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SOU faculty and local English teachers present at the National Council of Teachers of English convention in November.
By Jewel Blanchard, senior English major
Pictured above: From left to right, Kelly Fogg-Johnson, Camille Schuler, Margaret Perrow, and Teresa Connelly posing for a picture after their presentation at the NCTE convention.
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has long been a pillar of connection and professional learning for teachers. Its accessibility and inclusivity allow for many teachers, including SOU faculty and teachers from southern Oregon, to have a say and get involved. This was especially evident during this year’s NCTE National Convention (held in Anaheim, CA from November 17-20), where SOU faculty members and local high school teachers presented a panel discussion titled “From Access to Equity: Lighting a Path to Support Diverse Students’ Success in Advanced High School English Classes.” On top of this, two SOU graduate students from the Master’s in Teaching (MAT) program presented their original research at the informative session “The Future is Now.”
When asked about the background of the “From Access to Equity…” panel, SOU English professor and panel co-creator Dr. Merrilyne Lundahl explains that while dual-enrollment programs (in which students receive college credit for high school classes) offer many benefits, there are significant shortcomings. Namely, “lots of minoritized or impoverished students are left out of these opportunities so they don’t get the [dual-enrollment] benefits.” This inequity is something that Merrilyne and other local English teachers within the Advanced Southern Credit network (ASC), including Camille Schuler, Kelly Fogg-Johnson, and Teresa Connelly, are working to address.
At Merrilyne’s invitation, the three high school teachers had previously presented their work at a Cesar Chavez Leadership Conference (CCLC) on the SOU campus. And in 2020, they presented again at an Equity Summit sponsored by the southern Oregon Education Service District. Merrilyne and English Program chair Margaret Perrow strongly believed that the extraordinary work of these three teachers deserved a larger audience, so they proposed a panel for the 2022 NCTE convention. The panel would center around ways to build more equitable dual-enrollment programs – at the district level, the school level, and in the classroom.
“When I first got to SOU, I attended the Cesar Chavez Leadership conference and found it so powerful and engaging – and I wanted other teachers to experience that.”
– Merrilyne Lundahl
In addition to their connections to Merrilyne and Margaret through the CCLC, Camille, Kelly, and Teresa also made a big impression through their work with the ASC. Merrilyne mentions Camille’s dissertation on supporting Latinx students, the “welcoming and diverse class” that Kelly fosters, and the positive incorporation of Latinx representation and diverse authors in Teresa’s grade-level teams at her school. As Camille puts it, “Dr. Perrow and Dr. Lundahl saw the common thread of equity work we do at our different schools and districts and felt that a team presentation would be able to cover a lot of bases and provide some practical insight and ideas that teachers could implement right away.” With their dream team assembled, the teachers put together the proposal for their panel discussion.
Pictured above: Kelly Fogg-Johnson and Teresa Connelly walking outside of the NCTE convention.
They managed to narrow down the broad topic of increased accessibility into four categories– separate presentations each one would helm independently, with Margaret serving as panel chair and discussant. Merrilyne would present on the importance of increased accessibility within dual-enrollment classes and explain Advanced Southern Credit’s “Equity Challenge,” a collaboration between SOU faculty and ASC teachers. Then, Kelly would present “Dual Credit is for Everyone,” explaining how her rural high school has begun breaking down the barriers that prevent some students from taking dual-enrollment courses. Next, Teresa would discuss how her English department reassessed their curriculum and added more diverse authors in a presentation called “Step to the Side, Shakespeare— the Defenders of Diversity are Here!” To round out the panel, Camille would lead “Acculturation: From Theory to Practice,” detailing how she uses acculturation theory (the cultural change that happens when people from different cultures are in extended contact with each other) to support underrepresented students in her classes and help them engage with literary analysis. When the proposal was accepted for presentation at the 2022 NCTE conference, the team was ready to share their work with a national audience!
“For me, increased accessibility means that all students have the ability to succeed in the classroom. Success should not always be measured by students meeting the highest standards but by their growth throughout the year.”
– Camille Schuler
All of the team’s hard work paid off and the panel presentation was a success, with over 60 teachers attending and lots of thoughtful questions for the panelists afterwards. Reflecting back on the experience, Teresa says it was “beyond thrilling” to be able to present as a “humble” and “well-intentioned” English teacher. In addition to the pedagogical practices she presented on, Teresa appreciates the new strategies and resources she learned at other convention sessions. Likewise, Kelly looks forward to incorporating more inclusive and equitable teaching practices that she picked up from the convention into her own curriculum. She says that she has already included acculturation theory into her classes, the topic that Camille presented on. On this topic of teamwork and community, Kelly says that she “really enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from teachers from across the valley” when working on the panel presentation. (Though Merrilyne did not get to attend the convention due to unforeseen circumstances, the other team members presented on her behalf.)
