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?
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).
Hello and welcome!
Thank you for your interest in creating a submission for the KATE Blog. Teachers are our greatest asset, and we are excited to share your expertise with our community. While we always welcome general blog post submissions (please see guidelines below), we are also hoping to begin building a teacher resource hub where we can provide you with tangible and usable materials/resources.
General Blog Post Submission Guidelines
Post/Article must fall under one of the following categories:
1. Reflections on KATE events, programs, or membership
1. Author bio (2-3 sentences)
Once submitted, our blog committee will review your submission and provide you with feedback as quickly as possible.
As always, we appreciate you taking the time to support, not only KATE, but the teaching profession!
Sincerely, the KATE PAGES Editing Team
Here’s a Jeopardy question for you. Category: Fun Things for FREE (with your KATE membership).
Answer: A discussion focusing on 49 different books ranging from graphic memoirs to poetry.
Question: What is the KATE summer book tasting?
If you love books, and we know you do, you would have loved the KATE summer book tasting. Throughout the year, KATE hosts similar events such as book clubs and CoffeeEdu Zoom chats. You can learn about upcoming get togethers in the KATE monthly newsletter, on the KATE website and through our Facebook group. These casual meetings help us get to know each other, lead to collaboration, and create wonderful teacher friendships.
The June 11th summer book tasting also provided a huge list of book recs. You should know that this list of forty-nine titles was generated in about an hour by four teachers discussing our reading experiences. The topic prompts for this Zoom chat included books we studied in class this past year, our personal reads for the summer, and books we are excited about for next year. For the most part, we stuck to the plan, but as you’ll see, the list is varied and spans quite a range of genres.
After a few feeble attempts to organize the list for your perusal, we gave up. We free-associated this list with the energy of a teacher-tired summer brain coupled with stream of consciousness and puns. We hope you enjoy these books as much as we do!
Let’s start with the King and the Dragonflies (by Kacen Callender) and also Lord the regular housefly, I guess. Or maybe it’s an island fly. Nevertheless, it’s Lord of the Flies (by William Golding). Then there’s Damselfly (by Chandra Prassad) and Fly Girls (by Keith O’Brien). Which leads us to Girls of the Atomic City (by Denise Kiernan) who might Jumpstart the World (by Catherine Ryan Hide). Picnic. Lightning. (by Billy Collins), Things Fall Apart (by Chinua Achebe), Unbroken (by Laura Hillenbrand), and Bands of Mourning (by Brandon Sanderson). Followed, or maybe preceded by Twelve Years a Slave (by Solomon Northrup) and 1984 (by George Orwell), which is quite the Saga (by Brian K. Vaughn).
Let’s segue into American Born Chinese (by Gene Luen Yang) and Vietnamerica (by GB Tran), and then a little Reading Lolita in Tehran (by Azar Nafisi). Speaking of Lolita (by Vladimir Nabokov), that’s a book and half, isn’t it? Even if you haven’t read it, you know the name. It’s not a name most of us would like to be called. Even Lolita might demand, Call Me By Your Name (by Andre Aciman). Or any other name. How about Antigone, (by Sophocles) or The Great Gatsby (by F. Scott Fitzgerald), or Felix Ever After (by Kasen Callender), or George/Melissa (by Alex Gino)? How about Elizabeth Bishop (Complete Poems 1927 to 1979)? Persepolis (by Marjane Satrapi) made our list, along with Running with Sherman (by Christopher McDougal).
Whew. We’ve only covered half, so far. Oh well, you know what they say? No, you don’t? But you might know They Say/I Say (by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein), or Speak Up!: Speeches by Young People to Empower or Inspire (by Adora Svitak), or The Last Thing He Told Me (by Laura Dave). Which leads to They Called Us The Enemy (by George Takei), Rhetorical Agendas (by Patricia Bizzell), Understanding Comics (by Scott McCloud), No More Fake Reading (by Gordon Berit), Games of Deception (by Andrew Maraniss), Nothing Ever Dies by Viet Thanh Nguyen), and finally, for the love of all things bookish, Can We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (by Roz Chast).
Yes, something more pleasant like Book Love (by Debbie Tung), The Perfect Horse (by Elizabeth Letts), Those Precious Days (by Ann Patchett), When the Moon Was Ours (by Anna-Marie McLemore), Years of Wonders (by Geraldine Brooks), Infinite Hope (by Ashley Bryan), Humankind (by Rutger Berman), and even The Dutch House (by Ann Patchett), which we have no idea whether it’s a nice place or not, but it sounds lovely.
