by: Amanda Little, KATE Pages Editor
Happy Teacher Appreciation Week (or last week, if that’s when your school celebrated). I love celebrating this week with my colleagues, and I thought what better way than to share how I have found solidarity during some of the most influential years of my career.
Collaboration, Commiseration, or Community:
Teachers are speaking up. Unless you’ve been completely ignoring all types of news or media, you’ve probably noticed many teachers speaking out about the hardships of this job. From book banning to unsustainable hours to the tragedy of school shootings, we teachers are in dire need of some appreciation and good vibes. Many teachers are turning to each other for that boost we all need.
Thanks to the internet, teachers have started to build each other up and share inspiring ideas on social media platforms like TikTokⓇ and InstagramⓇ, and with it #teachertiktok, a whole new viral trend, or as some of my students say, a whole new way to be #cringe. While these social media platforms have provided quite the controversy, teachers from around the world are finding new ways to connect and learn from each other. TikTok was a start-up in the pre-pandemic world, and the social media platform’s popularity skyrocketed in the summer of 2020. Why am I talking about social media on a blog post about teacher appreciation? Because, now, more than ever, we should rally behind each other to save the profession we all love so much. And social media has proven to be an outlet for just that.
It’s Funny Because It’s True
Many of the viral TikToks and Instagram Reels come from real educators who have become influencers in their own right. These are accounts like educatorandrea who dramatizes interactions she has with students, highlighting the daily debauchery that is teaching sweaty, hormonal high schoolers. An early influencer, Gerry Brooks (gerrybrooksprin), first gained popularity on Facebook reenacting the funny conversations (or “cernversershuns”) that he has with parents. Adding elementary voices are gregisms, leigh_mctasty, and iam.mrluke, all delighting us with the hilarity of what happens in the classroom when little minds jump to conclusions. They are funny. They are true. They are creative and inspiring, bringing some levity to the increasingly cumbersome job that is teaching. Many times, they provide my proverbial carrot in the midst of a grading marathon… just one more essay, then some #teachertok.
Exposé or Exposure? Is there a difference?
In many cases, despite this outlet of support, teachers are choosing to leave the profession altogether. A simple search of #teacherquittok will provide story after story of teachers who’ve decided to leave the profession for various reasons. And these teachers freed from the restraints of professionalism are speaking up. One teacher account, teachingbelike, uses humorously hyperbolic–though not far from the truth–scenarios, describing conditions in other professions if they were treated like teachers. Lauren Lowder re-enacts unbelievably difficult scenarios she endured (or situations her followers have sent her) on her account, burntoutteachers, usually ending by telling the parent or administrator what she really thinks. Another account, annamsutter, simply tells it like it is–or was–for her as a school counselor.
The one thing these accounts all have in common is shining a light on the more difficult parts of the job we face as educators, all while making light of these tough situations. And we obviously love it. All of these accounts have a huge following–@teachingbelike has more than 70 thousand followers. Ms. Sutter, the former counselor, has more than 89 thousand followers, and Ms. Lowder boasts more than 568 thousand followers. Teachers are tired, nay exhausted, and we are looking for even a tiny snippet of entertainment and commiseration as we deal with our struggles in teaching.
Brushup on Your Skills
But, #teacherquittok is not the only teacher space on social media. I personally have found wonderful ideas for classroom management and great lesson plans, along with some much-needed encouragement, from classroom teachers of all grade levels.
Grace Stevens (gracestevensteacher) provides practical and realistic advice for teachers, as well as #hottakes on some of the more controversial issues. Do you need some classroom management help? Look no further than the classroom procedure man himself, Mr. Vlahakis on mrv_history. Anita Bond (a.bond.teach) also shares strategies for critical thinking and diving deep with growth-mindset on the forefront of her lessons. One of my personal favorites, myteacherface, compares a more traditional teaching style with a more relaxed teaching style through realistic and hilarious scenarios without condemning either.
We even have a Kansas teacher, westiesclass, providing great content about our state. And another teacher out of Oregon, Mrs. Gibson (gibsonishere) was featured on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt because of her viral videos about Chat GPT and what it means for education. (Spoiler alert, she thinks we must embrace it, much like we had to embrace Google and calculators.)