Pictured above: Teresa Connelly presenting at the NCTE convention.
“The ladies I presented with along with our SOU leaders – Margaret and Merrilyne – are treasures.”
– Teresa Connelly
However, the ASC panel wasn’t the only way SOU was represented at the NCTE conference. Thanks to the recognition and work of Dr. Margaret Perrow (English) and Dr. Nigel Waterton (Education), two SOU students also got to present their work. Nigel has been involved with NCTE’s “The Future is Now” roundtable session since he was a doctoral student, helping to look for “students with original research in their capstone projects that would add something to the national conversation on English teaching.” However, this was the first year that SOU students received the opportunity to present at the roundtable session, thanks to his and Margaret’s hard work to secure funding for the students’ travel costs. According to Margaret, “SOU is not a big research university, so there currently is no designated funding source to support student presentations at conferences.” Since the English Department’s funding for travel opportunities is limited, the English and Education departments, as well as the Provost’s office, chipped in to allow two lucky students the opportunity to attend and present at the conference.
“We’re thankful that the Provost’s Office and our respective programs of Education and English supported this financially, and we hope that the university works towards a permanent, regular source of funding for undergraduate research presentation at national conferences.”
– Dr. Nigel Waterton
The two SOU students selected to present papers stemming from their capstone projects were Katrin Jerome and Julie Nelson, who are currently in SOU’s MAT program to be secondary English teachers. According to Nigel, a student’s capstone research/project ought to be able to “add something to the national conversation on English teaching.” Indeed, Margaret recalls Katrin’s and Julie’s capstone projects as being exemplary, “building on their passions and successes as undergraduates, and orienting them to their ‘next steps’.”
Though Katrin’s capstone project began as an original Hamlet script in which the titular character was split into two roles, they recall how the project grew into much more. Though they began writing their script in high school, it remained unfinished for years because of the inaccessibility of research in a secondary school setting. Katrin’s epiphany was reinforced by observations they had as a tutor at SOU’s Writing Center. In particular, they noticed how many college students experience difficulty transitioning from high school research practices to researching at the collegiate level. Ultimately, Katrin “came to realize just how much the access [they] have to research as a college student would have meant to [them] as a high schooler.” Katrin’s capstone ended up bringing to light the importance of accessible research for middle and high school students, and that is what they ended up presenting on for NCTE, a topic they were “excited” to dive into.
Pictured above: Dr. Nigel Waterton and Katrin Jeome together at the NCTE convention.
Meanwhile, Julie’s capstone centered around teaching five Young Adult (YA) novels through a feminist lens, via small classroom book groups. Julie recalls how most of her assigned readings in high school were written about white, male protagonists; she not only wants to lend some diversity to her students’ reading, but also instill a sense of empathy within them towards different people and backgrounds. Julie mentions how this is especially important to them given the current political climate. Though she unfortunately got the flu before the NCTE convention and could not travel to Anaheim, she instead recorded her presentation ahead of time. Julie describes this process as a “nerve-wracking,” but ultimately fun experience, and hopes to be invited back to another year.
“Our students are making original, meaningful contributions that deserve to be showcased regionally and nationally!”
– Dr. Margaret Perrow
Both Margaret and Nigel highlighted how important it is for students to be able to present their impressive work to an audience of English-teaching colleagues. In fact, Nigel sees involving students in scholastic events as “vitally necessary.” Not only does an experience like this put SOU on the “national stage,” it introduces SOU students to other future English teachers, and gives them feedback from other universities’ professors. Margaret echoes this sentiment, asserting that the sooner a student can begin collaborating with other educators at conferences like NCTE, “the more enriched [their] own thinking will be and the greater impact [their] voice will have on [their] colleagues’ practice.” If you are a student wishing you had gotten to participate in the NCTE “The Future is Now” session, don’t fear! Nigel is hoping to continue offering this incredible opportunity in years to come. Talk to a faculty member like your major adviser to express your interest in presenting at a conference, and start making a plan!
Pictured above: A view of the crowd at the NCTE convention.
Bringing together SOU faculty, students, and local teachers, and connecting them to national events like this is just one way the English Department at SOU is making a difference in the wider world. It is clear that we have a remarkable group of individuals across our community and just as much fun as it is to celebrate their successes on a national level, it is even more thrilling to watch where this collaboration and innovation will lead next.
Interested in being featured on the English Program blog? Or know someone who is interested? Contact English Program blogger Jewel Blanchard at firstname.lastname@example.org .