Because it is summer, maybe we should also talk about Why We Swim (by Bonnie Tsui), The House on the Cerulean Sea (by TJ Klune), Seabiscuit (by Laura Hillendbrand), The Boys in the Boat (by Daniel James Brown), or Cannery Row (by John Steinbeck).
Row…see what we did there? Are you entertained yet?
If you kept count, that’s forty-nine. We wish with all our hearts that someone had mentioned a book with the word cheese in the title because that word might sum up this post better than any others. In fact, why not round it up to an even fifty? Because our book tasters were all secondary or higher educators, we didn’t discuss any elementary level books, so we’re adding one. It is a favorite for younger kids. Everyone should experience it at least once, The Stinky Cheese Man (by Lane Smith).
We understand that we have tortured through this blog. You deserve a reward for sticking it out. Your reward is not to move onto the Double Jeopardy round in hopes of winning thousands of dollars, though. No, your reward is better than that. We asked the book tasters to choose a couple of these tasty morsels and dive in a little deeper for you.
And yes, we mixed our metaphors. It’s summer. We're allowed.
Read on for the morsel diving.
For Nathan Whitman, KATE president:
For my own teaching and improvement, I'm going to be looking at "They Say / I Say" (Graff and Birkenstein), which is a text on how to frame and learn argumentation through extensive modeling. As it's my first year teaching AP Language and Composition, I think it'll be handy for my students to have a toolbox of linguistic frameworks as they work towards the end of course exam. Additionally, for my Pre-AP English 10 students' future, I'm excited to further read more of Speak Up! (Svitak) and its speeches by teenagers. I hope it'll help me see the world more through my students' eyes and find ways to help them develop rhetorical argumentation skills on topics that are relevant. It'll be my first time including Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart in Pre-AP English 10, so that's also on my to-read list for the summer, and I'm looking forward to reading it from the lens of a tragedy, as KATE Summer Book Tasting attendee Steve Maack recommended. I hope that it'll not only unlock the text for myself but also for my students.
For myself, summer is the time for creative writing, poetry, and whittling away at the to-read list. For June, I'm trying to work through as many LGBT+ texts as possible. My present reading is Call Me By Your Name (Aciman). It's always fascinating to see differences from film to text, and one thing that surprised me within the first two chapters is how the protagonist is probably bisexual. The film depicts him more as just angsty and using girls for cover. My bedtime read is The Bands of Mourning (Sanderson). If I'm to keep up with the prolific Sanderson, I've got to read at least a few of his books per year. He's giving Stephen King a run for his money on interconnected universes and characters. And I thought keeping track of all of my students' ever-changing relationships was difficult!
To fit in some inspiration for my poetic muse and knock another queer writer off the list, I've also decided to revisit a text assigned in college by Elizabeth Bishop. Since we only read a few of her poems in class, I'm enjoying reading through the full compendium of her work.
From Katie Cramer, Kansas English Editor
Kacen Callender is the author of several award-winning middle-grades and young adult novels, including Felix Ever After and King and the Dragonflies, which won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in 2020. Callender identifies as Black, queer, and transgender and writes about these intersecting identities in their work for middle and high school readers. They don’t share a lot about themselves on social media, but you can learn more about them and their books at KacenClaendar.com.
From Deborah McNemee, KATE Blogger
The complete title is Games of Deception: The True Story of the First U.S. Olympic Basketball Team at the 1936 Olympics in Hitler's Germany. We added it to our World War II non-fiction book circles a couple of years ago. Students loved it so much, we had to double our inventory. This book does a lot. It tells the story of the invention of the game of basketball, it relates instances of racial and gender injustice associated with Hitler’s Olympics, and also chronicles the exciting journey of a few boys from McPherson, Kansas as they journey to Germany to make sports history by becoming not only the first US Olympic basketball team but also the first gold medal winners for that sport. Any book that can engage students with these important concepts is a good one. Here’s something even better, I happen to know that the author will video chat with your class.
This blog is full of goodness but very long, so we’ll end it. Thank you for playing.
For more book recs, follow the KATE on Goodreads.
By Peter DeVries, Claudia Esparza, Jolynne Fisher, John Franklin, Steve Maack, Brittany Rubin, & Kiara Sosa-Suarez
At the 2021 KATE Conference, I (Steve Maack) led a session about reigniting our teaching passions and reemerging from pandemic isolation following the last 20 months. I began with a piece by an incarcerated former student, Alex Tretbar, who published a piece in KATE’s journal, Kansas English (vol. 102), called “‘A Pair of Ragged Claws’: Poetry and Pedagogy in Prison.”
