Iowa Council of Teachers of English We facilitate deep connections & professional learning for ELA teachers. Fri, 30 Oct 2020 21:39:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Tensen Named NCTE Teacher of Excellence Fri, 30 Oct 2020 21:39:40 +0000
Tracy Tensen

The National Council of Teachers of English awarded Tracy Tensen with the 2020 Teacher of Excellence Award. Tensen began teaching English in Iowa in 1987, and has been teaching at Gilbert High School since 2014, where her courses include AP Language and Composition, AP Literature and Composition, dual enrollment Composition I and II, English 12, and Accelerated English 9. Tensen received the ICTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award in 2019.

English teacher Cathy Anderson nominated Tensen for the award.  “Her commitment amazes me,” Anderson said. “She spends almost every evening and weekend commenting on students’ papers so they can improve as writers.” 

Anderson went on to say that Tensen is one of the smartest people she knows. “I leave my classroom door open during my prep so I can listen in on Tracy’s class,” Anderson said. “It’s like attending fantastic college class every day. I learn new things often and I have four college degrees!”

Gilbert High School Principal Vic Vanderpool also nominated Tensen for the award.  He said that Tensen is eager to help other teachers in her building and she is also an active member of grade-level and district school improvement leadership teams. Vanderpool praised Tensen for regularly seeking professional growth and sharing her learning with others.

Tensen has been published in English Journal multiple times, in addition to being a peer reviewer for the journal. She has presented in national and state conferences, and sponsors a creative writing club and Poetry Out Loud in her school.

The last teacher from Iowa to win the award from NCTE was Sarah Brown Wessling of Johnston High School in 2011 when she was also chosen as National Teacher of the Year.

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To Be Seen and Heard Sat, 17 Oct 2020 23:10:43 +0000 Because some people had told me racism was a thing of the past.

But that was nuts.

Because racism was alive and real as shit.

Unless we did something about it.

What the hell did he die for

If it doesn’t count for all of us.

Asking only to be seen and heard.


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Students Speak Sun, 04 Oct 2020 18:58:31 +0000 Contributors: Susan Ackerman, Allison Berryhill, Holly Esbeck, Britt Jungck, Kenna Koster, Lisa Robinson, Lauren Stephens, Nicole Vogt




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Let Students See Their Poems in Print Sat, 03 Oct 2020 21:30:22 +0000 Since its inception in 1945, the Iowa Poetry Association has hosted an annual Lyrical Iowa Poetry competition, an opportunity for Iowans of all ages to submit their creative works for recognition through publication in our anthology, Lyrical Iowa, as well as prizes and public presentation opportunities.  An important component of this competition is the ‘Student Division’, that invites submissions from each of college, high school, upper grade (5-8) and lower grade (K-4) students. Our editors for this Division include in-state educators supported by expert out-of-state judges.  This past year we had 658 entries with 57 poems published in the Student Division of our 75th Anniversary Edition of Lyrical Iowa.

In addition, IPA holds an annual Student Poetry Reading Celebration for all students whose poem was published in Lyrical Iowa. The event typically occurs in June at the State Historical Building; however, for this year, we will host readings on Facebook later in the fall, and hopefully will resume in person again next year. It’s fun and inspiring to watch the students’ excitement in performing their poetry, to the applause of family and friends. At the celebration, we also announce Iowa winners of the National Federation of State Poetry Societies student contests; IPA always advances some winners and high-ranking poems from our student submissions into the national competitions. 

I enjoy corresponding with teachers whose students have entered our contests, and some of you have shared ways for IPA to better communicate about opportunities for students. We are moving to more digital formats and online access to our contest guidelines. In addition we are adding a Teacher Resources page to our website with ideas for assignments and plans for you to more easily incorporate creative poetry writing into your already very busy schedules. These resources will be posted on our website at

At this time all high school and grade school submissions must still be mailed, but need not be sent in by the teacher; students or parents may submit them directly. The contest is open Jan. 1 through Feb. 28. See details in the attached contest brochure or online at

The Iowa Poetry Association is a non-profit organization whose sole objective is to promote interest in and appreciation of poetry among Iowans through educational opportunities, poetry writing contests and the publication of an annual anthology of Iowa poetry. Besides sponsoring an annual contest, IPA offers two workshops each year, held in Des Moines and plans to add monthly virtual mini-workshops in 2021. Membership is open to any individual or group with an Iowa address. Annual dues are $8.00. Patron dues of $15 or more provide the same benefits and additionally help support the expanding programs of the organization (increased outreach, scholarships, etc.). 

