Tag Archives: Education

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: The Last Word

Before I begin my tour of the museums here in DC, I want to take a minute to extend my utmost gratitude to a few people. First, the NCTE team in the DC office, Jenna Fournel and Lu Ann McNabb, for being gracious and welcoming. I will miss our little office camaraderie. Second, my family. I was only able to have this incredible experience only because of the support of my amazing mother-in-law, who came down to DC to watch the kids for three weeks, and my sweet parents, who flew out for grandparent duty for the remainder of the time. Finally, my darling husband, who has been alone at home with a screaming cat for over a month. My deepest thanks to you all.

It’s tough to explain to a twelve-year-old the sheer power of words. Ironically, words don’t do themselves justice. As I made my way around the sights in DC, I found myself constantly in awe of the words all around me and the way in which they have shaped, and continue to shape, our country. Below is a collection of my thoughts, lesson ideas, and reflections on five museums, in the order in which I viewed them.

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

As a teacher of the Diary of a Young Girl, the Holocaust is a topic I discuss with eighth graders every year. The main exhibit experience begins with a large group of people packed into a steel elevator, that makes you instantly uncomfortable. When you exit, you are met with videos taken during concentration camp liberation, and a giant photograph of burnt corpses. The silence in the museum is overwhelming. Two areas in particular spoke to me. The first was the section on propaganda. This year I would like to have students analyze the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels to answer a common question: Why were people angry at Jewish people? How did Goebbels use words to confuse and deceive? The second section I found interesting was about the League of German Girls. During our unit study, we cover Hitler Youth, but I didn’t know about its female counterpart. Finally, I have tried researching contemporary genocides in the past, but I would like to revisit that this year. The USHMM website has a rich library of educator resources, including a couple of interesting professional learning opportunities.

National Museum of American History

I uncovered a few neat ideas here. Most important is Wonderplace, a super awesome play space complete with a climbing structure, and kitchen with fake fruit, and the Spark!Lab where kids can be inventors and make stuff.  Kiddos were happy for hours. The exhibit Many Voices, One Nation made me think, How do the words of many people, across time, unite to form a country? I could have my students look at the works of the authors we study, Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Wright, Daniel Keyes, and whoever else gets tossed in there this year-to see how each of their unique voices became a part of the narrative of America.

Executive Order 9066 got me thinking about how words can used to strip people of their liberties.

I also saw Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt, which resulted in the removal of over 110,000 Japanese Americans from their West Coast homes. Another question to pose to students: How have people used words to deprive others of their freedoms? (Check out the Smithsonian’s History Explorer for educator resources. You can search by grade level, time period and/or subject you teach.)

Folger Shakespeare Library
Life imitating art. The exhibit had cute interactive elements.

I’ve been a fan of these guys since I met them at NCTE’s Annual Convention in 2014. I’ve used their incredible resources for teaching Shakespeare, and they also offer professional learning opportunities,  including a month-long stay here in DC to study Shakespeare in depth. Of course I had to visit! The current exhibit showcased paintings of Shakespeare, the man himself and the scenes from the plays. The library is home to the largest collection of Shakespeare works, as well as other rare Renaissance works. Since I took the tour, I got to peek in the reading room. Swoon. During the tour, our guide mentioned that Shakespeare was not wholly original and that he took many of his stories from other authors. How can words be refashioned into something new and exciting?  On an unrelated note, while at Folger I enjoyed learning about Project Dustbunny, dirt from the gutters of books analyzed for past readers’ DNA – wild.

First Folio! First Folio!
National Museum of African American History and Culture
The abolitionist paper, The North Star, was founded by Frederick Douglass. My kids will love seeing the actual paper.

This museum is the newest, opening in September 2016. I noticed a few different ways in which words were important, especially for someone who teaches Richard Wright’s, Black Boy. First, Nat Turner’s Bible and Harriet Tubman’s hymnal were on display. Both struck me, and I thought, How do people find strength and comfort in words during times of pain and turmoil? I look forward to examining this question with my students; it’s a topic that pairs nicely with Anne Frank finding solace in books.

Finding comfort in words can be a common thread throughout history.

