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

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!

Teachers as “Brand Ambassadors”: What Do You Think?

We are happy to say right up front that we know the value of branding.  We see that NCTE has moved from stodgy blue and gold to vibrant lime green that makes all stop and look twice.  This new look is akin to seeing Queen Elizabeth II, the bastion of propriety, don a Lady Gaga meat dress and strut her stuff.  Lady Gaga has millions of followers.  Branding works for her.  So why not use this same approach for the teaching profession?

Consider a recent article in the New York Times about Kayla Delzer, a third-grade teacher from Mapleton, North Dakota. She is characterized as a new kind of teacher who “is a member of a growing tribe of teacher influencers, many of whom promote classroom technology.”

These teachers influencers attract notice through their blogs, social media accounts and conference talks” and “are cultivated not only by start-ups like Seesaw, but by giants like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft to influence which tools are used to teach American schoolchildren.”

Natasha Singer, author of the Times article, states that teachers like Delzer have grown in number “as public schools increasingly adopt all manner of laptops, tablets, math teaching sites, quiz apps and parent-teacher messaging apps. The corporate courtship of these teachers brings with it profound new conflict-of-interest issues for the nation’s public schools.”

Delzer and other teachers like her serve as “brand ambassadors,” and through their work in the classroom and as trainers of other teachers, “promote the products and services” of many companies and receive as rewards for their efforts, gifts like t-shirts, gift cards, and some more costly items such as travel expenses to conferences.

Singer goes on to say that these brand ambassador teachers continue to use and promote products and services despite the fact that “there is little rigorous research showing whether or not the new technologies significantly improve student outcomes.”

This article has generated some fervent reactions in the education blogosphere. Check out these links to the responses of a few noted educators:

Douglas Hesse, former President of NCTE, Executive Director of the Writing Program at the University of Denver and Professor of English, responded to the article on NCTE’s Connected Community. (If you are not already a member of this digital community, we encourage you to join.)

connected community

Meanwhile, we quote his entry here for those readers who are not yet members:

Original Message:
Sent: 09-04-2017 11:37
From: Douglas Hesse
Subject: Teachers as Brand Ambassadors –NY Times Story

I’m still pondering a story I read in yesterday’s New York Times (9/2/17) about teachers establishing themselves as brand ambassadors, primarily for technology companies who provide both classroom/school and personal benefits for promoting devices and/or applications. A certain chunk of the teacher’s time and efforts is to make visible, primarily through social media, themselves and their classrooms: to promote themselves as brands, famous for being famous teachers, “emulatable,” as it were.  Now, there’s certainly nothing entirely new about this.  There have long been famous teachers, famous at least within the profession, whose teaching practices and ideas get noticed and circulated, some of them even achieving status as “The Smith or the Lujan Method.”  But those fame-garnering accomplishments have large occurred, historically, through professional organizations: presenting at conferences at various levels, publishing journal articles, occasionally authoring books.

Historically, there has been some sense of an implicit disciplinary vetting that occurred within knowledge communities; sometimes ideas and practices passed through levels of peer review (as in conference selections or publishing), but not always.  And of course there’s been a version of “brand ambassadors” when the “apps” being promoted were textbooks, not software; publishers sponsored professional development led by one of their authors.  The relationship within English studies between not-for-profit professional expertise and for-profit circulation of materials has always been a complex one.  (As a textbook author myself, I’ve tried to resist what have felt to me the crassest requests for promotion.) What strikes me as different in the NYT article is the more overtly entrepreneurial cast.  The tools of social media allow folks largely to bypass the professional associations and channels–organizations like NCTE–that traditionally provided authorizing (or sanctioning) functions.  Instead, there’s more or less direct marketing, with the teacher him or herself being the brand.

The NYT article raises questions about ethics, noting that teachers treading roads that other professionals (especially physicians) have trod: the possible tension between obligations to one’s students through professional standards and enticements to one’s self-interests through business opportunities on the side.  As the story points out (and as I concede), the nature of both school funding and teacher salaries–not to mention, the erosion of teacher status–makes the enticements pretty reasonable and understandable.

