During NCTE’s annual convention last November, a group of writing teachers and writing teacher educators packed tightly around a table in one of the the conventional hall’s ballrooms. Attendees leaned in to hear the vigorous exchange, and heads nodded in agreement. The focus: anxiety over recent state and institutional mandates, national reform movements, external pressures on English teacher education, and their potential impact on writers, writing, and writing teacher education. Colleagues related stories of concern with, for example, the glaring absence of important genres of writing in the Common Core State Standards, collective worry over the marginalization of writing in Pearson’s teacher performance assessment (edTPA), and fears that similar movements and corporate groups have the power to change how writing is taught, assessed, and even defined.
Looking back on that lively conversation among WTE commission members I am reminded of the scene from the film Network (1976) where TV anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) takes his frustrations to the airwaves and encourages viewers to yell out of their windows the now-famous phrase, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” We were frustrated then and we still are, and for reasons beyond the tensions mentioned above. In recent years we’ve witnessed a surge in teachers undermined, attacked, and their expertise dismissed in popular media, mass public school closings (impacting predominantly low-income and minority students), standardized tests dominating classrooms, and more. However, we have also seen the rise of teachers, parents, and others pushing back against what we sense are initiatives and mandates not in the best interest of schools and, more importantly, students. For example, in January of this year teachers at one school in Seattle voted unanimously to boycott the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test, and in spring a group of mothers in Texas successfully pressured the state to reduce testing in elementary grades. Weeks later protesters were “detained and ticketed” in Chicago for marching in opposition to the city’s sweeping school closures. Still others have taken to their keyboards or picked up their pens to share insights on topics ranging from the popularity of linking student test scores to teacher salary and promotion, to celebrating the major and minor successes, and echoing the frustrations, of singular teachers. And all of this work was done by educators and citizens choosing to take action.
As we concluded our November meeting, several commission members indicated a desire to participate in these larger dialogs and offer voice to these necessary and important conversations from the perspectives of writers, writing teachers, and writing teacher educators. Fast forward to the CEE summer conference in Denver this July, where our commission regrouped to outline a potential publication appropriate to further advocate for change in writing and writing teacher education. We chose a blog–this blog–as the platform for our goal, a venue we hope will also serve as a hub for resources and support related to advocacy in writing education. Below is its framework or “purpose statement,” as drafted by participants at the CEE summer meeting:
Our purposes for this blog stem from our passion for authentic student writing in K-16 schools. We believe that writing instruction is essential for students across grade levels and content areas and that writing is a way to help students change their worlds. We are teacher educators, classroom teachers, students, parents, and community members, and we have created this blog to speak to these five audiences. Collaboratively, we hope to:
1. Spotlight and celebrate the powerful writing work that teachers and students currently do, and illustrate how that work could potentially be affected by certain educational and/or political policies.
2. Circulate information about teaching practices and policies, so that our audiences can advocate strongly for students and teachers.
3. Address how research affects writing in schools and communities, based on our experience in the field of writing instruction.
4. Strengthen the connections and community among universities, K-12 schools, teachers, parents, and students.
By working together, as well as with others who advocate for the teaching profession, our audiences can learn about writing, the teaching of writing, and the power of engaging young writers in craft and story. We will offer our informed advocacy and arguments, so that others can advocate and speak loudly as well.
We hope you will join us in our aim to empower parents, teachers, and others committed to writing education by writing for this blog, participating in its online conversations, linking to posts, and inviting others to do the same. It is through these forms of advocacy that we can collectively effect change.
Submitted by: Sarah Hochstetler