NJCTE is thrilled to co-sponsor an inspiring NCTE event during Banned Books week! See below for details and registration.
As the school year begins, teachers and students are facing challenges to their intellectual freedom like never before. From state legislation to executive orders to school district policies to administrator actions, book bans are at an all-time high, and teacher shortages are affecting every corner of the nation. But as an ELA educator, you do not have to face these difficult circumstances alone.
Join leadership from NCTE’s Standing Committee Against Censorship, members from across the country, a host of state and regional affiliates, and Penguin Random House Education during Banned Books Week to learn about the landscape of censorship challenges in the classroom, discover what resources are available to you from NCTE and on the local level, and share uplifting ways to encourage students’ right to read and teachers’ freedom to teach.
This event is open to NCTE members, NCTE affiliate members, and any interested literacy educator. Register to attend. You will be asked to log in or create an account.
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)
We invited the NJCTE members who were awarded a grant to attend NCTE 2021 to share a reflection ontheir 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 ontheir 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 ontheir 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!
NJCTE is thrilled to announce the two winners of our 2021-2023 Teacher for the Dream Award: Alexandria Lefkovits and Deborah Bartley-Carter. This award is a collaboration between the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English and the National Council of Teachers of English.
Alexandria Lefkovits is currently a middle school Gifted & Talented teacher in New Jersey, transitioning from many years as a teacher of English Language Arts. Alexandria holds a BA in Comparative Literature from Yale University and an MS in Education focusing on Adolescent English Instruction from St. John’s University. She has spent 15 years nurturing her love of working with students — whether tutoring, launching an English-immersion summer camp in China, building a preschool Mandarin immersion program in Colorado, or delivering dynamic, literature-focused lessons. She has taught across grades 6-12 and delivered instruction to Integrated —i.e., mixtures of ELLs, students with disabilities, and students on-level— and Honors-level classes; additionally, she has held the position of AP English Literature and Composition Teacher and prepared students for the AP English Language and Composition exam.
Though her official teaching career began in New York, Alexandria returned to her home state of New Jersey to pursue her passion for equity in education. Since her return, Alexandria has often found that she is the only teacher of color either on staff, in the English department, or in the general education setting. She believes that it is imperative to have teachers of color in general education and higher-level environments in order to avoid subconsciously affiliating high-need environments as being the natural domain of people of color; moreover, she insists that it is the duty of a robust academic program to ensure that multicultural perspectives permeate all areas and levels of learning. Authentic access to these perspectives demands the inclusion of the people holding them. Alexandria has already begun to address these concerns in her own school: serving on the Equity and Inclusion committee, developing an enrichment cluster complementary to the Gifted and Talented program that more accurately represents the demographics of the student body, and guaranteeing all students access to special opportunities irrespective of the perceived barriers of level or language. Alexandria is thrilled to be a recipient of the Teacher for the Dream Award and welcomes the opportunity to share her voice, experience, and ideas with the NJCTE and beyond.
Deborah Bartley-Carter’s lifework has been in education for 20 years. She advanced in her career from primary classroom teacher to district level leadership roles. As a Regional Instructional Specialist in Literacy K-12 in New York City and then District Supervisor of Language Arts K-12 in New Jersey, she worked to find innovative and sustainable ways to impact teaching and learning literacy. As an Assistant Principal in grades 6-12 in New York City, she worked with teachers and fellow administrators to design curriculum, support professional growth and build a thriving school community.
Deborah continues to learn throughout her professional career. She has always been invigorated by her inquisitiveness and her quest for improving learning experiences for all students. She has been awarded grants to enhance and improve her skills as an educator through the Fund for Teachers, The National Endowment for Humanities, The Moth Teacher Institute and The Gilder Lehrman Foundation. In 2020, she received the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching and conducted her inquiry research at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.
Deborah stays connected to the international education community by volunteering her time in programs for visiting Fulbrighters and organizations that support student exchange. She has served as a Board Member for several organizations in New York and New Jersey. She currently serves as a Board of Director for Valley Arts NJ in Orange, New Jersey and One to World in New York City. She was previously a Board member of Dancewave Dance School in New York City and Paulo Freire Charter High School in New Jersey.