I think one of the draws to these social media platforms is that it has opened a whole new, virtual teacher’s lounge. A place to vent, to share concerns, but also a place to collaborate, share new ideas, and be inspired. It helps me stay sane and feel normal.
So even if social media isn’t your thing, I hope you find whatever you need for your boost as we close out the school year. May your teacher appreciation week be filled with kind words, students eager to learn (if not, then at least getting assignments turned in), and parents and administrators who show you how much you mean to them.
And In the words of Mrs. Gibson, “Thank you all for doing the good work!”
by KATE Pages Editors
As National Poetry Month comes to a close, we felt it germain to highlight the poetry interactions throughout our respective communities. From poetry readings, to open mic nights, poetry is indeed alive and well in Kansas. As educators, we seek authentic ways to incorporate arts in our student’s lives, and one of the best ways we can do that is to seek out authentic opportunities to interact with art in public.
Salina, Poetic Experience
For the 39th year in a row, the Salina Arts and Humanities Commission has put together a proverbial smorgasbord of poetry through the Salina Spring Poetry Series. Each April for National Poetry Month, the SAHC brings 4 poets to conduct readings each Tuesday. Both last year’s and this year’s series were curated by the state Poet Laureates, Huscar Medina and Traci Brimhall. In addition to hosting readings one of the weeks during their respective terms, the poets brought together voices of diversity. KATE Board Member Amanda Little enjoyed these readings and interacting with poets who have Kansas roots at Ad Astra Books & Coffee House, found at 135 N Santa Fe in Salina.
This year the theme seemed to be intersectionality. One of the participating poets was Miguel M. Morales, a poet and activist for migrant workers and the LGBTQIA+ community. Morales, who grew up as a migrant worker himself, draws on his personal life to craft his poetry, which ultimately speaks to so many. When asked about whether or not he uses personae in his poetry, he said that instead of using a mask or “fictional character,” he draws on his real experiences as he works through the memories and emotions. He said that he hopes his poetry is a medium that resonates with commonalities, sharing stories and making space for all. And that is exactly what his poetry did. He read poems about farming and fatness and queerness and anger and joy and hope, which brought a comforting familiar and tenacious fervor of labor, love, and life.
Another poet that graced the Salina community was Sheri Purpose Hall. Purpose Hall is on fire for inspiring positive change and boasts a long resume of community involvement and artistic endeavors. And Purpose Hall used this momentum to found Poetry for Personal Power, a nonprofit aimed at doing just what the title suggests, “using art to show that emotional distress is temporary and transformative,” as the mission statement reads. Running for city council in Kansas City’s 3rd District, Purpose Hall started the night off imploring others to speak up and step up to make change happen in their communities, specifically through running for local office. But she didn’t stay on her soap box long. After getting settled in, she took the spotlight as an experienced and award-winning performance poet. Spursed throughout the reading, Hall explained one of her workshopping techniques she uses in Poetry for Personal Power is to “explain the box, unbox it, and disappear the box,” sharing a riveting “unboxing” poem exploring her own pain and growth through learning to love herself.
Arts as Healing & Connection
Both Morales and Purpose Hall shared the cathartic value that arts, particularly poetry, have had for them and how they share this with others. Morales works with youth who are children of migrant workers, or migrant workers themselves, developing a space of freedom to express what seems inexpressible, things that have even been repressed. Especially anger. Morales said, “Anger is malleable. We have to learn to redirect that rage toward the light,” rather than suppress it or run from it. Likewise, Purpose Hall channeled her anger and pain into her poetry and performances, and now into civic action. And they encourage the same with the students and mentees they work with.
When asked about what advice they would give teachers, both poets emphasized seeing the students as a whole person. Morales pointed out that teachers should worry less about the assignment and more about providing a safe space for authentic exploration of self for the healing process. And this leads to finding the poetic moments of life. Almost an echo, Purpose Hall emphasized that effective communication begins with freedom of expression. And both poets said this starts with us, the teachers.