We looked at some of Alex’s poetry (from which the title of this collaborative poem comes and can be found in “A Pair of Ragged Claws”) and at some poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca, a poet and memoirist who learned to read and write in prison.
Alex started a poetry study group in the Oregon prison where he lives, and just before COVID led to a lockdown, he had proposed his poetry study group write a renga, a style of Japanese collaborative poetry consisting of alternating 3-line and 2-line stanzas. In Alex’s honor, I proposed that the attendees at the “Sing Something Sideways” conference session write a collaborative poem to be shared with all of KATE, and the result is below.
I provided the opening lines of the renga in the session (an honor traditionally bestowed upon the poet who gathers their collaborators), and discussed renga format, but everything else in the poem comes from the contributors listed above. I provided only light editing to make pronouns and verb tense consistent and to try to order the submissions into something that seems whole. Individual line credits have intentionally been left off to emphasize the collaborative nature of the poem.
I could not be more pleased with the result, both as a collaborative exercise and as a poem in its own right. My thanks and congratulations to Peter, Claudia, Jolynne, John, Brittany, and Kiara for attending my session at the KATE Conference, but also for sharing their beautiful lines of verse and giving me permission to share them.
Here’s what we came up with:
“Sing Something Sideways”: A Poetic Collaboration for Reemergence
We awoke one day,
In nightmare solitude, sad
Glow of filtered screens.
A cracked-concrete world where the
Cold sun burns with wind unleashed.
Alone and yet not alone,
Surrounded day in and day out by chaos inside,
Longing for the peace of the outside once more.
We fearfully stagger,
Pursuing a light
That scatters across the cage.
Filtered, fractured, sifted, lost,
Shelved until a time unknown.
Burning rays of optimism --
Seclusion infringes on the need to be
Absolute and free.
Comets, stars, and crescent moons
Grace the path in purple chalk.
Months in agonizing isolation
Begging for just a glimpse
Sideways across a window
A sunbeam beckons us out.
Barred from grasping its glow
It dances —
The glare swallows the oxygen,
Leaving us empty with our solitude.
Listen to our poem
We want to read this aloud
We want to make you hear us!
Pieces of broken marble
Joined in hues of blue and gold.
We finally re-emerge,
Igniting feelings of warmth,
About the Author
Steve Maack is a National Board Certified Teacher and English department co-chair at Wichita High School East. He is a past president of the Kansas Association of Teachers of English and just completed his thirtieth year teaching in the Wichita Public Schools. Steve can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter, @stevemaack.
By Deborah McNemee
What in the world is NaNoWriMo? Is that even a word? If it is a word, how do I pronounce it? If I can’t pronounce it, why would I want to partake in it?
Just like its unique title, NaNoWriMo can bring on skepticism, curiosity, and fun.
By the way, it’s pronounced nan/oh/rye/mo. Think Mork and Mindy’s nanu nanu with sort of a twist. If that’s not enough to convince you of its fun factor, you should also know that it stands for National Novel Writing Month. What isn’t fun about that?
NaNoWriMo.org explains the program this way:
“NaNoWriMo is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds on and off the page.”
A more practical description is that NaNoWriMo is an online community that facilitates your writing goals. Every November, writers around the world join to motivate and support one another. A lot of writers use it as a words-on-paper sprint, as the official NaNoWriMo goal is 50,000 words in thirty days. However, members can also set their own monthly, weekly, or daily goals. Whatever the goal is, NaNoWriMo provides all the support you need to get ‘er done. There’s an online tracker and digital rewards along the way to help you stay motivated. You’ll find pep talks. You can join geographic or genre based communities. Oh, and if you hit a snag in your writing, you won’t stay stuck. They offer writer’s block busters to take care of that.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking. (This is where the skepticism sets in.) The idea of writing 50,000 words in thirty days is daunting. For some teachers, even the idea of writing everyday is daunting. I hear you. I agree. However, think of those moments in your classrooms when the energy was palpable. Everyone was engaged and united in a goal. Sometimes, the outcome was remarkable. Sometimes, though, the goal wasn’t quite met. Was the energy and engagement any less exciting? Were lessons still learned? Was motivation still moving? Were memories made?
