate?
  • How do I maintain my enthusiasm for teaching in a school with a toxic culture?
  • How to I handle challenges to books, materials, or pedagogy?
  • What do I do with angry parents?
  • How do I handle a colleague or supervisor who is making biased remarks about kids? About others?
  • How do I balance my private and professional lives and find time for myself?
  • How do I cope with negative people at school?
  • Can you recommend any strategies for doing advanced graduate work while teaching?
  • How do I keep up with the rapidly changing demands of technology?
  • How do I avoid burnout?
  • What do I do if a colleague or supervisor is engaging in sexually aggressive behavior or language?
  • How do I handle “needy” students who demand a lot of attention when I have 130 other kids?
  • How do I cope with the exhaustion typical of workers in the caring professions?

I hope some of these prompts get you thinking about your work. Feel free to post more questions in the comments section below.

Remember, the office is always open here! Reach out to us at NJCTEofficehours@gmail.com. Let’s talk!

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

Introducing: Office Hours, hosted by Dr. Patricia L. Schall

10 Mentor Texts for Young (and Older!) Authors

by NJCTE board member Oona Abrams (originally posted on her blog, ELA in Permanent Beta)

OA 1

Picture books are such an enjoyable avenue for teaching fiction and nonfiction writing. After attending Pernille Ripp’s session on the power of picture books for all grade levels at #NerdCampMI, I realized that as a high school teacher, I, too, can use picture books meaningfully to teach my students. Tone and irony are tough to teach in isolation, but if we want our students to write clever and original stories, they’ll need to appreciate and practice how these skills are executed. Below is a list of picture books that my kids enjoyed thoroughly this year, and that I believe could be used to coach writers and use as examples. Happy reading and writing!

OA 2 I Wanna Iguana by Karen Orloff. Great for teaching: argument, letter writing, point of view.





OA 3Meet the Dullards by Sara Pennypacker. Great for teaching: point of view, irony, tone.





OA 4Where Are My Books? by Debbie Ridpath Ohi. Great for teaching: story mountain, irony, foreshadowing.





OA 5Snapsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!) by Julie Falatko. Great for teaching: point of view, tone.






OA 6


Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. Great for teaching: writing process, revision, point of view, irony.





OA 7Dylan the Villain by K.G. Campbell. Great for teaching: point of view, suspension of disbelief, irony.





OA 8Long Shot: Never Too Small to Dream Big by Chris Paul. Great for teaching: process analysis, point of view.






OA 9Manners Are Not for Monkeys! by Heather Tekavec. Great for teaching: irony, point of view, suspension of disbelief.




OA 11How to Clean Your Room in 10 Easy Steps by Jennifer LaRue Huget. Great for teaching: process analysis, irony, point of view.




OA 12


Counting Lions: Portraits from the Wild by Katie Cotton. Great for teaching: repetition, description, research.




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

10 Mentor Texts for Young (and Older!) Authors

Tech Tuesdays: CheckMark

Here is the second in our new Tech Tuesdays series by Kathryn Nieves. If you missed the first installment on Essay Metrics, you can check it out here.

Leaving feedback on student writing can be a long and repetitive process. First, there was the paper drafts covered with red pen marks. Then, there were the Google Doc comments. No matter how the comments are placed, they appear to be a jumbled mess by the end of a feedback session. Plus, there is the time spent writing and rewriting similar comments. CheckMark, a Google Chrome extension, can help make the feedback process easier for teachers.

CheckMark, created by EdTechTeam, can be added from the Chrome Web Store. Once added, it will appear on the toolbar at the top of your Chrome browser. A simple click on the checkmark will allow you to easily disable and enable the extension. When the checkmark appears green, the extension is activated. When it is gray, it is in an inactive state.

Check Mark 1

After opening a Google Doc of student work, enable the CheckMark extension. When you highlight an area of concern where you want to leave feedback, a popup will appear with the most common comments. The comments are abbreviated on the keyboard but hovering over them will allow you to read the comment in its entirety. Once you select your comment, it will immediately appear on the right side of the text.

