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In My Own Words...

by April Blaze,
Florida Council of Teachers of English

As a new teacher, I was given to believe (incorrectly) that teachers really could not change anything and would do best to just stay in their classrooms. I refused to buy into this mentality, so this year I attended NCTE's Advocacy Day for the first time. Although I was apprehensive about speaking with my Congressional Representaitves, NCTE streamlined the process, making it very simple for a newcomer. As long as I could get myself to Washington, D.C. (through FCTE’s generosity) and meet with my legislators, NCTE did all the legwork for our two "asks": a resolution to recognize October 20, 2009 as the National Day on Writing and a comprehensive literacy bill. NCTE briefed us extensively on the two asks. Although I studied each, I was grateful for the in-depth explanations, question and answer session, and role-playing practice.

(from left to right, above: FCTE's Clarissa West-White; Vennia Francois, legislative aide to Senator Mel Martinez; FCTE's April Blaze and Kathleen Blake Yancey)

The National Day on Writing and the National Writing Gallery are two fantastic ideas. Students are always more motivated if their assignments have a basis in the real world and what could be more real world than a National Writing Gallery? I’m very excited about having my class and my school join the celebration by submitting our own writing to our local galleries. I also anticipate using the National Writing Gallery to teach writing for specific purposes and promote writing across the content areas. Although I did not speak with my Congresspersons directly, all of their staffers seemed very enthusiastic about the resolution and indicated that Representative Putnam, Senator Nelson, and Senator Martinez would most likely sign onto the resolution. The feedback was very positive and some even considered putting their personal writings into a gallery once it opened. 

In my opinion, the comprehensive literacy bill that NCTE and its sister organizations created is THE bill teachers have been awaiting. It embodies the spirit of NCLB, but the bill has been written with the help of teachers and with real-world classrooms in mind. The provision for embedded literacy professional development, I believe, is the key to this bill. As a third-year teacher with alternate certification, I welcome all professional development opportunities because I know I can always be a better teacher, even when I have 20 years of experience. The literacy bill will provide such opportunities for all teachers across all content areas. All three staffers with whom I spoke seemed positive about the literacy bill. Because it is an unfinished bill with unknown sponsors, none were willing to venture support for the bill without having read the finished version first. However, all agreed that education and literacy should be supported and agreed to be on the lookout for the bill.

All in all, I felt that attending Advocacy Day was a positive experience well worth my time and effort. Rather than remaining stuck in my classroom unhappy with education legislation, I had the opportunity to go out into the world and actually do something constructive. Although I will not know the results of my efforts for some time, I do feel like I had an effect on the staffers who will in turn have an effect on my Congressional Representatives.

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NCTE - The National Council of Teachers Of English

A Professional Association of Educators in English Studies, Literacy, and Language Arts