Wichita, Poetry Reading
On April 29th, KATE Members attended a poetry reading and reception for the poetry anthology Level Land: Poems For and About the I35 Corridor at Watermark Books & Cafe (4701 E. Douglas). The anthology contains aesthetically and stylistically diverse selections from 16 Kansas poets, as well as writers from many other states, Mexico, and Canada.
Editor Crag Hill noted a common theme of the collection is the tensions that exist between perception and reality. The book’s title, Level Land, is both an acknowledgment of outsiders’ perceptions of the flatness of the Great Plains, and the vast truth of diverse ecoregions that dot the corridor’s landscape. Four of these ecoregions—Borderlands (Mexico/Texas), Cross Timbers (Oklahoma), Tall Grass Prairie (Kansas), and Upper Mississippi (Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota)--divide the poetry into a visual journey one can take from the latitudinal depths of Mexico City to the frigid North of Thunder Bay. This pathway has served both the human traffic of Native Americans and the natural migrations of birds and animals for thousands of years before America’s obsession with Manifest Destiny brought Western settlement.
Hill and co-editor Todd Fuller felt a responsibility to be inclusive of Indigenous voices, as well as those currently living in or from the area. Two of the poets in attendance were Cowley College professor Marlys Cervantes of Ponca City, OK, and Bethel College professor Siobhan Scarry of the North Newton/Hesston area. Cervantes read her poem “Fried Potatoes and Alcohol,” and explained that her poetic inspirations come from writing about land, nature, and personal healing. Scarry recited “Old 81,” a stream-of-consciousness poem about her daily car ride between North Newton and Hesston while taking her daughter to preschool. She also read from a new manuscript, noting her inspirations come from pastoral poetry and contemporary thinkers and writers. Hill read the writing of Joe Harrington and Jim McCrary, longtime KU professors and residents of Lawrence.
Overall, the reading was an enjoyable event for all who attended. Hill mentioned that Level Land is the first of an eventual eight poetry anthologies that follow interstate highways connecting Canada to Mexico. His hope is that each anthology will highlight the beauty, richness, and diversity of America’s peoples and landscapes.
Find the Poetic Moments
Poetry in its simplest form is an examination of life. These poets inspired us to find the poetic moments and let the art bring forth the beauty and pain, the successes and set-backs, the funny and the heart-wrenching. When we are able to be our own authentic human selves, we are able to facilitate that in our students. We hope you find those poetic moments as well.
by KATE Pages Editors
As we approach the end of another academic year, it's time to reflect on the incredible dedication of our English Language Arts teachers in the state of Kansas. They have worked tirelessly through the challenges posed by the pandemic, adapting to new teaching methods, and ensuring that their students continue to receive a high-quality education.
That's why KATE is excited to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week with an online event dedicated to recognizing ELA educators. This event will provide an opportunity to thank teachers for their hard work, learn more about KATE, and – perhaps – win a scholarship!
The event will be held on May 6th, and all ELA educators in Kansas are invited to attend. Zoom details will be provided closer to the event. By replying "GOING" to the virtual event, attendees will be entered into a drawing for one of three prizes:
But that's not all. Attendees can earn more entries into the drawing by liking and sharing the event, as well as tagging teacher friends on the official event post.
The grand prize of a scholarship to the KATE conference is a fantastic opportunity for ELA educators to learn from experts, connect with other teachers, and enhance their teaching skills. This scholarship is worth $180 but does not include travel or lodging.
The 2nd prize of a free membership for the upcoming school year is a fantastic way to access KATE resources, which include webinars, professional development, and access to a community of educators who are passionate about teaching English Language Arts.
Finally, the 3rd prize of free entry to the KATE Camp on June 21st is an excellent opportunity for teachers to explore new teaching methods, network with colleagues, and learn more about KATE.
We hope you'll participate in our Teacher Appreciation Celebration and share it with your colleagues, friends and family! To participate, interact with the event on Facebook!
It's Time for NaPoWriMo!
by KATE PAGES Editors
April is National Poetry Writing Month, also known as NaPoWriMo, and it's the perfect time for teachers to inspire their students to explore the world of poetry. The Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) is providing free lesson plans for members for every day of the month, making it easy for teachers to incorporate poetry into their lesson plans.
