Unexpected Rewards: Teacher Corps Empowers and Invigorates - National Council of Teachers of English
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Unexpected Rewards: Teacher Corps Empowers and Invigorates

NCTE has long promoted intellectual freedom and defended against attempts to remove books from schools. In the face of unprecedented attacks on students’ right to read and learn about the world around them, we decided to go on the offensive—and our members enthusiastically agreed to lead the charge!

While Teacher Corps participants are motivated to create rationales for diverse books and promote intellectual freedom, many report they are finding unexpected rewards in their work.

“Being part of the This Story Matters Teacher Corps is both empowering and invigorating,” says Mary E. Cronin, a Teacher Corps member and K–2 literacy coach in Massachusetts. “It has me thinking deeply about books that may be challenged, crafting solid defenses of critically important stories in the form of teaching points, ties to curriculum standards, and positive reviews.”

“The Teacher Corps has been a unique way to connect with educators from other states and discover new books,” says Kyle Belting, a Teacher Corps member and ELA coordinator at a junior high school in Indiana. “It’s been fun to explore new stories and think about how they can benefit students.”

Reporting from PEN America, the American Library Association, and NCTE members shows record increases in book removals and challenges in 2023, making practical support and resources all the more important for educators.

NCTE’s book rationale database was released in 2022, providing access to over 600 rationales for teachers to use as a practical tool. In 2023, we opened a call for volunteers to join a peer group of five educators who would work together to write book rationales. After receiving many more applications than we had available slots, we formed the first cohort of the This Story Matters Teacher Corps with support from private donations. Five more cohorts were formed in the winter of 2024 with funding from grants.

Two of the cohorts are focusing on picture books and elementary books; two are concentrating on middle grade and young adult titles, and one is covering all age ranges with an eye toward sharing the rationale writing process with preservice teachers. Each cohort is led by an NCTE member who serves as a facilitator and was invited because of the unique skills they bring to the work. An NCTE staff member provides additional support.

Cohort members represent a mix of current educators in K–12 education, children’s literature scholars, writers, collaborators, and (most importantly) readers. Although some have prior experience with writing rationales, it is not a requirement for Teacher Corps participation. What is a requirement—and what all cohort members share—is a passion for free expression, as well as a commitment to student learning and a faculty for deep thinking.

“This is an exciting opportunity for educators to be involved in exclusive and unique intellectual freedom work,” says Sarah Miller, Senior Coordinator of Intellectual Freedom & Book Initiatives at NCTE. “All students have the right to materials and educational experiences that promote open inquiry, critical thinking, diversity in thought and expression, and respect for others, and Teacher Corps members are proactively ensuring students can exercise that right.”

For additional information about the This Story Matters Teacher Corps, send an email to NCTE’s Intellectual Freedom Center.