On April 30, NJCTE was thrilled to host its first in-person conference in two years at Pascack Valley High School! Celebrating the theme of “Literacy for Living,” the day kicked off with poet Amanda Crane’s reading of poems about teaching and learning. Then, participants experienced amazing teacher-led workshops in three sessions throughout the day. After lunch, author Jeff Zentner was awarded the prestigious NJCTE Becker Award and signed books for attendees. NJCTE members Deborah Bartley-Carter and Alexandria Lefkovits were awarded Teacher for the Dream awards, Dr. Darlene Russell was awarded the Educator of the Year award, and prizes were raffled off to cap the day of collaboration, learning and fun! See photos below for a taste of the day.
We are already programming for our 2023 Spring Conference–stay tuned for all the details!
|Special thanks to the following sponsors and donors for helping to make this conference a success:|
Bedford, Freeman & Worth
Source of Knowledge, Newark, NJ
Third Space Medical, Paramus, NJ
Coffee Break Sponsor
Starbucks, Northeast Ridgewood
Therapy dogs & volunteers provided by
The Bright & Beautiful Therapy Dogs, Inc.
Thanks to Hillsdale Florist for their generous flower donations!
Please note that our keynote speaker and Becker Award winner has changed.
The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English (NJCTE) seeks to address and support underrepresented teachers of color in New Jersey and within our own organization. The Teachers for the Dream grant, funded with the generous support of NCTE, will help NJCTE support teachers of color within the state and within the leadership of our organization. We hold that this initiative will help us increase the diversity of our membership overall.
Teachers of color are underrepresented in New Jersey and nationwide. Yet a diverse staff and educational environment are critical to providing high-quality learning for a diverse body of 21st-century student learners.
A Fall 2011 study by the Center for American Progress found that “students of color made up more than 40 percent of the school-age population. In contrast, teachers of color were only 17 percent of the teaching force.” The same study found that students of color make up 48% of students in New Jersey, while teachers of color make up 18% of the teaching force. The disparities are only growing starker. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in Fall 2014 the percentage of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools who were White was less than 50 percent (49.5 percent) for the first time and represents a decrease from 58 percent in Fall 2004. To address this educational disparity with dire consequences for students of color, Researchers Saba Bireda and Robin Chait argue for, among other supports, mentoring for new teachers of color. NCTE, and NJCTE, are uniquely positioned to do this work for teachers of English.
In order to support teachers of color and the diversity of NJCTE’s organization, NJCTE’s Teachers for the Dream Program is recruiting two teachers of color in elementary, middle, secondary, or postsecondary ELA education.
These two chosen educators will be involved in all levels of NJCTE. We will ask the two teachers to:
1. attend NJCTE board meetings
2. present, with the assistance of other board members, their work at one of our NJCTE conferences
3. share, at one of our NJCTE conferences, some of their reflections and experiences from their NCTE attendance
In return, the program will provide:
1. 2-year memberships in NJCTE and NCTE for the two teachers
2. conference registration for the teachers for all NJCTE conferences during the two year period
3. travel support to help our two teachers attend NCTE during one of the two years ($500 each)
Conference theme: Literacy for Living: Taking Care of Our Students and Ourselves
Call for proposals: How do we care for our students, our colleagues, and ourselves? According to CASEL.org, social and emotional learning (SEL) is the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” The Spring 2022 NJCTE conference theme invites K-12 educators to share their expertise in creating and sustaining social and emotional learning through English Language Arts in their classrooms and schools. Possible ‘strands’ or ‘threads’ addressing this theme may include:
- ways that teachers bring an SEL mindset to their ELA work with students
- how students are encouraged to attend to and advocate for their needs via the ELA classroom
- methods that schools have used to respond to students’ needs using an SEL framework, particularly with a literacy lens
- how SEL is used to advance equity and inclusion work
- practices that teachers can use to care for themselves personally and professionally
- ideas for teachers and student-teachers on collaborating to invest SEL into their teaching
Proposals in a 45-minute format addressing this theme will be given consideration for inclusion in the conference program. Please be specific with your methods and descriptions.
We invited the NJCTE members who were awarded a grant to attend NCTE 2021 to share a reflection on their experiences at this year’s virtual convention. The third of three appears below, written by Marisol Ruiz:
I look around my classroom library and see the abundance of contemporary diverse literature that I offer my students. They have the many options that I lacked growing up. Thankfully, authors like Kelly Yang, Linda Sue Park, Jason Reynolds, Nic Stone, Erika Sanchez, Elizabeth Acevedo, and many, many more have changed that for today’s youth and the many adults that still need their experiences validated through these social justice warriors’ stories. These authors create spaces that allow individuals to feel and better understand their experiences, while granting them permission to also tell their stories, their way, and not the way the dominant culture has enforced over time.
As a teacher, everyday I walk into the classroom and hope to make a difference in the lives of my students. I look at their individual faces and see the potential that each brings to our classroom. Their experiences and cultures make for a rich and engaging environment that builds self worth and validates who we are as individuals. Overall, I strive to create an environment that fosters and nurtures lifelong learners by helping students find their voice and tell their stories. My actions are always intentional, from the vulnerabilities I share to the stories I select, all are aimed to create individuals that see their reflections in books, find windows into different worlds, and slide into the thoughts of strangers that become family.
