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NCTE November: My First NCTE

By Jolene Borgese

NCTE 1982 was in Philadelphia, two years after our first writing institute at West Chester University. Martha Menz, Lois Snyder and I had all attended the institute the summer of 1980.  We submitted a proposal for a workshop on Revision since NCTE would be in our home town. These two women were the stars of the project. They were smart, fabulous teachers and able to get along with the director Bob Weiss. Martha Menz was a high school History teacher at Upper Darby High School. She had earned an undergraduate and graduate degree at the University of Penn. She would go on to become the supervisor of Staff Development and the Curriculum Director for UDSD. Lois was an elementary teacher for Upper Darby SD and would later go on to become the superintendent of Interboro SD and earn a doctorate from Widener University in record time! I was in great company.

Our presentation was accepted and scheduled for Saturday morning. The day before I had attended my first National writing Project (NWP) meeting and met the director James Gray. He was a former high school English teacher from Berkley CA. He was a big man, a little gruff- not the serene college professor type at all. He ran an efficient meeting with maybe 50 sites. I was excited to meet other writing project site directors and learn what they were doing. We were all so new and didn’t really understand the power or impact our sites would have 40 years later! Mary Ann Smith, a co-director of NWP took me under her wings.  She became a role model for me and I treasured our time together at NWP meetings.  

 We arrived at the convention center assigned room and were amazed they gave us such a large room – we were sure no one would attend. We did our own sound check by pretending to be the three Supremes singing “Stop in the Name of Love!”  Little did we know the convention center had real sound check men who caught us in the middle of our song! To our surprise and delight over 50 people attended our first national presentation including my English college professor from Lock Haven State – Dr. Vaughn. She sat smiling through the entire presentation – she was so proud of me.  Any fear or nervousness I had quickly dissipated. I can’t remember anything we did or said that day – just a warm feeling when you know you are in like minded company.  

For the next 30 years I would attend every NCTE annual convention. In the 90’s I presented many presentations with a writing project director Lela Detoye from Illinois on using picturing books in the secondary classrooms as mentor texts. We received a book contract from Stenhouse but for a year we tried to come together on a book format. Unfortunately, we couldn’t so the book was never written.  But the number of secondary teachers hungry to use picture books in their classrooms grew every year. In San Diego we had over 200 teachers attend our presentation – sitting on the floor, standing – the room was packed. 

I also was appointed to the executive committee of Council on English Leadership (CEL) – for ten years as the membership chair. The CEL conference was held the two days following the NCTE convention so I would have two more days of presentations and learning with new friends. NCTE was my home for many years and I learned so much from the convention and the journal. I owe NCTE a huge thank you for my career and teaching. 

Dr. Jolene Borgese began her career as a middle school English teacher before moving on to teach English and writing in high schools. Trained by the National Writing Project (NWP), Borgese aims to increase students’ pleasure and confidence in writing by helping educators teach the skill as a process and a tool for learning. Borgese served as codirector of the NWP for 15 years, where she taught the NWP model to, and developed writing courses for, teachers. In addition, she created the Young Writers summer camp for students from elementary through high school.

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