KATE's National Poetry Writing Month lesson plans were created by Voices of Kansas Editor April Pameticky and KATE President Nathan Whitman. They have designed a comprehensive curriculum that covers a wide range of poetry forms, including haiku, tanka, ekphrastic, sonnets, free verse, American cinquain, the golden shovel, onion poetry, imagism, villanelle, concrete, and more.
The lesson plans are available for free on the KATE website, and teachers can use them as a starting point to create their own unique lessons based on the needs of their students. Each lesson includes a detailed description of the poetry form, an example of the form, and step-by-step instructions for students to follow. The lessons also encourage students to read and analyze poetry by other authors, providing them with a deeper understanding of the craft.
The lesson plans are designed for students of all ages, from elementary school to high school, and are adaptable to different skill levels (read carefully before using!). The lessons can be completed in one class period or can be extended over several days, depending on the complexity of the form being studied.
KATE's National Poetry Writing Month lesson plans provide a fun and engaging way for students to explore the world of poetry, and they offer teachers a valuable resource for integrating poetry into their lesson plans. By using these lesson plans, teachers can inspire their students to become more creative and confident writers, while also fostering a love of poetry that can last a lifetime.
Lesson plans can be found on the KATE Archives, accessed by using your members-only password found in our monthly newsletter!
by KATE PAGES Editors
Valley Center High School English teacher and KATE member, Aaron Miller, was the recipient of a 2023 Horizon Award as part of the Kansas Horizon Award Program, offered through the Kansas Exemplary Educators Network (KEEN). This was the first KEEN Conference held since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The Horizon Award is a special recognition program for Kansas teachers who exhibit excellent teaching skills and work tirelessly to enhance the learning experience of their students. The award is given to teachers who show exceptional performance in areas such as leadership, professional development, and student growth. Miller was one of sixteen secondary teachers to receive this award for 2023.
When asked what parts of his classroom instruction helped him to stand out from the pool of applicants, Miller expressed that “I try to be a well-rounded teacher who embraces many forms of instruction. My goal for each day is to accommodate each type of learner in my classroom and ensure that I am teaching to the style they learn best. One of my strengths as a teacher is the ability to build relationships with students. I am a firm believer that students do not learn from people they do not like. Through getting to know my students, I am able to accomplish so much with them in terms of content. It is never boring in [room] C-41!”
Miller was equally impressed with the KEEN conference, which he attended on February 16 and 17, 2023. He spoke highly of the conference's sessions, which provided many great ideas to incorporate into his classroom. He found the presenters and his fellow attendees to be inspiring, and he is looking forward to attending future conferences.
Miller's CV reflects his commitment to education, with a Bachelor's degree in Secondary English Education from Wichita State University, and he is currently pursuing a Master's of Education with a reading specialist emphasis from Fort Hays State University. Additionally, he serves on the Social Emotional Learning committee for USD 262, where he helps teachers in the district incorporate SEL practices into their classrooms.
The Kansas Association of Teachers of English is thrilled to congratulate Miller on this achievement and recognition as a winner of the 2023 Horizon Award. We are proud to have him as a member and look forward to his continued success in the field of education.
You can contact Aaron via email at Valley Center High School.
Grow With KATE's Spring Socials
by Nathan Whitman, KATE President
On January 14th, educators from the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) gathered at Reverie Roasters in downtown Wichita for a casual chat, friendship, and some shop talk. The meeting, which was held from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM, provided an opportunity for educators to catch up with each other and discuss their current years. The group discussed life changes they were experiencing and shared what they were currently reading.
One of the main topics of discussion was literature, and several novels were mentioned, including Jason Reynold's Long Way Down and Jaqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming. These novels, both written in verse, were praised for their powerful storytelling and thought-provoking themes. The group also discussed ways to diversify the texts they were using in the classroom, mentioning novels such as Refugee by Alan Gratz and Jackpot by Nic Stone.
The social was organized by KATE Vice President and Membership Chair, Shayn Guillemette, who expressed his hope that the small turnout was just the beginning of greater things to come. "We have to start somewhere," he said. Deb McNemee of Andover Public Schools, also attended the social, as did KATE President Nathan Whitman.
