Remembering and Honoring Pat Schall

NJCTE recently established the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award. Please join us in remembering and honoring Pat by reading the following lovely remembrance, and, if you are able, by making a donation in her honor and in support of this award.

The author and Pat at the March for Science in New York City

by Lisa Mastrangelo

The last time that I saw Pat Schall in person, she was wearing a floral headband and representing Mother Earth as we marched at the March for Science protest in New York City. By then, I had known Pat for nearly 20 years as one of my colleagues at The College of St. Elizabeth. That day at the march epitomized Pat for me—she was filled with both energy and drive and the desire to see people learn, to be educated, and to do what was right and good. We weren’t close friends at work, but I always valued her input, and had missed her when I moved on to a new teaching position. On the way home from the march, I remembered thinking that I had forgotten just how smart, how observant, how keen of mind, but also how funny Pat could be. She was also amazingly thoughtful. While she had an amazing sense of ethics, and truly believed in right and wrong, she considered many sides before making a decision. This was one of the main lessons that I learned from Pat as a new doctoral student just beginning to teach: listen, learn, decide, and if you see injustice, absolutely speak.

Pat’s impact on me seems minor in comparison to her impact on the many future teachers that she sent into the education world. She was a true teacher and mentor. She shaped the world of education for her students, and more importantly, she believed in them, mentored them, and remained their friend long after they graduated. She encouraged them to do their best as teachers, supported them in their teaching careers, and continued to mentor them as they moved into other career paths, in education and beyond. She celebrated their weddings, their children, and their pets (particularly their cats!). Nel Noddings once wrote that, “Education, by its very nature, should help people develop their best selves.” I cannot think of any educator who was more able or willing to do that than Pat.

Perhaps the greatest insult of Pat dying during the coronavirus pandemic has been our inability to gather to celebrate her life. Pat touched so many lives—so many teachers, so many students. So many of us were thrilled to see that NJCTE announced the Patricia L. Schall Visual Literacy Award, and we are equally as pleased to be able to donate to sustain it.

Remembering and Honoring Pat Schall

For Pat Schall: The Contagion of Courage

Dear NJCTE Members:

I have some sad news to report. On April 6, NJCTE leader and past-president Pat Schall passed away after her battle with colon cancer. Our organization has lost a great leader and a wonderful colleague. I know all of you who knew Pat know what a special person she was. I was lucky to have known and learned from her.

Some of you may know Pat from her wonderful writing on our NJCTE blog. Of the many pieces she wrote, this one caught blog editor Susan Chenelle’s attention (and heart), and this one offers advice very relevant to this strange and anxious time.

We hope to do more to commemorate her tenure and accomplishments with NJCTE.

In the meantime, below, find Susan Reese’s wonderful tribute to Pat.

Audrey Fisch

President, NJCTE

The Contagion of Courage

A woman of great worth has left us. There is a space in my air as I consider a world, currently consumed in great loss from COVID-19, that must suffer yet another vacancy. Patricia L. Schall, a truly courageous woman, has succumbed to colon cancer, leaving behind an army of devoted students, colleagues, friends, and family.

Pat was an educator of excellence! She taught by example; her text gave us life lessons. She was generous with her resources, unsparing with her praise, and relentless in her pursuit of achievement. She did all of this with an admirable reserve and restraint. She advanced the idea, the proposition, the goal rather than her desire to stand in the spotlight.

NJCTE became better because Pat took a leadership role. Her initiatives involved supporting and recognizing teachers who declared their quest for excellence. She designed a program to recognize two significant NJCTE contributors: Marcia Holtzman and Jerry Weiss. The NJCTE Marcia Holtzman Preservice Teacher Scholarship Award identifies and honors the commitment of those teachers entering the field. The NJCTE M. Jerry Weiss Early Career Teacher Scholarship Award recognizes those in their early teaching careers who are making a difference.