Check Mark 2

CheckMark 3.png

CheckMark is completely customizable. Teachers can remove and rearrange the comments into an order that is comfortable for them. Abbreviations can be altered, as well, in order to be the most practical for the user. To customize, select the checkmark and enable the extension. The popup will window will have a section titled “Preview” with a pencil next to it. Clicking the pencil will allow you to customize your comments and abbreviations.

CheckMark 4

CheckMark 5

In addition, teachers can add their own frequently used comments. In the same editing section, you can select the green plus button to add your own comment and an abbreviation or symbol to represent it on the keyboard. Since it is so simple to add and remove new comments, the extension can be altered to fit the writing assignment being graded.

Check Mark 6

Overall, CheckMark can help teachers through the editing or grading process. By providing a one-click solution to common errors, teachers can focus on the personalized, constructive feedback.

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

Tech Tuesdays: CheckMark

NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference “Approaches to Writing”: Call for Papers

Keynote Speaker Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick


Submit your proposal by May 15, 2018 at http://bit.ly/NJCTEFallConfProposal

On September 29, 2018, we will gather together at the Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ to focus on teaching writing, K-16.

We have developed several topics we hope our presenters and participants will explore together. Please feel free to submit a proposal for a presentation on a related topic. We welcome the contributions of all educators.

  1. Writing Identities
  2. Our Writing Lives
  3. Writing to Develop Student Voices
  4. Writing to Develop Teacher Voices
  5. Reading and Writing
  6. How We Use Literacy to Shape the Life We Want to Be
  7. How Writing Stories Helps Students Read Deeply & Critically
  8. Writing in Our Digital World
  9. Handling the Grading Load

NJCTE invites educators of all types (public, private, cyber, charter, elem. – univ., etc.) to submit session proposals to collegially share

1) successful and trusted approaches for the teaching of writing that have evolved from or been improved by collaboration among colleagues;

2) examples of literacy instruction meant to develop students’ abilities to read, write, and think critically while adhering to the Common Core/New Jersey Student Learning Standards;

3) ways teachers can reach out to and include leaders in our communities (public librarians, local historians, business people, etc.) in order to enrich our students’ literacy education; or

4) any related presentations on the teaching of writing.


New Jersey educators gather at the NJCTE conference to benefit from professional programs, panels, discussions, exhibits of books and materials, idea exchanges, guest speakers, and shared classroom experiences. Additionally, many opportunities exist for educators to participate as speakers, chairpersons, recorders, and to assist with conference preparation.

Educators at any level and at any phase of their career, including pre-service teachers, are encouraged to attend and/or present.

The conference is an affordable professional development opportunity. Conference registration includes a light breakfast and boxed lunch and an NJCTE membership.


As a presenter, you have the unique opportunity to influence a wide body of educators.
We expect that you will join us as an active member if you are selected to present.
Half-year memberships are available for the discounted rate of $15.

PLEASE NOTE In accordance with the policy of the National Council of Teachers of English, and as a non-profit educational organization, NJCTE is unable to reimburse participants for travel or lodging.

Questions? Contact:

Joe Pizzo: joseph.pizzo@chester-nj.org
Twitter: @ProfJPizzo

Denise Weintraut: NJCTEMembership@gmail.com
Twitter: @SmilingTeach

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

NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference “Approaches to Writing”: Call for Papers

Congratulations to the 2018 Student Writing Contest Winners!

Please join NJCTE in congratulating the winners of the 2018 High School and Middle School Student Writing contests! The winners will receive their awards at a reception on April 24, 4:30pm-5:30pm, at Union Catholic High School.

