A Thrilling and Chilling Ride
Anna J. Small Roseboro, National Board Certified Teacher
Past President of the
California Association of Teachers of English*
Education policy is on a roller coaster ride that is both thrilling and chilling. Those of us who teach the English/language arts were excited about the research of National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges who reported that “writing today is not a frill for the few, but an essential skill for the many.” Their document , The Neglected “R”- The Need for a Writing Revolution! (2003) was testimony to the general public of what we classroom teachers recognize to be true about one of our areas of expertise. It is chilling, however, that other curricular demands and financial shortages make it difficult to teach writing that maximizes the strategies that other research, such as that conducted in past years by the National Writing Project, shows are more effective.
It is exciting to see a broad array of resources, both print and non-print, that is available to expand and supplement our teaching of the Common Core ELA State Standards (2011) and the English/language standards that many of us helped our states to develop. It is daunting, however, to see how little time we have to bring our students up to these standards, and even more heartrending to find that so much of what is good, worthwhile, and interesting to teach is not assessed on the tests our students are required to take.
Still, we persevere. We teachers really are joy riders. Like so many of our students who line up in anticipation of the adrenaline bursts on the world famous roller coasters – the twists and turns on the corkscrew of the Python in Busch Gardens; the throat in the mouth feelings of the floorless coaster, the Kraken at Sea World; and blood-rush to the head of the inverted one, the Boomerang, at Knott’s Berry Farm – we teachers return to our school sites and campuses day after day, achieving the impossible, defying the gravity of difficulty that would drag us down.
Yes, drag us down; cause us to plummet into the depths of despair, if we didn’t have the uplifting articles from our professional journals, those kind words and exhortations from sympathetic friends, and the thrill of seeing our students soar when a lesson goes well. We continue to believe that what we’re doing is so important, so valuable, and so essential to the young men and women we teach in our diverse classrooms that the roller coaster rides of education policies will not frighten us into leaving the park – leaving the profession. Instead, we continue to seek ways to increase our knowledge and to sharpen our skills. We save and spend our own monies to travel to professionally enriching conventions and conferences; we enroll in workshops and courses at local colleges and universities; we give up our summers to attend seminars and to pursue graduate degrees just so we can meet the challenges of being the best for the best – our students. We look forward to the formal and informal gatherings of our local, state and national conferences and convention, and eagerly drive, fly, and take trains to the annual conventions because we know we’ll be revived and ready to return to the reality of our avocation thrilled by its exhilarating highs, and only chilled by its debilitating lows.
So, when you’re swooping on the downhill plunge, throw your hands up and yell like the kids on the coasters! Throw your hands up and volunteer to serve on those committees and help to articulate our cause to local, state and national decision makers. Yell – in writing to your legislators or school board members. But, stay on the ride. We on who serve on the boards and committees are working to find ways to keep us on track. We understand the thrill of practicing the most exciting profession in the world – developing lessons and opportunities so that students across the spectrum of ability and interest can explore significant works, forms, and traditions in American, British and World literature and thereby learn to read critically and imaginatively and develop an appreciation for the written word and visual media.
We recognize that English/language arts teachers thrive when developing curriculum that allows students to write regularly in a variety of forms and a variety of platforms, so thereby develop the skills to express themselves articulately, concisely and precisely, exemplifying knowledge of Standard English grammar and comfort in their home languages. We know the satisfaction of nurturing classroom environments where students are free to discuss literature and life in order to develop skills in listening critically to the opinions of others and in expressing their own ideas in a clear, confident, and compelling manner.
Plan now to attend National Council of Teachers of English 2014 in National Harbor, MD (DC area), when NCTE convenes around the theme, “Story as the Landscape of Knowing” under the leadership of Program Chair Kathy Short who, along with her top notch committees, is hard at work planning an exhilarating experience for each of you. You’ll see and hear how and why so many English/language arts teachers stay on the ride – enjoying the thrills of the ups, learning ways to minimize the chills of the downs. At the workshops, exhibits, social and meal functions, you’ll find us sharing ideas, seeing new resources, encouraging one another, sipping beverages, and, in the African-American tradition, swapping tales of “how we got over”.
If you’re a department chair, formal or informal literacy leader in your school or community, you’ll find the Conference on English Leadership is designed just for you. Rebecca Sipe, Program Chair for CEL 2011 is gathering top quality speakers and presenters for this “Leading in a Collaborative World” conference, November 20-22 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago. Extend your stay and attend this vital professional enriching experience.
Everyone! Hold on tight.
The ride’s not over yet.
*Adapted from a “President’s Perspective” published in
California English, February, 2004