Finding purpose and politics in Gatsby at PCTELA18

by Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle

(Originally posted at the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature blog.)

It was very early and very dark when we began our journey to Harrisburg, PA, to present at the Pennsylvania Council of Teachers of English annual conference, #PCTELA18. Audrey had been to the national affiliate meeting for NCTE, where leaders of all the affiliates gather and share ideas and resources, and met some of the dynamic PCTELA board members, and we were very excited to get to hear the amazing A.S. King speak, so we knew it would be worth the trip.
It sounded good at the time, but when we had to get up at 4am and drive through NJ and PA in the dark, we began to question why we were doing this! As always, we started to feel energized as we arrived at the conference and left feeling inspired and ready to take on the world (if a little tired). Isn’t that what’s so great about NCTE and the affiliates – how they harness and focus our energies and remind us of the amazing community of educators to which we belong.
We presented our latest incarnation of our work, entitled for this forum, Gatsby: 1925 or 2018?
We opened our presentation with our newest favorite tech tool, Mentimeter. We asked our audience the following: When you think of Gatsby, what words come to mind? Mentimeter did the rest, in real time; how awesome!
We chuckled over “overrated,” bemoaned the “green light” (Audrey’s bugaboo), and noted the presence of “economic inequality,” “privilege,” and “wealth.”
From there, and invoking the conference theme, “The Stories of Our Lives,” we launched into our discussion of how The Great Gatsby, a text written and set in the 1920s and taught regularly in many, many English classrooms, can be taught as a topical, relevant text that interrogates fundamental issues — past, present, and future — about our culture and beliefs. We explored key issues in Gatsby – white supremacy and nationalism, the difficulties of economic mobility, economic inequality, anti-Semitism, and the social psychology of privilege and entitlement – and tried to unpack how to use this canonical text to create space for difficult, critical conversations.
For us, it was fascinating to talk pedagogy with PCTELA members who self-identified as people teaching in the big red state of PA. For both of us, teaching in urban Northern New Jersey, the politics are enormously different. The energy and engagement in the room was palpable; several people interjected mid-session with questions and comments (a presenter’s greatest delight!). 
We thought some of the concerns our audience raised and our views on them worth sharing, as we know that teachers across the country, particularly in the redder pockets of our nation, are grappling with how to navigate a tricky political landscape while still ensuring that our classrooms are spaces for:
1. critical thinking about big issues that matter (and not just the green light!);
2. students to think through and contextualize the drama of our particular moment through the context of literature;
3. difficult conversations.
For example, one person at PCTELA asked us whether we were worried about injecting politics into the classroom when, for example, we focus on the white nationalism and economic inequality in Gatsby. Another asked whether we include opposing viewpoints. Still another asked about whether we worried that students would just give us back what we want to hear. These are legitimate, challenging concerns that are worth careful consideration.
Our strategy is two-fold.
First, we try to think about our work as focused on extracting the politics out of the text(s), rather than injecting our politics. Of course, we focus on things we care about. And so our extraction, our focus, is of necessity going to change based on time and place. Trump, KavanaughRoseanne (some of the connections that have recently caught our attention) produce our interest in how the text navigates white nationalism, fear of non-white immigrants, white male privilege, and the anger and entitlement of those in positions of power.
Reading Gatsby in 2018 is and should be different from reading Gatsby in 1950. Isn’t that, after all, the beauty of literature? Audrey likes to think that if anything makes a text worthy of canonical status, it is that text’s capacity to generate conversation and merit scrutiny in different times and places. (But then again, that may be a function of the reader and an altogether different conversation.)
That said, no one in 2018 can underestimate the trepidation teachers (and students too) feel about these difficult conversations. Yet, as one of our PCTELA audience members asserted, based on his experience teaching at a wealthy, all-male private school with what he described as a mostly Republican student body, young people are eager to talk about these things. If we open the door and ground our discussion in Gatsby and companion texts like excerpts from Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy, (inspiration for Fitzgerald’s Goddard), or social psychologist Paul Piff’s “Does Money Make You Mean,” an engaging TED Talk about behavioral experiments involving games of monopoly, driving habits, and more, we create space for dialogue in our classroom.
We don’t have to be explicit in discussing Trump or Kavanaugh; for a variety of reasons, we may not be comfortable doing so. But we can frame our discussions of Gatsby and extract the politics from Fitzgerald’s text, so that students have the space and language to think and talk about the big issues that they are seeing all around them. That’s our hope based on our experience, albeit in a very different environment.
After our talk, we had the amazing privilege to hear contemporary young adult author A.S. King address PCTELA.Wow! Her remarks about the importance of young adult literature resonated so strongly with us. King talked about how she couldn’t connect with the four novels (!) she was assigned in the entirety of her high school experience. The Scarlett Letter, she noted, seemed to contain all sorts of issues that should have been meaningful to her, but the Puritans, she admitted, “were a real buzz-kill.” And so she skipped Hawthorne.
S.E. Hinton was another story, for King. (And later, unaccountably, The Satanic Verses.)
Her broader point was that contemporary young adult literature has such an important place in our curriculum, particularly as it keeps young readers reading. King noted sardonically those gatekeepers who say that they don’t believe in contemporary young adult literature and retorted, “it’s not like fairies; it exists.” Indeed. And the passion that so many young readers have for this literature only serves to underscore the importance of our finding ways to make ALL the texts we teach meaningful, relevant, and purposeful for our students. 
Our work is cut out for us, especially for those who teach in schools where the curriculum is still dominated by mostly canonical and somewhat inaccessible texts, like GatsbyBut as we tried to show in our presentation, it is precisely Gatsby’s staid canonicity that makes it so full of insurgent and subversive possibilities. This is the work we love, and that so many English teachers do so creatively, ambitiously, and thoughtfully.

