Portrait of an NCTE State Affiliate - National Council of Teachers of English
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Portrait of an NCTE State Affiliate

This blog was written by Dixie Keyes, ACTELA past president; NCTE Standing Committee on Affiliates (SCOA) Region 5 Representative.  The people and events she describes here represent some of the activities and initiatives of Arkansas’s state affiliate over the past year.


“I found a great deal on a house near Petit Jean Mountain,” read an email to board members from new ACTELA President Cindy Green, a secondary ELA teacher with Virtual Arkansas. “Click on this Survey Monkey link to pick the dates you are available.” The affiliate retreat the year before had to be canceled twice due to bad weather, and we really needed the planning time to analyze and tweak our initiatives, to itemize our budget for the next year, and just to check in on one another.

Almost all of the executive board was able to attend our 2016 February retreat, along with two past presidents, the newsletter editor, our state department rep, and our hospitality rep. Our NCTE liaison, Dawn, “Zoomed” in to help us design a T-shirt logo. We opened a Google Doc to record minutes and also put big Post-it papers on the dining room wall to capture ideas that popped up throughout the day.

After confirming that we would enter ACTELA for NCTE’s Affiliate Awards for newsletter, multicultural programming, and affiliate excellence, we moved on to discuss moving our website to a new space. After drafting a budget for the next year, everyone felt great about moving forward toward the rest of 2016. Cindy’s preparation and expectations for the retreat provided an upbeat momentum, seconded by our vice president, Sunny Styles-Foster, an instructor for the University of Central Arkansas’ teacher education program. We were excited to hear about Sunny’s return to school for a doctorate in literacy education. Sherri Thorne, our Arkansas Department of Education representative, shared the progress of the ELA Standards Development Committee and offered some sage advice about marketing to membership.

Thinking back on the year and the end of my ACTELA presidency (2014–2015), I reflected on two incredible conferences. For more than 20 years, ACTELA has cosponsored the Arkansas Curriculum Conference, an interdisciplinary, teacher-led conference; university educators, state department representatives, and teacher leaders all come together to make it happen. The conference board is made up of representatives from all of those groups as well as several teacher advocate groups. ACTELA holds its annual business meeting and luncheon at the conference, which is held in our capitol city—Little Rock. We invite a guest author to be our luncheon speaker and breakout session presenter, but prior to the day of the conference, we organize school visits for that author so that community schoolchildren in our state can get to know and hear from a published author.

The past two guest authors were Zetta Elliott (on left) from Brooklyn, New York, author of A Wish After Midnight and Bird (plus more than 20 other books for children and young adults), and Crystal Allen (on right) from Houston, Texas, author of How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy, The Laura Line, and the Magnificent Mya Tibbs series.

Both of these authors serve on the board of The Brown Bookshelf and advocate for more publishing of books by authors of color who write about characters of color. They travel to schools and conferences sharing several important messages, but especially that students need to see themselves represented in the books in our classrooms and libraries. Both Zetta and Crystal came to Arkansas as strangers and left as our friends.

Between Zetta’s visit in 2014 and Crystal’s in 2015, they facilitated 10 visits to schools, and we were able to give away 250 of their books to students thanks to a partnership with one of our university departments. We look forward to attending Crystal and Zetta’s 2016 NCTE Annual Convention session, Everyone Has a Story: Authors Advocating for Student Writing. One of our board members, middle school teacher Corey Oliver from Courtway Middle School in Conway, will join them to discuss how author visits instigate and support student writing.

Our affiliate also applied for our first Teachers for the Dream Affiliate Award grant in 2015. We invited kindergarten teacher Brycial Williams from Forrest City’s Central Elementary School to be the recipient of that grant, and he took his first plane ride ever to Minneapolis last year to experience his first NCTE Convention. This coming year in Atlanta he will be sharing about his Teachers for the Dream initiative at the Affiliate Extravaganza session.

We also held two new sessions at our conference this past year: a writing marathon (NWP Style!) and a preservice teacher roundtable for sharing curriculum ideas. Both were a great success, and we know our teacher audiences want them again in 2016.

There is so much more I could share: about our all-day May and September board meetings, where we plan the details and inner workings that make all of our initiatives happen; about two of our teacher board members, Jessica Herring and Aaron Hall, who have advanced degrees and are Apple Distinguished Educators; about Corey Oliver, who has won one of our state’s highest honors, the Milken Educator Award, and who serves on many state department committees; about teacher Tyler McBride, who won our Linda Arnold mini-grant several years ago and is now a board member and our webmaster; about longtime board member Kay Walter, who encourages us all to submit for every award possible and helps us do it; about how our Arkansas Anthology has served as the first publication space for many young authors who go on to college thinking of writing or art as a career; about the legacy of the impact of other guest authors, such as Matthew Quick, Christopher Paul Curtis, Mike Mullin, Patricia McCormick, and Chris Crutcher; about some of the past ACTELA leaders and board members, such as Dr. Linda Arnold, the college instructor for some of us who now serve as board members, Erin McFalls-Johnson, Sarah Henry, Grimsley Graham, and Jo Barnes, upon whose shoulders we stand; about the wonderful two-year cycle for our executive offices that allows the vice president to partner and plan with the president while each past president serves as an advisor to the incoming leadership about annual affiliate reports and affiliate award opportunities.

Most memorable was the year that Donna Wake’s baby decided it was time to be born—the night before the conference! Donna’s water broke at midnight in our hotel, and Jeff Whittingham, a past president, another board member, and I waited up all night with her at the hospital. Donna’s daughter, Mia—we call her our “ACTELLY baby”—was born the next day, and she knows her story well!

In short, we support one another and our members. We listen and offer advice to teachers who tell us their book challenge stories and how their autonomy is diminished in this age of accountability. We listen to them when they revel in the professional networking spaces of our conference. We know our initiatives matter when they are thankful for the anthology. We are all English teachers, although in varying roles. We are the ACTELA board, we are family, and we give one another hope.