WVCTE: 4 Years and Growing Strong

By Karla Hilliard

These past four years, Jess and I have collaborated with a core team of teachers who serve on the WVCTE Executive Committee. Together, we have worked to re-establish the West Virginia affiliate of NCTE in order to do the important work of connecting teachers across the state.

It has been and remains our true privilege to share our central message and belief in teacher voice, teacher expertise, and grassroots professional learning. Teachers across West Virginia continue to express how meaningful it is to connect and collaborate with like minded teachers and to engage in the wonderful push and pull of shared knowledge and passion.

And we couldn’t agree more. Leading WVCTE has given us some of our proudest, most important professional experiences. The WVELA state conference, co-hosted with National Writing Project at WVU and NCTE’EERS, provides WV ELA teachers some of the best and highest quality professional learning anywhere, and the WVCTE Best Practices Blog continues to expand its content and reach.

This year and last, we have been honored to receive a NCTE Affiliate Excellence award, Web Site of Excellence award, and Kent D. Williamson Membership award. This year, WVCTE was only 1 of 5 affiliates to be named an Affiliate of Excellence.

But we still have work to do.

WVCTE currently has members in 45 of West Virginia’s 55 counties, but we want to reach teachers in all 55. We still hear quite often, “This is wonderful, but we didn’t know this opportunity existed!” or “Why the heck haven’t we heard of WVCTE until now?!”

We want to change that.

If you live in or near the eastern panhandle, WVCTE leadership is hosting an informational meeting and best practices book swap the evening of October, 24 at 6:00 PM in the Spring Mills High School media center. All you have to do is show up and bring a book you love teaching or sharing with students.

Can’t make it? No worries! Meet us on Zoom Monday, October 28 at 8:00 PM. Just click HERE to RSVP and we’ll send you directions for the call.

And, if you’re in the Charleston area next weekend, October 4-5, WVCTE will be at the West Virginia Book Festival, and we would LOVE to meet you there, too! Stop by, learn more about WVCTE, talk shop, and snag a snazzy t-shirt.

WVCTE is hopeful about the path ahead and the ways that, together, we can impact teacher and student learning. And we want you to join us! Reach out, connect, and join us for a year of meaningful learning. We stand firm in our belief that we are one another’s greatest resource.

Here’s to learning and growing together.

Karla, Co-Director WVCTE

Have a question or want to talk finer points? Email us at wvcte15@gmail.com, message us on Facebook, or connect with us on Twitter @wvcte.

Put #WVELA19 on Your List This Year

Join WVCTE and NWP@WVU for #WVELA19, a state conference for K-16 educators. All teachers from everywhere are welcome. Check out our line up!

My desk is currently covered in Post-It notes. Grocery lists, To-do lists, bills to pay lists. There is also a students whose grades need updated list and recommendation letters to be written list, a texts and ideas to remember for next semester list, and like most of you, a last minute gifts I need to buy and and put a bow on just in time for Christmas list.

I have more lists, too, of course. But these lists are tucked away out of plain site in my notebook. I have lists reminding me how to be. I have lists of ideas and goals, of poems and verses—reflections on how to love my children, my students, and myself better.

I’ve written about it before here, but I believe that when you make a commitment, it should be a definite yes. A risk? Maybe. But a yes.

Each year, one way I commit to growing both personally and professionally is by seeking out and attending relevant and engaging professional development. I’ve found experiences such as the National Council of Teachers of English annual convention and the Appalachian Studies Association conference both meaningful and challenging. When I learn from educators and writers who challenge ideas about what it means to be an effective and responsible educator, I grow as a teacher and a person.

If, like me, you’re making your lists and checking them twice this season, consider adding one (or two) more: WVCTE’s co-sponsored conference in collaboration with NWP@WVU, the West Virginia English Language Arts (WVELA) conference, held in Morgantown on West Virginia University’s main campus. This year’s conference is March 29-30. The conference theme is A West Virginia For All: Creating Diverse and Inclusive ELA Classrooms.

Plus, there’s still time to submit a proposal and share your expertise with teachers from all over West Virginia and the country. You don’t want to miss the necessary learning that happens this weekend.

Here’s why…

1—The brilliant Dr. Jocelyn Chadwick, a classroom teacher for over 30 years, former Harvard Graduate professor and current guest lecturer, consultant, and former NCTE president, will kick off the conference on Friday morning. Her energy will engage and challenge you. Dr. Chadwick will inspire you to reflect on your practice and think critically about your role as a classroom teacher. She is known for engaging with participants in hallways or over the lunch table, and if you don’t know, she loves West Virginia.

