Iowa Council of Teachers of English We facilitate deep connections & professional learning for ELA teachers. Sat, 14 Mar 2020 16:44:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Glittering Pause Sat, 14 Mar 2020 16:44:03 +0000 It was the first stretch of quiet I’d had all Winter Break. I was relishing the alone time upstairs. The baby was napping. The oldest two were playing with friends outside. And Milo was quiet. Too quiet. The kind of quiet that spells disaster.

I wanted to savor the quiet, but I knew (as every parent does) that something was underway down there. Something messy, gross, destructive. 

Milo, Glitter Artist

I found Milo painting at the kitchen table. There was paint everywhere. But worse, he’d found glitter. He was not measured with it — Milo doesn’t do anything just a little bit. Someone once told me that glitter is a special gift from Satan. If I hadn’t intentionally told myself to pause, to take a breath, I might have been right there with them. 

Sometimes the pause is everything.

Milo looked at me with a twinkling face — his eyes, yes, but he also had glitter all over it, so he was a very mischievous-looking twinkling little elf. He’d poured four containers of glitter onto his wet paint. He put glitter in the water. He rubbed his hands all over it on the page. At some point, he went to the bathroom. I know because there were little glitter footprints and a special glitter fingerprint on the toilet handle. (At least he flushed.) There was glitter on the cupboards, refrigerator, wall, carpet, windows, light switches.

I could have lost it. Thank God for the pause.

“Look, Mommy! I made everything in our house beautiful and sparkly! I wanted to make it for you! Are you so, so proud of me for making our house so pretty? Look! Everything I touch becomes pretty!” His giant blue eyes were hopeful, proud, waiting.

And that was my moment. The pause gave me perspective to see the room through his eyes. In truth, it was more than pretty. He showed me his glitter water, wondering, “Have you ever seen such beautiful water?” No, buddy. I haven’t.

He beamed at his painting, “Do you like my universe? Don’t you think it’s so, so beautiful?”

“Oh, buddy. It is beautiful. I love it.”

He wrapped his arms around my neck, glitter working it’s way between the threads of my sweater (forever), then pressed glitter-covered palms onto my cheeks and planted a wet glitter-laced kiss. He pulled away, grin wide, “Now you’re even more beautiful than before, Mommy.”

I know we’ll find glitter in this house for years. To get rid of it all, we’d have to burn the place to the ground. But each time I see it, I’ll remember the pause. I’ll remember the joy. I’ll remember that this universe is indeed beautiful, if only we look for the sparkles.

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“Breaking Out” with House Arrest by K.A. Holt Sun, 01 Mar 2020 00:12:19 +0000 Something beautiful happens when you feel backed into a corner…you have nowhere to go but out. This fall, three teachers at Bunger Middle School experienced this phenomena and decided to embrace its power, instead of wallow in the powerlessness that can often plague our profession.  

During a typical PLC meeting full of data about closing the achievement gap, analyzing August FAST scores, preparing for upcoming IEP meetings, and detailing more issues that are common among all of our classrooms in the first semester, we looked at each other and said…STOP.  We were burnt out and spinning our tires. 

We asked our administrators for some rare planning time, which we used to research the gaps in our data and found that our students could really benefit from some experience with poetry.  With our population, we knew we had to approach poetry with a purpose, so our PLC dug into some research to find a verse novel that our students could connect to emotionally and academically…and the clouds parted one day when we decided on House Arrest by K. A. Holt. 

Told in verse, this novel features a 12 year-old male, writing a journal to his probation officer, as a court-ordered exercise due to his crime, which was stealing a wallet to pay for prescription drugs for his extremely ill infant brother.  His father recently abandoned the family, they are working-poor, and Timothy is ANGRY.  

One of our students raised her hand slowly and said, ‘Wow.  This could be a lot of kids I know.’”

On the very first day in class, one of our students raised her hand slowly and said, “Wow.  This could be a lot of kids I know.” My heart immediately said…BINGO.  

