WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award

WVCTE believes teachers do the most important work anywhere. And in West Virginia, we want to honor you.

Applications are now open for the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award. Celebrate your work!

Share with colleagues and consider applying.

Our mentor Bob Dandoy, WVCTE’s Obi-Wan, retired educator and affiliate leader for the PA Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (PCTELA), former Region 2 Representative for NCTE’s Standing Committee on Affiliates and now Butler City, PA Council member, once said teachers should toot their own horns and celebrate their education and achievements. Bob is a teacher’s teacher, and he firmly believes in the expertise of educators. And he believes that expertise should be shared and celebrated.

And I agree. There are so many incredible teachers I work with/have worked with who are deserving of praise and recognition for making the impossible possible with their students.

Just this week I received an email from our school’s Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, who runs a professional-scale cafe with our students during the school day, and her enthusiasm is infectious. “Working with yeast is my jam!” she exclaimed when describing this week’s menu. These are the things that remind me how special teachers are and the talent and joy they bring to our young people.

I’m betting you know a teacher like this. I’d say there’s a good chance you are a teacher like this—one whose enthusiasm, expertise, dedication, and commitment to students and learning is infectious.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, let’s celebrate this important work.

Applications are now open for the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award. We have had a tremendous pool of nominees and finalists these past two years, and have awarded two extraordinary West Virginia teachers: Tia Miller of Chapmanville Regional High School, and Andrew Carroll of Elkins High School the WVCTE Excellence in Teaching Award.

Winners receive $100.00 and a pretty sweet engraved glass apple and are recognized at our annual awards luncheon at our state conference WVELA, co-sponsored by NWP@WVU.

Applications are simple. All you need to submit is an updated CV, a 2-page teaching philosophy, and 2 letters of reference. GO HERE to share this opportunity with colleagues or to submit your application.

WVCTE believes teachers do the most important work anywhere. And in West Virginia, we want to honor you.

Applications are due by Monday, March 2. Finalists will be notified by Monday, March 16, and the winner will be announced at the awards luncheon at WVELA20.

Celebrate your work! Share with colleagues and consider applying. Do what Bob Dandoy says…toot your own horn and celebrate the work you do with students each and every day.

There’s still time to submit! Present at WVELA20!

By Jessica Salfia

One of the things in my professional career that I’m most proud of is the work we’ve done to create WVELA. This conference is an opportunity for West Virginia’s ELA teachers to come together and share, collaborate, and grow. We all know that there is some truly extraordinary teaching happening across the mountain state. Let’s highlight it!

All West Virginia teachers:

This year’s theme is Voice, Identity, and Community: Responsive Teaching In and Out of Schools.


There are so many ways YOU could address this topic!

Got a story about how you’ve reached your students based on their needs? Come share it!

Want to talk about your work as a teacher organizer and activist? We’d love to hear from you even if you don’t teach in an ELA field!

Do you have a lesson or unit that asks students to consider their communities and their roles in it! Walk us through it!

Do you use your classroom as a vehicle for positive change in your school or community? Come tell us about it!


We hope you will join us in Morgantown this spring, and share your talents, your successes, your students’ successes with us!

To submit a proposal for WVELA 20, visit this link: https://wvcte554069452.wordpress.com/submit-a-proposal-2/

Let’s Talk About the Elementary Canon

470320D8-85C7-489E-AC10-EEAD2E480290.jpegWhat can I say about WVELA ’19 that hasn’t already been said by so many? Jessica’s recap covered so much of a weekend that was transformative and inspiring, and I’ve never left a conference with my well (and my heart) so filled. At the final plenary session of the conference, poet and author of The Crossover Kwame Alexander shared his then yet to be released treasure of a book, The Undefeated. He began his keynote by sharing a sentiment that I truly believe echoed in the hearts of every educator there: “I believe in the power of words to transform lives.” Kwame moved us, challenged us, inspired us. Then we all left, returning to what he referred to as our “sacred” work.

Isn’t that work why we’re all really educators? Isn’t it why you’re reading this post right now? You believe in the power of words to transform lives, and you believe that the work you do in transforming these lives is vital, honorable, and never finished.

One of the ways in which we transform the lives we have the privilege of impacting is through the way in which we choose, read, and teach texts. This is one of the most powerful takeaways from WVELA ’19 that I’ve kept tucked inside my heart and mind. As Kwame’s words reverberate through them also, I feel a mounting sense of conviction to share what I’ve learned about the ways in which we can teach by valuing, celebrating, and honoring our students. Ways that let them know they are seen and known.