Alongside the reading of Black Boy, my students and I read the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. A question for my students will be, How can we use words to fight for change? This question will be especially useful as we follow Wright on his journey of discovering how authors used words to fight against racism.


The California paper posted outside the day I visited.

The Newseum “promotes, explains and defends free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.” Tons of great ideas here! Around the outside of the museum are front pages from each of the fifty states and around the world. What a great activity for teaching media literacy. I want to pull the day’s headlines from three papers and have students analyze the differences. How can we use the same words to paint a different picture? There was also a neat exhibit on each of the five freedoms. This might be interesting to explore as my students learn about the Bill of Rights in social studies. How are the words of the past relevant today? I want to explore the modern issues relating to each of the five freedoms.

This exhibit poses the question, what freedoms do students have at school?

There was also really cool display about the rights of students, which I know mine will enjoy talking about, especially the parts on dress code. A question I will ask is, How can you use words to fight for what you believe in?

And now I, NCTE’s 2017 Kent B. Williamson Policy Fellow, am signing off. I hope you enjoyed following along as much as I enjoyed the journey. Please contact me, I’d love to connect and chat. Peace.

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington: Teacher Preparation, Global Education and CA Senators

Is there a better way to kick off the week than by spending time with pre-service teachers?The NCTE team (Jenna Fournel, Lu Ann McNabb and Felice Kaufmann) and I took a field trip to Capital City Public Charter School where Inspired Teaching hosts a summer program. Inspired Teaching is a “professional learning community of master teachers and teacher residents that  ensures that a diverse group of students achieves their potential as accomplished learners, thoughtful citizens, and imaginative and inquisitive problem solvers through a demanding, inquiry-based curriculum.”

Seated in a circle, teachers were doing an exercise that examined the different roles that students tend to play in the classroom, e.g., mean girl, class clown, etc. After the discussion, teachers used chart paper to write down both positives and negatives of each of the roles. Then we divided into teams and brainstormed ways to break students of these roles.I loved the insightfulness of the group, one teacher remarked that students can “go invisible” in some roles. Another pointed out these roles teach students that they as a person are static, and not dynamic. When chatting with Mara Duquette, Senior Manager, Strategic Engagement, she talked about the importance of these experiences- by saying, “We teach them to discover who I am as a learner, because I need to know that before I can become a teacher.” 

NCTE’s Felice Kaufmann and I discuss some of the strategies Inspired Teaching uses with their pre-service teachers. I loved the quotes about education, and I plan to use them as an opening activity to get my students thinking about why they are in school.

Global Education

I had no idea that the US Department of Education had an International Affairs Office. Since I am a Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow (see P&O below for more details), I was eager to learn more. Maureen McLaughlin, who is a senior advisor to Secretary DeVos and the Director of International Affairs, was gracious enough to meet with me to talk global education. She shared with me the department’s strategy, created under Arne Duncan, to succeed globally through international education and engagement. They have three objectives: increase global competencies, learn from other countries, and engage in education diplomacy. Recently, Maureen was on a team that created a Framework for Developing Global and Cultural Competencies to Advance Equity, Excellence and Economic Competence. This is a great tool for those looking to start embedding global competencies in their curriculum.

This framework is a great way to start thinking about ways to incorporate global education in the classroom.

California Delegation

Midweek I met with both of my California senators’ offices. Small world: Brett Rosenberg, the legislative aide in Senator Kamala Harris’s office, actually received an NCTE Achievement Award in Writing when she was in high school. I shared with Brett NCTE’s policy recommendations, and she shared with me the senator’s education passions (DACA, combating sexual assault on campus, gainful employment). At Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office I met with education legislative aide Crystal Martinez. She anticipates the Senate will preserve Title I funding at equal or increased levels, and that Title II and LEARN will be preserved in some fashion. That was good news! Check out last week’s post for a refresher on ESSA funding. Senator Feinstein’s interests are access to high-quality education for all students, ensuring California receives its due share of federal funding, and accountability and transparency for all schools.

My traditional selfies with the plaques.










I Really Love Global Education

Never felt more secure in my life! I also enjoyed the alumni ribbon, as it got people chatting with me about my experience with Teachers for Global Classrooms.