Packed with emotional punches, this novel is broken into 52 “weeks” which makes it easy to read in bite-sized chunks.  Figurative language drips from each stanza, along with multiple opportunities to teach text features. Additionally, our team took a leap and decided to teach anaphora, imagery, emotional IQ, and symbolism as part of this unit.  These are terms we had never taught in sixth grade, as they are seen as pretty advanced concepts.  

[Our students] have fallen in love with Timothy.”

As of our last formative assessment, 78% of our students are proficient in anaphora!  They are rising to the occasion. Why? They’ve fallen in love with Timothy. Timothy who desperately wants to yell at his dad for leaving them (and they can relate).  Timothy who just wants to save his little brother (just as they look out for their siblings). Timothy who is growing up far too quickly (much like our babies).

So, at our PLC last week, we went back to the data, and we had great things to report.  The Winter FAST assessment posted much higher than typical growth. We are pretty sure that’s due, in large part, to the great literature we were able to put in the hands of our students.  In the end, students have to connect with what they are reading to make an impact.  If you can bridge that gap with a great, relevant book, anything is possible!

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Standardized Is the Antithesis of Creative Fri, 31 Jan 2020 13:01:03 +0000 When I go out to eat at the Olive Garden, I know exactly what to expect. The menu and decor are standard and successful, and cooks there are able to follow a recipe to create the same dishes in every branch of the chain. But I wonder if Olive Garden cooks ever garner the inventive nature and deep understanding to become top chefs in diverse cooking environments. And I doubt they feel deep satisfaction in their work that goes beyond a paycheck. Our classrooms today are becoming more and more like a chain restaurant.

The philosophy of our administrators was to hire the right teachers and get out of their way.”

— English teacher JoAnn Gage

What drew me to teach in Mount Vernon was the creativity. This small college town is packed with artists of every variety, and the teachers reflect the ingenuity of the community. The philosophy of our administrators was to hire the right teachers and get out of their way. They understood that autonomy in the classroom allows teachers to utilize their own strengths and passions to make learning enjoyable and relevant for their students.

At MVHS, we co-teach a 10-day J-term that is true project-based learning. Some classes travel to Europe, Florida, or Central America. Some study musical theater, criminology, exercise science, or herbology and potions. Students in my class create video documentaries and podcasts. Creativity thrives because we don’t have to keep pace with anyone else, and grading is pass or fail, so students can take risks and explore without worrying about hurting their GPA. Students learn to problem solve, so they can continue on their learning journey beyond the guidance of a teacher. Choice, autonomy, and creativity are motivators for students, just as they motivate teachers.

Creativity is a struggle in many core classes today…In commonly-taught courses, like Freshman English, teachers are expected to use the same texts and have the same summative assessments measuring the same skills repetitively.”

— JoAnn Gage

Creativity is a struggle in many core classes today because teachers are asked to standardize their teaching. In electives only taught by one teacher, it’s much easier to take a turn directed by the inquiring minds of a classroom, but in commonly-taught courses, like Freshman English, teachers are expected to use the same texts and have the same summative assessments measuring the same skills repetitively. It is a conveyor belt education. It is an Olive Garden kitchen. And just as the Olive Garden produces cooks who aren’t chefs, we are producing students who complete reading assignments who would never proclaim “I am a reader.” We have students who complete writing assignments, yet never would say “I am a writer.” They are not finding ownership in their work.

Creative projects are no longer on the menu in many classes because projects don’t easily fit into being assessed by the standards in the gradebook, or checkpoints on a conveyor belt. In a drive to be “standardized” we often remove the creativity from students’ writing. Rubrics demand the same elements from every student and give far too much generalized feedback for them to sort through. When we assign an essay, we give a recipe of how to get there with success criteria and graphic organizers, so teachers receive 24 clones of what they would have written themselves. 

Students of today are lost when posed with the concept of tackling a problem without directions.”