Contests are open to all persons with Iowa residence (or students attending school in Iowa). No entry fee. No membership or book purchase required.  Indeed, if you feel inspired or creative, consider submitting your own poems!

Questions? Email me at  I look forward to reading your students’ poems!

Thank you.

Marilyn Baszczynski

Editor, Iowa Poetry Association



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Joyful Haikus Wed, 16 Sep 2020 22:08:37 +0000

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Two Poems Tue, 28 Jul 2020 02:33:52 +0000 Poem 1

My fears are unimpressive,

spilling over from an asthmatic childhood

after bedtimes, some 50 years gone.


But they are persistent, 

constricting my chest, and snagging my brain

like a yanked treble hook.


I hold the hand of what-ifs like Ebenezer

hovering with the spirit of Yet to Come,

looking down at an undetermined darkness.


And the quiet, and the night hours,

a retrograde meditation creeping in,

a seeping weakness.


I am not more deserving, 

or sanctified, or nimbus crested;

I’ve got a cardboard aura.

Angel in Shadows (Rex Muston)

But here I am different in an afternoon,

imperceptibly blessed by something more

in my retrospect, taking hours to realize.


Someone is praying for me,

as real as someone put up the morning dishes,

or the willow greens in the front yard.


I am a child of God,

on the receiving end of a grace,

relinquished for empowerment.



Poem 2

Caution and Fear share the same bloodline,

City Mouse and Country Mouse

of our hypothalamus.


The hats we wear have never been more substantial,

heart mantras chosen for battle, belligerence or solitude

with hues seen from a distance.


We take in long deep breaths to celebrate today,

a parasympathetic partnership, 

alleviating imagined tomorrow’s darker inspirations.


We mask ourselves in fabric

and blanket ourselves in faith,

and move, or wait.


In the months that lie before us

our anxieties will be cast like ashes on the wind,

for the tearful eyes of the lucky and the strong.

Full of Shadows (Rex Muston)


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Encounters Tue, 30 Jun 2020 18:56:29 +0000 A Teacher’s Encounters with Difference


For teachers just like everyone else, there is a process to getting woke, especially when it comes to understanding the role of skin color in America.


Clip 1:

Growing up in a NW Iowa county that was 97% white, my perceptions of people of color came mostly from mission slides at church. People with darker skin were generally poor, from Mississippi or Africa, places where we whites would send missionaries to save them spiritually and economically. They were also the Tai Dam refugees who our church helped resettle in Sioux Center. They were all people in need.

Therefore, imagine my surprise when, while teaching vacation Bible school in Mississippi as a teenager, I was paired with a Black woman to lead the third-grade class–an educated, competent, mature, well-nourished Black woman.


Clip 2:

As an academic adviser of provisionally accepted students at Northwestern College, I worked with many students of color, often athletes. Some thrived on our majority white campus, and some didn’t.

Tyson came to meet me in my office during that killer week of football practice the week before classes started, in between three-a-days. This burly young man was an African American from Pahokee, Florida.

Tyson had been in Orange City for about a week, so I asked him, “How is it going for you here?” He was quiet for a few seconds, not looking me in the eye. Then he said, “Well, it’s real different here.”

I was scared to know more—afraid that he had experienced racist comments or worse. But I asked, “How is it different?”

Tyson replied quietly, “Here everyone gives you respect.”

I sighed with relief. For now.


Clip 3:

As a member of Northwestern’s Multi-Ethnic Resource Team, I considered myself highly aware of issues of race and culturally competent when working with students of color. But it takes only one mistake to humble you and remind you of what you don’t know.

I was telling a story to my first-year writing class and referenced the “white part of Minneapolis” . . . with an Asian American from a Twin Cities suburb in the room. Olivia’s face portrayed horror/disgust/astonishment(?), but once the words were out of my mouth, there was no return. After class I apologized to her, but these ignorant words from a professor were just one more microaggression added to the pile of presumptive comments.


Clip 4:

My senior student was eager to participate in the 2016 presidential election. As a Latino young man with immigrant relatives, the “BUILD THE WALL” rhetoric was/is extremely personal. So on a Saturday morning Jorge drove from campus to the Sioux County courthouse where he told the woman behind the Auditor’s desk that he was a Northwestern student and wanted to register to vote. He knew that college students have a choice to vote using either their home or college address.

