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

Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 2

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

First and foremost, we need to know what is going on in the world. As teachers we have many constraints on our time, so we must make the most of those moments we have to follow the news.  We should find news sources we can trust and shortcuts to get the information we need as teacher citizen activists.

I find that I rely on certain on-line and in-print news sources I trust. Because of the controversies surrounding false information disseminated especially through social media, I have come to rely on resources like Snopes for fact checking.

I also depend on current, accurate blogs for news about education. I find, for instance, that Diane Ravitch’s blog serves as an aggregator of timely and reliable education news. Ravitch is a tireless and courageous advocate for teachers, teaching, and learning. Her blog leads me to many news stories in sources I otherwise would have missed. See the resource list provided below for useful and trustworthy blogs.

Because we live in unsettling times, we must be prepared to defend our decisions as educators without being defensive. This means being ready for challenges.

Do you have rationales for books, visuals, and materials you use in your classroom, and this includes books that reside in your classroom library? Can you defend the teaching methods you use? Do you have formal, written rationales for books, materials, and methods? Do these rationales contain information about the quality of the materials and methods and their relationship to course and curriculum objectives? Were they developed collaboratively with colleagues and school leaders?

intellectual freedom centerHave all the materials you use been formally adopted as part of the curriculum with the approval of the board of education? If they have not, can you defend their use? NCTE , the American Library Association (ALA), and other organizations (see resource list) provide information and resources to help you develop rationales for the learning materials you use and suggestions for defending them. ALA publishes annual lists of banned and challenged books and hosts a Banned Book Week every October. NCTE has a CD with rationales for frequently banned books.

There’s more to what we can do to stay awake and remain alert to our “brave new world.” Stay tuned for Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 3!

Resources for Intellectual Freedom and Political Empowerment

NCTE provides abundant resources for intellectual freedom and political action. Check out NCTE’s position statements and support materials.


NCTE Intellectual Freedom Center http://www.ncte.org/action/anti-censorship

The American Library Association advocates for intellectual freedom and provides many quality resources. The host an Office of Intellectual Freedom that has a Twitter feed and blog. They track challenges to books and censorship cases and host Banned Book Week each year in October.



People for the American Way engages in political action to support human rights and traces censorship and challenges in the USA. They identify censor targets including  books, materials curriculum, films, and pedagogy.


NEA and your state affiliate NJEA provide many resources to help teachers become more politically active and to advocate for their profession. NJEA offers advocacy training for members.



The Southern Poverty Law Center traces hate crimes and provides resources for teaching. They publish maps locating hate groups. Their journal, Teaching Tolerance, offers ideas for teaching social justice.


Newseum Institute and the First Amendment Center provide information, news, and support for freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly, and petition.


Daniel Katz’s Blog aims to “ be a place to discuss the current state of American public education and how to preserve its promise of opportunity for all children.” He is a former English teacher and current education professor at Seton Hall University.


Alan Singer’s Blog offers the views of a Hofstra University social studies educator with political commentary and humor.


Steven Singer’s Blog (Gadflyonthewallblog) who describes himself as “husband, father, teacher and education advocate” aims to “Sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.”


Diane Ravitch’s Blog. This is an invaluable source for keeping track of issues affecting education throughout the country. Ravitch is a tireless supported of public education and social justice.

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 2

Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 1

As teachers we need to be “wide awake and ready for action” in a challenging political climate where forces outside our control routinely question our professionalism and aim to circumscribe our freedom to teach and our students’ freedom to learn.  To survive and thrive in such a climate, we should, become awake to the realities of the “brave new world” around us, be prepared, and be heard.

wide awake

“Morning is when I am awake and when there is a dawn in me.”
Henry David Thoreau

Like Thoreau, dwelling in a state of wakefulness depends on the “dawn” within.  Events in our world often give rise to this internal dawn,  a heightened awareness of our situation that helps prepare use for challenges.

Can we count on the freedom to teach as we, knowledgeable professionals, know best? Can we use practices we deem appropriate to support learning? Can we select the kinds of books and materials we value to support learning and to help our students become literate human beings and lifelong learners?

As teachers, we need to abide by our school curriculum, state agencies and code, federal laws, recommendations of accrediting bodies, and local community officials on boards of education.  It remains uncertain whether academic freedom and autonomy exist at the precollege level; and, in fact, it has never been guaranteed at the college level either, especially in teacher education programs that are, like public schools, governed by state code, federal guidelines, and accrediting bodies.  Tenure offers some protections for both precollege teachers and college professors, but it is not a guarantee of safety (Nelson & Stanley, 2001).

So, how do we stay awake and remain alert to our “brave new world” without getting overwhelmed? Stay Tuned for Wide Awake and Ready for Action: Part 2!