If you’ve been longing for an escape, join us. If you want to try something new, join us. If you are curious, skeptical, fun-loving, daring, join us. You never know what might come of it. After all, NaNoWriMo is responsible for the drafts of novels that were later published, such as Water for Elephants and Fangirl. Honestly, though, even if no big publishing deal comes of it, we all know the benefits of daily writing. If nothing else, join us for the camaraderie.
Or do it to set an example.
NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program
In addition to their adult program, NaNoWriMo also has a program for students. In fact, NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program curriculum is taught in over 5,920 classrooms. Young writers have a goal of 30,000 words in a month. However, just like their adult counterparts, they can choose any word count to work towards. The Young Writers Program curriculum comes with a free downloadable workbook and teacher instructions. For about ten bucks, you can purchase a classroom kit that includes a writer's emergency pack, motivational stickers, and a progress poster.
KATE member Amanda Little uses the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program curriculum in her highschool ELA classes. Make sure to attend her breakout session at 3:00 on Friday, November 5th at the Fall KATE Conference. She’s saving all the best teacher tips and tricks to share with you there.
KATE Writing Group - Online Writing Sprints
Maybe you are thinking that this all sounds very intriguing but you aren’t quite ready to dive into the deep end this year. No problem. KATE has a compromise for you.
For the month of November, KATE is hosting a series of online writing sprints. Writing sprints are exactly what they sound like. We meet via Zoom, set the timer, and write. We’ll provide prompts for those who need it, but feel free to write whatever is on your mind or heart. These sprints are for all KATE members whether or not you are participating officially in NANoWriMo.The sprints will happen on Sunday evenings at 7:00, November 7, 14, and 21st. Sign up for Zoom access on the KATE website.
For more information about NaNoWriMo, go to NaNoWriMo.org For the Young Writers Program, go to ywp.nanowrimo.org.
About the Author
Deborah McNemee teaches at Andover Central High School where a culture of reading is alive and well. She creates a culture of reading with her students by annually hosting a project based event in partnership with Big Read Wichita. She facilitates a writing culture through encouraging involvement with the NaNowriMo Young Writers Program and submitting student work to Voices of Kansas. She is also the author of Just Daisy: A Gatsby Retelling, a modern YA retelling of The Great Gatsby from Daisy's point of view. Her favorite books to read outside of school are classics. Check out her blog about keeping classics relevant for kids at www.KeepingClassics.com.
By Nathan Whitman
With lists in hand, the search underway, we scoured the library for the book for her research project. Now, our school library wasn’t large – barely a shoebox of a room, and yet the text eluded us. Right before the bell was to ring, my student approached me. “Mr. Whitman, is this it?” she asked. I looked at the call number: it was, but the title was off. On the computer print off, the title read Famous Writers: Willa Cather. The cover looked to match, but the spine told a different story: Lives of Notable Gay Men and Lesbians: Willa Cather. It was then we realized what we held in our hands: censorship, erasure of LGBTQ+ identities in our school.
I decided to liberate this book, take it back out of the closet – for lack of a better phrase. While my student looked for other items on her list, I peeled away the label that some staff member generations before had decided would make this text “school-appropriate.” My colleagues in larger, more diverse school districts may find this shocking, but parts of rural Kansas are still playing the catchup game on diversity and inclusion, a game that many community members would be happy to see our students lose.
According to the most recent GLSEN “2019 State Snapshot: School Climate for LGBTQ Students in Kansas” survey, only 52% of LGBTQ students report having inclusive library resources. Worse yet, only 12% reported LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. In contrast to the 2017 GLSEN Kansas State Snapshot, only 51% of students reported having inclusive library resources; 17% reported LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum. From this two-year difference certain conclusions are clear: representation is stagnant in a best-case scenario in our libraries, but that 5% decrease in classroom representation is undeniable proof that Kansas educators must do better.
However, I would be remiss to say that this lack of representation is – as a whole – purposefully malign. The publishing industry only recently started to actively pursue works by LGBTQ+ authors or books that have LGBTQ+ characters and themes; furthermore, tracking and monitoring LGBTQ+ representation in the publishing industry is still in its infancy. The Cooperative Children’s Book Center’s (CCBC) “2017 Statistics on LGBTQ+ Literature for Children and Teens” found that of 3,700 books, 136 (3.68%) had significant LGBTQ+ content, which “includes books with LGBTQ+ primary or secondary characters, LGBTQ+ families, nonfiction about LGBTQ+ people or topics, and . . . ‘LGBTQ+ metaphor’ books.” Some educators may not know where to begin looking for LGBTQ+ texts or what the best texts to include are. Luckily, resources for them are growing by the day, such as the HRC’s Welcoming Schools initiative, Scholastic’s “10 LGBT+ Books for Every Child’s Bookshelf”, Learning for Justice’s “LGBTQ Library”, the lists at LGBTQ Reads, and the Rainbow Library.