Through Pat’s desire for preservation, the NJCTE archive came into being. Consulting with Peter Wosh, an NYU archivist and historian, Pat selected important documents and in the process discovered that NJCTE had been founded the same year as NCTE. Pat arranged a centennial celebration. Peter called for reservations at a nearby restaurant to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Peter and Pat have been married for nearly 34 years.

Along with Donna Jorgensen, Pat shaped Project SPARK and handed it off to Patricia Hans in the North and Denise Weintraut in the South. Sharing Passion and Rekindling Knowledge became the plan for small groups to discuss their educational concerns.

Through Pat, NJCTE gained our banner. Her former student’s students created a dozen self-portraits that amalgamated into a banner representing the many faces of NJCTE members.

Although more tributes can be ascribed to Patricia L. Schall, perhaps the most significant one is this – “She plays well with others.” Pat has always been a team player. She joined with Joe Pizzo to assume the leadership of NJCTE after the sudden death of the president. Joe notes, “She was a mentor to us all.” Her legacy will be her encouragement, enthusiasm, and kindness.

Pat herself selected these words in an email. They seem most appropriate in this time of loss.

“There is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely, and then act boldly. Action creates its courage; and courage is as contagious as fear.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

–Susan Reese

Susan Reese is a member of NJCTE and the last past president.

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



For Pat Schall: The Contagion of Courage

Let’s Recognize Teachers’ Accomplishments

by Patricia L. Schall

Do you know teachers whose work calls for recognition? These teachers could be colleagues, friends, student teachers, or you! We invite you to nominate teachers whose work you respect or consider recognizing yourself for all the good work you do every day.

NJCTE honors teachers with the following awards:

The NJCTE Outstanding Educator of the Year Award is presented annually to an exceptional English/language arts educator — a dedicated, innovative, dynamic Pre-K-12 teacher, university teacher, supervisor, or administrator — whose activities have significantly and widely impacted New Jersey English language arts education. The selected educator becomes eligible as well for a coveted New Jersey Governor’s Award in Arts Education. The individual can be at any point in his or her career. Due date for application: March 1, 2019.

The M. Jerry Weiss Early Career Teacher Award is named in honor of Dr. M. Jerry Weiss, Distinguished Service Professor of Communications Emeritus at New Jersey City University. Jerry has had an important influence on literacy in New Jersey, as well as the greater nation. A nationally recognized expert in the field of children’s and adolescent literature and a pioneer in the area of Whole Language, Dr. Weiss taught at New Jersey City University for 33 years before retiring in 1994. This recognition is given to teachers at any grade level, P-12. Applicants must be currently teaching from one to five years. Due date for application: March 1, 2019.

The Marcia Holtzman Preservice Teacher Award is named in honor of Marcia Holtzman, an instrumental contributor to NJCTE, whose service to the organization was long and extensive. Holtzman retired as an assistant superintendent of the Metuchen Public School system and remains active as a volunteer writing teacher in Metuchen. Preservice undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in teacher education programs are encouraged to apply. Due date for application: March 1, 2019.

Check the NJCTE website for criteria governing each award, application requirements, expectations for awardees, and benefits. Note due dates. We encourage you to honor others or yourself. Many teachers earn recognition but don’t always receive it. Here’s your chance to reward good teaching. The awards will be presented at the NJCTE Annual Spring Conference.

Let’s Recognize Teachers’ Accomplishments

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!

Teachers Are Writers, Too

by Patricia L. Schall

We’ve spent much of this week celebrating the winners of our Student Writing Contests; now, we want to encourage teachers to write too.

We know you have full and busy lives, but there are so many opportunities for you to make your voices heard too. We invite you to consider submitting a short article to Focus. It could be something as simple as a successful lesson plan you would like to share or a brief reflection on something that moves you about teaching and learning.

Don’t forget the six-word story requests we used to launch NJCTE Project Spark. It won’t take long to write six words describing what lights your teaching fires.