WVCTE Executive Committee members with Dr. Chadwick in Houston at #NCTE18

2—THE Kwame Alexander is set to be Saturday’s afternoon keynote speaker. If you’ve shared any of Mr. Alexander’s work with your students, you already know the depth of passion and talent he offers. With books like The Crossover, Newbery and Coretta Scott King award, Rebound, Solo, and Swing, and tons of engaging lesson plans and activities to implement in your classroom, you will leave feeling inspired and energized by this acclaimed author’s talk. Plus! You can have books signed for your classroom library!

Kwame Alexander visiting the WVCTE booth & one of his biggest fans at WV Book Festival

3—Tricia Ebarvia, #DisruptTexts co-founder and Heinemann fellow, will also join us Saturday. Tricia’s work is some of the most important work being done in education today. And that is the work of “challeng[ing] the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum [and] to aid and develop teachers committed to anti-racist/anti-bias teaching pedagogy and practices.” Read Tricia’s essay We Teach Who We Are: Unpacking our Identities, and come learn from her. You will leave a better teacher.

a Tricia Ebarvia after school pic in her classroom

4—Oh, and the hits keep on coming. Folger Shakespeare Library Education is back with us for a second year this year! We are honored and humbled by Dr. Peggy O’Brien and Corinne Viglietta who believe deeply in the work of WVCTE and WV teachers, and likewise, we admire their passion and commitment to teachers and how they bring Shakespeare into classrooms. At WVELA18, teachers said Folger was the some of the best professional development they had ever received, and we have to agree. This year, Dr. O’Brien will share the Folger method, a pedagogy applicable to any complex text, and offer up ways you can disrupt Shakespeare through text pairings.

Up close selfie with Dr. Peggy O’Brien at the Folger booth at #NCTE18

5—But if you’re still not convinced, a few more. Affrilachian poet Chrystal Good will be reading Friday, and she is amazing! Check out her poem “Boom Boom” here . Warning: it will stick with you for a long while. Also, Ann Pancake will also be reading! Yes, you read that right: fellow Appalachian Ann Pancake, author of works such as Strange as this Weather Has Been and Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley.

Chrystal Good reading “Boom Boom” in an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown

PLUS, dozens of teachers and teacher leaders from all over teaching and leading sessions on how to strengthen our curriculums and practice for our students in our classrooms.

As my friend Susan Barber says often, we are influencing the next generation. And on my list this year, leading the next generation with eyes and heart open…that is a definite yes.

We hope you’ll consider joining us for what can only be a remarkable weekend of learning. Remember, there is still time to submit a proposal, and we’d love it if you added that to your list, too. West Virginia, out of state, and preservice teachers are all welcome to attend and present.

Register ( and share!) at www.wvcte.com.

Wishing you the happiest of holidays full of love, beauty, rest, and wonder. See you in Morgantown.  

Karla, Executive Vice President WVCTE

Have questions for WVCTE about #WVELA19? You can email us at wvcte15@gmail.com or connect with us on Twitter or Facebook @WVCTE.

Write to Fight

As NCTE’s National Day on Writing approaches, I’ve been reflecting on writing, its power, its many forms. But also, on how my own writing has changed and why teaching writing is more important now than ever.

Many of us write to make sense of the world. And that’s our goal for our students, right? Give them the power to put pen to paper and make sense of the world around them and their place in it.

Writing is thinking. It’s hoping. Writing is where we create worlds, but also interpret our own. Writing is the exploration of love and pain. Light and dark.

But lately, the world has grown increasingly dark, and even us grown-ups are having trouble making sense of it. We are living in difficult and troubling times. Our nation is deeply divided, and more and more Americans are being marginalized and threatened by the current political and social climate in our country.  It seems like every day I read a headline or a news update that doesn’t make sense to me, that has the potential to floor me—one that makes me want to curl into a ball and hide under a blanket and have a good cry.  There are days that the world feels hopeless. I have lately found myself in frequent conversations with both my students and colleagues about how to make a real difference, how to put good into the world, how to fight back.

And one way to fight is to write. 

When I first started writing, I wrote to find my voice. I wanted to make art, to put something beautiful in the world that didn’t exist before, to create worlds and characters who believe in goodness and love and hope. I would (and still do) write poems about this place that I’m from—a place filled with contradictions, but also incredible beauty and strength. I wrote odes, laments, fantastic fairytales filled with magic.