— JoAnn Gage

Students of today are lost when posed with the concept of tackling a problem without directions. In the attempt to create an equitable playing field for all, we have stifled students’ ability to formulate their own game plan. Homework allows for struggling with concepts in a low-risk environment, but to give no credit for homework does not honor that struggle. Instead of only measuring what students know, we should also acknowledge the growth and effort in the process of learning. Without reporting on the climb to the summit, we are now exclusively celebrating the selfies on top of the mountain, even when some students parachute down to get there. 

Now that formative work and timeliness “don’t count” in most standardized grading, students are ill-prepared for class discussion of assigned reading or for peer response to writing drafts because this work doesn’t appear in the gradebook. Students are not learning from their solitary struggles or their interactions with others because we are not showing them that we value the reading and writing processes as much as their ability to read and write. The benefits of reading, for example, cannot all be measured on a final summative reading assessment. Reading teaches us about ourselves and others, about resiliency and empathy, about every subject known and unknown. We need a standard that measures effort or work ethic to ensure students continue to value formative work like reading and discussion, and we need to give students the time and freedom to explore. If we can’t include a standard measuring efficacy of learning, then a points-based grading system may more effectively show that we place value in the learning process as much as the skill.

We need to see the light we inspire when we ignite a student’s passion for learning which so often comes from our own light within.”

— JoAnn Gage

I’ve heard that the best way to fight teacher burnout is classroom autonomy. Without it, we can’t fuel our fires. We need to see the light we inspire when we ignite a student’s passion for learning which so often comes from our own light within. Holding students to a high standard can be done without standardized learning, without standardized teaching, and without standardized grading. 

Let’s celebrate and share our unique characteristics as teachers, making us shine! And let our students take candles to our flames to light courses on their own paths of learning. Then, in our gradebooks, let’s find a way to celebrate the journey, not just the destination.

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Common Sense Sunset Tue, 14 Jan 2020 03:29:36 +0000 My bright focused third hour pupils

tell me a check marked box

is a visual representation of resolution.


Driving home I double take the sunset,

pausing momentarily at high speed,

caught in a whirlpool of January insight,

resolved to the littlest things.


My conscious self makes a check mark

similar to 137 times before in 54 years,

and my psyche shrugs, sad for the four senses

left forgotten on the drive.

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Fairy’s Winter Journal Wed, 01 Jan 2020 18:43:17 +0000 Dec. 29, 2019

It’s especially chilly today.  I don’t mind snow—it is the most lovely part of the off season, but this wind is another thing altogether.  

One might think that fairies go into complete hibernation in the coldest of the months, but this is certainly not the case. 

Just last week, for instance, I was in charge of the winter solstice event for the entire backyard.  All fairies are just pagan enough to know how to celebrate a solstice, but it’s not a fete I look much forward to. 

My fairy friends Ragnar and Freya love this season most of all and prepare elaborate dishes for the solstice (which I appreciate as my resources are more limited in December), 

But, although I shouldn’t, I personally feel even the word “pagan” sounds a bit less than playful—especially in regards to a party. Admittedly, there is a seriousness to the longest night of the year; I find the extended darkness fills me with longing for what was and will hopefully be again. 

Her house is cheery all winter, and I often go there for pine needle tea.”

In ways, it is an evening of hope for those of us nesting in the frozen garden—with each coming day we move to more sunshine and the return of the brave daffodils and then the peonies and so on and so on and beautiful so on.  

However, it’s impossible not to have collected some regrets within the six months since June’s summer solstice, so I am personally always able to scratch one or two on Freya’s proffered pieces of papyrus to toss into the fire (it’s a ritual without a starting date and not likely to go away soon).  

Summer in the Tensen fairy garden

I am able to get the wood going after a try or two—as I do have a sparkle function adequate for such things.  We are all thankful to the dedicated mouse who carves something unnecessarily beautiful out of a dry stick for this purpose. (Oberon only knows how hard it is for me to watch it enveloped in yellow flame). All these ideas like “facing regrets” and burning rituals make me feel less myself than when planning summer parties.  But one must embrace all seasons of life, I suppose. 


