Call for applicants: NCTE/NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline Oct 31

Call for applicants: NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline October 31, 2020

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: If you are not a teacher of color, please share this application with a friend or colleague who might benefit from this award.

Call for applicants: NCTE/NJCTE Teachers for the Dream – Deadline Oct 31

Focusing on the Gains: Explorations and Creative Approaches In a Time of Loss

Originally published on NCTE’s Engage Now! Secondary Section blog

by Valerie Mattessich, NJCTE board member

These past few weeks have changed almost everything we typically experience about our days, and particularly, for those of us in education, our school days. The unwanted disruption caused by the nationwide Coronavirus pandemic can often feel like a loss for educators—a loss of our face-to-face time with our students; a loss of our time with our colleagues in which to discuss our craft and our challenges; a loss of routine, control, and intellectual and creative engagement throughout our day.

Rather than highlighting the negatives of our current situation, however, I choose to focus here on the gains that we have made as we recalibrate expectations, revise curriculum, and revamp the way in which we teach and learn. As a supervisor of instruction for English teachers, I have a birds-eye view of how my teachers have altered their approaches and begun to perhaps see things in a different light, either by allowing more space for student voice and choice in their courses or by giving themselves permission to try pedagogical moves they may have been reluctant to undertake in synchronous learning environments.

Here, I highlight the ways in which my teachers have been exploring “virtual learning” with their students.

Teachers have gotten creative, with one starting a virtual read-in with her students and another refining her “‘Music Monday” feature in her AP Language and Composition class. One teacher has shifted instruction from purely curricular, whole-class novel study to a student-driven reading identity exploration alongside a study of The Great Gatsby. Finally, a veteran AP Literature and Composition teacher has explored the virtual learning space around AP analysis and explication exercises to bring in more student response to poetry as it relates to the topsy-turvy world around us.

Learn more about these approaches below:

Keeping the Independent Reading Tradition Alive through a Virtual Read-in

From Pascack Valley High School English teacher Kate Overgaard 

A Virtual Read-In


Because it’s fun and community building. Hopefully.

Pick a day. Maybe a Wednesday? Optional attendance.

What happens?

Everyone reads.

Students should try to commit to 20 minutes.

Teachers read with video for the chosen duration. It feels awkward at first, but you’re modeling real reading.

What does it look like? How do people participate?

Through a muted video chat, Zoom, or Google Meet.

Participants add the book title and author to the chat.

  • “I’m here and I’m reading . . . (title and author).”
  • “Here’s where I am picking up (say something about the text).”

If students have Twitter, they can also post a Tweet that says “I’m joining the virtual read-in. I’m reading ____, plus good hashtag and @teacher name(s).”

Thank students for joining you!

If everyone agrees, take a screenshot with your books, because these are unique times that we’ll want to look back on and remember.

Here, Ms. Overgaard seeks to replicate a practice that already exists in her classroom, a set amount of time for independent reading to begin each class period, but in the virtual space. This allows for students and teachers to come together, see each other, and be in community around literacy practices. Overgaard and her co-teacher had only two students take her up on this initially, but she anticipates more students joining in as the weeks of virtual learning turn into months and students crave more contact with their peers and teachers.


Reader Identity Exposed and Explored

From Pascack Valley High School English teacher Brett Conrad and student teacher Daniel D’Amico

These two teachers of American literature to juniors had recently begun exploring the concept of reader identity in their work with students, as they move toward a workshop approach based on our departmental study of Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher’s 180 Days and integrated this with their standards-based approach to assessment.

The approach worked for a fairly seamless transition into the virtual space, as students were still able to work at their own pace toward proficiency in various skills. What came as a surprise, however, was what some students revealed about their reading practices when asked to discuss them. Mr. Conrad and Mr. D’Amico, in switching to the virtual space, saw the opportunity for more reflection time for students and wanted to prioritize that as they worked through The Great Gatsby.

They created this short writing prompt as a discussion board post for their students to complete and then reply to their peers about:

“Over the past few weeks we have read/watched The Great Gatsby in class, but this will be your first time reading the text independently. Reading a text independently presents a new array of challenges, and I want you to reflect on your reading process after completing chapter seven. Please respond to the following questions:

What is your reading process? (Did you perform an interrupted reading to stop and take notes? Did you read the chapter start to finish? Did you take breaks while reading? Did you use a supplemental reading tool like playing an audiobook while reading? Did you read in a certain spot in your house? Did you talk about the chapter with a family member? Did you refer back to chapters we already finished?)