I didn’t often share my writing, but my writing did get better; my voice got stronger. 

But then, few years ago one of my students died of a heroin overdose. When his voice was forever silenced, I felt powerless. I wanted the world to know there was more to this kid than just the single story headline they were reading in our local paper. 

So I wrote. 

I wrote a lengthy Facebook post about the student as I had known him in my classroom, about the goodness that can and does exist in most people struggling with addiction. It was the first time I had used my writing as platform to impact real change. I read a version of this post at his memorial service, and after, I felt a shift in the way I began to see my own writing.  My writing and the way I taught writing became…more. It became an avenue for art and advocacy, creativity and change.

Last year, West Virginia teachers and public employees led one of the biggest labor movements in our nation’s history to protest inadequate health care and low wages. Leaving my classroom during this time was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, but I knew that to win our fight, the teacher story needed to be told. The public and our students needed to know why we were leaving our classrooms to demand respect and a living wage.

So I wrote.

I wrote blog posts and essays and op-eds, defending West Virginia public employees and the hard, but necessary choices teachers were making.  I responded to comments from anti-education lawmakers directly. I used my writing to called out the lies legislators were (and are still) telling about the teacher work stoppage. I told and will continue to tell the West Virginia teacher story as truly as I can.

In these recent years of advocacy and activism, I have found that though it seems cliché, the pen truly can be mightier than the sword. Writing is the most powerful tool we can give our students and ourselves to combat the powerlessness we sometimes feel. 


Writing is the most powerful way can elevate the marginalized voices in our classrooms and communities. Writing is the one of the most powerful avenues of advocacy we and our students possess.  Writing has the ability to not just change us, but to change our communities and the world.  There is no more powerful weapon in the fight for what is right than an authentic and true voice telling his or her truth plainly and powerfully.

And though I have been penning more non-fiction than I used to, I still write stories filled with magic and light. I’ve started to see these works, creative works, as a another way to fight. My favorite writer, Neil Gaiman, said once, “Fairytales are more than true, not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell that dragons can be beaten.” I use my stories and my poems to combat the single story of Appalachia. To fight for this place that means so much to me. To beat back the dragons–to advocate for my students, my state, my profession, and myself.

I write to fight. And so must we all.


Because if we don’t–if we don’t place pen to paper and show the powers at be that we will not go silently into the dark—hopelessness will win. Fear will win. Intolerance will win. Sexism will win. Dishonesty will win. Racism and bigotry will win.

And we cannot allow that to happen, educators.

We will not allow that to happen.

We will teach our students to fight fear, to fight bigotry one keystroke at a time. We will teach them advocacy with every narrative essay prompt. We will give them power with every poem. We will show them that every carefully shaped letter declares to the world that their voices will not be silenced.


We must teach them that to write is to fight, to write is to change the world.  

And educators everywhere need to keep writing, keep putting good into the world, keep fighting for students, for classrooms, for themselves. When you feel powerless, raise up your own voices and write. When the darkness threatens to overtake you, let the glow of your laptop screen push it back. When you are afraid or sad or angry, tell your stories. Tell our stories, teachers.


Writing is how we conquer dragons, how we make the world the place we know it should be.  Writing is how we fight.


WVCTE is wondering…

As the National Day on Writing approaches, what motivates you to write? Why do you teach writing? Why should teachers also be writers?  We want to hear from you! Email us, send us a message on Facebook, or Tweet us, and use #WhyIWrite in your message!






An Open Letter to the Mountain State

As a mother, one of the first lessons I learned once my son started talking was that I could never anticipate what he would say.  For example, in 2017 I was named the West Virginia State Teacher of the Year, a title I never expected to hold.  Immediately following the ceremony, I was having a hard time putting the title into perspective, of feeling deserving of such an immense honor.  When my husband and I told our eight-year-old son about the award and my husband proudly showed him my plaque, I noticed my son was getting very upset.  When I asked him what was wrong, he said to me, “You know, my teacher is pretty awesome!  She always helps me when I need help!  She probably should’ve been Teacher of the Year!”  And instantly, there was my perspective.  I told him he was probably right, and that he should tell her that when he saw her at school that morning.  You see, my son didn’t see his teacher as “just a teacher,” he saw her as someone who cared about him and pushed him to do his best.  It was a great reminder to me that sometimes we all need to know that others believe in us so that we can believe in ourselves.