Dec. 30, 2019

I have a friend from the yard past the next who attended the solstice party.  Though I would change my location for nothing in the twinkling universe, Avera is lucky in ways because she has procured a personal  a garden with a cottage of sorts.

Her house is cheery all winter, and I often go there for pine needle tea.  

She is able to winter a red coleus tree in her cellar under the artificial light.  

Then the melancholy of loss clashes with the beauty of renewal.”

It will help her welcome back the magnolia and hyacinth in the early spring.  I long for a tree in the long months of winter and breathing in his freshness lifts my soul—why then is it a little depressing? I am inclined to say because it makes me realize that a part of me is also hibernating.  Sometimes you don’t know that something you love is covered or dormant until offered a glimpse of its returning beauty. Then the melancholy of loss clashes a bit with the beauty of renewal. But tonight I seem too reflective and recasting any negativity is an idea I am currently embracing.  There is one loss we all feel most sharply this season—that of the giant fir tree with the sacred mark of lighting lining its great trunk from foot to sky.  

This giant fir with the lightning scar was removed from the Tensen garden last spring.

She is a loss to the garden and I become lonely when thinking of her brilliance and kindness and strength gone forever.  It may seem strange to some, but we took a piece of her bark and made a little bench where all garden creatures go when needing solace.  She is there somehow. Somehow we will all always be here in the garden it seems. Is that recasting? While many things can be recast, I am not sure that grief is one of them.  It’s got a pain so beautiful that I doubt I will ever let it go.   

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20 WORDS for 2020 Fri, 13 Dec 2019 04:06:02 +0000

A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”

— Emily Dickinson

Iowa teacher-writers will bring 20 words to life over the next 12 months. Contributors looked ahead to 2020 and selected words to use as guides, reminders, motivators, and prayers.


— Kenna Koster and Kerry Neuberger

BREATHE is the only word submitted by two people.  Kerry Neuberger of Garner-Hayfield-Ventura said, “It is easy to get bogged down in all the papers that seem to keep coming in. (My own fault as I assign them.) At times it can be all-consuming, coloring all aspects of my life. When that happens I just need to remember to take a little time and just breathe.”

Kenna Koster is an English and yearbook teacher at Carroll High School. She said, “Hurtful words can come from immediate/jerk reactions. Breathing before responding will help me to avoid angry comments or comments made without thinking.”


— Britt Jungck

Britt Jungck, a sixth-grade teacher at Bunger Middle School, submitted the only word punctuated–with an exclamation mark! “My family just made the exciting, heart-wrenching, fulfilling, and overwhelming decision to take ownership of my family’s century farm in Boone/Dallas County. This means a renovation of a property to replace grief and revive love, a switch of districts but an opportunity to revive my high school teaching methods (I’d like to switch back to high school), a loss of routines and relationships but a chance to revive my curiosity.” Britt would also like to know of English teaching positions in Perry, ADM, Dallas-Center Grimes, Boone, Ames, Waukee, Ankeny, Johnston, etc.


— Kari Straube


Kari Straube, 9-12 ELA teacher at North Fayette Valley in West Union, wins the prize for both first word entered and shortest word: be. “This word reminds me to be where I am. So often I am physically somewhere and mentally miles away. I need to work on that so everything I do is focused.”


— Austin Hall

Dowling teacher Austin Hall said, “After watching a few of her TED Talks, I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly to end 2019. One of the vulnerability myths she mentions is that ‘Vulnerability is weakness.’ I’m slowly but surely becoming convinced (for myself – I see it the correct way much easier in others…) that that is not the case. Vulnerability may include uncertainty, risk, etc., but NOT weakness. All of this is to say that, in 2020, I’m going to be courageous. And that starts with making VULNERABILITY my word for the year.”