2018 Middle School Writing Contest Winner:
Kelly Xu, “Outside My Window,” Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School
Kristine Shurina, teacher

2018 High School Writing Contest Medal Winners:

Winner’s Name School Name Sponsoring Teacher Title of Work Award
Madeleine Song Northern Valley Regional High School at Demarest Marisa Januzzi “Aquarius” Gold
Isabella Gonzalez Livingston High School Susan Rothbard “The Weight” Silver
Eloisa Sablan Livingston High School Susan Rothbard “An Almost Something: Lovefool” Silver
Maressa Park Mary Help of Christians Academy Elizabeth Evans “Beautiful.” Bronze
Stephanie Shue Bergen County Academies Richard Weems “Breathe” Bronze
Madison Wade Livingston High School Amanda Buyes “Don’t Ask Why, Ask Why Not” Bronze
Winner’s Name School Name Sponsoring Teacher Title of Work Award
Swathi Kella Ridgewood High School Patricia Hans “Family Recipe: How to Make an Indian Thanksgiving Dinner” Gold
Gillian Parker Northern Highlands Regional High School Brian Belluzzi “Communion Cake and Christmas Break” Gold
Elyse Genrich Morristown High School Allison Janosy “Childlike Curiosity” Silver
Amber Leung Pascack Hills High School Edward Sandt “Rice Cakes can Never be Uncrustables – And That’s Okay” Silver
Kathleen Parkhurst Northern Highlands Regional High School Philip Leib “Handstand” Silver
Lauren Hirschmann Livingston High School Jessica Rivchin “When Our Home Became Hers” Bronze
Sarah Lackey Bergen County Academies Richard Weems “A Tiger in Chinatown” Bronze
Short Story
Winner’s Name School Name Sponsoring Teacher Title of Work Award
Kushal Dhungana Livingston High School Mary Brancaccio “Lost in Thought” Gold
Hee Jae Jung Tenafly High School Lauren Malanka “Whole Again” Silver
Vani Shankar Bergen County Academies David Wilson “Tears of Yesterday” Silver
Camila Fang Wardlaw Hartridge School Stephanie Cohen “The Nature of Resentment” Bronze
Su Min Kim Bergen County Academies Richard Weems “To Us, He Is Eliah” Bronze

2018 High School Writing Contest Certificate of Merit Winners:

Winner’s Name School Name Sponsoring Teacher Title of Work Genre
Helaina Parejo Cinnaminson High School Amy O’Hearn “Jenkins Road” Short Story
Emma Cooke Immaculate Heart Academy Sue Kenney “Unrequited” Poetry
Cedrick Cantave Irvington High School Sarah Caddle “Brooklyn” Poetry
Kaja Owens Kinnelon High School John Penola “In the Straights” Short Story
Aidan Carter Madison High School Jason Ellrott “Haze” Short Story
Naima Troutt Montclair High School Beryl Steinbach “Life Without Orange” Short Story
Smruthi Sathya Morris County School of Technology Emily Bohn-Drake “Never Again” Poetry
Simone Dimatteo Princeton Day School Tom Quigley “Junk” Poetry
Deavihan Scott Rutgers Preparatory School Eireann Corrigan “Ice Cream” Poetry
Sydney Larino The Calais School Cynthia Polles “Challenges Led to Dreams from the Heart” Personal Essay
Julia Ozgar Union Catholic Regional High School John Rotondo “What We Do at Night” Short Story
Alyssa Kabezian Vernon Township High School Kathy Weyant “The Rose Poetry
Celia Murphy-Braunstein West Orange High School Janine Sullivan “A Life in Different Eyes” Short Story

The prompt for the Personal Essay Contest was:
Write a personal essay or narrative about an experience of race, ethnicity, class, religion or gender enlightenment that was significant for you.

We would like you to steer away from general to more personal experiences and observations.  For example, you may choose to write about particular toys that were or were not given to you because of your gender, the expectations of important individuals in your life, decisions about where to sit in the cafeteria or what classes to take, conflicts over what information to share or not share in school, decisions about where to go and if you should go to college; the possibilities are wide ranging.

This prompt may bring to your attention a preconception previously unnamed, but it may also enable you to speak about your strengths and joys, about what unites us instead of what divides us.

Check the NJCTE website for details about the 2019 writing contests!

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

Congratulations to the 2018 Student Writing Contest Winners!