2019 Award Winners
Edmund J. Farrell - Distinguished Lifetime ACHIEVEMENT Award
Through her excellent teaching, diligent service, and innovative leadership, Dr. Kim Pinkerton exemplifies the “Distinguished Lifetime Service” that Dr. Ed Farrell has modeled so faithfully for the English language arts teachers of Texas. Kim cares genuinely for her students, thinks deeply about her work, and serves selflessly for TCTELA.
As a teacher, Kim’s impact on her preservice teachers can best be described by one of her former students: “As an English language learner, reading was not one of my passions growing up. I feared the day that I registered for Dr. Pinkerton’s class because the course was titled READ 3305. I thought to myself “READ: what I’m getting myself into?” but it was the best decision that I could have made. It was Dr. Pinkerton’s enthusiasm with which she described and talked about literacy that won me over. That semester I read more books than I had ever read in my whole life. With three young children of my own, I gained a deeper understanding on how important literacy is and helps children be successful. Her passion for English language arts made me the teacher that I am today. I am currently a fifth-grade self- contained teacher, and it is because of Dr. Pinkerton that I feel that I can teach ELAR with such vigor.”
Additionally, a former colleague wrote this about Kim’s teaching: “In her teaching, Kim serves students who may be underprepared through the conscious development of a classroom community and through the design of interactive, collaborative learning experiences. She guides students to gain knowledge and confidence in their abilities to learn and eventually, to teach. Kim engages her students in the university classroom, in field-based classrooms in K-6 schools, online, and in the larger field of education through professional presentations and publications. Through her thoughtful teaching and her passion for literacy, Kim inspires the students she teaches. Kim is reflective in her teaching practices which include relevant adaptations based upon several elements, including her knowledge of current theory, her thoughtful use of technological tools, and her observations of students as they engage in the learning experiences she has designed.”
Fortunately for the members of TCTELA, Kim has contributed her strengths and talents to our organization for many years. Kim’s leadership on the TCTELA Board has been characterized by thorough preparation, deep engagement, and heartfelt community. Kim began her involvement with TCTELA as a co-editor of English in Texas. During this time, she actively sought manuscripts from nationally known authors and theorists and secured a national award for the journal. While serving as Vice-President Elect and Vice-President of Membership and Affiliates, Kim developed a process of analyzing conference attendance and recruiting members from low-attendance areas.
Moreover, Kim led TCTELA during a period of growth and bravery. During her ground-breaking presidency, she forged relationships with policymakers and stakeholders, earning a place at the political table for the English language arts teachers of Texas. Kim was dogged in her desire to have the teachers’ voices heard during the recent ELAR TEKS revisions process, ensuring that thousands of teachers’ voices were heard when she communicated that data to the SBOE. She followed through with the results of the survey data to spearhead the development of the TCTELA TEKS Forum, and she advocated for Texas’ ELAR teachers with carefully crafted testimonies to the SBOE.
After completing her elected service to the board, Kim was appointed as TCTELA’s Executive Secretary. She worked to streamline TCTELA’s financial operations, and she maintained transparency through her quarterly Harry Potter-themed membership updates in Texas Voices.
Dr. Kim Pinkerton has provided the enlightened, energizing leadership to TCTELA and the English language arts teachers of Texas. In the words of a former student, “Dr. Pinkerton’s fervor for literacy is felt in all that she does.”
Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award
Victoria Orepitan, English I Pre-AP-GT Teacher and Team Lead at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy, Texas, is this year’s Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award recipient. Victoria has been teaching at Cinco Ranch High School since 2013 and has been teaching since 2006.
In December of 2017, the award-winning young adult novel The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas was removed from the shelves of the junior high and high schools of Katy ISD. Superintendent Lance Hindt made the decision to pull the title, citing vulgar language as his primary objection to the book. Although district policy calls for a challenged book to remain in circulation pending a review, for many weeks The Hate U Give was unavailable for student check out. Once the book was returned to the shelves, it was available only to students who had parental consent to read it.
Victoria felt that it was important to speak up in the face of the superintendent’s action.
At the district’s school board meeting on January 15, 2018, Victoria addressed the board to express her concern about the decision to restrict access to the book. She had the courage to do so despite her feeling that a clear message had been sent to district employees, through off- the-record conversations, that they should not speak at the meeting. “That didn’t sit right with me,” explained Victoria in an interview for the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award. “We have a responsibility to our society to make it better by speaking up for what we believe in.”
In her testimony to the school board, Victoria shared that she is a product of Katy ISD, having attended elementary, junior high, and high school in the district. “When I grew up in Katy ISD, there weren’t as many people that looked like me as there are now,” she said, adding that she
hoped to one day raise children of her own in Katy ISD and that it was important to her that those children have opportunities “to read stories about people who look like them . . . that we don’t rob them of that opportunity because something makes us uncomfortable, or we don’t like the language, or we don’t like the content.”