So, all in all, an inspiring and impressive PCTELA conference. We left invigorated, and on the way home stopped in Hershey for a tour of Chocolate World (Susan’s first time). Sweet!

 

Finding purpose and politics in Gatsby at PCTELA18

Reflection on The National Day on Writing

by Audrey Fisch

The National Day on Writing® (October 20), an initiative of the National Council of Teachers of English, was created “on the premise that writing is critical to literacy but needs greater attention and celebration.”

whyiwrite

We at NJCTE, your New Jersey affiliate of NCTE, agree. Writing isn’t just, as NCTE notes, “pencil-and-paper assignments”; “writing is part of your life . . . . how you work, how you learn, how you remember, and how you communicate. It gives voice to who you are and enables you to give voice to the things that matter to you.”

This year, we asked our NJCTE members to share their responses to #WhyIWrite. Here are a few of the responses people posted.

mrspasqtweet

srcnwk tweetafisch tweet

As we struggle with hateful and incendiary language and murderous violence, our collective voices about the power of writing are more important than ever. Let’s continue to, as NCTE says, work at “raising the volume” on writing and use our skills at writing to create an environment for civility and positive change – on our screens, in our classrooms, and on our pages.

Reflection on The National Day on Writing

Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions

Are you planning to attend the NJEA Convention in Atlantic City? Share your experiences with us using #NJCTE18 and tag us @NJCTENews.

NJCTE is sponsoring two presentations at NJEA this year:

  • Joe Pizzo will present “Get a Grant the Write Way” on Thursday, November 8, 3:15-4:45 PM, in room 413.
  • Audrey Fisch and Susan Chenelle will present “Teaching Inequality to Encourage Students to Speak About Justice” on Friday, November 9, 9:45-11:15 AM, in room 402.

NJCTE board member Katie Nieves will also present two sessions: “Giving Into the Hyperdocs Hype” on Friday, November 9, 10:00-10:50 AM, in the Teacher to Teacher Learning Area, and “Google Tools to Help Struggling Learners” on Friday, November 9, 1:30-3:00 PM in room 317.

And NJCTE board members Pat Schall and Susan Reese will be onsite to meet with NJCTE members and prospective members. Come see us!
Continue reading “Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions”

Join NJCTE at NJEA, NCTE and CEL Conventions

Call for applicants: NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline October 31, 2018

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 also hope that this initiative will help us increase the diversity of our membership overall.

If you are a teacher of color, please consider applying: http://bit.ly/NJCTEDream. If you are not a teacher of color, please share this application with a friend or colleague who might benefit from this award.

Teachers of color are underrepresented in New Jersey and nationwide. Yet a diverse staff and educational environment is 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)

Program Schedule

The timetable for the NJCTE Dream Program is as follows:

  • September-October 2018 – Recruit applicants to the program
  • November 2018 – Select and meet with (online) award recipients
  • December 2018 – Recipients will work with NJCTE board members to submit NJCTE conference proposal (Spring 2019 conference)
  • January 2019 – Recipients will work with NJCTE board members to submit NCTE conference proposal (November 2019 convention)
  • January/February 2019 – Recipients will attend online board meetings
  • March 2019 – Recipients will attend, be recognized, and may present at the NJCTE spring conference; recipients will attend NJCTE post-conference board meeting
  • April/May 2019 – Recipients will attend online board meetings
  • Summer 2019 – Recipients will attend in-person summer retreat; recipients will work with NJCTE board members to submit NJCTE conference proposal (Fall 2019 conference)
  • September 2019 – Recipients will attend online board meeting
  • October 2019 – Recipients will attend and present work at NJCTE fall conference; recipients will attend NJCTE post-conference board meeting
  • November 2019 – Recipients will attend NCTE and potentially present work
  • December 2019 – Recipients will work with NJCTE board members to submit NJCTE conference proposal (Spring 2020 conference)
  • January/February 2020 – Recipients will attend online board meetings
  • March 2020 – Recipients will attend NJCTE spring conference and present reflections on NCTE; recipients will attend NJCTE board meeting; recipients may take on board membership at NJCTE and assume leadership roles
  • May 2020 – Recipients will attend NJCTE board meeting; final report to NCTE