Friday brought me to the Department of State for the Annual Global Teaching Dialogue to continue my learning on global education. As a Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow, it was exciting to hear all the phenomenal work that both the TGC and Fulbright Fellows are doing in their schools with global education. Mark Taplin, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, opened the dialogue, pointing out that investing in teachers is critical to our nation’s future.  Andy Rabens, the special advisor for global youth issues, wrapped up the evening by talking about the three areas of focus for youth issues: youth and economic opportunity (jobs of the future), youth and the political process (getting them involved, young women especially) and youth and violent extremism (understanding how and why youth are vulnerable). There is a great video he did on the Global Youth Issues website which can tell you more about why young people matter. I think I’ll use this video in my classroom to kick off the year to show my kids why they are important.

I don’t know why, but I get a kick out of branded water bottles, especially ones that say Department of State.

If you are interested in learning more about global education, check out the State Department’s programs for teachers and students (spoiler alert, there are a lot), The Diplomacy Center for educating students about diplomacy,  or reach out to me and I can help guide you. Also, follow #NCTEcitizen to join in the conversation on creating global citizens. This recent blog post entitled “Putting Citizenship in Global Perspective in the ELA Classroom” is a great place to get started. Being in DC during a tumultuous time in world news has only strengthened my resolve that if we want our students to be successful in college, career and beyond, it is our responsibility as educators to help them explore how they fit into a global society.

P&O (People and Opportunities) There were a lot this week, so I’ll keep this list to stuff I didn’t mention above.

Celeste Rodriguez, Teacher Liaison, Department of Education: Lu Ann and I had lunch with Celeste. Taco truck lunch, sitting outside, chatting teacher leadership – what more can a gal ask for? Just because there has been a change in administration, it doesn’t mean the department isn’t listening. Celeste is working hard, continuing to incorporate teacher voice at all levels. Big shout out to her and all she does for teachers and students. 

Felice Kaufmann, Publications Developer, NCTE: Felice, based at the NCTE office in Urbana, Illinois, was in DC this week. I was lucky enough to spend time with her and get to know her a bit. You can check out our membership magazine, The Council Chronicle, which Felice manages, and also follow her on Twitter. 

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, CHCI: I ran into this group while I was waiting in Senator Harris’s office. I encourage you to check out this program, which “places Latino youth on a new trajectory by inspiring high school and college completion, and then providing programs to explore public policy and leadership in our nation’s capital.” The group of kids I saw were giddy after meeting the senator, and I loved seeing students so inspired by our government.

Teachers for Global Classrooms: This is a great program for teachers to start or continue their global education journey. It consists of a graduate-level 10-week online course on global education, a symposium in DC, and it culminates in a 2-3 week study abroad. I am looking forward to doing my travel piece this spring!


The Match That Starts the Fire

The following is by Alexandra Cavallo, who teaches English at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, NJ. It is excerpted from her full piece with permission from the blog Writers Who Care.


natural vocabulary: the match that starts the fireDuvantee, a junior and one of the brightest in his class, asked me to look over his college essay. I found that many of his sentences didn’t make sense due to word choice. He told me he had used the online thesaurus. When I asked what he meant by referring to his mother as his “primum mobile” he replied, “she’s like the match that starts the fire.” “Write that,” I said.

Students often do what Duvantee did, substituting obscure or fancy words for seemingly simple or boring ones. In doing so, they sacrifice their voice as well as meaning.  …  If students feel like they have to prove their intelligence to their teachers or a college admissions board every time they sit down to write something, it’s only natural that they will feel pressured to use accessible tools like the online thesaurus to pad their writing with words they feel are more “academic.” With such a strong emphasis on SAT words and college essays, we have trained our students to think their natural voices aren’t good enough for academic writing. …

What we can do

  • Encourage students to look up unfamiliar words they come across in their reading. This is how they will expand their vocabularies. …   When readers are purposeful about learning new words, they find more ways to implement them in speech, eventually bringing new words into their natural vocabulary.
  • Ask students to make an ongoing list of the words they like from their readings, and encourage students to work with those words, using them in class discussions, in their writing, and on their own. This way, they are making a decision to incorporate these words into their speech and writing.  …
  • Use “sophisticated,” subject-appropriate language with your students. Never dumb down your speech for them. If you use a difficult word, define it for them and continue to use it. Students will learn from this and start to use it themselves!  …