Victoria acknowledges that it is especially important that she as a black teacher speak up about what having access to books like The Hate U Give means to students. “People like Starr don’t get to tell their stories very often,” she explains, observing that in our society, we are more comfortable with having students read about the traumatic experiences of a teenager in war-torn Afghanistan than those of a teenager right here at home. She testified to the school board that in an English class, it i’s expected that students encounter texts that expose them to different cultures and different thinking, citing her own students’ study of Oedipus Rex, “a difficult and complex and sometimes controversial story,” as one such example.
“We can’t change the world kids live in, but we can equip them for it, and one of the best ways to do that is by exposing them to worlds that are different from theirs, ” Victoria testified. “None of us thinks our kids will become wizards because they read Harry Potter, but they are more sensitive and more creative because they’ve read the story of someone who’s been through something difficult. That is also true for The Hate U Give.”
Challenged by Superintendent Hindt as to whether she would allow a student in her classroom to use vulgarity like that in the novel, Victoria responded that if the student were talking about a passage from the book that he or she had read, then yes, she would. “There’s a power to words,” she later elaborated. “I want students to understand the impact of these words within the literature.”
The challenge to The Hate U Give opened the door to additional challenges to students’ freedom to read. For example, a parent contacted Victoria’s administrator about her teaching of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, complaining that the book promoted immorality. She offered to respond to the parent directly, but her administrator declined to have her talk with the parent. In relating this incident, Victoria expressed concern about the precedent set by the district’s action with The Hate U Give: the idea that what some parents find personally offensive might be allowed to limit what other students have access to read.
Her courageous example makes Victoria Orepitan an excellent candidate for the 2019 TCTELA Mercedes Bonner Leadership Award.
ELEMENTARY Teacher of the Year
Ghida Hijazi considers herself blessed to be a third-grade reading teacher at Cornelius Elementary School in Houston ISD. Her former professor, Dr. Kim Pinkerton, wrote that Ghida is “dedicated to the interconnectedness of reading and writing instruction,” and Ghida says she can’t see herself teaching any other way!
As an immigrant student, Ghida always struggled in reading. She despised reading immensely and read only when required to, which is why she became a reading teacher. Her favorite books to share with her students are culturally diverse ones. She wants to build a love of reading in her students—one that they didn’t even realize they had. “As a first-year teacher, Ghida deftly set aside programs and manuals provided to her by her district in favor of a reading workshop approach that offers students authentic experiences with children’s literature,” said Dr. Pinkerton. Every first day of school, Ghida makes a promise to her students that she will read to them
every single day no matter what. She truly embodies the core values of TCTELA.
Middle School Teacher of the Year
Growing up in Beeville,Texas, Yolanda Gonzales had several memorable and influential teachers who were passionate about learning, reading, and writing. It is their devotion to literacy from which she draws her ideas of what truly makes an English language arts teacher. Yolanda believes the best part of being a teacher is sharing what she loves: the power of language and making connections with her students.
Colleagues have stated that Yolanda’s talent comes through when she is working directly with students. Knowing that poetry was one area where students often lacked engagement, she implemented a poetry cafe and showed her students the enjoyment they can find in poetry.
Ms. Gonzales is currently a Level 2 Google Educator and was recently honored as the 2018 recipient of NCTE’s Outstanding Middle Level Educator in English Language Arts Award. Yolanda serves on her school’s Campus Instructional Leadership Team as an extension of support for teachers and administration. She aims to continually grow as a learner and as a professional.
HIGH SCHOOL Teacher of the Year
Karen Otto teaches English II GT at Southlake Carroll High School. She began her 21-year career in education teaching 6th grade GT English. Since then, she has taught middle and high school English, both on-level, Pre-AP/AP, and Gifted and Talented, in schools of varying socioeconomic diversity.
Passionate about giving choice in reading and writing, Karen uses the workshop method in her English II GT class to create a community of learners. Her classroom might be described as “contained chaos.” You would see a whiteboard filled with philosophical questions, such as “Is a hot dog a sandwich?”, students sitting on beanbags, tables being used as stages, and quite possibly a human pyramid (Don’t ask!). And you would feel the deep sense of community that is the foundation of her philosophy of teaching. The most rewarding part of teaching is making connections with students. If you were to ask Mrs. Otto’s students what kind of teacher she is,
they would say that she is transparent—about her expectations, about her own struggles as a GT student with OCD, and about her love for them. They would say that she is their cheerleader, their counselor, their mom—and a learner and teacher who sits alongside them.
COLLEGE TEACHER OF THE YEAR
Lynn A. Masterson is a senior lecturer in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas State University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate pre-service teachers. Her interest focuses on engaging students in an exploration of self through narrative inquiry as a way to reflect upon their beliefs about teaching and learning, the purpose of schooling, and the role their personal histories play in forming their teacher identities.
This year marks her 40th year in education, and she continues to experience great fulfillment in working with teachers who are new to the profession. In a time in which curriculum choices regarding “what and when” are most often predetermined, she focuses on “how and why,” which she believes brings the most joy to the work teachers do with their students. Building relationships while creating
a caring community that honors all the experiences students bring with them is a central theme of her work. Furthermore, Lynn has volunteered selflessly to serve her peers and new teachers at TCTELA and other organizations.