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

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

Office Hours: Advice for New Teachers

Untitledby Dr. Patricia L. Schall

June 18, 2018

Dear Doc,

As an English educator fresh out of college, I feel quite in tune with modern strategies for teaching reading and writing as well as assessment. I’m worried about conflicts with veteran teachers who believe their methods to be tried and true. What’s the best way to avoid conflict with other teachers while still holding true to my educational philosophies?

Yours truly,

Feeling Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

So many of my former students and current early-career teachers have experienced the dilemma you describe in your question. You don’t want to hide your light under the proverbial bushel, but you also want to get along with your new colleagues. So you find yourself walking that fine line between being true to your educational philosophy and making some adjustments to the reality of the new world you inhabit. These adjustments do not require you to “sell out,” but they can help you get along.

When I taught Student Teaching Seminar, I asked my students to participate in an on-line discussion board using our college course support platform. I would post a prompt each week, asking the students to respond without using actual names of people or places. Toward the end of student teaching (now called Clinical Practice, but that is a topic for another blog post), I asked my students to post something they learned about the profession that they would like to share with future student teachers.

One of my students, Jeannie (pseudonym), posted this bit of advice: “Be Switzerland. Well, this probably extends well beyond the teaching profession, but . . . be friendly with everyone—even those who may rub you the wrong way, at first. Sometimes those impressions change. Choose your closer allies wisely–professional people who like to talk about ideas–people who inspire you!” I was struck by her suggestion to “Be Switzerland” and thought she was on the right track. Sometimes you just have to be neutral and diplomatic to get along. Being civil does not mean compromising your ideals. Then, as you get to know your colleagues better, you can identify those you can trust to be your allies. All new teachers need at least one buddy to get through the first year of teaching. That person might be the formal mentor assigned to them or another teacher. Teachers all need trusted partners to survive and thrive during those challenging early career years and beyond. The attrition rate within the first five years of teaching, though some current studies show it is declining, still remains a sobering statistic. This is no time to be the rugged individual who sets out on the trail alone.

Remember that you can find in-person partners in school and virtual allies online. NCTE hosts many groups tailored to your individual interests and needs. I encourage you to explore those options and others, including those available through NEA, NJEA, and in social media forums. Twitter alone offers a wealth of connections and resources. Explore EdCamps and other free or low-cost options to meet people. NJCTE schedules free Coffee and Conversation meetings in different locations around the state. Going to professional conferences and spending time with others who are serious about their work helps you develop a wider professional network of colleagues who are there for you.

Of course as a new teacher, you will also confront advice you don’t need. Some of your veteran colleagues might try to “domesticate” you. Your freshness, recent knowledge, and technology skills can be intimidating to established teachers. Some of my own students during their first year of teaching found themselves responding to unwanted or unhelpful recommendations. I think of one woman who made a habit of staying late after school to do her planning. A veteran colleague would see her in her classroom and urge her to go home since her behavior was “making the rest of us look bad.” She learned to “be Switzerland,” acknowledge his admonitions, smile at him, and just reply that she liked staying late so she could use the copier when it was not in demand and leave some of her work at school. Her response to her colleague neutralized the situation and compromised none of her principles.

And what do you do about those valuable skills you learned in your education courses, those that form the foundation of your practice in school? I would never encourage you to heed the words of colleagues who declare, “Forget all that stuff you learned in college. This is the real world now.” You always can reply by acknowledging how much you are learning in this brave, new “real world” and how you genuinely appreciate being able to apply the strategies you learned in college to the experience and knowledge you are gaining working with colleagues and kids. When the moment seems right, you might even nicely offer to share some of your new teaching strategies with others and invite them to observe your class when you are applying some of the methods you find so useful. You could even offer to conduct a hands-on workshop for colleagues during professional development time or another time convenient to them. Let them know you are willing to support them as they try out a new strategy. You are just making a friendly offer, and they are under no obligation to accept it.

Of course visibility as a bright star can sometimes backfire on you through no fault of your own. One of my more recent students just finished her second year of teaching English in an out-of-state school that will remain nameless. She has been teaching in the school’s English language learner classes. Her students need skills, self-confidence, and encouragement. To help her students gain English language fluency and self-confidence, she initiated a “student ambassador program,” where her ELL students are available for situations that require translation from their native languages into English. She also invited the students to write poems about themselves and their cultures based on the writing of George Ella Lyon. She displayed their final drafts in the hallway and they read their poems at a board of education luncheon, where they received a standing ovation. These activities proved to be an enduring learning experience for the students. Their teacher earned the praise of administrators and was named teacher of the month several times, leading to some professional jealousy. Furthermore, the principal unfortunately made a thoughtless top-down decision and required all the other teachers to replicate the poetry assignment. This hasty edict led to her increased isolation and the domestication of her good idea. One size does not fit all, and dictating a “good practice” guarantees its failure. This new teacher now has few trusted allies at school and looks to people she meets in graduate classes and through other professional connections to serve as buddies.

