All posts by Jocelyn A. Chadwick


About Jocelyn A. Chadwick

Jocelyn is the President-Elect of the National Council of Teachers of English as well as this year's program chair for the 2017 Annual Convention. You can read her full bio here:

Road to Convention and Beyond: What OUR Students and I Have Been Sharing


We write to live
And live to write
Our eyes on the prize
It’s still in sight
We got something to say
And we won’t speak quietly
We come from the heart
We’re the Red Poet Society                     


“We have to read the hard stories because how will we know what life is really like?”

“This is the first book I have ever read.”

“Really like? How will we know if the literature we read is real to us and how and where we live if we don’t read it?”

“Will Jacqueline Woodson be able to see us ask our questions?”

“Our teacher helps us to understand.”

“Do you read like that character?”

“We have a voice and we think.”

“Do you find yourself when you write?”
(Students to Jimmy Santiago Baca)

“Shakespeare wrote that character wrong!”

“Do you think racism is in the DNA? I mean, can anyone ever really leave the family and change?” (Hartford Students to Chadwick)

While the symbolic theme of the 2017 Convention is The Next Chapter, what inspired that symbol and image is the overall theme and the call for proposals: “Teaching Our Students Today, Tomorrow, Forever: Recapturing Our Voices, Our Agency, Our Mission.”

We find ourselves at an interesting moment in time and history in that education—anchored in lifelong literacy—as an imperative for ALL children. We who are privileged to teach ELA, with all of its myriad iterations, find ourselves on a newer, different path of teaching and learning from our predecessors. The key factor in this new and energizing teaching context lies in our STUDENTS, as the Red Poet Society makes quite clear. I continue to be in awe of their energy, passion, and belief in what you and I know so very well: the absolute power of language. This blog update aims to provide our membership with a snapshot of what we will experience at Convention, yes, but I am also seeking to distinguish between our well-seasoned perceptions of today’s students—those post–9/11 and post—Great Recession—whose perspectives and tendencies do not always fit the oft-cited norms. Consequently, the more I have worked with these students, the more I am adapting and learning with them. Essentially, a kind of blending has occurred—I still see the literature, composition, rhetoric, and other ELA components in front of me—canonical and modern—but I “arrange,” “style,” and “deliver,” reading my new audience constantly. This new reading and adapting and delivering now includes NCTE—all of us.

I have always found secondary students to be interesting and dynamic because I began my career as a secondary teacher. However, since 2012, I am finding elementary, middle, and secondary students to be uncodifiable, unstereotypical, probative, opinionated, boundlessly energetic, deliberative, skeptical, and yet, fearless. The students exhibit all of these traits, I have surmised, because for so many of them, regardless of where they live, how they live, what they look like, our time, events, and present upheavals have forged them into an entirely different generation, as research by so many sociologists and psychologists indicates.

Rural, urban, suburban, wealthy, poor, variegated ethnicities, religions, geographical regions, languages, and more, public school, private school, charter school—these are the students with whom I and our keynoters have been spending our time. I have been in classrooms with students around the country in person and virtually, collaborating with administrators and fellow teachers. Oakland, Houston, Hartford, Belmont, St. Louis, Denver, Fredericksburg, New Kent, Cambridge, Hardwick, Sterling, El Paso—these are cities with schools where I have spent the greater part of last and this year, meeting with students and collaborating with their teachers regarding curricular resources and my presence for our 2017 Convention. Along the way—long before I was even nominated for vice president and during the actual preparation for Convention, our teachers, their students, and many administrators and communities have all had a most profound effect and affect on my understanding of why I teach and for the first time, a profound impact on me, personally. Differences, similarities, anticipations, expectations, assumptions, surprises, and much elation and learning has taken place—and not one of us has been left the same. This effect is a keenly good thing.