— Emma Bireline

Both a noun and a verb, balance is the word that will guide Emma Bireline, English teacher at Atlantic High School. “In 2020 I will be renovating and moving into a 100-year-old farmhouse, teaching, freelance writing, and delivering my second child. It all seems a bit overwhelming! I can do it if I balance my time and energy.”


— Haley Moehlis, ICTE President

Des Moines Valley Composition and Modern American Lit teacher Haley Moehlis said, “Both in teaching and in life, there is this compulsion to go go go. So much to do, so much to get through. In the classroom, when I pause, I’m being intentional to create space for students’ ideas — I’m not rushing to fill the quiet with my thoughts. The same is true in life. Reminding myself to pause let’s me appreciate the world, my world (busy, messy, chaotic, cacophonous as it is).


— Rachelle Lipp

Rachelle Lipp began her teaching career in Iowa and is now in Oregon. “My answer is (at least) three-fold. I can only think of three facets right now, but I bet there are more 😉.
1. I encourage students to advocate for themselves when they need help; however, I hardly ever do the same. This word will help me remember to ask for help when I need it—to improve myself and to improve my teaching practices.
2. Additionally, I’ve been reading Shame of the Nation by Kozol, and I’m appalled about the segregation in our nations public schools. This word will remind me that I have big dreams of advocating for my students — especially my students of color and language learners.
3. This word will encourage me to advocate for teachers—especially new teachers. Teaching is stressful, overwhelming, demanding, and nearly impossible to do well. If we want people to be in this profession and stick with it, we have to raise awareness to several issues. One that I’m passionate about is new teacher (5 years or less) burnout.


— Barb Edlet

English/TAG teacher at Keokuk Barb Edlet said, “I want to be a catalyst for changing our world to be a better place. To remember how making a difference for my students and empowering them will help them be their own catalyst for a better future.”


— Victor Mena

Victor Mena will use his word of 2020 in his teaching at Akron-Westfield: “I chose this word because our world is evolving at a rapid pace and we need to adapt to it. We cannot ignore the issues that are being posed, and we don’t want to be left behind. I will use this term to help my students understand this word through studying literature and comparing the changes of time periods.”


— Mikayla Warrick

Pre-service teacher and new member to the ICTE Facebook family Mikayla Warrick chose a word that affects her as a student and soon-to-be teacher: “In my experience in high school and college, I would like to see more empathy coming from teachers. As a student, it would have greatly affected my time in school knowing I had a teacher working to understand me as a person.”


— Rex Muston


Several readers may want to steal Rex Muston’s word for their own: meraki. “The word showed up in a book we read for a group at school. I like it because it really ties to labors of love. I have it painted on the wall above the door to my room,” said the poet and Keokuk Language Arts teacher.


— Cassie Alber


Cassie Alber teaches Honors Sophomore English and AP Lit in Boone. She chose a word to apply both to herself and to her students. “I am continually trying to be innovative and challenging the kids while challenging myself!”


— Missy Springsteen-Haupt


Currently a ISU EdD student, Missy landed on a word of inspiration: “I chose this word because things have been weighing me down too much over the past few years. I am looking for fresh starts, fresh ideas, and refreshing my passion for this profession.”


— David Duer

David Duer is a poet who also teaches US Humanities, AP Lang & Comp, African American Lit & Culture at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids. He used a moment in his classroom to determine his word choice: “I used [judicious in class today and one of my sophomores said they really liked the word and wrote it down in their notebook. I just enjoyed that moment, but it is a good word. Let’s all be more judicious next year.”


— Kim Van Es

Kim Van Es teaches English teaching at Northwestern College. “As someone who follows politics, it is easy for me to be down, angry, and frustrated. Even though some of this anger is good, righteous anger, I don’t want this posture to rule me. So by making BEAUTY my word of the year, I am committed to noticing something genuine, precious, or lovely in each day. This self-charge will require a paying attention, a listening and watching that is not my normal pace. Wish me luck.”


