WHY ENTER THE NJCTE MIDDLE SCHOOL PILOT WRITING CONTEST?

Here in Central New Jersey, many read the Asbury Park Press.  Every third Tuesday of the month, the press features young writers whose offerings have responded to a prompt.  Both high school and middle school students respond to the same prompt.  Repeatedly, I amazed by the writing of the middle school students. Young writers in grade seven can and should entertain some of the same issues that are offered to students in grade 12.  We at NJCTE concur with this approach.

Our prompt for the NJCTE Writing Contests invites challenging speculation that may lead to an awakening.  Students are offered a range of subject matter as they are directed to write about a personal experience involving race, ethnicity, class, religion, or gender enlightenment.  Needless to say, there is no right or wrong answer.  Honest engagement with the prompt and careful thought will emerge for both reader and writer as a winning essay.

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.

The prompt challenges thought and engages students in social awareness which can lead to enlightened, responsible citizens.  And, after all, isn’t that really what an education should do?  Participating in a writing contest gives students an opportunity to communicate their ideas and shape their prose for a much wider audience. They are writing authentic reading for others.

The deadline is February 20. Please see the NJCTE website for details on how your students can submit their work.

As a classroom teacher, you have been given the agency to encourage your students to respond to the prompt in a meaningful way that does, indeed, result in an “Awakening.”  Every teacher who submits entries will be recognized.  We at NJCTE have found that this recognition generates enthusiasm for writing and community support in other areas also.

We hope you find the prompt lends itself to mini-lessons on form, development, paragraphing, word choice, synthesis, analysis, voice… The list is endless.  Incorporating the prompt into the daily lesson plan is easy and beneficial in many ways.

I hope that my reasons will convince you to engage your middle school students in this most worthy enterprise.

Written by Susan Reese, NJCTE President, former Chair of the NCTE Achievement Awards in Writing Advisory Committee

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

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WHY ENTER THE NJCTE MIDDLE SCHOOL PILOT WRITING CONTEST?

NJCTE Spring Conference – Coming Soon

njcte hmm

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 Spring Conference – Coming Soon

An Invitation to Write Banned Word Poetry

Greetings, NJCTE Blog Readers! This is your friendly and vigilant citizen activist English language arts educator, Pat Schall, returning with yet another suggestion for making your voices heard in a challenging political climate.

This time my suggestion for activism encourages more creativity and less correspondence and calls. Sound interesting? Hey, the holiday break should give you a little more time to charge those creative batteries.

Banned WordsHave you heard about the seven words/phrases the Trump administration put on a usage “hit list” for the CDC (Center for Disease Control)? The Washington Post reports that the CDC employees may not use these word/phrases in their writing: “vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, fetus, evidence-based, and science-based.”  How about entering a banned word poetry/poetic language contest with several options for creative expression using these forbidden words?

Recently, I was checking some social media postings and found an entry from Sara Freligh’s blog. Sarah is an author and a recipient of an NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) fellowship in poetry. She and Amy Lemmon are hosting a poetry writing contest using the CDC banned words. You will find specific guidelines for writing and submission in the blog post.

Freligh and Lemmon are flexible about the format and encourage “prose poems/microfiction, or even short plays. Forms that use repetition and/or use the required words in inventive ways are especially encouraged. Work may include visual or multimedia elements within the range of literary work.  Video or audio submissions should be accompanied by text transcript.” There are so many possibilities and formats, traditional and non-traditional. They advise writers that “poems will be accepted on a rolling basis for publication on the blog. One new poem by a different writer will be published each week day, Monday through Friday starting January 1, 2018.”

The idea of a “rolling basis for publication” appeals to me and may provide just the kind of incentive and flexible deadline a busy teacher/writer needs to participate and to take a stand against censorship that matches NCTE’s mission to preserve intellectual freedom.

NJCTE will host our Annual Conference on Saturday, March 24, 2018, at Montclair State University. This would be a good forum for sharing some of the poems our members submit to this contest, whether or not they are chosen to appear on the blog. Why not get your creative juices flowing and participate? Here is another chance to be a creative citizen activist and stand up for freedom of speech.