Some student responses that struck these teachers are seen below:

  • My reading process is pretty normal (at least it seems so). I typically open the book or ebook and start reading until I’m either bored or until I’ve filled my reading requirement. I also don’t read every word on the page. I like to go through every page of the book and pick up important ideas. If need be, I do re-read the passage because sometimes I miss important stuff. Overall, my goal is to make reading a short event, instead of taking up a large portion of the day.
  • The REAP graphic organizer did help me understand the reading because it made me summarize the chapter, then back it up with quotes. The part with the quotes really helped me the most because it made me really know my stuff with the summary. I was skeptical at first but I think it actually worked quite well.
  • When reading The Great Gatsby, I used different methods depending on the chapter and the day. If I feel that I am having a hard time concentrating or understanding the flow of the chapter, I will listen to a recorded reading on the Internet. I personally feel that this helps me see the chapter as part of a story rather than words on a page when I am struggling. Otherwise, I just read the chapter in one sitting from beginning to end and take notes afterward. Regardless of how I choose to read the chapter, I always take a few minutes before I read to think about what happened in previous chapters and my predictions on what is going to happen.
  • I read in my room because that’s the only room where I can be somewhat alone. While reading Gatsby I jumped around the chapter. I started at the beginning, jumped to the end, and piece-mealed the rest of the chapter together by jumping around in the middle bits. It is the only way I can focus sometimes because I get so bored being locked away. I didn’t really like the REAP organizer because of the way it was formatted because I always felt like I was doing something a little wrong. When I read I like to read for enjoyment and absorb the information to share without the notes. I only think quotes are useful to support yourself in your paper.

Conrad and D’Amico realized that students’ reading processes were highly varied and idiosyncratic, something that isn’t readily apparent in high school English class, where students congregate in the same room to either read independently at a student desk or listen to a chapter of a curricular text read aloud by the teacher.

As Conrad and D’Amico now have a window into students’ habits of mind when reading, they can plan interventions, graphic organizers, and other supports to aid students as they make their way through an online version of Gatsby.

They also plan to have students create an entire synthesis project based on their reader identities as a culminating assignment for the year. Thus, the “disruption” of moving to virtual learning actually deepened these teachers’ knowledge of their students as readers, and allowed them to use this knowledge to not only plan future instruction differently, but also asked students to begin to iterate their own literacy practices, likely not something they had been asked to do in the past. 


The Power of Music and the Discussion Board

From Pascack Hills High School English teacher Alexandra Pfleging

When I first started teaching AP Language, I found that reading speeches with students was important, but I wanted them to understand the rhetorical strategies without also navigating some of the more difficult texts.

I had the idea to choose a Taylor Swift song (“Love Story”) to teach logical fallacies. Moving forward, every Monday I chose a song that we would first listen to, write about, then discuss in regards to rhetoric. I would anchor the song in another text or world event, and try to push students to draw their own conclusions. For example, we read a text about stress during the holidays, and how this may be related to family. We then listened to When You Love Someone by James TW, a song about divorce. By this time, I asked students to start picking their own songs, and assigned the remaining Mondays left in the school year to groups.

I could have easily kept those dates and had the remaining students upload their work, but that did not feel right. So, while keeping with the tradition of Music Monday, I am asking the class to choose songs individually each week. Last week they chose a song and had to explain how the lyrics related to how they were feeling. Through this assignment, I was able to understand what students were going through, while students were able to reinforce what they already learned about rhetoric. They had to cite specific lyrics, which also helped their skills in writing claim-based arguments.

This week students had to choose a song playing in the background of a scene from a movie or television show. Everyone is watching a lot of Netflix; this assignment helped keep them focused on the beauty of analysis, even when they are streaming their favorite shows.

I hope to continue with Music Monday for the rest of the school year, adding variation towards different purposes or occasions.

What is gained through continuing this assignment?

  • More introverted students can and do express themselves more freely than in f2f class
  • Better relationships grow with students who can ‘get lost’ in other classes
  • Peers learn more from each other this way too because more voices are heard


Poetry to Pursue Reflection on Our Times

From Pascack Hills High School English teacher Virena Rossi

Of her choice to not only have students in her AP Literature and Composition class analyze poetry the “AP way” but also reflect upon its meaning to them in this precise moment, Rossi writes that teaching virtually is “not necessarily either/or. I just felt like now there’s time for AND. They can respond to this but also read and analyze metaphysical poets. Carpe diem has a different meaning today than it would have a month ago.”