Need some advice? Check out “Office Hours,” our recently launched column on the NJCTE Blog. Ask a question. Offer some of your own suggestions in the comments section.

You might consider submitting an article to the New Jersey English Journal. The editors look for all kinds of submissions, from articles about practice to poetry to brief personal essays. Watch  for submission guidelines.

Even if you just comment on some of the blogs or news sources you follow or write a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, you are writing. The public needs to hear from teachers. Don’t let others do all the talking for you.


Share your ideas with others and keep your writing fires burning. Donald Murray, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer about writing, used to keep a sign by his desk stating, “Never a Day without a line.” Let’s hear from you!
New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English
Teachers Are Writers, Too

NJCTE President reflects on the 2018 Student Writing Contest Awards

Audrey headshot
NJCTE President Audrey Fisch

by Audrey Fisch

Thanks in particular to the gracious hospitality of Sister Percylee Hart, Principal, and NJCTE former board member and teacher, Julius Gottilla, NJCTE was able to hold our annual Writing Context Awards Reception at Union Catholic High School on April 24, 2018. As in many years past, teachers, students, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction prose of some of New Jersey’s finest young writers.

The writing contest is coordinated by NJCTE board member Michele Marotta, with the help of curators Kathy Webber (short story), Karen Davidson (poetry), and Kristen Angelo (personal essay). This year, NJCTE piloted our first middle school contest, coordinated by Gina Lorusso. Many, many judges volunteer their time and energy reading submissions, a task made pleasurable by the wonderful submissions we always receive. Indeed, the contest is the success that it is also because of the support of many teachers in classrooms across the state who guide and develop the young writers in their classrooms and schools.

NJCTE board and judges
Michele Marotta, NJCTE Writing Contest Director; Beth Ann Bates, Judge Liaison; Audrey Fisch, judge; Patricia Schall, judge, and Julius Gottilla, host.

See the list of winners and the sponsoring teachers and schools here.

The awards ceremony is a particular joy because of Julius’ work with Union Catholic HS’s Forensics Team. These young people, Molly Bonner, Cameron Guanlao, Audrey Davis, and Nick Mehno, took time out of their busy schedules to prepare and perform selections from the winning entries in each genre. Their spirited and entertaining renditions allowed the student writing to come alive for a grateful and rapt audience. (We will also be publishing, with permission, some of the winning entries from the contest, so stay tuned for those on this blog and on our NJCTE website.)

garcia 3The ceremony always includes an engaging and inspirational keynote speaker, and this year Roberto Carlos Garcia, was no exception. He spoke about his passion for writing, his journey as both a student and a professional writer, and his confidence about the difference writing makes in our world. I can think of no better message for the next generation of New Jersey’s writers of poetry and prose.

Garcia read to us from his collection of poetry, Melancolia. He also spoke to the young writers in the audience about his experience as the publisher and founder of Get Fresh Books. Perhaps one day Garcia will find himself publishing the work of one of the young people he inspired with his presentation. I know that everyone at the celebration was touched by Garcia’s investment in bringing new voices to the public and in using writing as a vehicle for bringing about positive change and social justice.

If you have never encouraged your students to submit work to the contest, please consider this opportunity to help your young writers find greater recognition for their voices. We typically announce our prompts in the late summer (check the website –, and submissions are usually due December 17. We hope to include at our fall conference a panel of teachers whose students have had success in the contest; they will share tips, tricks, suggestions, and activities. (If you are one of those teachers, please submit a response to our Call for Presentations —

Finally, if you want to support the writing contest as a judge, or wish to participate as curator or writing contest committee member, we welcome your contribution.  This year we are reaching for the writing stars in urban districts and are seeking an assistant writing contest director to help us make this ambitious expansion. Reach out to Michele Marotta at

Photos by Susan Reese

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

NJCTE President reflects on the 2018 Student Writing Contest Awards