The students have not only accepted me into their classrooms, but more importantly, these students have privileged my sharing with them and their sharing with me through literature, writing, listening, speaking, viewing, listening, and technology. They have much to express. They do read; they will read when we help them connect the dots they require—relevance to who they are, where they are, and when they are. The text can be Jimmy Santiago Baca’s poetry, Jacqueline Woodson’s prose, Mark Twain’s historical novels, Gareth Hinds’s graphic texts, or Leland Melvin’s autobiography. Texts can be the music of Duke Ellington, a letter of Malcom X’s, a speech of Dr. King’s, a play of Shakespeare, or Beyoncé’s Lemonade. They will read. And they have opinions with hundreds of questions. I know. This has been a significant portion of my life since last November.

What has also struck me has been how many of our students today have what I describe as old eyes—they have already seen and experienced and, some, are constantly surrounded by so much, while still so tenderly young. They have dreams; they have aspirations; some are more voiced—others a bit furtive at our beginning. But to a one, each student expresses initial disbelief that we, NCTE, do care, that we do see them. They ask me why I care; I tell them. They email me; they have an open inquiry forum when we are in class—we are symbiotic.

These students know, and now believe beyond a shadow of doubt, that I will continue to be there with them and their teachers long after Convention. They know that NCTE will be there, too. In so many ways, these students, since 2012, are teaching me that they require more—they require our listening and responding in ways that may at this time not be in books, articles, white papers. Making myself available to them under different circumstances—text, email, looking at their videos, sending questions to answer and I respond—these are different learning/instructional pathways that for me that technology is making possible. The personal touch, too, is still very important. In my case, an African-American-woman-scholar-southerner, now northerner, who wants to listen and interact, learn, laugh, and be curious with them—this is important.

As ELA educators of every ilk, we must rethink, re-envision ourselves, and see our students: listen to them, confer with them, inquire with them, explore and discover with them, thereby, disrupting and exploding the notion of schools as prefabricated prisons from which they will never escape. We must revel in knowledge with them. We are the best and most sustained models they have in education. NCTE holds this place, represents this real ability to recast our classrooms, recapture our agency, enable our students’ agency for life. Our taking up this twenty-first-century mantle individually and as members of NCTE is our mission for the Next Chapter.

2017 Annual Convention Updates: Local Engagement Committee

The Annual Convention is only seven weeks away and NCTE volunteers and staff have been working tirelessly to ensure that the experience is meaningful for all who attend. This work includes everything from videotaping interviews with students who will be participating in our general sessions to providing top-notch customer service to ensure members have all their questions answered when registering to attend. Book donations from publishers are filling up NCTE’s warehouse, and community members from St. Louis are in discussion with volunteers about connecting to our event.

Alongside the content we have been planning since last fall, we have also enhanced engagement efforts to illustrate the anti-racist teaching work of our members.  Today we offer an updated look into the progress being made.

In August, members were invited to nominate themselves or others to join the Local Engagement Committee. Additionally, members of all NCTE caucuses were invited to join. Everyone who applied was asked to take part in carrying out this charge:

  1. Work carefully to understand the needs of local NCTE members and community stakeholders, then propose one or more OUTREACH activities or events to occur during the Convention in St. Louis. Identify what NCTE can do to promote equitable, just, responsive teaching and learning conditions and practices in St. Louis and Missouri.
  2. Propose one or more member-focused activities or events to occur during the Convention that meet member needs and desires to advocate for equitable teaching and learning conditions.
  3. Become well versed on long-established NCTE plans related to diversity, inclusivity, and equity, both for the St. Louis Convention and beyond.

Read the full charge here.