Please apply at http://bit.ly/NJCTEDream. Address any questions to njctedream@gmail.com or NJCTE President Audrey Fisch at njctepresident@gmail.com.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Call for applicants: NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline October 31, 2018

NJCTE Receives 2018 NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Affiliate Award

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English is one of five recipients of the 2018 NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Affiliate Award given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

New Jersey Council president Audrey Fisch of Westfield reports that the affiliate will focus on addressing and supporting underrepresented teachers of color in New Jersey and within their own organization.

The NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Affiliate Award presents grants to affiliates of NCTE that initiate a program that will recruit teachers of color into the affiliate or the profession. Judges look for programs that are thorough and that have the potential to recruit and retain teachers of color into the profession and the affiliate.

Studies have demonstrated the need for recruitment strategies to meet the growing shortage of teachers of color in elementary and secondary American schools where the multiethnic student population continues to increase and will soon be the majority of students. In response to this need, the NCTE Fund offers grants of up to $750 each to selected affiliates that submit proposals to implement recruitment initiatives for teachers of color during the school year of the award.

The award winners will be announced at the 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, during the Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast on Sunday, November 18.

For more information about the NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Award, see http://www2.ncte.org/awards/affiliate-ncte-fund-teachers-for-the-dream/.

For more information about the NJCTE Teachers for the Dream program, stay tuned to our website and/or blog and/or reach out to NJCTE President Audrey Fisch, njctepresident@gmail.com.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

NJCTE Receives 2018 NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Affiliate Award

The Supreme Court’s Janus Decision Will Impact Schools

[Editor’s note: This post by NJCTE Executive Board Member Dr. Patricia L. Schall originally appeared on the NCTE Policy blog.]


State: New Jersey
Level: Higher Education
Analyst: Patricia L. Schall

On June 27, 2018, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the Janus v. American Federation of County, State Municipal Employees. In a 5-4 decision, the court limited the collective bargaining rights of public-sector unions by declaring they will no longer be able to collect “fair share” or “agency fees” from employees who do not join the union but who still benefit from union-negotiated protections. These fees are used to cover the cost of collective bargaining that benefits all workers.

This decision stands to affect the power of public school teachers, professional support staff, faculty in higher education, and other public workers to determine the terms and conditions of their employment and the quality of the educational experience for their students. Educators have used collective bargaining to combat budget cuts in school districts and to demand that students receive the resources they deserve.

This decision has the potential to negatively impact recruitment of teachers and students in teacher education programs, which already have been experiencing lower enrollment for a host of reasonsincluding cost of higher education, attitudes toward the teaching profession, and increased accountability measures like the edTPA.

Educators at the P-12 and higher education levels would be wise to follow the news about this Supreme Court decision to become more aware of the impact it will have on their professional lives.

The Supreme Court’s Janus Decision Will Impact Schools

NJCTE Board Member Susan Chenelle Receives NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award

NJCTE is thrilled to announce that the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has awarded the 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award to Susan Chenelle from University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, New Jersey. Chenelle is one of 14 high school teachers nationwide honored by NCTE this year.

Established in 2001 by the NCTE Secondary Section, this award recognizes and celebrates high school classroom teachers who demonstrate excellent practices and contributions in the classroom. Chenelle will be recognized as a recipient of the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award at the Secondary Section Luncheon on Saturday, November 17, during the 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, Texas. For more information about the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award, including past winners, see http://www2.ncte.org/high-school-teacher-of-excellence-affiliate-award.

Chenelle is currently Supervisor of Curriculum and Instruction at University Academy Charter High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she taught English and journalism for several years. She is the co-author of the Using Informational Text to Teach Literature series from Rowman & Littlefield with Audrey Fisch, with whom she has presented about informational text and cross-disciplinary collaboration at schools around New Jersey and conferences across the country. She earned her master’s degree in urban education from New Jersey City University, and she is now pursuing a doctoral degree at Montclair State University in Teacher Education and Teacher Development. Chenelle was the recipient of NJCTE’s 2017 Educator of the Year Award and currently serves on the NJCTE board.

For more information about NJCTE’s Educator of the Year Award, please see https://www.njcte.com/teacher-awards/. We highly encourage English educators in New Jersey to nominate their colleagues for this award and to consider nominating early career and pre-service teachers for the M. Jerry Weiss Early Career Teacher Award and the Marcia Holtzman Pre-Service Teacher Award. Help us honor the excellent work of our colleagues in the field!

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

NJCTE Board Member Susan Chenelle Receives NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award