In 2021, the Texas Council of Teachers of English Language Arts, and the English teaching profession as a whole, lost a giant. Dr. Teri Lesesne, also known as the Goddess of YA Lit, also known as Professor Nana, left us, but her legacy lives on in myriad ways.
Dr. Lesesne’s impact on the English language arts profession is undeniable. Sitting in just one of her professional development sessions or conference presentations reminded us of why we became English teachers in the first place—a love of reading and writing. So often we become mired in the tedium of our everyday work—lesson plans, taking attendance, meetings, lunch, hall or bus duty—and lose the spark we once had. But attending a session with Teri always reignited that spark, filling us with an excitement to get back to the classrooms and “make the match” by finding the right book for the right reader at the right time.
In her book Making the Match, Professor Nana taught us the importance of knowing our readers AND knowing the books. Her depth of knowledge provided teachers the tools we needed to work with students to find t he books that motivated them to read. Teachers across the country engaged in book studies with colleagues to mine the riches of Making the Match, and they became better teachers because of it. Her next book, Naked Reading, helped teachers find ways to prevent the fourth grade slump. She helped us to see how to work with tweens to build a lifelong love of reading. Then in Reading Ladders, she brought it all together for us by teaching us how to find the next book, and the next, and eventually help students help each other to build ladders to the next read. These books have helped innumerable teachers support their students’ reading and the impact is indisputable.
Professor Nana’s commitment to teaching was apparent in her long career as an educator, both in the public schools and at the university level. She spent her early years teaching in Alief ISD at the middle school level, and after completing her Ed.D. at the University of Houston, moved to Sam Houston University where she worked for many years as a professor of library science. The consummate professor, she taught in a variety of venues outside of her university classroom. Most years you could find her teaching to a standing-room only audience in a concurrent session at the annual TCTELA conference. Similarly, her annual presentations at the NCTE convention drew crowds so big that many attendees chose to sit on the floor rather than miss learning from her. She shared her knowledge of books at conferences, big and small, inspiring us to fill our online carts with books to take back to our students. As her colleague Dr. Holly Weimarw rote in her nomination letter, “Her presentations and workshops on children’s and young adult literature have provided professional development opportunities that opened windows and doors for the diverse individuals who are in education, whether they are teachers, students, or any educator who wants to grow in their love of reading for pleasure and for learning.”
The TCTELA mission to “advance the literacy growth of all Texas students by developing a network of diverse professionals and by providing professional development based on best practices in education” is one that Dr. Lesesne supported. As another colleague, Dr. Karin Perry, wrote about Teri, “Everywhere she went she gained new fans. Fans that ended up following her on social media in order to keep up with everything she had to share.” Through her presentations and sessions, teachers connected over books. We learned of books from her, shared book titles with each other, and brought books back to our students to spur their reading. She taught us so much about tween and adolescent development and, more importantly, why it mattered in connecting them to books.
Dr. Lesesne’s legacy will live on for many years, in our teaching, in our love of books, and in our ability to find the right books for the right readers. Honoring her with the Edmund J. Farrell Distinguished Service and Achievement Award will ensure her important work lives on in English language arts teachers across Texas.
Previous Award Recipients
2021 - Dr Teri Marshall, St Mary's Hall in San Antonio
2020 - Carol Wickstrom, University of North Texas