Despite a small turnout, the group is optimistic for the March social on the 25th at the Artichoke in Wichita.
by Krystal Jordan, Diversity & Inclusion Chair; Nathan Whitman, KATE President and KATE PAGES Editors
Black History Month is an annual celebration of African American achievements and contributions to society. It is a time to reflect on the struggles and triumphs of black Americans throughout history and to honor their legacy. In honor of Black History Month, organizations like the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) have been working to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in education through various initiatives and activities.
One such initiative is NCTE's African American Read-In, which takes place every February. The Read-In is a nationwide event that encourages people of all ages to read and share works by African American authors. Participants can organize their own Read-In events in schools, libraries, community centers, and other public spaces, and share their experiences using the hashtag #AARI23 on social media. The goal of the Read-In is to promote diversity in literature and to raise awareness of the contributions of African American authors to American culture.
In Kansas, KATE members are also taking action to promote diversity and inclusion in their classrooms. Krystal Jordan, a teacher at Wichita North High School and the leader of KATE's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, has been using Black History Month as an opportunity to engage her students in collaborative learning and to promote awareness of African American history. Her classroom door decoration project is a great example of this. Instead of simply teaching her students about the Civil Rights Movement, she asked them to research and share information about African American figures from a variety of categories, using QR codes to link to additional resources. By encouraging her students to explore the contributions of a diverse group of historical figures, Jordan is helping them to develop a deeper understanding of African American history and its impact on American society.
Nathan Whitman, the current President of KATE and a teacher at Derby High School, is also working to promote diversity and inclusion in his classroom. As the sponsor of his school's Diversity Club, he has been collaborating with his students to create interactive posters for the school's hallways, highlighting notable persons of color and black film and art. By providing opportunities for students to explore the contributions of African Americans to various fields, Whitman is helping them to develop a broader understanding of the contributions of black Americans to American culture.
Black History Month is an essential time for reflecting on the profound impact of African Americans on American society. It is also a moment for educators to celebrate the achievements of black Americans and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in public education. Initiatives like the African American Read-In and classroom projects, as organized by Krystal Jordan and Nathan Whitman, demonstrate the meaningful contributions of educators in enhancing the learning experience for students. However, the responsibility of highlighting black history in public education should not rest solely on these initiatives. It is imperative that educators work to promote an inclusive educational experience for all students and ensure that the contributions of African Americans to American society are recognized and celebrated year-round.
As we celebrate Black History Month, we’d love for you to share your story with KATE PAGES! What are you doing in the classroom and in your communities to honor the legacy of African Americans?
Kansas Association of Teachers of English Holds Spring Executive Board Meeting
by KATE PAGES Editors
The Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) held its spring executive board meeting on February 18, 2023, at the Salina Public Library in Salina, KS.
Reports were presented by members on various KATE initiatives, including Voices of Kansas, Kansas English, William Allen White Awards, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), NCTE, KATE PAGES, Website, Financial, and a Membership Update.
Several action items and follow-ups were discussed during the meeting, including a resignation and follow-through regarding responsibilities within the PR Committee and its newly created playbook. The Conference Committee was also discussed, with monthly meetings beginning and full conference preparation underway.
Other to-dos discussed included outreach to new teachers and conducting a survey to understand why some members did not attend the conference and how to attract more people to it. The board also discussed reviewing the cycle of leadership as something to consider toward the upcoming summer and fall executive board meetings so as to preserve institutional knowledge and also attract and keep members on the executive board.
The meeting ended with a tentative date being set for both KATE Camp and the summer executive board meeting: June 21, 2023, with the board meeting taking place from 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM, lunch from 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM, and Camp from 1:00 PM - 3:00 PM. More details to come regarding location.
Afterwards, those in attendance in-person hit up the Salina downtown for lunch at The Prickly Pear Grill & Cantina and perusal of books at the Ad Astra Books & Coffee house!
As ELA teachers, we always care about instilling a love of reading and writing for our students. If we can also create opportunities for building confidence in their reading and writing skills, even better. This blog post will show how you can do exactly that by using one specific program available to all KATE members.