The Committee currently includes the following members:

Local Engagement Committee Co-Chairs

Alfredo Luján, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Middle Section Rep-at-Large, NCTE Executive Committee
Valerie Taylor, Austin, Texas, Secondary Section Rep-at-Large, NCTE Executive Committee
Jeanette Toomer, New York, New York, College Section

Local Engagement Committee Members

Damián Baca (Tucson, Arizona), Melissa Biehl (Chesterfield, Missouri), Mollie Blackburn (Columbus, Ohio), Barri Bumgarner (Columbia, Missouri), Heather Coffey (Charlotte, North Carolina), Susan Crosby (St. Louis, Missouri), Bob Fecho (New York, New York), Lorena Germán (Austin, Texas), Lauren Gonzales (El Paso, Texas), Charles Gonzalez (Buffalo, New York), Julie Gorlewski (Richmond, Virginia), Tracy Hinds (St. Louis, Missouri), Laura Kay Jagles (Sante Fe, New Mexico), Rick Joseph (Royal Oak, Michigan), Richard Meyer (Albuquerque, New Mexico), Cornelius Minor (Brooklyn, New York), Jennifer Paulsen (Cedar Falls, Iowa), Leilya Pitre (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), Keisha Rembert (Plainfield, Illinois), Julia Torres (Denver, Colorado), Velma Valadez (St. Louis, Missouri), Allen Webb (Kalamazoo, Michigan), Julie Zurgable (Rochester Hills, Michigan)

The work of the committee is ongoing. They spent many hours in meetings in September and will do so throughout October. Here are some of the things they have put in motion so far:

A New Roundtable Session
This session will take place on Friday. Three topics will be discussed: police brutality, characters of color in children’s literature, and “taking a knee” as political protest (social and historical contexts).

Planning is underway for two workshops that will address curricular resources and the theme of ending racism.

Taking Action
Plans are underway for a public display of solidarity. Both a petition and organized protest are under discussion.

A Town Hall
A panel discussion is being assembled for Friday afternoon. Confirmed speakers will include St. Louis NAACP president Adolphus Pruitt; Superintendent of University City (Missouri) Sharonica L. Hardin-Bartley; a Missouri student; and leaders of various groups within NCTE.

Events external to the Convention are also being planned, and possibilities currently under development include visits to St. Louis schools, opportunities to connect visiting authors with St. Louis students, film screenings, and workshops.

Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick has been on the phone every day with meeting planners, community leaders, teachers, and convention center staff in order to:

  • Allocate staff and funding resources to provide support for new projects like the Local Engagement Committee.
  • Secure a discounted shuttle service to and from the airport.
  • Build a relationship with the St. Louis NAACP whose president, Adolphus Pruitt, will speak at the Convention.
  • Arrange for adding more convention space to hold local engagement committee activities and for permits to carry out the evolving ideas of members and organizational leadership

Everything described above is new or improved upon for the Convention this year based on changes we knew we needed to make in early August. That’s much to pull together in a short time! But long before August, this year’s convention General Sessions, featured panels, and sessions were already focused on how we privilege student voices and literacy skills. Inclusion, empowerment, lifelong literacy, and the power of language were key components of this year’s program from the start, and we believe these recent additions will make the experience all the richer.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more updates. We are so grateful for the time and effort staff and volunteers are putting forth right now. I have every confidence this will be a powerful and inspiring experience for us all.

Always Forward for Students and Teachers: National Council of Teachers of English

What follows are two notes that Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick and I sent to an NCTE member pertaining to concerns raised about the location of our Annual Convention—and upcoming conventions. The member’s concern mirrors the concerns and, yes, fears so many of us have always had and growing numbers are having during this tumultuous time in our country—indeed around the world. After much reflection and conversation with each other, we deemed sharing our two responses helpful for the entirety of our membership, for the concerns expressed in this member’s email invited us to drill more deeply and substantively into what NCTE, with its members, really represents to students and teachers around the country—our English classrooms, PreK–graduate.

Through this sharing, Emily and I hope we all begin to remember, reflect, and perhaps even rethink the importance of what we, the National Council of Teachers of English members, do in classrooms. Ours is most certainly critical work—critical work that cannot be allowed to stop.

We move forward—always forward.

