Four ACE Teaching Fellows Present at National Conference
By: Melissa Pavloff
Early last month, four Alliance for Catholic Education Teaching Fellows (ACE 24) – Emma Solak, Anna Bourjaily, Megan Koerber, and Tyler Schilly – presented at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Houston.
The convention brought together teachers, professionals, scholars and published authors from around the country to engage in dialogue that focused on transforming classrooms. During the three-day conference, these four ACE teachers attended panels, workshops, and presentations to gain insight from this wide array of talent.
The weekend culminated with each of the four teachers presenting in a Sunday morning session called, "The Future is Now," a platform designed for beginning and pre-service teachers to share their ideas with one another.
Dr. Mike Macaluso, an ACE faculty member and fellow of the Institute for Educational Initiatives, helped prepare the teachers for the conference in what he classified as a two-pronged mentorship approach.
The first aspect was developing a strategic plan for navigating the conference as a whole. Macaluso advised the teachers to get the most out of the conference by pursuing their personal interests. “You should go and find things that interest you and that are going to be most relevant to your teaching because that’s what this is all about,” he urged.
The second prong entailed actively collaborating with each teacher individually as they prepared for their presentations. Dr. Kati Macaluso, the director of ACE Advocates, also mentored the teachers in this regard.
Kati Macaluso traced the preparation back to the summer, when she and her husband worked with the Teaching Fellows in an “English and Language Arts Methods” course. These conversations continued in the following months with several virtual and face-to-face interactions.
“Many of their presentations came from assignments that they had done for that course, which was designed to prepare them for the teaching they were going to do during the academic year,” she said.
Presenting Classroom-Tested, Refined Ideas
Koerber, who teaches fifth- through seventh-grade English and language arts in New Orleans, delivered a presentation entitled, “Connecting Home and School through Homework Interviews.”
Koerber implemented homework interviews into her own class curriculum in hopes of improving student motivation and helping students to draw more meaningful connections between their home and school lives. Students were instructed to ask family members a list of assigned questions that pertained to the material being covered in class. Koerber explained that the responses were used heavily during class discussion and that students were more excited to share the information they had gathered.
“The strength of the connection between home and school, family and teacher, is so important because it allows the students to feel more comfortable and confident in the knowledge that they already have,” Koerber said. “Parents also felt more comfortable with their ability to help their children with homework, and it gave them a better idea of what was happening in class.”
Bourjaily, a middle school English and language arts teacher in Sacramento, California presented on the value of introducing modern literature to the classroom as a means of personalizing school curriculum.
Bourjaily noted that her initial interest in this topic stemmed from her reading of Alan Gratz’s Refugee, which tells three separate stories of refugees living in World War II, Castro’s Cuba, and present-day Syria.
“Upon reading the book, I immediately saw the connections between past and present, and I felt that this book could help students develop empathy for what children their age have experienced in the past and are experiencing currently,” she said.
Solak, a middle school English and language arts teacher in Mobile, Alabama, detailed an interactive model for teaching grammar that centered around mentor sentences.
“I wanted to present a way to make grammar more fun, interesting, and meaningful,” she said. “The idea is that students are looking at sentences themselves and analyzing how grammar functions in order to make meaning at the sentence level.”
Schilly, a high school English teacher in Oklahoma City, discussed the notion of critical media literacy and its role in shaping how students interpret the world.
“Critical media literacy involves understanding and deconstructing the problematic, often debilitating dominant narratives that shape our understanding of the world in order to then begin constructing productive counter-narratives,” he explained.
Schilly noted the improvement in students’ attitudes toward literature as they began to investigate societal issues with a more critical, holistic lens.
“We focused on the importance of uncovering bias and seeking out a variety of sources to obtain a thorough understanding of complex topics,” Schilly said. “Analyzing their world in this way has made students more receptive to analyzing literature in subsequent units.”
Each of the four presenters drew heavily from personal experience, crafting engaging presentations well-founded in empirical evidence. Mike Macaluso commended the manner in which the ACE teachers presented, noting that their experience brought something to the table that few other presentations did.
“Our teachers had classroom-tested, refined ideas,” he said. “The ACE teachers really stood out in that regard.”
Takeaways from the NCTE Convention
Each Teaching Fellow also met with a nationally-recognized English scholar who provided constructive feedback on the presentations, and Macaluso noted the valuable learning opportunity offered by these professionals.
Bourjaily highlighted the diverse perspectives she heard during “The Future is Now,” recalling her excitement about presenting her own material and the various takeaways she gathered from other presenters.
“It was a great session to present at, because all of the presenters were young teachers who had great ideas to share with everyone in attendance,” she said. “The theme of the conference was ‘Raising Student Voice,’ and I came away with so many ideas and the motivation to do just that.”
Solak agreed, citing the many ideas she took away from the conference. “Everyone has a different angle, everyone has different advice, everyone has new ideas, so it’s always great to add those to your arsenal of strategies for the classroom,” she said.
Koerber noted the revitalizing power of presenting alongside other passionate, energetic educators.
“Teaching day-to-day can feel draining, but this conference was the perfect cure and helped remind me of why I joined ACE and what I am striving to do in my classroom,” she said.
Ultimately, the conference provided the Teaching Fellows with opportunities to restore their passions for teaching as well as collect some pragmatic tools that they could immediately take to their classrooms.
“In the week after the conference I was already using stuff that I had learned about at the conference,” Schilly said.
Kati Macaluso praised the successful presentations, noting that the Teaching Fellows honored both their objectives and motivations.
“I was so proud of their abilities to field questions from professors,” she said. “It was very apparent that these were very inspired, intellectually-sharp individuals who were able to clearly articulate not only what they were doing, but also why they were doing it.”
She also identified a heightened sense of confidence and potential for further growth for each of the Teaching Fellows. “They all realized that they have something innovative to contribute to the conversation,” she explained. “I hope that they also walked away from their own presentations with ideas of how to take what they had done to the next level.”
Learn more about the ACE Teaching Fellows and request more information at ace.nd.edu/teach.