A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert

Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina
Jack Gilbert

There was no water at my grandfather’s
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people’s house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor’s cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out of shape.
I see myself, but from the outside.
I keep trying to feel who I was,
and cannot. Hear clearly the sound
the bucket made hitting the sides
of the stone well going down,
but never the sound of me.

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A Poem: “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina” by Jack Gilbert

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

As the year winds down and we move in to summer, I know many of you will spend time building and enhancing your curriculum.  Here are 5 ideas for teaching Shakespeare that you might consider implementing next year.  The summer will give you time to seek out and read some of these books.

1. Take a page from Gary Soto’s book and have students write an original poem based on one line from a play.


2. Have students connect the play to a modern text by taking a quote and tying it to a modern film/show where the situation is similar, and then explain the similarity.

3. Ask students to imagine a modern scenario where the same situation could feasibly occur, much like Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, based on the Tempest, or Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler, based on The Taming of the Shrew.

4. Have students annotate a scene (or a portion of a scene) in terms of direction: blocking, lighting, set, costuming, inflection.

5. Ask students to rewrite a portion of a monologue/soliloquy but change or modernize the topic. The act of rewriting can be a powerful way to understand blank verse and iambic pentameter.


Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Activities for Teaching Any Shakespeare Play at Any Level

PCTELA Fund Teachers from the Dream Reflection #3

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year. NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.


Written by: Samantha Corza

Role: Grant Recipient

I watched  Kayla* shut down as Jamie* raised his voice and dismissed her commentary about her experience as a young female of color in a largely caucasian town. “That doesn’t happen here,” Jamie said loudly. Her body tensed up and I saw her pull away as she became visibly frustrated. She placed her All American Boys book on the floor and did not offer to speak again for the rest of the discussion.

Saddened and concerned by this interaction, I thought back to my conversation with Kayla before class. Kayla had seemed unsure about our whole-class discussion surrounding diversity, white privilege and the Black Lives Matter movement.  She verbalized her discomfort in participating, “I just don’t want to feel like I have to talk because I’m the only Black person in this class.” I assured her that she didn’t need to participate if she didn’t feel comfortable but reminded her of the power of her first-hand experiences. How would the other students ever come to know, understand or empathize with her experiences and perspective if she didn’t have the courage to share?

It was after this incident that I noticed Kayla become more reserved in our class. She no longer participated in whole-class discussions and generally only interacted with one or two other students. It was evident that Kayla felt that she did not have a voice and was unsure of whom she could trust in our classroom. The judgment and combativeness that she met when trying to express her perspective on the issue of racial bias was enough to make her shut down entirely.

Upon winning the Fund Teachers for the Dream Grant, I was inspired to implement an after school film club with my students where my mentor teacher and I used visual media to focus on the exploration of cultural differences and bias through popular films such as Crash or Remember the Titans. Our goal was to provide a space for our students where they could learn to have constructive conversations about cultural and personal values, beliefs, and biases. With funds from the grant, we were able to provide refreshments and snacks for students to enjoy as we watched the films and engaged in meaningful discourse.

After our first meeting, I encouraged Kayla to join us and she began to attend our smaller discussions. I could see her opening up and gaining confidence within these smaller sessions and felt her gratitude for the outlet we provided for her. She began bringing her friends from other English classes and through our use of film and inclusivity, began advocating for her own truth in our English classroom.

The film club supported students in various ways. Its afterschool setting allowed students to feel more at ease and allowed them to begin speaking up and sharing their opinions about their own biases and beliefs. It also encouraged students who previously would have avoided a negative or unfamiliar experience, to respond with, “I’m sorry that happened to you,” or  “I never thought about that before.” The emergence of empathy from these film events extended into our whole-class discussions where my students were able to transform their thinking about groups of stereotyped people to realize these groups were made up of individuals with beliefs, values, and relationships that are similar to their own.

*student names have been changed

PCTELA Fund Teachers from the Dream Reflection #3

Promoting Reading at a Young Age

In February, through a connection with e.e. Charlton-Trujillo, PCTELA received a picture book donation from author Sally Derby, who donated several cases of picture books to Never Counted Out. PCTELA has chosen to distribute these in a number of ways to promote reading at an early age. Below, PCTELA Board member Allison Irwin recounts her experience sharing copies of King Kenrick’s Splinter by Sally Derby.


It really takes a village to raise a child. I’ve never been so sure of that as I am right now. Walking into a community of people who know each other, as a stranger, and being welcomed with smiles and conversation, is just what my heart needed tonight.

I spent the last two hours sitting in a dining room at a local women’s and children’s shelter. Tonight was their monthly community dinner – which is very popular. In addition to meeting the women and children of the shelter, I got to share stories with people from the community at large. The hustle and bustle of little children running around while dinner was set up met with the rolling of stroller wheels, the tapping of canes and walking sticks, and the louder stomping of rough and tumble preteen boys play fighting with their cousins. As the gymnasium opened to serve the meal, the dining room filled with many eager to share in good food and fellowship.