Her prompt and some ensuing student responses encapsulate this ethos and are seen below.

Read the poem “Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda. (This poem is available online via search.)

  1. Choose 1 or 2 lines that speak to what you are thinking or feeling in the present moment. This doesn’t have to be today, but can be more generally in the present situation. Explain why you chose them in several sentences.
  2. Choose 1 or 2 lines that speak to your hope for the future. This doesn’t have to be the immediate future, but can be more generally after we have stopped social distancing and can get back to school / work / friends / family. Explain why you chose them in several sentences.

Examples of student responses:

Parker L.: “I chose the line ‘It would be an exotic moment.’ I think this line can describe an event that is either surprising or long overdue. I long to see my friends in the near future. I want to not be judged based on idio-syncracies in the future. I want everyone to be treated as equal in the future, not this cliche idea of ‘equal’ we have right now, because it’s not really working out. I want to see change in the future. But when people think a viral epidemic is justification to be outwardly racist to my people, we get nowhere. When race is a factor used in college and job admissions to ‘check me,’ we get nowhere.”

Heather F.: “Those who prepare green wars, / . . . and walk about with their brothers”—I think that these lines represent my hopes for the future. I hope that when all of this is over, when we get back, everyone won’t just pick up where they left off. I hope that everyone continues to stay connected in the sense that we all worked together and survived this. That wars won’t just continue on as usual, that people will stop to think about why we are fighting in the first place. The world right now is a scary place, with wars and fighting affecting almost every country in some way. I hope that maybe everyone learns that we aren’t so different and some good will come out of this scare event. But that might be just a bit too optimistic.

Hallie W. : “The lines that speak most to how I am feeling in the present moment are ‘What I want should not be confused/ with total inactivity.’ On a typical day, I am usually very busy and have little time to do things that I want to do. Now that everything is canceled, I finally have the time to do things for myself. A majority of people feel bored and like there is nothing to do in quarantine, but I have been using this time to my advantage to work out, eat better, sleep more, and take time for myself to relax and reflect. Even though I am not what I consider to be traditionally busy anymore, I am not just sitting around letting the days pass me by.”

Shawn S.: “I think being in isolation should show everyone how life doesn’t need to move that fast, and because it can go away at any moment, we should appreciate every moment we have. I think that ‘everything seem[ing] dead’ should teach us that sometimes we are most connected to life in these times because this is when we have all the time in the world to sit down and consider what we have to be thankful for.”

Focusing on the Gains: Explorations and Creative Approaches In a Time of Loss

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

Notes from NCTE Business Meeting

printprogramcover-235x300by Audrey Fisch

As part of my responsibilities as President of the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, I attended NCTE in Baltimore, and the Annual Business Meeting of NCTE on Friday evening of the convention. Below, find some of my notes from the meeting, which I offer in the hope of keeping NJCTE members informed about NCTE.

Our own NJCTE Board Member Joe Pizzo, NCTE Historian, offered a moment in NCTE history, a signature feature of the NCTE Annual Business Meeting. We hope to publish his comments shortly on the NJCTE blog.

President’s Report, Franki Sibberson

  • 5 revised policy statements, 5 sunsetted
  • 2 new task forces to study mentoring and the convention
  • 2 new leadership awards – people with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ award
  • Advocacy and Leadership Event in DC – 22 travel awards offered by NCTE to participants
  • The 2020 convention will feature scholarships – folks can donate
  • Funding from NCTE this year paid for placards highlighting LGBTQ+ and anti-racist statements posted throughout the convention center
  • Funding will continue for at least another two years for the early career educator of color leadership award