From Jocelyn A. Chadwick, NCTE President, August 14, 2017

[Member], I earnestly understand your anger, your passion, and your position. I also understand that in every state in our country and in most every city in our country, angst, anger, hatred, and disdain exist to the point of despair. Juxtaposed to all of this exist students, PreK-graduate, and educators who must live and deal in these environs. You know this, too.

To run away is no longer anyone’s choice: not NCTE, not MLA, RSA, ALA, ILA, PEN America—there are no safe, untouched havens, even if we don’t read about them in the news, or through statements the NAACP, La Raza, the Jewish League, Urban League, or the Human Rights Campaign elect to issue citing one specific instance or events. Teachers and students and communities exist everywhere that need to see us, hear us, believe that we are not deaf, nor frightened, nor unwilling to show our efforts and work for equality, equity, and ethics in the classroom—in all classrooms.

You cite hypocrisy. It would indeed be and has been hypocrisy for NCTE in the past not to go into these cities of controversy, just as the civil rights workers of the past walked, as did my own parents. They did not run, cancel, or hide. They moved forward, forward—talking, modeling, illustrating for me and everyone else around this country what equality, equity, and ethics looked like, stood for, and the price it would cost.

So, we move forward, toward the controversy, toward any controversy that affects children’s right to lifelong literacy and our teachers’ right and ability to teach them. While you and I live in a very privileged and unusual state, you and I both know that South Boston, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester seethe every single day with the very same anger, hatred, disdain, and violence we see and read about across the United States. Knowing this fact, however, does not keep me out of Dorchester or South Boston, Mississippi or Louisiana, or even East and West Texas (my home state), although I remain incredibly frightened each and every time I go into any of these spaces.

As a colleague on the NCTE Executive Committee recently inquired: ask any African American to be honest and say just where do you feel entirely safe and secure in the United States of America, what would you hear? From me, I can show you the KKK cards I have received from students, my journal entries detailing what I have been called, asked, when I’ve been closely monitored, and my experiences driving while black. So I get it.

I will not quit doing what I am doing, and nor should you. But you have choice. Again, I have no choice. At this time and at this juncture in the United States, if NCTE is going to be of any worth to any teacher and student in this country, it, too, has no choice.

We move forward. I earnestly hope you will move forward toward this controversy and the many yet to come, with us, with NCTE. But I will always respect your decision in whatever you choose to do.

– Jocelyn

From Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE Executive Director, August 14, 2017

Dear [member],

Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. We value your forthrightness and take your concerns seriously.

Jocelyn’s response reiterates the policies of NCTE which drive our decision to stay in Missouri and to bring the values and principles of the organization to that space. If we have not done enough at our conventions to move the work of equity and civil rights forward, we need the wisdom of members like you to help us find new and better ways to do so. But now is not the time to retreat from that responsibility as an organization. We are living in a world that requires NCTE to show up and speak for what is right. Our teachers and students require that of us.

Your voice and your leadership are incredibly important to the work that lies ahead.

– Emily

Profound: What Literacy Can Accomplish For Life

Dear members,

The NCTE statement posted yesterday reflects our commitment and deliberate intent to assure and inform you that the Executive Director and Presidential Team were gathering, processing, and conscientiously apprising you of our initial attention and concern about the NAACP’s travel advisory.

What follows is my response to the membership, not explaining why we must continue on into Missouri; rather, what follows illustrates and describes why we must move forward not only to Missouri but also to all states in this Union. Our leadership has made and will always make every effort to assure our safety. Be assured, our visible presence supporting teachers and students must never stop for any iteration of exclusion, oppression, or special interests.

Jocelyn A. Chadwick, PhD
YOUR Program Chair, NCTE 2017

There are many Missouris, many places where our children and educators live and work and must traverse sometimes harsh, difficult, and ever-changing milieus. NCTE’s mission and vision of providing learning pathways—moments and opportunities—to foment lifelong literacy dare not slow down, dare not stop, dare not be daunted by anything, ever. We move forward.