Just before dinner I arranged the donated books on one of the tables. I also had some of my own books for the middle school and high school crowd. One mother stopped by to tell me her story. She has a little two year old boy and another on the way. He was adorable! But wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to even catch his name. Then two mothers of high school seniors stopped by to see what I was doing there. We chatted about their daughters’ interests, what they’re reading currently, and then I made some recommendations from my pile. This naturally transitioned into a conversation about their own interests, and each mother took a book for themselves!

One thing I found is that the value of reading is clearly not lost. I met strong, worn grandmothers who read to their grandchildren every day. One mother asked if she could take two books because she understood that if her seven year old son is reading the book to her three year old daughter, then her daughter should have her own copy to look at while he’s reading it to her. There’s something about knowing a book is yours that is pretty special at that age.

Two 6th grade girls came up to the table and talked with me about Twilight and some other recent favorites of theirs. One of the shelter’s Family Advocates who offered her time to sit with me this evening came right back with a book recommendation for them! She told them all about The Host by Stephenie Meyer and what a fabulous read that was for her.

As a high school reading teacher, I sometimes get bogged down by the feeling that we’re not doing enough to prepare our students for the real life reading tasks they will be faced with as adults. Knowing how to read strategically encompasses so much more than just interpreting text. It requires patience, logical thinking, stamina, and resiliency in the face of challenges.

Talking with these families tonight restored some of my faith in our ability to send the next generation off into the world with the soft skills they will need to be successful. If we work as a village, we might just be able to do this right.

**********

One young girl I spoke with took me by storm. She came in with a large group. Breezed right by me the first time – headphones in of course – and then circled back. Without saying a word she began paging through the books on the table.

She eventually made eye contact and engaged me in conversation. I could tell from her vocabulary alone that she was a voracious reader. We shared book recommendations which of course led to deeper conversation. This is where I noticed her soft skills.

Resiliency. She related stories about her friends and the drama that she often needs to mediate. This young girl was adamant about not letting her friends use her as a “back up friend” when her core group was fighting. “I’m either your friend or I’m not” she claimed.

Patience. It’s hard for any teenager to be patient. But when her little brother walked into the room, I watched her demeanor soften as she addressed him. She waited to see if there was something he needed from her before returning to our discussion. Any teenager that can stop talking about herself mid-story to address the needs of her little brother exhibits a great deal of patience and empathy!

Logical thinking. So we started talking about dual narrators, and I mentioned the book 13 Reasons Why. In my opinion, the quality of the book in its original form far surpasses the Netflix series. All of her friends keep trying to get her to watch the Netflix series, but she only likes to do one or the other (book or movie, not both). I told her to definitely read the book in lieu of the series. She continued to ask me clarifying questions, and I could sense her brain shuffling through the data she was collecting from me. She didn’t cave in and watch the series because all her friends wanted her to, she spent time thinking through what would be right for her. (Happy to say she chose the book after our conversation! She liked the idea of the dual narrators, disliked the extra vulgarity and drama the Netflix series adds to the story, and hoped to actually get a sense of the characters inner thoughts and motives which she felt would be easier to grasp through text.).

Stamina. This girl walked straight from school to meet her family at the shelter for the community dinner. Her siblings are mostly younger than her. The school district she attends is underfunded. When she’s emotionally frustrated, she admitted to expressing that frustration poorly, and this causes a rift between her and her teacher. And yet… she spends her lunch break reading in the library. She provides her younger sister with a role model who dresses modestly and has respect for her own self image. She doles out advice and encouragement to friends in need. She smiles and expresses a bubbly, personable attitude while eating a free community dinner with a stranger. She still enjoys school despite all the mandated testing she’s faced with each year. This little girl has stamina.

**********

As teachers, we only see one side of our students. It’s easy to believe that it’s us against the world – fighting to educate the youth! It’s easy to forget that parents are exhausted and that kids navigate a precarious environment each day. I’m left wondering tonight about this little girl’s teacher. How would the teacher describe her as a student? Has she seen the depth of character that this young, teen girl expressed tonight, or does the girl’s classroom persona mask all but one or two shades of her character?

Our job, in addition to teaching the eligible content, is to make sure we’re our students’ cheerleaders. We need to have patience, we need to think logically, we need stamina, and we need to be resilient if we ever expect to teach these skills to our students.

We also need help.

As a village, and only as a village, we can strategically instill those vital soft skills into their literacy education both inside and outside of school.

Promoting Reading at a Young Age

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.


Written by: Dr. Jolene Borgese

Role: Mentor of Daecia Smith throughout the grant period

I am uncomfortable writing or talking about the different shades of skin color. But the young African American girls in Daecia Smith’s book club were not. Daecia is a senior at Temple University, majoring in secondary English. She is student teaching this semester at a high academic performing school in Philadelphia.

The afternoon I joined them at the elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their book club I asked them two open ended questions: “How’s the club going?” and “How do you like the book you’re reading?” Like a fire storm, these 11 year old girls all spoke to me at once – eager to tell me about the book and the characters. Aiming to be the one I heard, their responses became louder and more animated but they were all talking about the bullying going on in the novel, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and how it was all the about the lighter skinned character versus the darker skinned character. Without any inhibitions or fear of being politically incorrect they spoke to me candidly about the shades of being Black.

