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.”
“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.”
This 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.
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.
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 email@example.com
“Initially, I became a member of OCTELA due to my connections with the current Executive Director, Karla Hayslett. She invited me to a conference several years ago when I was a preservice teacher. At that point, I was hoping that my involvement and passion for professional development would set me apart from other applications during the interviewing process after graduate school. However, what I also gained was access to a huge network of incredible, passionate teachers who are willing to support and push me to become a better teacher, advocate, and leader!”
The Montana Association of Teachers of English Language Arts (MATELA) has conducted extensive research regarding the theory and practice of effective writing programs, and members of our organization have also participated in the creation and review of the Montana Core Standards.
Because of our collective expertise, MATELA would like to assist your district in drafting a policy that will serve two purposes: • the unique needs of your district and your students, • the requirements of the Accreditation Standard below and the Montana Core Standards that place increased attention on writing instruction, on writing as a complex process, on writing as a critical component of literacy, and on writing as a tool for learning.”
I often hear “affiliates” said as one word meaning one thing, but the beauty of NCTE’s affiliates is that no one is the same—there is no single story.
For instance, on the blog of the newest NCTE affiliate, the recently revived West Virginia Council of Teachers of English, Jessica Salfia writes of how she builds trust in her classroom during the beginning days of school. And, through her blog post, she shares the lesson she uses with her students in those early days, helping them to grow into a trusting community that is also community of differences—a place where writing can be safely shared. She notes,
“it’s time to really get to know the 130 young people I’m going to be spending the next 9 months with. Because that’s the key to building a good writing and reading community in an English class: building relationships and trust. Writing can be a difficult and often personal activity, and for many students, also a terrifying task. So if I’m going ask kids to do something that is for many of them scary and uncomfortable, I need them to trust me and each other.”
As part of her lesson in developing trust, Salfia introduces the theme of the course by sharing with her students Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story.”
Adichie points out two important premises of the single story, premises that apply to how to think about “affiliates” and to how we view other groups of people:
“… to create the single story: show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become.”