Deborah currently works at JH Brensinger School in Jersey City. She earned a Bachelor of Arts from Binghamton University and a Master of Arts from Teachers College at Columbia University. She is an active member of several committees and associations. She served as a local graduate chapter Committee Chair for the National Commission for Arts and Letters as a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She is a member of the National Council for History Education, Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education,The National Council for Teachers of English and New Jersey Education Association.
At the initial NCTE SCOA meeting, the theme was “Joy.” It was defined as “the feeling that acknowledges satisfaction in oneself and in others as well.” During this pandemic, the main direction was identified as a critical component of both the personalities and the lives of all educators and families.
We wrote about the topic of joy. We discussed our writings in both breakout rooms and a full meeting. Here is my note.
“Joy is reflected in the woman raising the child. We uplift as we mentor, but we gain from those we mentor as well. We experience confluencia as joy flows inward, but the experience is even greater when the confluencia follows its natural course and flows outwardly to share that which it has gained previously.”
At the second SCOA meeting held later in the day, we examined an article entitled, “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Breakout rooms were again used so the article could be discussed in assigned sections. The notes from my group are as follows:
Positive emotion words, negative emotion words, and “we” words (first-person plural words) that participants used in their writing have an impact.
The gratitude writing group used a higher percentage of positive emotion words and “we” words.
The lack of negative emotion words—not the abundance of positive—explained the mental health gap between the gratitude writing group and the other writing group.
Gratitude letter writing produces better mental health by shifting one’s attention away from toxic emotions.
Having a positive outlook and avoiding toxic thoughts and situations was found to lessen the use of toxic words in one’s daily lexicon. According to the authors Joshua Brown and Joel Wong, “many studies over the past decade have found that people who consciously count their blessings tend to be happier and less depressed.” The experimental group in the study wrote letters of gratitude while the control group did not.
The research study that was conducted by Brown and Wong involved “nearly 300 adults, mostly college students who were seeking mental health counseling at a university. We recruited these participants just before they began their first session of counseling, and, on average, they reported clinically low levels of mental health at the time. The majority of people seeking counseling services at this university in general struggled with issues related to depression and anxiety.”
The main findings made in the article are as follows:
Gratitude unshackles us from toxic emotions.
Gratitude helps (the individual) even if you don’t share it (in some form with others).
Gratitude’s benefits… (emerge slowly over) time.
Gratitude has lasting effects on the brain. (“…when people who are generally more grateful gave more money to a cause, they showed greater neural sensitivity in the medial prefrontal cortex, a brain area associated with learning and decision making. This suggests that people who are more grateful are also more attentive to how they express gratitude.”)
The authors of the article conclude that “practicing gratitude may help train the brain to be more sensitive to the experience of gratitude down the line, and this could contribute to improved mental health over time.”
I shall conclude my report by sharing the note of gratitude that I have written to my colleagues at NJCTE.
I am grateful to all of you, my colleagues at NJCTE. We consistently have a range of different tasks to address and complete. It is important to know, however, that we gather our talents and combine our efforts to help any of us who may be in need. We acknowledge the commitments made to our organization and our membership by readily offering to help any member who may be in need. The unselfish nature of our organization makes me proud to be a member.
Thank you, NJCTE for your kindness of heart, your generosity of spirit, and your willingness to give of yourself to help others in need.
In recognition of and response to what has been a tumultuous year of teaching, NJCTE is offering one-time grants in the amount of $100 to five NJCTE members so that they may attend this year’s NCTE Annual Convention.
You must be a current member of NJCTE to be eligible. If you joined or renewed your membership after March 1, 2020, you are current. If you can’t remember, please consider re-joining. Membership is only $15 this year.
We will announce the winners, drawn at random, on November 9 at 8 P.M.The application form will be open until then. Please be considerate of the financial needs of others if your district or institution is already supporting your attendance at NCTE.