All posts by Millie Davis


About Millie Davis

Millie Davis is Senior Developer for Affiliates, and Director of the Intellectual Freedom Center at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In addition she works on NCTE’s communications efforts, particularly on social media. Millie's passion is working with literacy teachers across the country and beyond whose passion for their students and their students' learning is their reason for going to work each day.

Freedom for Student Press

Discussion of press rights has been much in the news of late. Journalists, even to some extent student journalists, are protected by the First Amendment of the United States:


Good journalists, of course, investigate because they want to find the underlying cause of an issue. For student journalists, particularly, this has sometimes been a problem.

FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), whose mission is

“to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, legal equality, due process, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience…”

explains student journalists’ rights in this video:

The Student Press Law Center (SPLC)  advocates for student journalists

Students want to be heard on the social and political issues, including issues of local school policy, directly affecting their lives….Students learn journalism best under a light touch of guidance from a well-trained adviser, not the heavy hand of government “spin control.” Every K-12 student should have the benefit of a sensible free-expression policy modeled on the Supreme Court’s Tinker standard, protecting the right to engage in lawful, non-disruptive speech.

NCTE supports press freedom for student journalists as well through the:

NCTE Beliefs about the Students’ Right to Write,
Resolution on Students’ Right of Expression, and, if you ratify it,
• A new NCTE Resolution on Legislation to Protect the Rights of Student Journalists

What Is the Role of the Affiliate?

morrell_ernest2I heard Ernest Morrell speak at the #OCTELA17 Conference this past weekend.

He shared a dozen noteworthy ideas about literacy teaching and learning, but ever since I’ve been carrying around two about our students:

1) Our #1 problem in education is student engagement.
2) After next year, all our K-12 students will have been born in the 21st Century.

Ernest’s words echoed a talk he gave to affiliate leaders 4 ½ years ago at the Affiliate Breakfast at Convention.

During that talk, he asked

  • What will it mean to be literate?

  • What will it mean to teach literacy?

  • What is the role of the professional organization in this process?

  • What is the role of affiliates?

  • What should be our takeaways from this talk and this convention?

About professional organizations, he noted,

“Professional organizations will have to evolve to become places where people participate in a continual process of knowledge production…We speak more powerfully when we have a united presence, a solid research foundation, a strategy for advocacy, and 50,000 or so close friends to join in the chorus.”

And about affiliates,

“Affiliates can serve as the intellectual and ideological home for teachers who are trying to find their way in these conflicting times. Affiliates are physical and digital spaces for the playing with ideas, for asking big essential questions, and for being informed in our pursuit of learning, of doing what’s right, not just what is sanctioned.”


True then and true now.

Teaching for the Dream of Diversity in Arkansas

P050-359-256-306-00090This blog is written by Dr. Kay J. Walter, active member of the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts and Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.


Our affiliate, Arkansas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (ACTELA), has a board representing many areas of our state. From the agricultural fields of our east to the rolling hills of our west, our land demonstrates our diversity. Our affiliate members are just as diverse as our geography, and we are very proud of the strength such diversity gives our organization.

NCTE offers a Teacher for the Dream Grant Award to encourage affiliates to embrace diversity and welcome it. This grant provides matching funds for recruitment and professional development for teachers of color.

ACTELA has two grant recipients. Our first Teacher for the Dream, Brycial Williams, works as a kindergarten teacher in the Arkansas Delta. You must travel south nearly to Louisiana, where the University of Arkansas at Monticello stands in the midst of pine forests, to find our new Teacher for the Dream. Both have added a vibrant dimension to the work of our affiliate.

Pamela Jones,ACTELAs second Teacher for the Dream poses with her mentor Dr. Kay Walter
Pamela Jones,ACTELAs second Teacher for the Dream poses with her mentor Dr. Kay Walter

We have chosen Pamela Jones as our second Teacher for the Dream. Pamela was born in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a member of the Yupik tribe of indigenous Americans. Pamela migrated to Arkansas with her father when she was a child. Her education in Arkansas public schools and her studies at University of Arkansas at Monticello make her an Arkansan, but her Eskimo heritage through matrilineal descent defines her as a true minority in our state. She is a preservice member of our affiliate, and she anticipates a successful career in education.

Pamela is a strong advocate for ELA education. She aspires to a career enriching the literacy experiences of very young learners—birth through Pre-K. She sees clearly the need for children to grow up with enthusiastic and compassionate models of communication. She believes

“Literacy education begins at birth. When I brought my children home from the hospital, I decorated their nursery walls with the English alphabet in print and cursive. Their first toys were books!”

She champions inclusivity and knows that our state, nation, and world are strongest when we work together in harmony. Further, she represents the importance of lifelong learning. She is a nontraditional student, and she models the verity that it is never too late to want or seek an education.

Last summer, Pamela enrolled in my travel seminar to Great Britain to study British Authors. In Oxford, she found Inuit relics of her tribal heritage at the Pitt Rivers Museum. She has since added a focus on British literature to her areas of study, which include education and psychology. In December 2016 she completed her first college degree, an AA degree in General Studies and is currently enrolled in courses toward her BA degree.