I have not told this story to discourage you, Conflicted, but just to let you know that I recognize how complex it is to remain true to your ideals as you learn to negotiate the twists and turns of a new work culture. I don’t have easy answers for you. I still can recall how dispirited I felt as a tenured teacher with ten years under my belt when I had complained to a colleague about how the culture of a school I loved had become so negative under a new principal. He responded to me, “You know what your problem is, don’t you, Pat? You care too much about what you do.” I replied that I didn’t know any other way to function. So, you see, Conflicted, even veterans get the blues!

So, to sum up, continue to follow your ideals like the North Star. Do what you need to survive without compromising your belief system. Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Seek trusted allies. Offer to share your knowledge and skills with others. Remain flexible, since you can learn something from others too. Becoming a good teacher is a journey, not a destination. As Leila Christenbury says, you are always on the path to “being and becoming” a good teacher. Be positive and pleasant. Avoid the negative people. Be Switzerland. Continue to let your light shine.

Dear readers—feel free to offer Conflicted additional suggestions in the comments section of this blog post.

Professionally yours,


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

Office Hours: Advice for New Teachers

Office Hours: Dr. Patricia L. Schall Is In

June 12, 2018

Dear Doc,

What should I do if a parent or other member of the community objects to a book I am teaching?


An Inquiring Educator Feeling Challenged

Dear Challenged,

Ah, objecting to books is a surprisingly common dilemma! Many teachers assume challenges to books happen somewhere in a dark and dismal place far, far away; but they are more frequent than you might think, even in what we assume are progressive areas to live and work. The prevalence of challenges led me to teach a whole segment on censorship in my literacy education college courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

To prepare for a challenge, I would first advise you to check your school policy manual for guidance. I served two terms on a board of education and was on the committee that revised an older manual, which had a policy on challenges to classroom and library books. I suggested that in the revised manual, we include challenges to pedagogy too, since that happens as well.

My guess is that your school policy manual will contain a policy with procedures to follow. It is always best to know what has been approved for your school and follow the guidelines. Good policy books will include or tell you where you can locate actual forms (sometimes called “reconsideration” forms) for challengers to use when they object to books, materials, or methods. Often the process of completing the forms will slow down or halt the challenge. Still, viewed in a more positive light, these forms could create an opportunity for genuine dialogue, a chance to listen to what is bothering the challenger. Many times challenges are not based on reason, and discussions fail to be productive. Still, they initiate an opportunity for talking and listening that can be enlightening for both parties, and you can be confident that a democratic process has been followed. Be sure to write a brief report on any meeting you have with a challenger. The report, shared with the challenger, will be useful if he or she persists.

Second, once you familiarize yourself with your school policy, be sure to report the problem to your supervisor to avoid surprises. Parents and community members often like to run the problem up the flag pole and hit school leaders and board members before they even have a conversation with the teacher. Ask for guidance from your administrators. Before you meet with the challenger, I would recommend that you invite a colleague or supervisor sit in on the meeting. A witness is necessary.

Third, and in many ways this recommendation is foundational to all the others, since it addresses what should be done before any challenges occur, and that is to have written rationales for every book in your curriculum. I would also have rationales for pedagogy, since some teaching strategies could seem alien to parents who never experienced them in school. You want to be transparent about the decisions you make for your classroom.

The rationales can be succinct, and there are plenty of models and other resources available from professional organizations like NCTE and the American Library Association. Your school librarian can serve as a knowledgeable resource and partner for you if a challenge ensues.

It is wise to have rationales in place prior to teaching a book or trying a new strategy. Don’t assume that a book is too old or established for controversies. Some of the same books appear on censorship “hit lists” year after year, and they include classics of adult and young adult fiction like Of Mice and Men, Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Giver. When I was teaching high school, a student objected to reading The Grapes of Wrath on religious grounds. We had a private, honest talk about it, and we resolved her objection, though challenges can persist and defy easy solutions.

In addition to writing rationales, some teachers organize book clubs and other reading-themed events for parents and community members. These activities encourage participants to read, and they give them an opportunity to discuss books students are reading and enjoying. Some of these reading activities could be done online or in person, but I recommend holding at least some of the meetings in person because gatherings of this nature can promote community esprit de corps and support family literacy. Reading clubs or events are especially helpful when you plan to introduce a new book into your curriculum. In fact, you could demonstrate new teaching techniques in the same kind of format. Elementary school teachers have more typically hosted events of this nature, but they could be adapted to middle schools and high schools too.

P-12 teachers might be surprised that challenges to reading could even occur at the college level, though academic freedom is more widely recognized and observed at the post-secondary level. As a college professor, I once received a call from a parent who complained about books his daughter was reading in English courses—too many titles about under-represented groups, especially those addressing LGBTQ issues. We discussed the purpose of the readings and their role in preparing his daughter to teach in a diverse world. We chatted about the role of books as “mirrors and windows,” giving readers insights into themselves and others. I don’t think I convinced him, but we had a civil discussion and the complaint stopped at my desk. No calls to the dean!