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 1

NJCTE Fall Conference – This Saturday!

There is still time to register! Sign up now for 3 PD hours, a bento boxed lunch prepared by Wegman’s, and a whirlwind of SPARKs.

Here again are the details.  

WHEN:    October 28, 2017  from 8:30 A.M. – 1:00 P.M.

WHERE:  Chapin School, 4101 Princeton Pike, Princeton, NJ

WHAT:     You’ll see SPARKs and hear “make it and take it” classroom                    suggestions about writing.  “Warming Up to Writing” will start the day with Dana Maloney.

This conference will give inside tips on writing — for the journal; for e-Focus, the NJCTE Newsletter of Excellence; for our newly established NJCTE blog, and for helping students to enter our NJCTE Writing Contest.

You will hear from Kate Baker, Tina Monteleone, Christina Regua, and Joseph Pizzo. Patricia Schall will discuss intellectual freedom.  And more!

Liz deBeer, editor of the New Jersey English Journal, one of seven journals named a Journal of Excellence by NCTE, will recognize contributing writers and award certificates for the editorial staff and for the journal contributors. Journals will be on sale.

Register at NJCTE.com/fallconferences. The price for non-members is $20. The price for members is $10.

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

NJCTE Fall Conference – This Saturday!

Our Conference is Fast Approaching: Register Now!

English Language Arts the Write Way:  Transformative and Digital

THREE Professional Development Hours

Co-Chairs: Joseph Pizzo and Shawn Berger

October 28, 2017

Visit our website njcte.com to register online and pay with a credit card or paypal. Choose vegetarian or traditional small sub boxed lunch when you register. Wegmans will make one just for you.

Or, mail $20 check payable to NJCTE
to Denise Weintraut, 8 Elizabeth Place, Sicklerville, NJ 08081

Join us at Chapin School for cutting edge ideas!
4101 Princeton Pike, Princeton, NJ 08540
8:30 until 1:00 P.M.

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

Our Conference is Fast Approaching: Register Now!

African American Read-In Event

The New Jersey Council Teachers of English is pleased to announce that we will join with the Jersey Explorer Children’s Museum of East Orange, New Jersey to cosponsor African American Read-In events on February 17, 2018.

new jersey explorer

Youth Corps, located at New Jersey City University, will also participate in the event, joining with local school students in community presentations.

The New Jersey Council Teachers of English is seeking recommendations for lists of recommended authors that boys and girls in English Language Arts classes have enjoyed as well as resources for adult readers. We also are interested in hearing from others about creative Read-In events/programs from previous years.

Please share your book lists and/or information about Read-In events with us here as a comment or to NJCTE board member Maria Schantz at ria@mschantz.com. And look to this space for more information about this great event.

Written by Maria Schantz, 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

African American Read-In Event

What I’m Reading: The Ditchdigger’s Daughters

I’m reading Yvonne S. Thornton’s The Ditchdigger’s Daughters: A Black Family’s Astonishing Success Story. Thornton will be our speaker at New Jersey City University’s Convocation on October 5, so I turned to her story to see how I could use it to prepare my students for the event.

Thornton’s story, written with Jo Coudert, is not the slick or simple tale of uplifting success that the blurbs on the book’s jacket suggest. It may be an inspiring story but it is not adequate to describe it as a “guide to success,” despite the Star Ledger‘s claims. The story of Thornton and her sisters’ journeys from girlhoods in Long Branch, New Jersey to success in medicine (Thornton is a distinguished perinatologist) and in other careers (dentist, educator, nurse, and court stenographer) is uplifting but it is also harrowing. Dangers and obstacles are a constant in Thornton’s journey.

Ditchdigger cover

If there is any key to her success, it is her father’s unvarnished credo: “You’re black and you’re ugly and you’re girls, and the world’s already written you off. You can grow up and be a bag lady. You can be on the streets and the world won’t give a damn whether you live or die. But if you listen to me, we can get out of this” (255). Thornton’s father’s lessons to his daughters about the realities they face are brutal and blunt, even as he pushes them towards success.

I’ve paired an excerpt from Thornton’s text with a recent piece from The Atlantic: “Why the Myth of Meritocracy Hurts Kids of Color,” by Melinda D. Anderson. Anderson explores research that “traditionally marginalized youth who grew up believing in the American ideal that hard work and perseverance naturally lead to success show a decline in self-esteem” (emphasis added) and “implode” when they are hit by “problems they can’t control.” Hard work without an understanding of the myths that undergird our American Dream can not only be insufficient in the face of obstacles, it can be counter-productive and damaging.

I’m eager to hear what my students think about these two pieces and what we will learn from Thornton in her address to us on October 5.

Written and posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

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

What I’m Reading: The Ditchdigger’s Daughters