I’d like to offer an example from work I’ve been doing with Missouri teachers as part of this fall’s Annual Convention. The project described below will form the core of one of our keynote presentations, bringing the voices of students into the room with one of our beloved authors—a dialogue that will illustrate the very reason why all of us gather each year to grow in this work.

The following quotes are from four classes of Missouri 6th- and 7th-grade students, most students of color, whose amazing teacher and school allowed me to collaborate and work with 60 students as they embarked on reading Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. This same reading and discussion/writing session will occur again in October with different Missouri students and their teacher reading Another Brooklyn.

The Objective: To focus on sustained critical reading, thinking, and writing skills, utilizing a piece of literature. To encourage students to complete the text.

Until we began this instructional learning approach, the students had not completed an entire novel.

The Process: This summer, every Friday for five weeks, the students and I discussed what they had read, what questions they wanted to ask me—any questions regarding the text itself, and peripheral connections. Prior to each week, I prepared a PPT with primary sources illustrative of historical events, figurative language, vocabulary, geographical locations, even botanical references: The Negro Motorist Green Book, the Great Migration, Johnny Pumps, the dangers of lead poisoning, birch trees, South vs North, poll tax, civil protest, benign/benevolent racism, dialect, the American Dream, and Woodson’s panoply of writers, thinkers, and literary genres, especially, poetry, for example.

Literary Themes: the power of words, writing, reading, using ones imagination.

Social/Cultural Themes: family, sense of self, looking beyond ones own uniqueness and difference to explore and experience new relationships/cultures, death, nuclear and divided families, the import of names.

During the week, prior to each Friday, Mr. Devitt, their teacher, working with reading and analysis tools I provided coupled with his amazing instruction, the students read and discussed. The students sent me videos of their collaborative conversations and responded to questions I posed about the text—verbally and written.

Example of students’ comments:

“Has anyone close to you died?

“What was your family life like in the South?”

“Do you lower your eyes when a white person talks to you?” Why not?

“What was growing up in the South like for you?”

“Do you read a lot like Jackie? “Do you write, too?” Show us some of your writing.

“I guess bad things happen to all people. Maybe that helps us learn?”

“We had a debate and talked about Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.”

“Americans are nice people but we just have to get better at what we do. Her grandparents do alot for their taking care of the children. I think I like it.”

“They called their grandpop daddy because there is not the father in their life.”

“It [the novel] doesn’t relate to any parent I know because Jacqueline’s mom is selfish.”

Result: The students not only read and utilized the Socratic method of inquiry and deep analysis, but also they completed the entire text. For many of them, Woodson’s novel was the very first book they completed. These students, and the ones to participate in October, created questions to ask Ms. Woodson. Woodson, her style of narrative, and her keen ability to weave so much into a text mesmerized and inspired the students.

Assessment: PROFOUND. Over the many years I have been teaching high school and college students (undergraduates and graduates), I have never, never described any experience with students as profound. And I have had the privilege of working with phenomenal teachers and students. That said, the students in this first phase of collaboration on a Woodson text, dug deep; they read, discussed, reflected, inquired, wrestled with the text and its implications as they viewed its relation to them. Metamorphosis transpired among us all.

This is what NCTE does best. The Missouri Affiliate, Mr. Devitt—and the teacher to come in October—the students and we worked together. The students were most assuredly not the same as they were at the beginning of the session. I was not the same. Mr. Devitt was not the same. And we are the better for it.

Not many educational organizations, like NCTE, in our contemporary climate claim to operate in this fashion. The Missouri Affiliate, two willing and invested teachers, and NCTE embarked on a journey along an instructional pathway few had ever experienced. My first attempt at such an approach occurred at Harvard on two occasions—but for a single day. This learning opportunity evolved over weeks.

As Mr. Devitt stated more than once, his students expressed to him their awe of our earnestly caring about them, listening to them. I promised the students I would come to visit with them on 13 November. That is a promise I cannot wait to fulfill.