West Virginia is in an education crisis; that fact is inarguable.  Students in over 700 classrooms across our state are being educated by non-certified classroom teachers.  Our teachers do not have the resources they need to support our students’ learning.  Without an educated workforce, West Virginia simply cannot move forward.

The recruitment, preparation, and retention of high quality teachers is one of the biggest challenges facing the Mountain State.  I want my best and my brightest students to come back into West Virginia classrooms as strong and empowered teachers, but we need to give them a reason to do that!  Teachers leave the classroom for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is a lack of support, low pay, and ever-increasing insurance premiums.  Teachers stay in the classroom for one reason: the students.  We stay for the students who hunger for learning and those who are just hungry.  We stay for those who need guidance and those who just need.  We stay for the students.

I feel blessed to have been born and raised in the Mountain State.  Over the past year, I have traveled extensively representing our state; but, I have been nowhere with the natural beauty of the West Virginia hills; nowhere with the kindness, resourcefulness, and diligence of our West Virginia natives.  Our state is blessed to be one that is rich in natural resources, but our greatest natural resource is our children and they deserve the best chance at a successful future.   Research tells us that teachers have the highest school-based influence on student achievement.  As a teacher, I want to see our students empowered to own their education; empowered to set high expectations for themselves; empowered to achieve goals they once thought impossible.  The students in our classrooms need to know that they CAN achieve.  I not only want to see this for my students, but for all the students in the Mountain State, including my own son.  This all starts with our teachers.

I am a teacher.  It’s not just my profession; it’s who I am.  Education is what I know and, along with my family, education is my passion.  I tell people that I didn’t choose teaching; teaching chose me.  I invested in my education so I could be the kind of teacher my students deserve.  I have a Master’s degree in secondary education, plus an additional 45+ hours of graduate credit for courses and professional development I’ve participated in, mostly at my own expense.  I am a National Board Certified Teacher.  I hold advanced credentials and an additional certification in administration.  I invested in myself and my education so my students would have the best teacher possible.  Shouldn’t West Virginia do the same?


The Hype is Real: #WVCTE18 Conference Preview

By Jessica Salfia

It’s 2018 which means it’s CONFERENCE year, folks!

(Here’s some live footage of me whenever I think about our upcoming WVCTE conference):


We have partnered with the National Writing Project at WVU and the WVU NCTE student affiliate, the NCTE’eers, to bring the teachers of West Virginia an opportunity to celebrate The Power of Place.

April 20-21 ELA educators from all over West Virginia will take over the Mountain Lair on the campus of WVU to hear master teachers from West Virginia and across the country share best practices from their own classrooms and enjoy some truly amazing featured speakers and presenters.

Our affiliate, especially our WVCTE Executive Committee, and our friends at WVU have done extraordinary work to not just give West Virginia educators this chance to gather together to hone their craft and celebrate great teaching, but to also highlight the resources of home.

Today, I’d like to share with you some of the conference highlights.

1. Marc Harshman, The West Virginia Poet Laureate

We are thrilled to kick off this conference with our state poet laureate as the first featured session on Friday morning. If you are unfamiliar with Harshman’s work, stop what you’re doing right now and pick up one of his poetry collections or one of the many beautiful childrens’ books he has authored, or read this blog post I authored about how I’ve used Harshman’s work in my own classroom.

As a resource for classroom teachers, Marc has something to offer any ELA classroom.  I have watched him keep high school students on the edge of their seats, and then head straight to an elementary school classroom to read and share his children’s books with the “little guys”.  If you are interested in the #TeachLivingPoets movement happening in classrooms across the country, then there is no better poet to start with than one of our very own.

2. Authors from Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods, a panel discussion

WVU Press has published a truly extraordinary collection of contemporary prose and poetry from West Virginia writers. On Friday, April 20 featured authors from Eyes Glowing at the Edge of the Woods will share the stage to read from this beautiful anthology and participate in a panel discussion that explores writing in West Virginia and way to incorporate more regional writing into the classroom.