This year’s NCTE Convention focused on bringing equity, justice, and antiracist teaching into the classroom to help meet the academic and social emotional needs of students in order to reach their full academic potential. Workshops provided educators the tools and guidance that one needs to help students find their voice by examining rich inclusive mentor texts and writing workshops that explore the multiple identities that students carry. Linda Sue Park’s passionate words, “Injustice and inequity flourish when not enough of us share our stories, and when those stories are not shared enough,” remind us of the important role that ELA teachers possess. WE need to help our students build their voice and craft as writers. Our students are the next generation of Jason Reynolds, George M. Johnson, Tiffany Jackson, David Bowle, Rex Ogle, and Tehlor Kay Mejia.
We invited the NJCTE members who were awarded a grant to attend NCTE 2021 to share a reflection on their experiences at this year’s virtual convention. The second of three appears below, written by Allison Kriess:
As a child, I hated to read. I know; it is so taboo for an English teacher to admit hating to read. But I feel like the honesty of it all helps me to connect with my students. I almost feel like hating reading is like a rite of passage. Everyone goes through it at some point. I had to struggle to see that I wouldn’t always be faced with books that I was being “made” to read, but that I would have choices. I’ve gravitated towards historical fiction and fantasy books for as long as I can remember. They were my escape from reality when things got tough, or my dive into the past to scratch the history itch that I often felt. When listening to the Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, talk about the profession of teaching and, “…doing what you can in the time you are given,” it reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Because I’m also an avid movie watcher, I imagined the following being spoken by Sir Ian McKellan in his glorious British accent. He says, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” In a lot of ways, the two quotes are similar. As teachers, we have a certain amount of time with students. It can be a month, a semester, or even a year. But our time with them is limited. It’s up to us to decide how we want to spend that time; how we want to try and connect and reach them and help them to understand our passion as educators. We have to be courageous and tread uncharted territory in the classroom because, let’s face it, how many people do you know before 2020-2021 who taught during a pandemic? We have to be purposeful in our pedagogy and mindful of the needs of our students more than ever. And they may not thank us. They may not ever cross our paths again. But trust and believe that you’ve made an impact.
The convention for me was a welcomed escape. I was able to sit and focus on the things that make me feel good about teaching and what I do. I was able to explore areas of interest to me such as the choice and voice of teachers and students, and using film to unlock literacy. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to experience the convention, I wouldn’t be planning how to use these tools to try to enhance the connections I make with my students. I wouldn’t have the ability to do my best with the time that is given to me. I’m truly grateful for this support and opportunity and look forward to not only the next convention, but many more to come.
We invited the NJCTE members who were awarded a grant to attend NCTE 2021 to share a reflection on their experiences at this year’s virtual convention. The first of three appears below, written by Megan Tenery:
In the midst of this year’s NCTE convention, I had the great fortune to hear George M. Johnson speak this truth: “Books aren’t exposing children to hard things, they are already experiencing hard things.”
As an educator for the past 17 years, I have always strived to make my classroom a place where students can learn and grow, not only as students but as people. Students come to our classrooms often burdened with the complexities and hardships of their lives, and it is important that they see their stories in the books that we read. Seeing themselves reflected in the stories we read helps them to recognize that they are not alone and perhaps learn how to navigate the challenging waters that they are in. However, this school year has proven to be challenging when trying to uphold this philosophy. Concern over age-appropriate and controversial material in the classroom has muddied this process and has caused me to second-guess every move that I make for fear of backlash. Fortunately for me, I was able to attend this year’s NCTE’s annual convention.
This convention was a breath of fresh air and a source of strength and inspiration for me. To hear notable people such as Michelle Obama, George M. Johnson, and Amanda Gorman emphasize the importance of what we do in the classroom and how vital it is for students to see themselves in the books we teach was invaluable. Session after session afforded me the opportunity to share ideas with incredible educators and help me reflect on my own teaching.
Through the various sessions at the convention, I learned how to use different portals to lead my students into the medium of poetry. I learned how to select texts that will afford my students the opportunities to experience lives unlike their own as well as seeing their own reflected in the words. But most importantly, I learned from Kylene Beers that it is time for us to be brave and take a stand. We need to take a stand for our students and for their freedom to read and learn in ways that will challenge, comfort, and teach them. We cannot sit idly by and let others dictate, due to their own fear and discomfort, the books we teach and give to our students. We must not be silent.
As NCTE 2021 gets underway, we’d like to share this post written by Courtney Kalafsky, who applied for and received funds to attend NCTE 2020 via NJCTE:
During my time as an undergraduate teacher candidate, I found myself surrounded by professors and mentors who were lifelong learners; their passion for growth and willingness to change with newfound knowledge instilled the same values in me. Once I began my teaching career, I always knew I wanted to continue to engage with professional development opportunities. Although I am very lucky to work in a district which truly supports me and encourages me to continue learning, most in-house professional development tends to be interdisciplinary, and my English teacher heart was still craving even more. I decided to apply for a grant to attend NCTE’s 2020 Convention, and was lucky to receive the funds.
During the convention, I learned about effectively facilitating the revision process through intentional strategy. I listened to black authors discuss how they found their way to storytelling and how they hope to see black identities develop in fiction. I was privy to conversations about challenging the ways that things have always been, especially in regards to curricula, and placing students at the forefront of our decisions and practices. Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to ground myself, to forget about the to-do lists and the piles of grading, and to remember why I love teaching. Trevor Noah’s opening session reminded us of the universal value of not only storytelling and teacher, but of humor and laughter.
In a time where everything was overwhelming and uncertain, NCTE’s 2020 Convention, its panelists, and my fellow attendees gave me clarity, inspiration, and hope. I am so thankful to have been supported in this experience, and look forward to the next convention!