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Positioning English Language Arts Teacher Education

This post was written by NCTE member Melanie Shoffner.

One of the great philosophers of the ‘80s said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

My years as CEE Chair went by as quickly as Ferris Buehler’s day off from school. When I stop and look around, I can point to a number of worthwhile efforts and meaningful experiences — although not, alas, a parade — and chief among them was the opportunity to revise the CEE Position Statement What Is English Education?

This statement was created at the 2005 CEE Summit to articulate the beliefs and core values associated with English teacher education. The statement provides a clear foundation for English teacher educators and, by extension, for CEE, establishing who we are, what we are working toward as a field, and how we accomplish that work.

Life moves pretty fast, though, and the constantly changing nature of education begs the question of whether English teacher education has changed along with it.

So, at the NCTE Annual Convention in November, 2016, I asked the CEE Executive Committee to consider whether we should review the then-11-year-old position statement. The ensuing discussion was brief and unanimous: It was time to take a closer look and determine whether the statement still reflected our understandings of and beliefs about the field of English teacher education.

In my position as Past Chair of CEE, I chaired the committee, which consisted of Janet Alsup (Purdue University), Antero Garcia (Stanford University), Marcelle Haddix (Syracuse University), Michael Moore (Georgia Southern University), Ernest Morrell (Notre Dame University), David Schaafsma (University of Illinois – Chicago) and Leah Zuidema (Dordt College).

The committee worked over the course of 10 months to review the position statement, identify areas of concern, and revise the identified areas. As individuals, we brought a range of perspectives, experiences, and backgrounds to the work — creators of the original statement; former (and future) NCTE presidents; past journal editors; researchers focused on issues of literacy, social justice, and young adult literature — but we came together as English teacher educators and CEE members.

The conversation was far-ranging but the focus was precise: What is English language arts teacher education today?

The field kept moving since 2005; stopping to look at the statement gave us a chance to see that our position hadn’t kept up.

It needed more specific language, more explication of our values,  and more attention to the expansion of ELA content and skills, without sacrificing the clarity and focus of a position statement. Our goal, then, was to create a succinct and usable document that clearly articulated the dimensions and values underpinning the work of those who identify as English language arts teacher educators.

The revised CEE position statement is that document. It explains the three dimensions of ELA teacher education and enumerates the core values of each as actions teacher educators must take to support those dimensions. It grounds ELA teacher education in issues of justice, equity, and diversity, and positions ELA teacher educators as those committed to the “preparation and support of ELA teachers who embody the qualities we seek to develop in all learners: creative, literate, agentive, compassionate individuals; contributors to the cultural, social, and economic health of their communities; critically aware, participatory citizens in a complex, diverse, and increasingly globalized world.”

Now that we have it, what should we do with it?

Therein lies the frequent rub. Much of the writing we do as teacher educators is easy to miss in the hustle and flow of daily life, unfortunately.

This CEE position statement is more than words written on a literal or metaphorical page, though — it’s a living document that establishes our beliefs, informs our actions, and encourages our questions as teacher educators. Quite frankly, we need to do as we say if we want the right to say anything.

So, what should we do, specifically? I can think of a few things:

  • Read the CEE Position Statement, whether you are a teacher educator, a teacher, an administrator, a preservice teacher, a parent, a school board member or a politician.
  • Take a moment to consider what it is we do, as teacher educators and as CEE members, and why we do it.
  • Engage in research that continues to question what we understand as ELA teacher educators.
  • Refer to this document as you plan your methods course or develop a teacher in-service program.
  • Reference this writing in your research manuscript as well as your conference presentation.
  • Use this statement as a position, whether you are standing in Capitol Hill offices during NCTE’s Advocacy Day or discussing programmatic changes in a departmental faculty meeting.

But I could still go for a parade.

 

Melanie Shoffner is an associate professor of English Education at James Madison University. She served as CEE Chair in 2014-2016, prior to her time as a Fulbright Scholar in Romania (2016-2017).

Twitter handle: @ProfShoff