Classroom libraries, which I highly recommend to promote independent and small-group reading, can become a concern too. Remember, books and materials that constitute a formal part of your curriculum must be reviewed and approved by the board of education. The books in a classroom library are not necessarily part of the board-approved curriculum, so they pose a greater legal risk for you. Know what is on your shelves, and be prepared with rationales for the titles and an explanation for how you use them. Even if you do not have a rationale for every book in your classroom library, you should be familiar with each book and have a general rationale for maintaining a classroom library so parents and community members understand how you use these books to promote lifelong reading for information and pleasure.

While writing rationales sounds like a lot of work, it could be a great opportunity to meet with colleagues to discuss what you do and why you are doing it. Articulating your professional choices provides an opportunity to reflect on your practice. Try to view the collaborative work positively as a professional experience. Perhaps you could even use time allotted for professional development for this purpose. Invite your administrators to some of these sessions so you keep them in the loop and so they too are prepared to deal with challenges if they occur.

Finally, recognize that you are not alone if you experience a challenge. If you have prepared well for challenges, you should be able to count on the support of your colleagues and school leaders. Furthermore, your professional organizations, like NCTE can help. Remember too, that if your school has well-defined policies and you adhere to them, if the challenge ever went to court, you and your school would win. Courts do not typically intervene in curriculum matters.

I hope this advice helps, and feel free to contact us at NJCTE if you experience a challenge. We are your state NCTE affiliate and are here to help.

I invite our blog readers to contribute their tips and experiences with challenges in the comments section of this blog post.

Professionally yours,


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

Office Hours: Dr. Patricia L. Schall Is In

Get Out and Vote Today!

by Dr. Patricia Schall


Get out and vote! It is one of the most important things you can do as an American citizen. My old high school social studies teacher, Mr. Sloan, always reminded us that voting in the primaries was critical since we get to select the candidates who will run in the general elections in the fall. This is our chance to shape our political lives for years to come.

Don’t take your right to vote for granted. Many of our predecessors struggled for this right. Ratified on February 3, 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” With the ratification of that amendment, Black freedman earned the right to vote. Women in the USA, regardless of race, did not earn the right to vote until the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on August 18, 1920. This is not ancient history!

Vote as if your life depends on it. It does! Let your voice be heard! Your vote counts.

vote 2

“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”

Dorothy Day

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

Get Out and Vote Today!

The Return of Light

I sit here at my computer today, glancing out the window at the frigid white landscape in my yard. I watch the winter birds scrambling with each other, devouring seed in the feeders, desperate to stay alive.

bomb cycloneA “bomb cyclone” has delivered snow and sub-zero wind chills to our area and probably a coveted snow day or two for our students and teachers.   Random thought: why do the weather gurus try to scare us with increasingly violent weather vocabulary? Bomb cyclones, derechos? Really? Well, I guess the terms are good for our science vocabulary. But I digress.

Looking at the frozen, cyclone-bombed landscape outside my window, I struggle to remember that the Winter Solstice passed in December. We are living in the freshness of a new year. I must remind myself that the days, though hardly perceptible now, really are growing longer as we creep toward spring.  Light is returning, and with light, hope.

I needed some poetry to match my mood today, and a search online yielded a Marge Piercy gem that felt just right to me today:

Winter Promise

Marge Piercy

Tomatoes rosy as perfect baby’s buttocks, 
eggplants glossy as waxed fenders,
purple neon flawless glistening
peppers, pole beans fecund and fast
growing as Jack’s Viagra-sped stalk,
big as truck tire zinnias that mildew
will never wilt, roses weighing down
a bush never touched by black spot,
brave little fruit trees shouldering up
their spotless ornaments of glass fruit:

I lie on the couch under a blanket
of seed catalogs ordering far
too much. Sleet slides down
the windows, a wind edged
with ice knifes through every crack.
Lie to me, sweet garden-mongers:
I want to believe every promise,
to trust in five pound tomatoes
and dahlias brighter than the sun
that was eaten by frost last week.

The poem was just the antidote I needed to dispel my winter blahs. I saw the hope in Piercy’s seed catalogs and found that I too wanted to believe the lies of the “sweet garden-mongers.” I craved the “five pound tomatoes” and the “dahlias brighter than the sun.” The poem made me hope.

The poem also led me to reflect on Winter Solstice and what we might call “return of the light” assignments that I might use with students in the post-holiday doldrums.

return of the lightI could see a lesson that begins with some winter poetry—there is plenty of it from classics by Shakespeare and Frost to more contemporary poems by Mary Oliver and Billy Collins—and wraps up with original writing in any format—poetry, prose, mixed media—about the ”return of the light” and the hope implicit in the increasingly longer days. I can see using an open-ended prompt like: “We are beginning a new year. If you could give a gift to the world or a particular person in the world, a gift that would bring light and hope in the New Year, what would it be?”

I know I am in the mood for dahlias these days, and I am tired of being “eaten by frost.” So why not “believe every promise” and welcome the “return of the light” with the writing of hope?

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

The Return of Light

An Invitation to Write Banned Word Poetry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Pat Schall, NJCTE Board Member

Posted by Audrey Fisch, blog editor for NJCTE

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

An Invitation to Write Banned Word Poetry