In addition to Marc Harshman, panelists will include:

  • Doug Van Gundy: Van Gundy’s first book of poetry, A Life Above Water, was published in 2007, and his poems and essays have appeared in The Oxford American, Ecotone, and The Fretboard Journal. He is currently Director of the Honors Program at West Virginia Weslyan College.
  • Randi Ward: Ward is a poet, photographer, and translator. Check out how Karla Hilliard has used Ward’s Whipstitches (2015) in her AP Lit classroom HERE, and learn more about Randi and her extraordinary poetry and art by vising randiward.com.
  • Natalie Sypolt: Sypolt, a writer and teacher at Pierpont Community & Technical College in Fairmont, and also is the high school coordinator for the West Virginia Writers Workshop in Morgantown, WV. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including Glimmer Trainr.kv.r.y,  Kenyon Review Online,Willow Springs ReviewThe Queen City Review,FlashquakePotomac ReviewOklahoma Review, and Kestrel. Natalie’s writing has received several awards, including the Glimmer Train New Writer award, the 2009 West Virginia Fiction Award from Shepherd University, judged by Silas House and the 2009 Betty Gabehart Prize sponsored by the Kentucky Women’s Writers Conference. She is the author of The Sound of Holding Your Breath (2018).  You can learn more about Natalie at https://nataliesypolt.weebly.com/.
  • Renée K. Nicholson: Nicholson is assistant professor in the Programs for Multi- and Interdisciplinary Studies Program at West Virginia University, and the author of the poetry collection Roundabout Directions to Lincoln Center (Urban Farmhouse Press, 2014) and is co-editor of the forthcoming anthology Bodies of Truth: Narratives of Illness, Disability, and Medicine (University of Nebraska Press, 2019). Renée was the 2011 Emerging Writer-in-Residence at Penn State-Altoona, and her writing has appeared in Poets & Writers, Midwestern Gothic, Moon City Review, The Superstition Review, Electric Literature, The Gettysburg Review and elsewhere. She has received grants from The West Virginia Commission for the Arts, WVU ADVANCE, West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, and others. Her creative collaborations include a narrative medicine project writing with over fifty patients with cancer receiving care at the WVU Cancer Institute. Her website is www.reneenicholson.com.


3. Roger May, Looking at Appalachia

On Friday evening, join us for a conversation with Roger May. Roger May’s photographs, essays, and interviews have been published by The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, Al Jazeera America, National Geographic, The Oxford American, Le Monde diplomatique, Photo District News, and others. In February 2014, he started the crowdsourced Looking at Appalachia project.  If you’re interested in teaching visual rhetoric, be sure to check out May’s work at http://www.rogermayphotography.com/ or visit Looking at Appalachia.

4. Brian Stzabnik, Talks with Teachers

Satuday will kick off with a presentation from Brian Sztabnik. Sztabnik created the Talks With Teachers podcast, www.aplithelp.com, and #aplitchat on Twitter. He has taught English Language Arts for 11 years in middle schools, high schools, the inner city and the suburbs. He is currently the lead English teacher at a high school on Long Island, where he teaches AP Literature and Composition, Creative a Writing, and Public Speaking. He is the College Board adviser for AP Literature and was a 2015 Bammy! nominee for Education Commentor/ Blogger.

5. Robert Gipe, author of Trampoline (2015) and Weedeater (2018)

Saturday afternoon get ready for a reading and a conversation with Kentucky based writer, Robert Gipe.  Gipe is the Appalachian Program Director at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, and teaches English and Appalachian Studies, manages the Southeast Kentucky Revitalization Project, and is the coordinator of the Higher Ground community performance project.  Gipe has also facilitated the It’s Good To Be Young in the Mountains conference, and for the past seventeen years the coordination of SKCTC’s participation in the Appalachian Teaching Project (ATP) which brings together students from colleges and universities across the region who have been working in classes on community development projects targeted at communities within the mountain region. Gipe is also the author of the novels Trampoline (2015) and Weedeater (2018).  If you haven’t read it, check out this WVCTE Best Practices blog post about Trampoline

(We can’t WAIT to read Weedeater!)

6. The Folger Shakespeare Library

IT’S THE FOLGER SHAKESPEARE LIBRARY! Need we say more?  On Saturday, conference attendees will have access to multiple sessions led by master teachers in the Folger National Teacher Corps, these workshops provide lively, hands-on practice with techniques that work with all kinds of students in all kinds of classrooms. Through a range of activities rooted in Shakespeare’s language and aligned to national standards, teachers learn how to get students on their feet and into complex texts in minutes. Professional Learning Days draw on the Folger’s unique blend of scholarship, performance, and education, and can be customized to incorporate texts from your school’s curriculum.

7. In addition to these incredible featured sessions, teachers from West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan will be sharing best practices and classroom strategies and resources that work.

Register HERE for #WVCTE18 Exploring the Power of Place.

I can’t wait for April!  Hope to see YOU there!