I’d like to do away with the notion that formal writing shouldn’t read like everyday speech; this mindset is holding our students back. I don’t want my students to feel like they have to take on some voice existing outside of themselves … With reading, vocabulary will come. A good teacher’s students will learn new vocab subconsciously. We should encourage our students to use language they are intimately familiar with.

Governors Play a Key Role in Education

capitol buildingFor over a decade, I have received press releases from my Governor by email.  The press releases cover a wide variety of topics, from administration appointments, honors, calendar of events and jobs created.  Governors discuss why they choose to support or veto legislation, advocate for their budgets and positions, express sympathy for those who have died and comment on current events.

Given the prominent role of Governors in education policy, it is good practice to either sign up for their email newsletters and/or press releases or to follow them through Twitter or Facebook. Click Contact Info for Governors to get a full list of the governors for all 50 states and their contact information.


The Role of the Federal Government in Education

capitol buildingThroughout the markup of the Every Child Achieves Act and during the Senate floor debate, Chairman Alexander emphasized that the footprint of the federal government in education needed to be reduced and that most decisions were best left to the states and districts. “We’ve had a trend toward a national school board, and we need to reverse that trend and put responsibility back to states and local school districts,” Alexander said in a speech from the Senate floor.

It was through this lens that he and his colleagues opposed amendments supported by the National Council of Teachers of English. Defeated by a vote of 45-50 was Senator Jack Reed’s (D-RI) Amendment (SA #2161) on resource equity to require states to report on access to critical educational resources. Chairman Alexander suggested the change would represent inappropriate federal intervention in state and local decisions. Senator Al Franken’s (D-MN) Amendment (SA #2093) to end discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation was defeated by a vote of 52-45. It required 60 votes to survive. Although Chairman Alexander admitted that bullying is “no doubt a terrible problem,” he believed it is best addressed at the state and local level.

Other defeated amendments offered this week included Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s (D-ND) Amendment (SA #2171) to reinstate the grant program to integrate schools and mental health. It failed to reach 60 by two votes, with a vote of 58-39. Senator Alexander noted that there need not be a federal program to address every state and local educational need.

Admittedly, in recent years, the federal role in education has been considered by many to be burdensome and costly to the states and local districts. But, in some areas, particularly in the protection of children, the federal government has played a critical role where issues of equity were concerned.

In 1954, the Supreme Court issued Brown v. Board of Education, striking down desegregation in K–12 schools, declaring, “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. . . .” Three years later, in 1957, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to accompany nine black students to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1962, federal US marshals and federalized National Guardsmen accompanied James Meredith to enroll in the University of Mississippi in the face of vehement opposition.

This is why many are disappointed by the lack of response from Senate leaders when it came to the Franken amendment. It was one NCTE supported because we have a history of taking a position on this kind of issue.

NCTE recognized that the majority of LGBT students feel unsafe in school in the 2007 Resolution on Strengthening Teacher Knowledge of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Issues. It also created the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Issues in Academic Studies Advisory Committee to  “develop plans to assist teachers in making schools, colleges, and universities safe and welcoming places for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender nonconforming, intersex, queer, and questioning people . . . .”

Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) recently released its report, State and School District Anti-Bullying Policies. After reviewing 13,181 US public school districts, they found that 70.5% of districts had anti-bullying policies. Only 42.6% enumerated protections for sexual orientation and a mere 14.1% for gender identity and expression. Franken’s amendment was introduced because federal civil rights statutes do not include sexual orientation and gender identity, and clearly, state policies often do not include them either. By failing to pass Senator Franken’s amendment, the Senate chose to leave the policies to the states, which history unfortunately suggests could leave these vulnerable students unprotected.

According to Senator Franken’s staff, S. 439, the Student Non-Discrimination Act is still alive and will possibly be considered in committee. Stay tuned.