Mentors + Mentees = Success

by Joseph S. Pizzo

NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director

NJCTE has created an executive board position for me: NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director. As the ECTM Director, I am creating a network of mentors who will work with early-career teachers from grades K-12+. Whether you are teaching kindergarteners to write phrases and sentences, primary and elementary students to write stories, or middle-school, high-school, and college/university students to write literary essays, personal narratives, and research papers, you will face questions for which you will not necessarily have practical answers. Your teaching experience can be enhanced through the assistance of a trusted mentor.

I had a wonderful mentor at the beginning of my career, but not all early-career teachers are as fortunate as I was. Some may have mentors who cannot manage to give the amount of time needed since these mentors have excess demands being placed upon them by their careers and families. Some may not be able to find a compatible mentor in their building or district. Some may simply be looking for a different perspective on or advice to help with classroom management, creating a rubric, or deciding how to use a certain technology platform such as Google Docs in a lesson. Teaching is a quite complex activity that sometimes may appear to be relatively easy to those who do not fully understand the process. Some of the common questions early-career educators are forced to face daily deal not only with matters of curriculum and pedagogy but also with matters of district protocol and procedure. Early-career teachers benefit from the advice of accomplished veterans. Moreover, various studies have found that there are common elements that constitute effective instruction. The models include those designed by Danielson, Marzano, and others. The models reward pedagogy, innovation, use of data to drive instruction, student engagement, purposefulness, and other key areas as well. An effective mentor brings this awareness to all interactions with a mentee.

As the director of our NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) program, I am hoping to bring together two constituencies. The first includes early-career teachers. You will be facing large amounts of rubrics to create, student essays to assign and grade, tests to create and grade, student learning preferences to address, district requirements to fulfill, and a great deal of general paperwork that seems to grow without any encouragement from you. You could benefit from having a mentor who will give you a reasonable amount of guidance and advice as you negotiate your way through the early months and even years of your teaching experience.

The second constituency includes mentor teachers. You are a mentor teacher if you are a leader in school who designs and presents effective learning engagements in the classroom, and who is comfortable working with other professionals. Moreover, a mentor teacher is a non-judgemental professional who recognizes the value of listening, encouraging, and suggesting solutions. 

The relationship between mentors and mentees requires honesty, trust, and a willingness to acknowledge district protocol, procedures, and requirements. Both parties must be willing to be attentive to maintaining a professional approach in all interactions. Most importantly, the success of each mentee’s students must be the main focal point of all efforts between each mentor and their mentee. All advice must be proactive at all times and devoid of anything considered to be either controversial or unacceptable by each mentee’s district.

If you are interested in either being a mentor or being connected with one as a mentee, then please know that you must hold a current membership in NJCTE. If you are not yet a member or if your membership has lapsed, then sign up at https://www.njcte.org

Next, please fill out this Google Form by clicking on this link.

  • Mentors, please let me know the area(s) you feel comfortable with for giving advice.
  • Mentees, please let me know the areas for which you need a mentor. 

Please understand that all participants in this program are volunteers whose availability may be affected by their own schedules and circumstances. A mentor/mentee relationship must be built on a foundation of trust and professionalism. Moreover, all participants in this program have full schedules that fill much of each day. Therefore, contacts should be kept reasonably brief. Whenever possible, mentees might wish to consider the full schedules that mentors are already following daily. Thus, giving a mentor a little bit of lead time to respond to a mentee’s request would surely be appreciated. 

I am looking forward to this opportunity to assist in bringing NJCTE mentors and mentees together. Through these efforts, we look forward to improving instruction while easing a bit of that early-career angst that we all remember experiencing.

Mentors + Mentees = Success

A Tribute to My Mentor: Thank You, Dr. Joseph Byrnes

by Joseph S. Pizzo

NJCTE Early-Career Teaching Mentorship (ECTM) Director

When I first began teaching, I was filled with wonderful ideas. I would work for hours to generate new ideas for teaching a lesson, design materials that directly addressed my students’ needs, create assignments that were far more practical than those deadly and lengthy practice sheets, and fashion evaluations that would be both practical and comprehensive. The time I spent in preparation for my lessons was quite extensive, as well as exhausting. Often I wondered how I would ever have the strength to grade my students’ writing and project work efficiently. Personally, I am so grateful that I had a mentor who supported my efforts and served to inspire me to remain energetic while learning how to be more efficient in the use of my time and efforts.

My mentor in my early years as a 7th-grade language arts teacher for the Chester, NJ public schools is Dr. Joseph Byrnes, a gentleman who had a tremendous impact on me as a teacher. As an early-career teacher, I was eager and somewhat inexperienced. I needed someone whom I could trust when I needed advice. Dr. Byrnes (my personal Yoda) was always ready to listen to my frustrations while doling out encouragement rather than polite disappointment in my inexperience. The support he provided was priceless. He understood the process of writing in a way that supported the best of the research findings of the time. He knew how to motivate even those students who seemed to be disaffected. He was able to meet every student at their particular level of skills and interest, and he would almost magically be able to include every student in the entire learning process. 

What is most important to me is the fact that my mentor Dr. Byrnes gave me suggestions to enhance my instruction by using Alex Haley’s concept: he would “Find the good, and praise it.” He also encouraged me daily to “Design activities for our students so they can learn in a meaningful and engaging way.” Consistently, his final piece of advice to me was: “If you and your students become overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused, then no learning is taking place. Students need to feel that their opinions and feelings matter.” This advice has been invaluable throughout my entire career.  

As I prepare to begin my 46th year in my integrated language arts classroom, I am grateful to my mentor for his guidance, his encouragement, and his willingness to offer his advice in the form of encouragement rather than criticism. This type of supportive mentoring has provided me with the opportunity to inspire my students to discover the brilliance that each of them possesses. It is only through the wisdom and support of others that we as teachers are able to discover and develop the talents that lie within each of us. As Steven Spielberg observed, “The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.”