Diego Garcia is a quiet student, usually respectful but not always engaged. “I’m not good at English,” he claimed on his first day in class. A quick check of his grades confirmed his self-image. He barely passed his freshman year ELA class.
Then, something happened his sophomore year that forced a reconsideration of his self-image. It really wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, but it was life changing all the same.
After studying To Kill a Mockingbird, my sophomores decided to write their own personal narratives. Scout Finch’s authentic, no-punches-pulled childhood confessions perfectly inspire students to harvest meaningful moments from their own younger days. Diego brainstormed several ideas, but there was one that stood out as a life-lesson occasion, perfect for including in a personal narrative essay.
Diego was born with hearing loss.
That hearing loss led to a speech impediment and hearing aids. Being “different” led to some very uncomfortable situations for him, even some bullying episodes. I don’t need to tell you his story, though. You can read about it for yourself because his teacher submitted his essay, “I Can’t Hear You”, to the 2019 edition of Voices of Kansas, the KATE student academic journal.
When I asked Diego if I could submit his essay, he agreed, but laughed it off. Remember, he’d been convinced he “wasn’t good at English.” I’ll never forget the look on his face when I announced to the class that his essay had been accepted. He had earned a publication credit. Weeks later, it was obvious he’d earned so much more than that. He approached reading and writing with increased curiosity, willingness, and confidence. He began to offer help to other students. I never again heard him say that he wasn’t “good at English.”
The next year, when Diego had graduated to another teacher’s class, I often saw him after school in the school commons area working on homework. Sometimes he was with a tutor, and sometimes he was alone. “I want to get it done before I go home and get distracted,” he told me. He had become the confident, curious student he hadn’t believed he could be.
A magical thing happens when students have an authentic audience for their writing. Suddenly, format and punctuation matter. Proper citation matters. Feedback and revision matters. How often have you experienced students brushing off assignments because they don’t understand the relevance? An authentic audience helps create relevancy. The inherit competitive nature of the submission process can help, too. (Not everyone who submits is automatically accepted. There is a true vetting process.) Receiving feedback from an editor is also powerful.
Wait, did I not mention the editorial feedback that comes with submitting student work to Voices of Kansas? I didn't? Okay, let’s back up, and I’ll explain how the whole process works.
Step 1: You must be a KATE member to submit student work.
Step 2: You must read and follow the submission guidelines found here. The Fall 2022 submission deadline is October 31st.
Step 3: Determine your entries. You can choose from assignments or projects students complete outside of school. Categories include creative writing and literary non-fiction, perspectives and literary criticism, poetry, and visual art. Grade groupings are young voices, grades 3 to 7 and older voices, grades 8 - 12.
Step 4: Help students create their best work. Use the link on KansasEnglish.org to submit. This must be done by a KATE member teacher.
Step 5: Editors will vet the submissions, offering constructive feedback for all entries, even the ones not accepted for publication.
Step 6: Help students incorporate feedback and return the edited version.
Step 7: Celebrate!
It’s really that simple, and it really can make a big impact on students. One other thing you should know. When you submit student work, you agree to be part of the double-blind review and selection process. Don’t let this scare you away. It’s very simple and organized. Everything is delivered to your email and managed through Google Forms. The process can usually be completed in less than an hour.
You might be wondering about the students whose work is not accepted. My experience with rejected students has always been positive because of the feedback element. Students understand how their writing needs to improve. Honestly, students are often more eager to read editorial feedback than they are teacher feedback. And because all of the feedback comes to the student through the teacher, coachable moments happen. Students are often encouraged to try submitting again.
Another opportunity the journal offers is the Editor’s Choice Award. The editor chooses one exceptional submission from each category. Voices of Kansas will create and publish a lesson centered around each award winner. It’s an amazing prize. When winners learn that students across the state might be reading and learning from their work–talk about building confidence!
A good way to create interest for your students might be to use some of those lesson plans from past editions. Some of my favorites include the following:
In today’s classroom, students challenge teachers for relevance and authenticity. It’s a requirement for student engagement. Submitting student work to Voices of Kansas is a simple and effective way to meet that challenge.
You can find the submission guidelines and the submission link on the KATE website. If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below, or you can ask in our Facebook group. We look forward to reading all the wonderful writings of your students.