Nevertheless, I know that fighting for a diverse curriculum, let alone diverse library, is also a challenge that educators and librarians face. This comes from personal experience. When I first joined my former district, the librarian and I attempted to order a slew of award-winning books that also reflected diverse communities, including those of sexual orientation and gender identity: purchase order denied.
Yes, something is rotten in the state of education and literacy, and the pattern is undeniable when looking at the American Library Association’s “Top 10 Most Challenged Books of 2019”. Can you spot the pattern?
1. George by Alex Gino
2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
3. A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth
5. Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack, illustrated by Stevie Lewis
6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. Drama written and illustrated by Raina Telgemeier
9. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
Did you figure it out? If not, here’s an overly simplified breakdown. Americans are terrified of their children becoming one of four things: gay, feminists, witches; or gay, feminist witches.
Jokes aside, these challenges come from our communities. The most frequent reasons for seeking to ban seven of these ten books? LGBTQIA+ content. Moreover, 43% were banned specifically because of content on trans or gender identities, and 43% were banned due to conflicts with religious or “traditional” family values. Some bans even continue to perpetuate the harmful myth that LGBTQIA+ identities are an illness, sin, or something into which children might be indoctrinated: 43%.
I’ve seen this myth – one debunked by the Southern Poverty Law Center – perpetuated in many schools and communities. Furthermore, the American Academy of Pediatrics all agree with research: people do not choose to be LGBTQ+, and it is caused by genetic and environmental factors. This includes gender identity.
When students have asked me or the counselor for LGBTQ+ books, we’ve helped them find copies of age-appropriate texts, but sometimes we receive the books back from home with a note that the child shouldn’t read it because it may turn them gay, or that the family doesn’t approve of the content on religious reasons. I’ve even had parents express concern that I was teaching Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson through a queer analytical perspective. Have you read much of Whitman’s poetry or Dickinson’s letters to Susan Gilbert? If you’ve ever read anything beyond Whitman’s American nationalism and Dickinson’s death or religious poems, they’re pretty gay.
Just as reading from the perspective a person of color’s experience won’t turn a child into a different race, reading the perspectives of a queer person or considering classical class texts through a queer lens won’t turn a child gay. But, I can tell you one thing it will do: it will help them build empathy. It will help them understand others – people not like them. And, if I’m lucky, some may see themselves reflected.
To be frank, there is nothing wrong with coming from a religious family or one that has “traditional” family values. Those are my roots. What is wrong is when religious communities and families want to create a parochial school in a public institution by censoring texts and curriculum. Public schools serve just that: the public. Everyone. Even LGBTQ+ people. Plenty of texts in the ELA canon feature nuclear “traditional” families or heterosexual relationships (Romeo & Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, The Hunger Games, The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, A Tale of Two Cities, Their Eyes Were Watching God – all say, “Hello!”); many feature or reference Judeo-Christian ideas, morals, and philosophies (A Christmas Carol, The Crucible, The Scarlet Letter, Dickinson’s religious poems, and nearly any early-American text in a junior English textbook also say, “Wassup?”). What we are not asking for is their erasure: we are asking for our equal representation. If that disturbs you, a school system that represents everyone, here’s a list of private Kansas schools. As a friendly reminder, private education does not always have to provide services to people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ students, or students of color. In short: no federal funding? Fewer protections.
While protections are growing for our LGBTQ+ students, there’s still much work to be done, and it starts with the teachers. Often, we make purchases at our own expense, but sometimes blessings come our way, like that aforementioned Rainbow Library. When a representative from GLSEN Kansas posted that this nonprofit collaborative was happening, that I could obtain free LGBTQ+ books for my school’s library, I jumped at the chance. Purchase orders be damned! Willa Cather was going to have company.
Upon receiving the texts, I created a display in my classroom, performed a book talk, and I asked each class of students the following questions on an anonymous survey. In total, about 66% of high school students completed the survey, and these were my findings.
Question 1: Do any of these books interest you? Why and why not?
Question 2: Should students have access to books like these in a school library or classroom library? Why or why not?
Despite religious convictions, 100% of students surveyed thought that the books belonged in a school or classroom library. A few of their most poignant statements are below. Only spelling, punctuation, and capitalization have been corrected for readability.