Emily Kirkpatrick, Executive Director Report

  • First year of positive membership growth in 18 years
  • 9% growth in books program revenue
  • Financial audit – highest possible ranking
  • Convention – 3163 presenters, 8600 attendance, 86% K-12, 48% first-time (overall high-water mark)
  • Increase in proposal submissions
  • NCTE Reads – 2019: 805 participants, summer book study, Workshopping the Canon
  • Summer Institute – Continuing the Journey, attendance grew by 21%, veteran and mid-career teacher focus
  • TYCA first national convention – 327 attendees
  • Leadership and advocacy – record attendance, meetings with legislative offices, keynote Laura Wides-Munoz
  • James Squire Center – policy research moving to Notre Dame under Ernest Morrell
  • Registration now open for the 2020 Leadership and Advocacy Summit – April 6-7, 2020
  • Partnerships with Library of Congress – releasing artifacts from Walt Whitman collection, largest attendance for any LOC event for educators
  • Teaching with primary sources, grant-funded $273,442
  • Affiliate leadership meeting Summer 2019 – 31 states (NJCTE was there!)
  • 2020 affiliate leadership meeting – July 17-19, Omaha, NE, to recognize affiliates in rural states and west of the Mississippi (NJCTE hopes to be there!)
  • 2019-2020 new ambassadors – 2-year term, elementary to community college
  • Webinar on Little Women
  • Partnered with Nimbus, a multicultural agency, worked on 2019 National Day of Writing, design for 2020 convention
  • Emily Kirkpatrick – attended Harvard Kennedy School program on leading diverse organizations

NCTE Convention 2020 – Nov 19-22, Denver, CO, Theme: ¡Confluencia! Songs of Ourselves. Call for proposals now open. Submit at by January 15, 2020.

And congratulations to the NJCTE Board and membership on recognition by NCTE for four 2019 affiliate awards: 2019 Website of Excellence Award, 2019 Newsletter of Excellence Award, 2019 Kent D. Williamson Affiliate Membership Award, 2019 Affiliate of Excellence Award!

Thanks also to Michelle Haiken (@teachingfactor) for hosting NJCTE for our second annual NCTE/NJCTE Convention Breakfast. We enjoyed yummy treats at the Bun Shop in Baltimore. And we were particularly grateful to see our own NJDOE representative, Erika Leak, at the meetup as well as NJCTE Spring 2020 Conference co-chair, Valerie Mattessich.

Meanwhile, I hope everyone enjoys a few days of family, food, and reading over the Thanksgiving break.

Notes from NCTE Business Meeting

Where to Find NJCTE at NCTE!

printprogramcover-235x300If you are traveling to Baltimore for the NCTE and/or CEL conventions, you can find NJCTE members at the following sessions — and see below for details about an informal early morning coffee meet-up for all NJCTE members! (If you’re an NJCTE member who is presenting at NCTE, and your session is not already listed here, please add the details in the comments below!) The NCTE 2019 Convention program is available online.

Thursday, November 21

  • (A.40) Stories from the Sticks: Reversing Nature Deficit Disorder and Raising Environmentalists via Literary Inquiry into the Natural World — 9:30-10:45 AM, Room 339

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross, with authors Maria Gianferrari, Carole Lindstrom, Ishta Mercurio, Liz Garton Scanlon, and Kao Kalia Yang

  • (B.36) Media as Mentor: 25 Ways Journalism Can Inspire Student Writing and Inquiry Projects — 11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, Room 346

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross, with Rebeka O’Dell, Katherine Schulten, and Brett Vogelsinger

  • (C.01) Cultures of Reading — 1:00-2:15 PM, Ballrooms I & III

Roundtable discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams and many other educators and authors

Friday, November 22

  • First-Timers’ Welcome — 7:00-7:45 AM, Ballrooms I & III

If this will be your first time attending the NCTE convention, please join NJCTE board members Jennifer Ansbach, Oona Marie Abrams, Joseph Pizzo, and other welcoming people for breakfast!

  • (H.09) Nuts & Bolts for New ELA Teachers — Roundtable Session (ELATE Strand) — 2:00-3:15 PM, Room 308

Presenters: NJCTE board member Joseph Pizzo (“Flattening Out the Hills: Academic, Social, and Personal Challenges for Early Career ELA Teachers”), as well as David E. Kirkland, Ken Lindblom, Lisa Fink, Jennifer Ochoa, Tracey Flores, Dave Stuart, Jr., and others

  • (HI.01) High School Matters: #DisruptTexts — 2:00-4:45 PM, Ballroom I

NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross will be leading one of the roundtable discussions.

  • (I.20) The Landscape of Escape: Interdisciplinary Inquiry with Sci-Fi & Fantasy — 3:30-4:45 PM, Room 319

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams

  • (I.33) Using Informational Texts to Spark Inspired Inquiry in Students and Teachers — 3:30-4:45 PM, Room 332

Presentation by NJCTE President Audrey Fisch and NJCTE board member Susan Chenelle

Saturday, November 23

  • NJCTE Member Coffee Meet-Up — 7:00-8:00 AM, The Bun Shop, 239 W. Read Street

Join NJCTE President Audrey Fisch, board member Susan Chenelle, and others for an informal meet-up with coffee and sweets!