PS. Another way to create an interest in writing is by modeling the habit of writing yourself. During November, National Novel Writing Month, KATE will host a series of writing sprints for our members. The sprints will happen via zoom on November 6, 13, 20, and 27 at 7:00 pm. We’ll provide optional prompts. And, no, you don’t need to be writing a novel to join. Check our Facebook group for more registration.
When you hear the title KATE Camp, what comes to mind? Tents? Fishing? Campfires? Mosquitoes?
While all of that might sound fun to some of you, none of it pertains to KATE Camp. At least not yet. Nowhere does it state that KATE Camp can’t happen at a real life campground. This year's KATE camp, however, took place at Johnson County Community College where there was plenty of air conditioning and no need for bug spray.
But what is KATE Camp? Only the best summer PD ever. Think of it as an un-conference. ELA teachers from across the state gather to learn from each other. The agenda is not set ahead of time. Instead, attendees determine the topics and lead their own learning.
And another thing–KATE Camp is free for members. Free! Honestly, what better professional development can you wish for than authentic conversations with expert teachers about your chosen topics. Here are some highlights from a few of the breakout sessions.
When ELA teachers congregate, you know great teacher tips will start flying. One of the most popular sessions involved sharing effective strategies for teaching writing. If you have any questions about using these in your classroom, ask in the comments or in the KATE Facebook group.
Ted Talks are an engaging way to introduce students to topics they might not have otherwise considered. The speakers are professionals and the topics are relevant. The specific Ted Talk mentioned at KATE Camp was Aleph Molinari’s “Let’s Bridge the Digital Divide”. It’s a nine minute video arguing for a specific way to help communities living in the digital divide, or the digital abyss, as he calls it. This Ted Talk can be used to introduce an important topic but also it can be used as a stellar example of logical reasoning. As students break down Molinari’s argument, they will understand how to create their own logical lines of reasoning. Undoubtedly, they will also learn about problems facing cultures outside of their own.
Please share in the comments for this post which Ted Talks you have found useful in your classroom. Include your grade level and tips for engagement.
The basic concept is to pre-write in groups, record it on posters, and hang the posters on your classroom wall as tools for all students. For example, if students are writing a character analysis, assign each group one character trait. The group will record on a poster cited evidence for that trait and commentary. As students individually write their essays, they can check out the posters for evidence ideas and for examples of commentary. They can’t plagiarize the commentary, but they can certainly let it inspire them. Additionally, any cited evidence on any poster is fair game.
Threshold Concepts in Writing
In the book Naming What We Know: Threshold Concepts of Writing Studies, authors Linda Adler-Kasner and Elizabeth Wardle define threshold concepts as “concepts critical for continued learning and participation in an area or within a community of practice” (2). KATE Camp participants discussed the idea of writing as its own area of study and what foundational concepts are necessary to study writing as opposed to using writing as a way to study other areas. Only in a room full of passionate ELA educators can you find this kind of meaningful discussion about the art and science of writing.
TEACHER WELLNESS AND RELATIONSHIPS
It’s no surprise to you that we teachers have felt the impact of the pandemic, especially the attempts to engage our students meaningfully. One of our KATE Camp sessions focused on this very thing.
Building Relationships From the Start
First, as surely you know, you have to start off on the right foot. Instead of reading over the syllabus the first day–usually resulting in snores and stares, it’s better to get to know your students first and build that rapport. Some joke that you have to let the kids see a little of your “crazy,” y’know, just to make them wonder. Really, though it comes down to letting them see you as more than a teacher. When they can relate to you, and they can tell you see them as more than a student, it helps build that relationship, which goes to improve classroom management.
Boundaries for Wellness
Probably one of the most important lessons the pandemic has taught teachers is the value of boundaries. If you’re anything like me (Amanda), you probably hold “teacher” as a part of your core identity. You can regularly be seen in your classroom outside of contract time, prepping and grading away. But if you are trying to show your students you are human and there is more to you than being a teacher, you definitely have to believe that for yourself first and foremost. Setting boundaries is so important to not only your identity, but it can also be vital for your own mental health, especially when we so often carry the emotional load of our students. So during this session, participants discussed some of the best boundaries they have implemented to support a healthy work-life balance. These included: answering emails only during contract hours; taking and making calls only during contract hours if at all possible; grading at school–when this is possible, but let’s face it, we’re English teachers; making sure we find healthy ways to unload the mental stress the job can leave us with such as talking to a counselor, writing, and taking time to relax without feeling guilty.