Pamela’s presence in ACTELA makes clear several powerful statements:

• Culturally diverse perspectives strengthen ELA education.
• Diversity is an asset and all children are priceless to our future.
• Educators from diverse backgrounds can empower student thinking and communication to rise beyond any limitations of birth.

Such ideas are visible in Pamela’s life and ACTELA’s devotion to them is reflected more brilliantly through her.

Rob Lamm presents Brycial Williams with ACTELA's first Teacher for the Dream Award.
Rob Lamm presents Brycial Williams with ACTELA’s first Teacher for the Dream Award.

Arkansas’s other Teacher for the Dream, Brycial Williams, sets an example as a male role model of color his students can trust and look up to. He reminds us often how important it is for children to see a strong, wise, compassionate man excited about learning. He says,

“As a child, I would gather my cousins, in my grandmother’s den and play school. My teachers knew that I wanted to be a teacher. They would give me papers and supplies from their classrooms so that I could take them home for my imaginary classroom.”

As a kindergarten teacher, Brycial is in an ideal position to inspire a positive impression of education. He encourages them to be active learners and communicators, and they quickly become invested in their own learning process.

ACTELA board members support ELA education across our state and nationally through NCTE initiatives and events. Through our own work at universities and schools, we also network abroad. As our interactions grow more global and our connections grow more diverse, our need to learn together expands. For this reason, Teachers for the Dream are ever more important to the success of education’s future.

Learners need to see themselves reflected in their teachers, and Arkansas is doing all it can to encourage our students to become effective communicators, advocates of literacy, and ELA teachers. Our Teachers for the Dream actively seek professional development through NCTE opportunities and take leadership roles in the recruitment of future teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. All affiliates can diversify their perspectives and membership by considering the NCTE Fund Teacher for the Dream Affiliate Award. The submission deadline each year is May 1st.

Dr. Kay J. Walter is a Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, her alma mater,  and editor of The English Pub: ACTELA Newsletter. She is a lifemember of her affiliate and welcomes contact from all literacy enthusiasts at

Where Is the Understanding?

booksSigh! I just finished a very long letter to the Virginia State Board of Education. I told them why it’s a bad idea to mandate that school boards have their teachers send out annually a list of course texts annotated with the words “sexually explicit” when they or someone, somehow feels a text merits this description .

So, if the Proposed Amendments to the Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions (8VAC 20-720) Regarding Use of Sexually Explicit Instructional Materials (Proposed Stage)  pass,  the event on page 75  of a text where the two characters fondle one another or on pages 111-113 where the mother gives birth or the scene in which one character thinks about what he and another might do but decides not to follow through—all these and more would be candidates for the “sexually explicit” label—candidates if an individual school board defined them as such.

NCTE has been involved in arguing against this policy since 2013 when it was first introduced in a State Board public forum, then again last spring when it became HB516 and was vetoed by the Governor, again  last fall when it was incorporated in the state accreditation standards, and now when it is proposed as amendments into the school board regulations.

How can we help parents, guardians, and policy makers understand three things?

Text selection is an educator’s job.

Selecting materials requires in-depth knowledge: not just of students’ backgrounds and learning experiences, but also of their abilities and interests; not just of educational objectives, but of the best practices and range and quality of materials for meeting them; not just of the particular work being considered, but of its place within the medium, genre, epoch, etc., it represents.
NCTE’s Guidelines for the Selection of Materials in English Language Arts Programs

Labeling books “sexually explicit,” or anything else for that matter, is a blatant form of red-flagging

a “practice [that] reduces complex literary works to a few isolated elements — those that some individuals may find objectionable — rather than viewing the work as a whole.”

A popular entertainment rating system like the MPAA ratings, which by the Motion Picture Association’s own admission do not rate educational value, is not an appropriate system for rating texts we use in schools.

Where is the understanding that literature is so much more than the sum of its parts, that as one Kansas Director of Instruction noted,

“There is a lesson in each and every book, especially in the hands of a gifted teacher”?

Doctor’s Orders: Have Your Children Read These Banned Books

Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, Perri Klass, writes a column called “The Checkup” for The New York Times. Usually she writes about medical things like coughs and measles and kids who are night owls. But this week she wrote about “The Banned Books Your Child Should Read“!

While there are parents out there trying to save children from books with accurate descriptions of body parts, books with kids who behave like kids, or stories about LGBTQ families or magical places like Hogwarts, Klass points out,

convention bookmark“In fact, banned books lists [e.g.  the ALA list of frequently challenged children’s books the and University of Illinois list] can be a great resource for parents looking for books that teach kids about the world and themselves.

“When your children read books that have been challenged or banned, you have a double opportunity as a parent; you can discuss the books themselves, and the information they provide, and you can also talk about why people might find them troubling…

“As a parent, I was dazzled when my daughter’s summer reading assignment was to choose a book ‘out of your comfort zone,’ however the student chose to define it. Because, that is, of course, what literature does, and part of the glorious freedom and human right of literacy is the opportunity to journey with words well beyond your comfort zone.”