Now, as I said at the outset, I’m still pondering this all.  I have concerns, but I want to be thoughtful before pounding my shoe indignantly on a desk.  I am struck, however, by the consequences of these practices for what it means (or doesn’t, really) to be a professional whose professionalism is both signaled and sanctioned by membership in professional associations.

Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus at Stanford, former social studies teacher, and extensive researcher on education history and school reform responds on his blog

Steven Singer, a middle school language arts teacher and on-fire blogger comments on the role teachers play as pawns in the technology industry money machine and the problems it can create for the profession and kids.  While he is not addressing the Times article in particular, it is clear that he has strong opinions on seductive forces of the technology industry.

What do you think? We invite you to share your thoughts on this article on NJCTE Blog, or if you prefer, you may email responses to us at njctefocus@gmail.com.

Written by Susan Reese, NJCTE President, and Patricia Schall, NJCTE Board Member

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

Teachers as “Brand Ambassadors”: What Do You Think?

NJCTE Wins Affiliate Excellence Award

As Millie Davis explains, the NCTE Affiliate Excellence Award “honors NCTE affiliates that meet high standards of performance for programming and promote improvement in English language arts teaching.” This year, the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English is one of the affiliate winners.

affiliate award

Jean Boreen, chair of the Standing Committee on Affiliates and the Excellence Award committee chair, wrote of the NJCTE affiliate’s work:

Your publications and social media continue to be an exceptionally strong means of communication in keeping members informed and aware; your website is also a strong mechanism for reaching out to your membership. I loved your development of the virtual Hall of Fame; what a wonderful way to highlight great leadership and support of the affiliate. I’m also very impressed with your plans for new members as well as the consistent updating and goal-setting your group is doing; I love the energy that is clearly emanating from the good work you are all putting forward.

We are thrilled to receive this honor. But we aren’t satisfied. We need to continue to grow and improve. We can and will learn from the good work of the other winning affiliates. And we hope to learn more from the teachers of English in New Jersey, as you tell us what you need and want. Let us hear from you!

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
NJCTE Wins Affiliate Excellence Award

New Jersey English Journal Wins NCTE Award

_Badge_Journal (003)

New Jersey English Journal, edited by Liz deBeer of Brookdale Community College and Patricia Bender of Rutgers University-Newark and published by the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, has been named as a recipient of the 2017 NCTE Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award, given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

This award, established in 1995, honors outstanding affiliate journals and their editors who demonstrate excellence in these publications.

The winning affiliate journal must be a magazine-type publication—print or online–and provide members with scholarly articles on issues and topics related to English language arts teaching. The journals are judged on content, organization, layout, and physical appearance. The variety of articles published are judged on quality of writing, evidence of research and scholarly exploration, appeal to many different groups within the affiliate, coverage of important issues in English language arts education, and inclusion of other types of writing (e.g., poetry, affiliate news, book reviews).

The award winners will be announced at the 2017 NCTE Annual Convention in St. Louis, during the Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast on Sunday, November 19.

Other winners include California English, edited by Carol Jago of the University of California, Los Angeles and published by the California Association of Teachers of English; The English Record, edited by Kjersti VanSlyke-Briggs of SUNY Oneonta and published by the New York State English Council; Ohio Journal of English Language Arts, edited by Patrick Thomas of University of Dayton and published by the Ohio Council of Teachers of English Language Arts; Oregon English Journal, edited by Ulrich Hardt of Portland State University and Kimberly Campbell of Lewis and Clark College and published by the Oregon Council of Teachers of English; Virginia English Journal, edited by Sean Ruday of Longwood University and published by the Virginia Association of Teachers of English; and Wisconsin English Journal, edited by John Pruitt of University of Wisconsin Rock County and published by the Wisconsin Council of Teachers of English.

For more information about the NCTE Affiliate Journal of Excellence Award, see http://www.ncte.org/affiliates/awards/journal.

Contact: Millie Davis, Senior Developer, Affiliates, 217-278-3634, mdavis@ncte.org.

NJ English Journal Cover

Read the latest issue of NJCTE’s New Jersey English Journal on the NJCTE website: www.njcte.com!

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE.

New Jersey English Journal Wins NCTE Award