If only their parents and communities knew their thoughts and the value of these texts to our students. Unfortunately, many students feel they can’t have these conversations with their parents. They fear what might happen: disapproval, conversion therapy, disownment.
As we tell our LGBTQ+ students, “It gets better,” we must also remind ourselves that it is getting better, and we teachers can make it better. If I’m certain of one thing, it is this: there is hope for the future, and it’s sitting in my library and in the desks of my students.
About the Author
Nathan Whitman is the current Kansas Association of Teachers of English President. He teaches English at Derby High School USD 260 and is also an adjunct professor at Hutchinson Community College and WSU Tech.
Toward the Pursuit of Anti-Oppression Pedagogy with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad’s Historically Responsive Literacy Framework
By Dr. Katie Cramer
***The following post was originally posted on Dr. Cramer's personal blog, which can be found here.
In her groundbreaking book Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad convincingly argues that Black and Brown excellence has been erased from our curriculums and that contemporary education prioritizes the teaching of basic skills to the detriment of our students, particularly our students of color. To address these significant issues, Muhammad (2020) developed the Historically Responsive Literacy (HRL) Framework based on her research on Black Literary Societies of the early 1800s in which “literacy was not just for self-enjoyment or fulfillment, it was tied to action and efforts to shape the sociopolitical landscape of a country that was founded on oppression” (p. 22).
The four pursuits of the HRL Framework
The HRL Framework features four interwoven pursuits that also align with those of the Black Literary Societies of the early 19th century:
In her book, Muhammad argues that the HRL Framework is useful in all content areas at all levels. She explores each of the four pursuits in detail and convincingly argues the value of each one. For example, in describing identity development, Muhammad (2020) reminds us that identity was stripped from enslaved Africans and so it is vital that people of color know themselves in order to tell their own stories (p. 64). We must encourage our students to speak for themselves, and we must listen. We must also interrogate and resist our own deficit thinking (e.g., labeling students first/only as “at risk,” “defiant, “unmotivated, “tier 3”), and instead take an appreciative stance toward their existing literacies (Bomer, 2011, p. 21). We must check our (colleagues’) bias when speaking about students who have been and continue to be marginalized in schools. We must listen to Muhammad’s words: “I have never met an unmotivated child; I have, however, ‘met’ unmotivating curriculum and instruction” (2020, p. 65). Indeed, our students’ identity stories must begin with their excellence (Muhammad, 2020, p. 67).
Erasure of Black and Brown Excellence
Dr. Muhammad convincingly argues that knowledge of Black Literary Societies and Black and Brown excellence has been erased from our curriculums throughout PreK-16, including in teacher education programs. Like Larry Ferlazzo (2020), I am embarrassed to admit that I had never heard of Black Literary Societies before reading her book. She urges teacher educators (those who prepare future teachers) toward the following pursuits:
Exploring the HRL Framework
As teachers (at all levels), we must interrogate our own practice using the HRL framework, asking ourselves for each pursuit: “Where is the evidence in my practice?” and “What are my goals for improvement?” To engage in this work, I urge you to review questions for reflection from Dr. Muhammad that accompany each pursuit and consider how you might revise (or design new) lessons/units to fulfill these pursuits—and engage in your own intellectual development by exploring Dr. Muhammad’s work further (see links the list of references below):
Friends, we must interrogate our curriculums—the ones we design AND the ones provided by our school districts. As Dr. Muhammad (2021) reminds us, we “have enough genius to do this work.” So let us begin.
Bomer, R. (2011). Building adolescent literacy in today’s English classrooms. Heinemann.
Ferlazzo, L. (2020 Jan. 28). Author interview with Dr. Gholdy Muhammad: “Cultivating genius.” Edweek. https://www.edweek.org
Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.
Muhammad, G. (2021 Mar. 17). Cultivating genius and joy: An equity model for culturally and historically responsive literacy [Webinar]. WRITE Center.
Learn more about Dr. Gholdy Muhammad by viewing her faculty profile at Georgia State University.
For more information on Black Literary Societies, read Cultivating Genius and/or Forgotten readers: Recovering the lost history of African American literary societies (2002) by Elizabeth McHenry, the first chapter of which is available HERE.
About the Author
Katherine Mason Cramer is a former middle school English teacher and a professor of English Education at Wichita State University. She has been a KATE member since 2010 and an NCTE member since 2000. She serves on the KATE Executive Board, and has served as Editor of Kansas English since 2017. She can be reached at Katie.Cramer@wichita.edu.
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