Thank you, Dr. Joseph Byrnes. I remain forever in your debt. 

A Tribute to My Mentor: Thank You, Dr. Joseph Byrnes

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Michelle Wittle

Please join us in welcoming new board member Michelle Wittle!

Michelle Wittle is currently an ELA Interventionist for the Palmyra School District and has serviced as an Instructional Coach and a Senior Lead Educator. She is also a college professor teaching writing at Rowan University and has presented at the NJWA conference on using writer’s workshop in the classroom. Additionally she has presented at NJCTE on reading like a writer and using a text x-ray in class to help students close read informational and literary texts. While she has been in education for over 20 years, she enjoys working with teachers and students as they learn about themselves as readers and writers. Lastly, she is  a published author with many poems, short stories, and plays to her credit. Her book, Three Decades and I’m Gone is her Creative Nonfiction flash memoir in which she explores the grief her parents’ death left her in.

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Michelle Wittle

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Val Mattesich

Please join us in welcoming new NJCTE Board Member Val Mattesich!

Valerie Mattessich is a veteran Pascack Valley High School English teacher and now serves as Pascack Valley Regional High School District’s Supervisor of English, Art and Libraries. Ms. Mattessich has long been a teacher-leader through the National Writing Project, previously at Rutgers and currently at Drew University, and also acts as an appointed member of the NCTE Secondary Steering Committee as well as a newly appointed Board member for NJCTE. Ms. Mattessich has planned, implemented and facilitated professional development workshops throughout the state and across the country. She has also published articles in Educational ViewpointsEnglish Leadership Quarterly, and New Jersey English Journal; her classroom and teaching strategies were also featured in Kristen Turner and Troy Hicks’ book Argument in the Real World.

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Val Mattesich

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Emily Meixner

Please join us in welcoming new NJCTE Board Member Emily Meixner!

Emily Meixner is an associate professor of English and the coordinator of the secondary English education program at The College of New Jersey where she teaches courses on secondary ELA reading and writing pedagogy as well as courses on children’s and young adult literature. When she is not on campus, she can often be found in local schools observing student teachers or working with teachers in professional development workshops. Dr. Meixner was most recently the program chair for the 2019 Conference on English Leadership national convention, is a member of NCTE, CEL, NJCTE, and ILA, and is one of the organizers of #nErDcampNJ.  She contributes regularly to the Nerdy Book Club blog and has published articles on teaching and learning in a variety of professional journals including Voices From the Middle, The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, and English Leadership Quarterly.

NJCTE Welcomes New Board Member Emily Meixner

Attention NJ ELA teachers: Would you like to write for the NJCTE blog? We would be happy to publish your ideas and insights about your practice or resources you’ve had success with, etc. We welcome original pieces or those that have been posted elsewhere. Please send queries and contributions to njcteblog@gmail.com.

Status

NCTE Historian Speech by NJCTE Board Member Joseph Pizzo

We at NCTE are people. People who form a Village through outreach, conferences, our website, and social media to discuss issues and challenges every day. Some issues are relatively new while others pose historically similar challenges. We are stories of teaching. We are resources, communities, and groups.

“NCTE amplifies the voice of educators through personal connection, collaboration, and a shared mission to improve the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels.” We continue to pursue this mission with serious commitment, undaunted determination, and a bit of creativity that combine to analyze problems and challenges, generate alternatives and solutions, and discover practical procedures to address these problems.  

Literacy continues to be an issue facing us educators at all levels of instruction and across all curricula. To the challenge to increase the frequency of and fluency when  reading, we add digital literacy challenged by a siren’s song broadcast on social media, online games, and streaming. Falling reading scores and the lack of preparation of students entering high school and college fails to consider the impact of some other powerful siren’s songs. Low status is given to reading in many modern households as daily activity schedules fill much of the time that was spent in the past for family reading and homework completion and review. Add poverty to this mix, and the recipe creates a daunting challenge requiring the commitment of all members of society, not simply the schools and NCTE. 

The issues of writing continue to be a challenge as social media outlets featuring acronyms such as “LOL,” “OMG,” and “IMHO” have placed style over substance and actual conversation. For those of us who in our youth never used the word “texting” as a gerund, “IMHO” means “In My Humble Opinion.” Texting is an effective way to communicate, but it must not replace actual conversation. “IMHO.” 

Issues of diversity continue to challenge us daily both at NCTE and throughout the nation. The emergence of LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, and Asexual or Ally) poses problems of acceptance. These challenges are not dissimilar to the ones NCTE has faced courageously in the past when dealing with issues of prejudice according to nationality and gender. Some of these issues that led to racially-biased book banning in the past not only continue, but they also contain bans placed on literature that provides a voice to the LGBTQIA community. NCTE believes that tolerance is insufficient. Rather, acceptance must be mandated without exception.

William Faulkner states: “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the earth.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asserts, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” For us at NCTE, silence “about things that matter” has never been an option.   

Moving forward, NCTE continues to revise its official positions in areas including advocacy, equity, and pedagogy. In the coming year, I hope to create a podcast to chat with our Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick and another to gain perspective on the challenges historically faced by our former NCTE Presidents. As our history proves, our commitment to amplifying “the voice of educators through personal connection, collaboration, and a shared mission to improve the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels,” will not be compromised in any way – ever. 

As we learn from the past and move into the future, we shall continue to serve as advocates for excellence while maintaining our commitment to improving “the teaching and learning of English and language arts at all levels.”

NCTE Historian Speech by NJCTE Board Member Joseph Pizzo