BEYOND THE “UN-CONFERENCE”
Phenomenal Art Museum Experience
The Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art is located just steps away from where KATE camp took place. The museum is deceivingly large and spacious. A teacher looking to suck every last ounce of indulgence out of summer could get a little lost.
Shinique Smith’s STARGAZERS exhibition pulled us into a mesmerizing world of fabric, clothing, collage, and sound that explored the expression of identity. Upstairs, Kehende Wiley’s Alexander the Great (Variation) brought a feeling of empowerment. Kehende Wiley is especially famous for what is called “street casting”. He discovers young, black men from the streets and paints them in the fashion of Renaissance masterpieces but maintains their modern attire. You can read more about his amazing life and work on the website, TheArtStory.org.
Literature and art collide in Tim Rollins’ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (mixed media on canvas). The wall-sized art is a repainting of one of the original book illustrations commissioned by Mark Twain. From across the room, the painting is quite powerful. Upon closer examination, the viewer can see that the canvas is made from pages of the novel. The work was created with the help of a group of Kansas City teens.
Executive Board Meeting
Before the “un-conference,” the executive board met for the summer meeting. One of the discussion items was the various needs and different changes to our upcoming Fall Conference. (Insert shameless plug for one of the best experiences KATE has to offer!) Thanks to the efforts of various board members, this year is shaping up to be an amazing gathering with a focus of ELA as Art & Science. Keynote speakers are Jeff Zentner, author of The Serpent King and Tabitha Rospory, 2020 National Teacher of the Year. Save the dates, October 28 and 29, 2022, a stay tuned for registration information. In the meantime consider sharing your own expertise in a breakout session. You can use this link to submit your session proposal.
The board meeting was also a time to discuss the future of our organization. We are excited for some new opportunities and refreshing some old ones.
One opportunity is a newly created board position, the public relations chairperson. The official description for this position is as follows: Public Relations Chairperson(s) shall be responsible for promoting the Association and recruiting new members by supervising (1) the production of informative media about the association and (2) the distribution of these media to schools, universities, and other institutions interested in the Association's mission; (3) media shall include print, electronic, and social media of the organization.
This position is a great way to practice your content creation and marketing skills. Since it’s new, you can make it your own! Please nominate yourself or someone you know who would enjoy getting the word out about KATE. Use this link to nominate KATE members for this and other positions.
Additionally, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee is looking to expand. To become part of this important and energetic committee, tell us in the comments below or in the KATE Facebook group. Krystal Jordan will reach out to you.
In conclusion, the best part of KATE Camp is the opportunity to get together with like-minded peers. KATE Camp usually happens in July, so send yourself a reminder to register for it when you see the announcement, probably sometime in May.
As summer vacations and campouts come to end, KATE is revving up for an exciting 2022-23 school year. Remember, ELA is for everyone, so check your email for the monthly newsletter and invite your teacher friends to join our membership of exceptional teachers.
Deborah McNemee is a veteran teacher of the high school ELA classroom. This year, she’s starting a new teaching adventure as a middle school instructional coach. She loves classic lit and is a sucker for a good retelling. Outside of the classroom, she manages the Keeping Classics teacher blog and searches for quirky, small-town Kansas museums to tour. Her modern debut YA novel, Just Daisy: A Gatsby Retelling is available through Amazon and Watermark Books.
Amanda Little is an ELA teacher for upper level high school. She’s taught everything from drama to speech to college composition classes. This year she is starting in USD 305 at Salina Central after teaching for several years in a rural school district. When she isn’t teaching, you can find her at her part time job at the Salina Public Library, spending time with her family, crafting, or reading and writing poetry. She’s working on a poetry manuscript, and you can find some of her poetry in Trees in a Garden of Ashes and CHAOS: A Poetry Vortex (2020, Local Gems Press).
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