Enjoy the holidays, the break, and this opportunity to let your voice be heard!

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

An Invitation to Write Banned Word Poetry

Ready to Throw in the Towel?

Do you ever wake up and just want to throw in the towel? I had a day like that yesterday. I couldn’t bring myself to read the first section of the New York Times.  I fled for safety in the Science section (a favorite of mine);  and while I gained some strength from reading that “Cataract Surgery May Prolong Your Life,” I ran screaming from articles about how “Air Pollution May Harm Babies Even Before they are Born” and “The Scallop Sees with Space-Age Eyes.” I guess I didn’t want to think about eating shellfish that could see their human predators.  Let’s not even talk consider the story about ice melting in Greenland.  The day was off to a bad start even before I finished my coffee.man throwing in towel

So, how do we cope with the barrage of bad news that can assault us daily? How do we process stories about dubious tax reform, sexual harassment, nuclear threats, concealed weapons, massacres of innocent people in public places, discrimination, the loss of public lands, the assault on immigrants, and the ongoing devaluation of public education? Hey, our members of congress have even proposed to eliminate the small deduction educators can take for classroom supplies purchased out of their own pockets! And I could go on, but I will spare you since I am sure you have had days like mine.

I recognize that I am now a retired educator, and I have more time to obsess about these issues.  I would be compelled to put them in some better perspective if I still had to address all my classroom and administrative responsibilities.  Working educators do not have my advantages.  So, since I have the time, I have started to think more about how to stay sane in this world of daily offenses. Here are some of the strategies I use, and perhaps they could help you cope too.  I resolve to:

  • Control the impact of troubling news by establishing a pattern for reading newspapers. I often start reading a section I find appealing—arts, science, food—and then work my way into the harder news by hitting the editorial section next. I read my favorite columnists, the editorial statements, and features that catch my attention. Once I am inoculated with some good writing by trusted authors, I move to the first section and tackle the headlines. I admit that I might reverse the process if some critical event has occurred.
  • Visit my favorite social media platforms to see what is cooking on Facebook, Twitter, and my favorite blogs. Because I signed on to these feeds that interest me, I often find they are places to connect with people and issues I find compelling.
  • Sign off social media before getting ready for bed. Hey, do we really need all that chatter echoing in our heads when we try to go to sleep? I find myself waking up in the middle of the night with the troubling news interfering with a night’s sleep. Twitter before bed doesn’t help.
  • Avoid trolls on line. I enjoy reading Twitter and Facebook postings by people I respect, including political leaders, but I do not interact with the trolls on their feeds. I think there are better uses of my time than confronting haters on line who use the cover of distance and anonymity to spew venom. I try to remember that some of these trolls could be fakes, bots created to disrupt. I am not going to change a troll’s mind. I believe there is a time and place to call out the haters and to try to reason with those who can reason, but social media may not be the best venue.
  • Do something concrete each day to address troubling issues. Again, I recognize that this is much easier for a retired person to accomplish. Still, even a busy working person with family responsibilities might find that it doesn’t take long to Tweet, post a comment on Facebook, send an email, make one phone call, or use Resistbot to send a fax to a legislator. Even taking action only once or twice a week can make us feel more in control.
  • Remain professionally active. I like to stay connected with other educators. Professional organizations like NCTE, NJCTE, NJEA, and CEL can give us the means to interact with colleagues who care about their work. Remember to write. Keeping a journal helps us reflect. Write for publication. Contribute to professional journals, newsletters, and blogs (WRITE FOR THE NJCTE BLOG!). Draw strength from your caring network of like-minded professionals.
  • Exercise to beat the stress. I know, it is easier said than done when you are working full time and have family responsibilities. But it truly helps to reduce stress if you do something you enjoy—walking, yoga, jogging, exercise classes, dancing, whatever appeals to you and fits your schedule.
  • Continue to have fun. I think we all benefit from taking little family excursions, meeting friends , watching a favorite TV program, carving out time for pleasure reading, pursuing hobbies, meditating, whatever works.

So the next time you are ready to throw in the towel, take a little time to think about some options to keep you focused and happy. Don’t give up!throw in towel

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

Ready to Throw in the Towel?

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