  • ALAN Breakfast — 7:00-9:15 AM, Ballrooms I & III

Join NJCTE board member Jennifer Ansbach, who will present new board members and the ALAN president-elect.

  • (J.08) Inquiring Minds Need to Know: 10 Middle Grade and YA Books to Inspire Inquiry Around “Contentious” Issues — 8:00-9:15 AM, Room 307

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross, with Mollie Gross Noel and authors Samira Ahmed, Nancy Castaldo, I.W. Gregorio, Angie Manfredi, Michelle Roehm McCann, Nicole Melleby, Karyn Parsons, Ruta Septys, Amy Spalding, and Alicia D. Williams

  • (L.10) Teachers as Writers: Nurturing the Wanderings and Wonderings — 12:30-1:45 PM, Room 310

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams

Sunday, November 24

  • (O.08) Wondering and Wandering: Biography Picture Books for Curious Readers and Writers — 9:00-10:15 AM, Room 308

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams




Where to Find NJCTE at NCTE!

NJCTE Wins NCTE Affiliate Membership and Website Excellence Awards

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English has been named one of eighteen recipients of the 2019 Kent D. Williamson Affiliate Membership Recruitment Award given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Established in 1987, this award recognizes NCTE affiliates that have increased their memberships over the past year. Awards are calculated as a percentage of increase based on membership lists submitted by the affiliates in both the year of and the year prior to the award.

The New Jersey Council of Teachers of English,, edited by Sarah Gross, High Technology High School, has also been named as a recipient of the 2019 NCTE Affiliate Website of Excellence Award, given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Established in 2000, this award recognizes outstanding websites with high-quality content, easy navigation, size, speed, privacy, links, and interactive abilities (message boards, live chats, forums, blogs, mailing lists, etc.).

The winners for both awards will be announced at the 2019 NCTE Annual Convention in Baltimore, during the Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast on Sunday, November 24.

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

NJCTE Wins NCTE Affiliate Membership and Website Excellence Awards

NJCTE Honored with 2019 NCTE Affiliate Newsletter of Excellence Award

newsletter of excellenceNJCTE News, co-edited by Audrey Fisch, New Jersey City University and Susan Chenelle of University Academy Charter High School, published by the New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, has been named as a recipient of the 2019 NCTE Affiliate Newsletter of Excellence Award, given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Established in 1992, this award recognizes outstanding newsletters of affiliates of NCTE that have published a minimum of three newsletters from May 2018 through the program deadline on May 1, 2019.

Newsletter submissions are judged on: content (particularly the inclusion of current, pertinent information with a good balance between theory, practice, and professional growth information), quality of writing, a clear and accurately defined purpose for the publication, a format which aids the reader in locating information and is easy to read, and the use of graphics to aid the overall effectiveness of the newsletter.

The award winners will be announced at the 2019 NCTE Annual Convention in Baltimore, during the Affiliate Roundtable Breakfast on Sunday, November 24.

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

NJCTE Honored with 2019 NCTE Affiliate Newsletter of Excellence Award

Congratulations to Teacher for the Dream Award Winner George Salazar

Please join NJCTE in congratulating George Salazar, one of two winners of this year’s NJCTE Teacher for the Dream Award.

George is a British English speaker navigating the complex landscape of American English education. Born and raised abroad, his experiences have made him acutely aware of myriad philosophies to the teaching of literacy and literature, and how students—especially students of color—are empowered or marginalized by them. When he’s not fighting the spell-checker over the spelling of his words, he loves to write about the literary canon, technology in the classroom, and trends in education policy. Outside of teaching, George is a professional calligrapher, displaying his love for words by marrying both their form and function so others may also fall in love at first write.

As a recipient of the Teacher for the Dream Award, George is honored to join NJCTE’s community of dedicated and inspiring professionals. He is excited by the opportunities granted to share his insights, research, and best practices in local, state, and national conversations being held about teaching, especially in English Language Arts. He believes the perspectives and insights of people of color are necessary to our critical examinations of our content and practices. And with the platform provided by this award, George advocates for more people of color to become educators, so students see themselves represented in our profession, and see their experiences acknowledged, respected, and celebrated in what we do as English teachers.