I previously shared my own journey and growth in the ways that I promote diversity and inclusivity in classrooms through a blog post about the “shock of recognition” and why our students desperately deserve it. In this post, I touched on the ways in which I’ve strived to honor my students’ diverse experiences, identities, and perspectives and the many ways in which I have – with the best of intentions – failed. As I learn, I do better. I strive to be better.

So much of my ongoing growth is due to the amazing teacher leaders and educators at WVELA  ’19 and the work of those like Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop, who they have pointed me to. It is her research and work that has given us insight into how books are “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” and the transformative power that they offer readers – ourselves and our students. If we understand these possibilities and how our students both need and deserve them, where do we go from here?

“Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.” – Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990)

So much of the work and learning we do as teachers forces us to rely on one another. Ours is a passion and career where we find renewed strength when we join together. The more connected we become, the stronger we become… and the more we grow. As I attended sessions at WVELA ’19, met and chatted with educators, and cried through powerful keynotes, I become more aware and certain of these truths.

This is why it made sense that, naturally, my heart leapt out of my chest as I listened to Tricia Ebarvia share the work she and her team are doing through restorative practice as they #DisruptTexts in a typically Western, white and male canon. Further still, I felt myself want to shout out loud in unison with the Hallelujah chorus that was rising within this same heart as I was encouraged to #TeachLivingPoets and widen my reading and teaching lenses through #THEBOOKCHAT.

I looked around the rooms I was in thinking, Wow. These are my people.

Only, sometimes it can be slightly polarizing to feel like one of the few elementary teachers you know who are dedicated to and currently engaging in this work. I know there are others out there, and thanks to my WVELA experiences I’m more inspired than ever to seek them out and connect. It’s time for me to step out from the background and join in the conversation. And so, I find myself looking for ways to join in the conversation and encourage others to do the same.

This is a conversation that is threaded throughout hashtags and Twitter handles of the secondary ELA cybersphere. The discussion is impassioned and honest, with souls bared. They challenge, encourage, and learn from one other. There’s a sense of collective purpose and common good – tied together by the same belief in the power of words at the heart of their sacred work.

But equity, inclusivity, and diversity are not grade specific.

We need to bare our souls as well.

So, let’s talk about the elementary canon.

So often, the read alouds and mentor texts that are used are those that have always been used, and not often questioned. And they are usually limiting – exclusive narratives from the same perspectives, cultures, and identities that keep our students from experiencing books as mirrors, windows, or sliding glass doors.

This is why I continue to be so thankful for organizations and movements like We Need Diverse Books, Teaching for Justice, Rethinking Schools, and 1,000 Black Girl Books. There are a plethora of resources for elementary and middle school teachers who want to take part in the conversation and take steps toward growing as teachers through engaging in restorative practice.

So, in the spirit of National Poetry Month and in an effort to #buildmystack as I continue to honor inclusivity and diversity through the texts I choose, I wanted to share a few of the poets I’ve been celebrating and teaching recently. Poetry is by far my favorite thing to teach. Over the years, I’ve created units for teaching elementary students that have consisted of poetry from Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost. All amazing poets, and all no longer with us. While I enjoy reading living poets, I hadn’t previously considered the lack of exposure my students had to them or how limiting my selection was.

This year, I’ve been committed to introducing students to living poets, with particular emphasis on poets from various cultures, races, identities, and groups. The accessibility of poetry makes it the perfect genre for introducing some of the heavier topics and social issues that elementary students are sometimes shielded from. Also a beneficial means of tackling interpretive work, determining themes, and analyzing authors’ choice and craft, it allows for reading through a critical, analytical lens.


Some of our absolute favorites in fourth and fifth grade this year have been Naomi Shihab Nye, Kwame Alexander, Jacqueline Woodson, and Clint Smith. All of these poets’ work are great access points to introducing students to social issues. They are also a great starting place for disrupting the elementary canon. Most recently, I have witnessed “the right way to speak” from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and “Commercial Break” from Locomotion challenge, move, and inspire students, much like the words of Kwame Alexander in that auditorium full of teachers.

While I acknowledge that I’m still moving through my journey as a teacher who values social justice, restorative practice, and equity, I strive for my practices to match my philosophies. As I reflect on how far I’ve come with some satisfaction, I look with anticipation to the teacher I will become. More than this, I look forward to meeting and learning from those who will make me better.


WVCTE is wondering… How do you disrupt the elementary canon? What diverse books, authors, and poets do you recommend? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!


Jessica Michael Bowman is a literacy coach for Berkeley County Schools, unabashed bibliophile, and advocate of lifelong literacy. When she’s not coaching teachers, teaching students, or blogging for WVCTE, she’s probably crying over a book. Aside from literacy, her other loves of life are traveling with her family and adding to her music collection. You can connect with her on Twitter @JMichaelBowman5.


Appalachian Literature: Celebrating Identity, Connectedness, and Diversity at WVELA ’19

Growing up Appalachian

Growing up in Appalachia, I have always felt an unbreakable connection to home and a deep appreciation of place.  I can remember, as a very young child, vacationing away from West Virginia for the first time. The days were dizzying with sun and laughter, and as I slept each night, I could still feel the gentle rocking of the ocean and taste its salt between my lips. I felt such joy at the newness and difference of it all.

And then slowly, I would begin to feel something else – a creeping anxiety that I could not name; growing through too many sun soaked, salt water days. I would look out over the ocean, or across the flat land and feel a mounting sense of homesickness – not for my house with its four man-made walls, but for the mountains. And it’s the same today. If I’m gone for too long, or have travelled too far away – I find myself missing these mountains and all that they represent. These mountains have made me feel safe, sheltered, connected, and even isolated.

Today, while I still acknowledge this continual pull to the mountains and connection to my home, I cannot describe to you how or why thoughts of West Virginia stir up feelings that seem mystical and ancient beyond my understanding.

What does it mean to be Appalachian? Karla inspired me to deeply ponder this question earlier this year, and I find myself still reflecting on how the place where I’ve lived and grown has shaped me.


My daughter, overlooking the view where I grew up in Grant County, WV.

Growing up in the Potomac Highlands (Grant County, represent!) I did not feel 100% like I could own my Applalchianness. I had never seven seen a coal mine, much less a piece of coal, and our valley, while steeped in Civil War history, seemed far removed from the struggle of the mine wars. sometimes felt like I missed out on all that made me a true “West Virginian.”

Still… as a child, to be Appalachian meant studying our proud culture and partaking in the traditions rooted in the beginnings of our wild, beautiful, and sometimes painful history. It meant churning the apple cutter with my classmates, trying out the dulcimer and the jaw harp, making the apple head dolls, sewing the quilts, studying for the Golden Horseshoe, watching October Sky, visiting the one room schoolhouse on the grounds of our elementary school as well as trails of the Civil War, and learning how to honor where you’ve been and appreciate where you came from.

I have often wondered if my wonderful, inspiring teachers had conspired together – deciding to instill in us this deep appreciation of Appalachia and West Virginia’s place within it, or if they were just teaching standards with a sense enthusiasm, understanding, and love that has marked my memory. I will never forget hanging on every word of Homer Hickham’s Rocket Boys as Mr. Foley read it aloud to us, begging him to read on, and I can still picture each scene in my mind. And when Mrs. Harman engaged us in a study of Appalachian literature through books like Gauley Mountain by Louise McNeil, I found my eyes opened to just how connected Appalachians really are to our history.

As I began my own career as an elementary teacher, I found myself drawn to works of children’s literature that celebrate and explore Appalachia. Books by Cynthia Rylant were my go-to: When I Was Young in the MountainsAppalachia: The Voices of Singing Birds, and The Relatives Came. They were so familiar in the amount of love, and ya’ll, and pride, and nostalgia they held. And when I shared Missing May with my students, it was like I was reading it again for the first time – more of the same and also this feeling of I know these people, but can’t put my finger on where I know them from… as Summer takes in all that Ob and May and their little home are.

I have also strived, in my role as literacy coach, to inspire teachers to develop a love literacy in their students; meeting them where they are like the Packhorse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky. That Book Woman by Heather Hanson chronicles the journey of one of these women and her impact on a young boy – “making two readers, out of one.” These librarians are truly a treasure within our Appalachian heritage and an inspiration to educators today, and I always feel an added sense of pride that they were women of the mountains.

What Appalachian Means to Me Now

While this heritage is precious to me, my understanding of what it means to be Appalachian has evolved, branching outward and growing deeper. For me, it’s becoming less about our rich traditions and lively history and more about owning a sense of identity and acknowledging our connectedness, as well as our diversity. While I treasure the picture of Appalachia and its people as some of the warmest, most good-hearted souls (spoiler alert: we are) on this planet who do a lot with a little, we are so much more and this. As I continue to study the many facets of our shared identity, it nudges me back toward that question: What does it mean to be Appalachian?

This state and this region are so much like the quilts that are a deep part of our heritage – pieced together with care, held together by common threads, and yet so vibrant in our beauty and striking in our differentness. WE define what it is to be Appalachian. WE write the narrative.

And this is why I am so excited for WVELA 2019 in Morgantown, West Virginia. There are so many voices, identifies, and experiences within Appalachia for us to explore, celebrate, and honor. I am all about our past, but I am HERE for our present and future. Our resiliency, determination, compassion, advocacy, and art are worthy beyond words, and this conference will be a celebration of all of these. It will also be an opportunity to widen the lens through which we view Appalachia and encourage us to challenge our perspectives.

For these reasons and more, I cannot wait to attend sessions by Ann Pancake, award-winning Appalachian author of Me and My Daddy Listen to Bob Marley and Strange as the Weather Has Been AND Chrystal Good, Affrilachian poet, speaker, and author of “Valley Girl,” a collection of poetry. With works that are marked by the beauty, struggle, and diversity of Appalachia, we are so fortunate that are lending their voices to this weekend. Both offer us an opportunity to help our students to widen their own lenses, challenge their perspectives, and expand our appreciate for and understanding of Appalachian literature.

In celebration of how diverse and yet connected we are, I hope you will join us.

WVCTE is wondering… How do you use Appalachian literature do you use in your classroom? What are you looking forward to at WVELA ’19? Leave us a comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!


Jessica Michael Bowman is a literacy coach for Berkeley County Schools, unabashed bibliophile, and advocate of lifelong literacy. When she’s not coaching teachers, teaching students, or blogging for WVCTE, she’s probably crying over a book. Aside from literacy, her other loves of life are traveling with her family and adding to her music collection. You can connect with her on Twitter @JMichaelBowman5.

Disrupting the Literary Canon: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

Disrupting the Literary Canon: Culturally Responsive Pedagogy


  • The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  • Billy Buddby Herman Melville
  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  • The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne


These titles could have been pulled from any high school English reading list; a Who’s Who of dead, educated white males in the literary canon.  In ancient Greek, the term canonmeans “standard” or “measuring rod.”  In modern vernacular, we often use the term canonto mean the best and/or most representative works of a certain kind.  In literature, canonical works are often valued because they provide uniformity in education and scholarship.  When our students graduate and enter higher education, they enter with a common knowledge base of canonical works they’ve all read and studied, works that are supposedly worth our time and intellectual energy to both read and teach.

The truth is, however, that there are several works in the canon that I feel strongly that students should experience before they graduate.  Works like To Kill a Mockingbird, Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, and The Turn of the Screw.  These are works that I value based largely on the criteria used to establish our literary canon:

  1. Aesthetic elements: language and style
  2. Subject matter
  3. Innovation
  4. Authenticity

The titles listed at the beginning of this article are all book I studied in high school.  The only selection I can remember in any detail is Julius Caesarand that’s because I’ve taught it, not because I read it in high school.  When I look at that list from my veteran teacher lens, the problem I see is that there is not one character in those canonical texts who looks like me, talks like me, or offers me a shared experience.  These works have, without question, stood the test of time in terms of their aesthetic elements.  They were, indeed, innovative and authentic for their time(s), but the question I find myself asking now is whether or not the subject matter is such that our modern readers can engagewith the text in a way that allows for the creation of critical connects: text-to-self, text-to-text, and text-to-world.  Can our modern readers study To Kill a Mockingbirdand understand the connection to the current context of race in our society?  Can they relate to the experience of Mayella Ewell and understand that she, too, is a metaphorical mockingbird?  Can they look at Atticus Finch and “climb into his skin and walk around in it”?  Can our students be empowered to be social justice warriors from this novel?  Is this literary work the best way to get my students where I want them to be or am I teaching it only because it’s in the canon?

I’ve spent the past couple of years focusing on building my classroom library with meaningful, impactful, and diverse texts that reflect the students who read them!  A portion of my class every day is dedicated to self-selected independent reading and I want to make sure my students have quality texts to choose.  My current library houses works like:

  • Becomingby Michelle Obama
  • Boy Erasedby Garrard Conley
  • Americanizedby Sara Saedi
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jessmyn Ward
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter byErika L. Sanchez
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Persepolisby Marjane Satrapi
  • The Poet Xby Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates


I have also found the value in pairing diverse modern text with more canonical texts.

TKAm                                                                                    THUGTo Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee                           The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

TCINTR                                                                              BAC                                                    The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger                       Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

            Night                                                                                          BSOG                                 Night by Elie Wiesel                                                    Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

RJ                                                                                            TFINOS

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet                                The Fault in Our Stars by John Green