Faculty and Student Work Honored at National Convention

The College of Arts & Letters was well represented at the 2016 National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference with Tamara Butler, Assistant Professor in the Department of English and African American and African Studies, receiving the Promising Researcher Award and work produced within the College presented by faculty, students and recent alumni at the national convention held in Atlanta, Georgia, Nov. 17-20

Teachers at NCTE
Assistant Professor Tamara Butler poses with other MSU faculty after winning the Promising Researcher Award from NCTE.

Butler is the third Michigan State University scholar to receive the Promising Researcher Award from the NCTE, a professional association of educators in English Education, Literacy Studies and Language Arts.

“I am deeply grateful for the students – Haley, Vanessa, Tolulope and Maya – who invited me to listen to the inner-workings of their project. This award is a recognition of their creativity and our partnership,” said Butler, who was selected for her research that follows the creative processes of four high school students of color as they bring attention to human sex trafficking.

I am grateful for the teachers, community members and parents who trusted me enough to listen to their stories and experiences.

Tamara Butler

In an effort to expand the boundaries of activism to include youth work within the classroom, Butler explored how creative processes can open spaces for youth, community members and educators to collectively engage in social justice work. Her award-winning study, “We Need a Song: Sustaining Critical Youth Organizing Literacies through World Humanities,” will be published in a forthcoming issue of Equity & Excellence in Education.

“I am grateful for the teachers, community members and parents who trusted me enough to listen to their stories and experiences, and develop relationships that will (hopefully) transform communities within and beyond the academy,” Butler said.

Also at the annual conference, April Baker-Bell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric and American Culture, and students from her spring 2015 ENG 302 class presented work that grew out of that course.

“This year, NCTE received more than 1,700 proposals, so the selection process was very difficult,” said Baker-Bell, who is a faculty member in the Department Writing, Rhetoric and American Culture. “The fact that these students had their proposals accepted at a prestigious, national convention, as undergraduate students, is exceptional.”

Students and faculty at NCTE
Photo credit: Dr. Emery Petchauer 

The ENG 302 course taught by Baker-Bell was an introduction to theories, research and pedagogies surrounding various U.S.-based Englishes that are stigmatized, with a primary focused on African-American Language (AAL). Baker-Bell invited students from her spring 2015 class, some of whom has since graduated, to present their work alongside her at the conference.

“The NCTE annual convention was the first national conference I had ever attended, and it was a tremendous honor to be selected as a presenter,” said Kelsey Wiley, a senior majoring in English and one of Baker'Bell's students who presented at the conference. “There was a part of me that was nervous on whether or not my project would be well-received since I'm a pre-service teacher, but I was met with a lot of warmth from other educators who want to incorporate my stance and project into their classroom. It was incredible to be around so many educators who want to make their classrooms a space where students feel valued.”

The students and recent alumni who presented with Baker-Bell include:

  • Kelsey Wiley, senior English major

  • Jordon Robb, B.A. ’16 History Education, currently in his teaching internship year

  • Drexton Sportel, B.A. ’15 Education, a fifth-grade teacher in Duluth, Georgia

  • Han Nguyen-Tran, B.A. ’16 Education, currently in her internship year

It was incredible to be around so many educators who want to make their classrooms a space where students feel valued.

Kelsey Wiley

They, along with Baker-Bell, presented activities that current teachers can use and leverage in their classroom.

"Obviously, it is a huge honor for me to be able to present at my first national conference," Sportel said. "The main point I tried to get across in my demonstration was how critical it is that students of all ages be able to analyze and compare and contrast the messages, vocabulary and tone that media, both mainstream and social, use to talk about different margainlized groups of people. But more importantly, I think it speaks to the quality of work that Michigan State is doing, at all levels, to help further the quality of teachers and the educations they provide their students."

Nguyen-Tran described the NCTE convention as “an extremely empowering experience as a new teacher in the classroom.”

I loved having the opportunity to share ways educators can create spaces in the classroom to encourage open dialogue about stereotypes, deconstructing ideas that relate to how language, identity, race and culture are displayed in the media,” Nguyen-Tran said. “I think the most crucial point to my presentation was to teach our students how to critically view what they see in films and the media. It was energizing for me to see how receptive other teachers from across the nation were to this approach and the feedback I got from veteran educators.

It definitely provided insight to the importance of collaboration amongst colleagues and continuing a growth mindset attitude as a teacher.

Han Nguyen-Tran

“Overall, I am thankful Michigan State was able to support new and pre-service teachers to have this opportunity so early in our careers. It definitely provided insight to the importance of collaboration amongst colleagues and continuing a growth mindset attitude as a teacher.”

Another group of recent College of Arts & Letters alumni, all of whom graduated in May and had taken a class with Assistant Professor of Teacher Education Jennifer VanderHeide, participated in a session called “The Future Is Now: Exploring 21st Century Teaching Ideas.” The session included interns and student teachers from across the country who are presenting on teacher inquiry projects from their classroom. The MSU presenters included:

  • Alexandra Sekulvski, B.A. ’16 English

  • Lindsay Shafer, B.A. ’16 English

  • Jenna Pratt, B.A. ’16 English

These English alumni are all currently in their teaching internship year. At the conference, they presented what they did in their classroom and what they learned from the process.