Reflections from NCTE Vice President
Jocelyn A. Chadwick
I have long wondered why we have “months” to recognize specific groups or moments. Of course, these months are designed as celebratory, acknowledging accomplishment and, simply, being. For NCTE’s Legacy of Pride, we, too, are celebrating and recognizing our members. Because this is Women’s History Month and a month celebrating Irish Americans, we are exploring ways in which women, some of whom are Irish, have had a long history within this organization as influential presences and powerful voices. They have worked tirelessly and passionately. Sometimes considered outspoken or assertive—some would even say aggressive—in their passionate pursuits in our profession, the women of NCTE remain an integral part of who and what this organization is—not for itself, but for ELA teachers around the country, PreK through graduate school.
NCTE’s significant women include so many that we could not even begin to list them all here, but we can say to each and every woman in our organization, including our new executive director, Emily Kirkpatrick, thank you.
Thank you to each of you for your tireless focus and expertise, your unyielding sense of ethics and voice, your negotiatory ability to hear and encourage many voices, and your intrepid energy.
We embrace Other and construct our own meaning; member Jacqueline Jones Royster asserted,
“While [W. E. B.] DuBois’s focus was on African American men and the social order more generally, the message is no less meaningful for a full range of individuals in academe (African American scholars included) who have faced the pulls and tares of being both scholar and Other—racialized, gendered, acculturated beings amid discourses where dominant social and political forces are privileged to ignore and disregard us and our work with the same type of amused contempt and pity articulated by DuBois in 1903” (Calling Cards: Theory and Practice in the Study of Race, Gender, and Culture).
March is also a month for reading—a core concern of NCTE and our nation’s concern. NCTE is committed to striving for lifelong literacy for all students. NCTE’s women have had plenty to say about the importance of reading over the decades. Harkening back to sentiments expressed by Marion Sheridan, reading and ELA form a critical component of students’ lives:
[English] is a powerful subject, far more than drills or skills. It is a means of communication seldom if ever mastered; a means of stimulating emotion, of effecting success or failure, with the sorrow that failure brings. . . . a means of sharpening perceptions and understandings. . . . A democracy depends upon the use of words, upon the ability to understand and to discuss questions of freedom, liberty, labor; upon the ability to trace the course of thought and to detect specious argument. . . . Literature is a storehouse of the experiences of mankind [sic]. . . . Its peace and serenity may give balance and a sense of normalcy, and fortitude, when total war dominates the situation (1942).
As a final kudo to those who came before many of us, a thank you to the women who began and carried the conversation 45 years ago through the Women’s Committee. The first documentation of the Women’s Committee appears in the 1972 Annual Report, where Janet Emig wrote:
“As chairperson of the NCTE Committee on Women (short title) established at the 1971 Las Vegas convention, I have spent the year trying to form a committee that accurately represents not only women in the four-year colleges and universities but also the range of women who teach the language arts and English in the elementary and secondary schools and in the two-year colleges. I have sought diversity in age, race, geography, academic level, and nature of academic responsibility (because of the nature of professional sexism, women administrators are the most difficult to find: we have on the committee one of the very few women principals in the New York City system)”
(Alleen Pace Nilsen, “On the Twentieth Anniversary of the Founding of NCTE’s Women’s Committee.” WILLA Journal 1 (Fall 1992): 9-11.)
Women, Irish Americans, reading—NCTE encompasses all three right now in classrooms, on campuses every day, every month, every year. Thank you. Continue to amaze. Continue to inspire. And most assuredly, continue to insert your determined selves.