The teacher in me wanted to connect to these free spirited little girls so I shared with them what I knew about shades of skin color. I recounted quickly as to not lose their interest – “I am of Italian American descent and Italian skin color depends on what part of Italy you are from. The southern part of Italy is very close to Africa so if you are Sicilian- which I am part of – your skin is darker. Some of my sisters are very fair but my father, brother and I have darker skin.” They weren’t interested or cared. I got it. I was this white lady talking about getting a tan. I never got the chance to tell them that my mother sometimes wore pantyhose to the beach because her legs were so white.

The girls spoke with such confidence about shades of color that I asked them if they knew of this happening to people they knew or even themselves. With all of their heads nodding “yes” I realized why this was so important to them. Daecia gathered their attention back when she asked them to start reading. Having more girls than books they happily shared books and helped whoever was reading with words they couldn’t pronounce. They all followed along and listened carefully as their club members read.

Daecia would stop and asked them questions periodically about what they were reading. It seemed more like a conversation than comprehension questions because this was obviously important to them. They read for about 30 minutes never inattentive or disengaged. Reading the right book – the book that means something to the reader- was the key. It was obvious they saw themselves in the characters they were reading about.

At the end of the hour they cleaned up their snack wrappers (Daecia had provided snacks for them), collected the novels and journals. The girls put on their coats and headed out the classroom door. One little girl stopped and turned to Daecia and asked, “What are we reading next?” Daecia was exhausted from student teaching all day, and the extra hour she put in with these little girls, but she still managed a smile.

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society (or at least check out what they’re doing).

I have been a member of the Pennsylvania Poetry Society for three years, but only recently attended a spring meeting.  This was such a fun experience, it prompted me to write this post, with 5 reasons to join PPS, Inc.

  1. The Pennsylvania Poetry Society holds two meetings each year with workshops for developing your inner poet.  These workshops provide time to talk with other poets, share work, and work with poets from throughout the state. The most recent workshop featured Dana Sauers. 
  2. Meeting people who are also interested in reading and writing poetry. From their twitter page: “Founded in 1949, the PPS assists its members in the development of their craft and fosters an intelligent appreciation of poetry.”
  3. The PPS also runs an annual contest with 17 categories.  Members have the opportunity to enter 3 of those 17 that non-members cannot. The winning poems are published each year.
  4. Joining this group allows can give you notice about many other contests, which they share on Facebook and Twitter.
  5. Joining this group will help you if you’re trying to work on your own writing. Each newsletter (produced four times a year) provides a challenge for writing poetry, and there’s also an online publication each month, called Pennessence. There are plenty of opportunities to challenge yourself and publish your writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Five Reasons to Join the Pennsylvania Poetry Society

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection

PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference  this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.


Written by: Daecia Smith

Role: Grant Recipient

During my time at the elementary school with my book club of six fifth grade girls, I had many memorable experiences. One Wednesday afternoon, before we started the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, I decided to do an activity to introduce the book. I picked three videos to show to my students. One video was by Dove and embraced curly hair texture. The second video was a poem entitled “The Average Black Girl” performed by Ernestine Johnson on the Arsenio Hall show. The last video was of a three-year-old girl reciting the poem “Hey, Black Child!”

I chose videos pertaining to self-identity and struggle in the black community because those are the main themes in the novel. The front cover of the book is the face of a dark skinned African American girl, Maleeka Madison, the protagonist of the story. I was a bit apprehensive about bringing up this sensitive topic, but I deemed it necessary in order for them to fully comprehend the message of the book. Also, I thought this conversation was pertinent because it is very relevant to their lives as African American females growing up in Philadelphia.

They appreciated the videos in book club, but they were more interested in why I chose to show them. I explained my reasoning and then the girls started to talk about how hard it is being females of color in Philadelphia. They added that they do not like White people because they always mistreat them and because they are all racist. I tried to explain to them that their feelings of alienation are justified and that we will discuss this later on. I added that despite their instances with certain White people, their actions do not speak for the entire race. I asked them if they hate when other races make assumptions about Black people. For example, I asked “Do you hate it when other races say that all Black people are loud, ghetto, ignorant and eat pig feet?” First, they exclaimed their distaste and hatred for pig feet and then they agreed that they don’t like it when assumptions are made with regard to the entire Black community. I asked if they can see how other White people would feel since they made assumptions about their race based off a few bad experiences with specific people. They stared at me in dismay and I knew that based off of their hesitation, we were going to have an interesting time together.

My one goal while spending time with my students was to open their minds to the world around them. The broadening and expansion of their minds included the knowledge and accessibility to neighboring cities as well as acceptance, tolerance and conversation about race, gender and education. The novel The Skin I’m In helped me achieve my goal to have active and fruitful discussion about the world around my students. I wanted to provide them with instructions and advice as how to navigate their futures and the struggles that are uniquely theirs as young, black girls.

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NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection