Constance Alexander: High school English teachers seek ideas and support in key areas

When middle school teachers speak, Murray State’s English and Philosophy departments listen. The fruits of reaching out will bear fruit on campus on Saturday, September 10, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with free professional development workshops to meet the timely needs of high school English teachers.

Associate Professor Julie Cyzewski, who shared responsibility for the communications and planning process with Dr. Ray Horton, provided background information on the needs behind the new initiative.

“Teachers are interested in talking to teachers and other teachers. They’re looking for new ideas,” she said, adding that a workshop in September will do just that.

• Teaching race and gender through literature
• Helps prepare students for college writing and literary analysis
• Conduct project-based assessments in high schools and colleges
• Advance humanities majors
• Explore the expectations of English professors for first-year students and how students perform in relation to those expectations

(Image via Library of Congress)

MSU English and Philosophy faculty will focus on strategies and materials that will facilitate sessions on a range of topics, including:

According to Dr. Cyzewski, sensitive issues often surface when students read and analyze literature in high school English classes.

“Our main focus is to help teachers have respectful discussions,” she said. “We’re asking MSU faculty to bring literary examples, and we’ll address the value of exploring them.”

Amara Stroud, MSU alumna and Muhlenberg County High School English teacher, looks forward to the Sept. 10 meeting for help teaching literature in a scrutinized environment.

According to PEN America, parents, administrators and state lawmakers are trying to rein in the use of books that censor sensitive topics, “a huge increase in banned books and a heightened focus on books related to communities of color on LGBTQ+ subjects. “

“At some point, I’ll face disputes,” Stroud assumes, “but our system does a good job of mediating those discussions.”

Muhlenberg’s ninth graders read what Stroud describes as “old white stuff.” Standard texts include The Odyssey, in which the hero takes a decade to return home from the Trojan War with a stopover for an extramarital affair; Romeo and Juliet, in which teenage lovers rebel against their parents and reject family values ​​with tragic results; and Killing a Knowing Mockingbird, in which racism led to black people being convicted of rape.

Stroud hopes the MSU symposium will provide suggestions for teaching the text needed, as well as more reading material with more diverse authors and more contemporary topics.

She acknowledged that even the old backups could be seen as controversial, but explained, “I’m not trying to change my mind.

“It’s not the students who are against it, it’s their parents. That’s what’s going on in the world.”

Taylor Page, MSU’s Advanced Internship English major, will also be participating in the September seminar. She wants to learn more about the different approaches teachers and professors take in teaching writing. In her observations of the faculty she is currently mentoring, she often sees writing being taught through specific formats.

“There are steps to follow, boxes to check,” she commented. “I prefer students to use their creativity and ingenuity in their writing.”

Amara Stroud appreciates Page’s concerns about writing and adds some of her own. “Over the past two years, I’ve noticed in class that students have difficulty writing and analyzing snippets of text critically,” she explained. “I want to help them get better at writing what authors say, what readers think about it, and what other people say.”

“I taught at my old high school, so I took a detour,” she continued. “My colleagues are my former teachers. We all stress that our students read and write every day.”

From texting to emails to wedding vows and job applications, writing is essential for many everyday tasks. “It’s not the Pythagorean theorem,” Amara quipped.

About 20 teachers from the region have signed up for the September 10 workshop, and the list continues to grow. There is no registration fee and lunch will be provided. Swapping books is another feature, along with opportunities to network with other faculty and MSU faculty.

A Facebook link provides registration information and questions can be sent directly to Dr. Cyzewski at

Note: I posted the following question on the website in my hometown of Metuchen, NJ and received a flood of responses.

Do you have any memories of what you did or did not learn in your high school English class? Which teacher impressed you the most? Why? what did you read?

If you have high school English class memories to share, please email Future columns will be based on reader responses.

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