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


Congratulations to Teacher for the Dream Award Winner George Salazar

NCTE Coffee Meetup for NJCTE Members and Friends – Saturday, Nov 17 @ 7am

Are you attending NCTE in Houston? Some of us are too!

Grab some coffee and join us on Saturday, November 17, bright and early at 7am. Connect with your NJCTE friends with an early morning convention conversation. We’ll meet at the Starbucks in the lobby of the Hilton, directly across from the convention center.

NJCTE board members will also be attending the affiliate breakfast on Sunday, November 18, and the secondary luncheon on Saturday, November 17. We’re excited that NJCTE board member and NJCTE 2017 Educator of the Year winner Susan Chenelle will be honored at the latter as one of the winners of the NCTE 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award.

We hope we see you in Houston! See below for details about sessions involving NJCTE members. The NCTE 2018 Convention program is available online.

Thursday, November 15

  • (B.06) Literacy Leadership — Thursday, November 15, 2:30 p.m.-3:45 p.m., 352 A

Panel presentation featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams.

Friday, November 16

  • (C.32) Finding Their STEMinist Voice: How Informational Texts Can Inspire Girls — Friday, November 16, 9:30 a.m.-10:45 a.m., 372 C

Panel presentation chaired by NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross.

  • (D. 16) Teaching Climate Change in English — Friday, November 16, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 340AB

Roundtable session featuring NJCTE board member Patricia L. Hans.

  • (D.53) GatsbyA Raisin in the Sun, and Inequality Today: Nurturing Student Voices About Equity and Justice — Friday, November 16, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 330A

Workshop presented by NJCTE president Audrey Fisch and board member Susan Chenelle.

  • (G.17) Empowering Teachers, Empowering Learners: Technology and Transformation — Friday, November 16, 3:30-4:45 p.m., 372DE

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board member Joseph Pizzo.

  • (G.44) Creating a Climate of Social and Environmental Justice in the English Classroom — Friday, November 16, 3:30 p.m.-4:45 p.m., 350 E

Panel presentation featuring NJCTE board member Sarah Mulhern Gross.

Saturday, November 17

  • (H.37) Reclaiming Conversations: Avoidance, Engagement, Advocacy in ELA Discourse Communities — Saturday, November 17, 8:00 a.m.-9:15 a.m., Grand Ballroom C

Roundtable discussion featuring NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams, along with Tricia Ebarvia of #DisruptTexts and many other educators.

  • (I.43) Exposing the Truth: Empowering Students to Thrive and Advocate for Themselves Through Journalism and Public Writing — Saturday, November 17, 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m., 330B

Panel session featuring NJCTE board member Patricia L. Hans.

  • Secondary Luncheon — Saturday, November 17, 12:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.

NJCTE board member Susan Chenelle will be honored as New Jersey’s recipient of the 2018 High School Teacher of Excellence Award.

  • (K.26) Choice and Challenge: Designing and Implementing Successful Literature Circle Experiences for High School Upperclassmen — Saturday, November 17, 2:45 p.m.-4:00 p.m., 330 B

Panel discussion featuring NJCTE board members Oona Marie Abrams and Sarah Mulhern Gross, along with YA authors A.S. King, Brendan Kiely, Nic Stone, and Gae Polisner.

  • (L.02) Literacy Instruction Worth Fighting For: What Do We Advocate and Why — Saturday, November 17, 4:15 p.m.–5:30 p.m., Grand Ballroom A

NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams will serve as a roundtable leader along with NJCTE member Emily Meixner.

CEL — Sunday, November 18

This year’s Conference on English Leadership is chaired by NJCTE board member Kate Baker.

  • (B.2) Melding Tradition and Innovation in the 21st–Century Literacy Classroom — Sunday, November 18, 5:00 p.m.-5:30 p.m., 320B

Session presented by NJCTE president Audrey Fisch and board member Susan Chenelle.

Monday, November 19

  • (I.2) Tapping Local Talent — Monday, November 19, during opening session 8:00 a.m.-9:45 a.m.

Five-minute Ignite! session led by NJCTE board member Oona Marie Abrams.

  • (F.5) Tech Tool Showcase — Monday, November 19, 3:30 p.m.-4 p.m.

Session presented by CEL convention chair and NJCTE board member Kate Baker.

NCTE Coffee Meetup for NJCTE Members and Friends – Saturday, Nov 17 @ 7am

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