2017 Award Winners
Edmund J. Farrell - Distinguished Lifetime ACHIEVEMENT Award
In our current atmosphere of high-stakes assessment, the proliferation of test-preparation materials and frequent benchmark tests threaten to suffocate authentic literacy instruction. In Texas, English language arts and reading (ELAR) teachers are fortunate to have Victoria Young as a colleague and an advocate.
Victoria began her career in education teaching English composition and literature as a graduate student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After receiving her M.A. in English, she spent three years teaching middle school and eight years teaching high school. In July 1988, she and her husband Tom moved to Austin, where she accepted a position in the Student Assessment Division at the Texas Education Agency. Over the course of her 27-year tenure at TEA, Victoria eventually rose to the position of Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessments. In this capacity, she was directly responsible both for managing the content development of these assessments and for overseeing all activities related to the scoring of approximately four million essays and short answer reading responses each year. Instead of pushing faceless mandates without context, she offered us a transparent window into the scoring intent and development processes. Moreover, she provided this invaluable insight within the context of authentic, powerful literacy instruction. During her years at the TEA, Victoria Young worked tirelessly to advocate for our growing readers and writers in Texas.
For the past two years, Texas’ ELAR teachers have continued to benefit from Victoria’s wisdom, passion, and expertise. Even in retirement, she maintains her interest in enhancing educators’ understanding of the ways in which instruction and assessment interact. In her partnership with TCTELA, she has diligently supported the ELAR TEKS revision process through testifying to the SBOE, analyzing the drafts, and serving as the moderator of the TCTELA TEKS Forums. When the SBOE agenda item was delayed for hours one afternoon, Victoria stayed with us into the night, determined to offer her testimony on behalf of the TCTELA membership.
Throughout her career, Victoria has focused her efforts on designing state assessments that contribute to a fuller understanding of student achievement and instructional programs: assessments that better measure what students know and can do and that provide more meaningful information about how instructional programs might be improved to help all students become better readers and writers. She continues to be particularly interested in the ways in which coherent, vertically-aligned reading and writing programs and authentic instructional practices can increase the academic success of all students both in the classroom and on state assessments such as STAAR.
It is for this continued service to our profession that TCTELA is proud to honor Victoria Young with the Dr. Edmund J. Farrell Lifetime Service Award. This award recognizes Dr. Farrell’s profound impact on the profession of English/language arts education, commitment to excellence in the teaching of English, and continued dedication to service and support of the mission and purpose of the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts. Victoria Young is the consummate example of the excellence and dedication that Dr. Farrell models for our TCTELA membership.
Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award
In November, the TCTELA Board gathered in Atlanta, Georgia at the NCTE conference. We shared our learning and our visions for the future of our organization. We also reviewed award nominations. When we reread the description of the Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award, one person came to mind: Jocelyn Chadwick.
This award recognizes a TCTELA member who has “actively and tirelessly supported our professional community.” How fitting! Time and time again throughout the conference, we had observed Jocelyn reminding us that we had a voice that needed to be heard, that teachers should rediscover our agency, and that, as she wrote in the English Journal, “all students are entitled to effective, engaging, and relevant literacy learning.” Even though … or even so … Jocelyn is taking on the presidential responsibilities at NCTE, she has rejoined her first affiliate, TCTELA, in a celebration of her Texas roots, having started her teaching career at Irving High School amongst those she calls “grammar mavens” who molded her early years in the field.
From high school teaching to doctoral work to scholarship and consulting, Jocelyn has never minimized or distanced herself from her true professional calling. One need only to speak with her for a few minutes before hearing her proclaim “I am an English teacher!” Her work as a Twain scholar is renowned, yes, but it is also grounded in her regular work in the English classrooms across America. In her book The Jim Dilemma: Reading Race in Huckleberry Finn, Chadwick writes, “As educators, we focus on maintaining the self-esteem of all students… and because we advocate continuing to included Huckleberry Finn in the classroom, we must answer objections and concerns honestly and directly or else fail in our endeavor to keep this and similar works in high school and college classrooms…The challenge to face these sensitive issues offers us all a great opportunity to realize our highest potential as a thoughtfully integrated culture.” More recently, in a tribute to Maya Angelou that was published in The Washington Post, Chadwick wrote, “I have been an English teacher for more than 30 years, from high school to university, teaching in Texas for many of them. Again and again, I have found that students connect with writers with whom they identify. Most often effective instruction occurs with good storytelling.”
It her passion for story, for teachers, and for students that drives her boundless energy and passion. Her latest work, Teaching Literature in the Context of Literacy Instruction, co-authored with John Grassie, explores the relevance of the canon, contemporary authors, and informational texts to our 21st-century students. J
High School Teacher of the Year
2017 High School Teacher of the Year Nicole Benke changes lives. An educator with her experience could work anywhere, yet she chooses to spend her days on our most challenged high school campus where teachers battle huge outside distractions, such as gangs, full time jobs and demanding family obligations, for the attention of our struggling teenagers. It’s hard, yet rewarding work that comes with a healthy dose of heartbreak as teachers are forced to watch students, for whom they deeply care, suffer the injustices of race and poverty. With 22 years of experience, a master’s degree in education and having reached National Board Certified Teacher status, there is no doubt Benke is a strong, master teacher. Equally a lover of literature and learning, Benke refers to her students as scholars and pushes them as such. She is passionate in her quest to create critical readers and writers who will leave her class ready to question our world and make it better. Nicole Benke’s relentless belief in her scholars and drive to show each young person the value of a literate life is a bright spot in a world that is often bleak for many of our learners. She embodies all that TCTELA values and tirelessly advocates for teachers and the students we serve.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Traci Teaff steps out of her comfort zone and boldly innovates her classroom in order to help students develop a variety of critical thinking skills. In recent years, Traci has transformed her teaching and her classroom, developing student questioning through Socratic seminars, student research skills through her “Wonder Wall,” and extending reading and writing capacity through real-world application of research process and reading informational text.
Elementary Teacher of the Year
With a deep love and passion for her fifth grade students, Laura Hamilton works tirelessly to establish an environment of trust, learning, and high expectations in her classroom, and the result has been the high achievement of her students. Although initially reluctant to take on leadership responsibilities, she eventually accepted a role working on her district’s curriculum and almost singlehandedly took on the task of writing fifth and sixth grade benchmark assessments that mirrored the rigor of STAAR. She has also become a regular provider of staff development at the district level, always ready to support the teachers of Aldine ISD. Her exceptional service resulted in her being named Aldine ISD Teacher of the Year and Region IV Teacher of the Year.