The staffer asked to see Jorge’s college ID. This question confused him because in Iowa no ID is needed to register to vote, and none of his college friends had been asked for their IDs. The staffer insisted that the ID was necessary, so he showed her, registered, and left. Upon calling the Auditor the following week, he learned that he was right: an ID was not necessary, the staffer should not have asked the question, and she would be retrained.

Jorge went to the polls and submitted his ballot. November 8, 2016 concluded with the surprising news that Donald J. Trump had won. He and many other students of color were devasted. Jorge wondered if his relatives in Arizona would be safe—from deportment or from triumphant white supremacists. International students fielded calls from their parents overseas begging them to come home.

The next day Jorge crossed Highway 10 to return to his dorm after class, to change into his baseball scrimmage uniform. A pickup came roaring past him, and a voice screamed, “F*** Mexicans! Go Trump!”


Clip 5

In our historically Dutch small town, we held a Partnering for Justice Walk in the wake of George Floyd’s death and other evidence of racial targeting. We organizers hoped for 100, maybe 200 people, but 500 showed up, with signs—people of all ages, races, and political affiliations.

We walked from Northwestern’s campus to Orange City’s town square. But instead of crowning the Tulip Festival queen, we instead heard stories from our neighbors of color–stories of racist comments, racist actions, happening not in the past somewhere else, but occurring now and right in Sioux County.


We listen, we lament, we learn, we link. We pledge to live better.



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Mr. K Thu, 11 Jun 2020 19:55:52 +0000

Mr. K

The morning after your funeral,
I walked past your classroom
and stood in the doorway
to take in how much of you
filled every corner.

Photos of your wife
your infant daughter

Cubs memorabilia
Lambeau souvenirs
fantasy brackets
still pinned to a bulletin board

Five years worth
of student projects

collected dust in the quiet
Saturday sun.

Less than 24 hours before,
I sat in a pew
while the Catholics kneeled

and hoped you knew
how much the world of your classroom
spilled over into our stories

our heavy hearts
made lighter
by how much of you is still here.

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Meltdown in Aisle Three Fri, 22 May 2020 18:15:30 +0000 In Aisle Three

At  Hy-Vee

I have a meltdown

Shelves literally wiped clean

No juice, no milk, no sardines

There’s barely any meat

Except where the butchers work

I ask about an advertised sale on New York strips

I thought they had

They do, they’re just not marked

I ask for four

The butcher looks relieved

Which makes sense later when

I discover from a friend someone had just come in and ordered

200 pounds of hamburger

I’m here for just a few items

And now I freeze

In Aisle Three

Tears forming the question,

What’s yet to come?

My youngest son

was just married last week

Which never would have happened

This week

Knowing he works stocking stores

I fear he may get it

The thought of losing

One more child

Has me falling down

Gripping an empty shelf

So many plans are now on hold

The uncertainty of the future overwhelms me

As I pray for miracles

Amongst the cans of corn and beans


Barb Edler

31 March 2020

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Teacher Appreciation Week: I See You Sat, 09 May 2020 15:14:37 +0000 I see you.

I see you worrying about if your students’ basic needs are met. 

I see you creating brand new lessons and resources overnight to help students understand the curriculum. 

I see you calling and emailing students and parents to make connections, check-in. 

I see you adapting to the ever-changing policies enacted at the local, state, and national levels. 

I see you learning new technologies to better reach students and then sharing these new learnings with your colleagues.  

I see you stressing about the inconsistency of equitable circumstances for all students to thrive.  

I see you coming up with the most creative solutions to create a “classroom” environment at home.  

I see you juggling your own home life and personal worries with that of your students. 

I see you embracing seemingly silly projects and videos beyond your “expectations” just to make students smile.  

I see you going outside your comfort zone every day.  

I see you missing your students and grieving the moments you won’t have together. 

I see you attending Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting trying to figure out this new normal. 

I see you managing a new kind of paper load.  

I see you navigating all the unknowns — the known unknowns and unknown unknowns — with grace and professionalism.  

I see you.  

And I appreciate you.  

Distance learning is not what any of us had in mind when we went into teaching.  But, if there is any group who can handle it, I know teachers can.  We got this. And whatever comes next.  

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