— Nicole Mena

Nicole Mena, a teacher at MOC-Floyd Valley High School, captures a desire many teachers feel: “As I struggle through the daily joys and challenges of teaching, I hope I can remember to be content in the moment I am living. I want to fully revel in the messy, beautiful adventure of working with growing minds on a daily basis. It’s a natural tendency as teachers to be looking forward and hoping for even more in the future, but I want to learn to be okay with being in the present and being content with where I am, so I can grow and reflect even more as a person and teacher.”


— Jennifer Hartwig

ACGC teacher Jen Hartwig chose a word that will both remind her of her strengths and push her to adapt to the challenges of her work. “Mindshift is my word this year to help me remember that I still have my mind – the things that make me the teacher I love to be – but that I just have to shift that mind, not totally change or abandon my teaching style. I just have to shift a bit. I can do that.”


— Lauren Stephens

Lauren Stephens is a poet and English teacher at Dike-New Hartford. “My mind has been so busy this past year. I want to grow in so many ways, both professionally and personally, but I have a nasty habit of chasing new ideas before I’ve dug deep enough to give my initial goals the time and attention they need to take root. I want to refocus my goals for this upcoming year and put them in several visible places as a reminder. I want to write about them and slow myself down to reflect on what stays in my line of vision and what needs to go.”


— Donna Niday

Donna Niday teaches English education at ISU. She says she is “continually impressed by the outstanding English teachers we have in Iowa.” Donna chose the word “inspire“: We need to inspire our students to read, write, and learn. When I walk through my classroom doorway, I will think, ‘Inspire!‘”



— Allison Berryhill

Allison Berryhill is a journalism and English teacher at Atlantic High School. As the co-chair of ICTE publications, she compiled the responses to compose this post. “After reading the uplifting word choices of the 2020 contributors, I was tempted to abandon my bland, pragmatic word in favor of something more lofty. But I need this word. I will use it in the coming year to remind me to write things down. Too often I rely on my memory, which allows ideas and thoughts to slip by. In 2020 I will use my notebook not only as a place for reflection, but as an ongoing list of moments/words/ideas I want to remember.”







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Nervous…Excited…Grateful: My First Time at NCTE Tue, 10 Dec 2019 02:12:42 +0000 I’ll admit, I was a little nervous as I was boarding the plane at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport in order to go to Baltimore. After winning a travel stipend for a writing contest at Buena Vista University, my advisor recommended I go to NCTE. The first words out of her mouth were, “It’s going to be a little overwhelming, but you’ll learn SO much.” I was hoping to come back with some new ideas and books which I could use within my own future classroom.

When we got to Baltimore, I went to the convention center to check in for registration. Surprised and shocked were the two emotions I felt when I got my program and saw that it was an inch thick. How was I supposed to choose just one session to attend each hour when there were over 50 for each time slot? Eagerly, I sat down Thursday night and skimmed through all of the pages, deciding what to attend.

Friday morning, I woke up at 4 a.m. because I was so excited to attend the conference. As a college student who runs on caffeine, I grabbed an iced coffee from Starbucks and went to the first-timer’s breakfast. Our group leader, Angela Moore, talked about the conference and how NCTE builds a community of teachers. She insisted we all exchange emails and said she would be checking in with us from time to time. And with that, the conference was underway.

Pullquote Photo

This session gave me 50 different strategies that I could use in my classroom”

— Katie Voortmann

I went to many different sessions that day, but my favorite one had to be “Raising a Community of Writers: 50 Ways to Engage Students Within Their Writing.” This session gave me 50 different strategies that I could use in my classroom. As a pre-service teacher, this is the best thing I could ask for, and there is no doubt I will be using some of them in my classroom!

I decided to venture through the exhibit hall, and it was comparable to Black Friday except all of the “customers” were teachers waiting for free books.

Saturday brought just as much excitement. I went to one session which used and talked about the Folger Method. This session was interactive because we were reading dialogue from the famous book, Their Eyes Were Watching God. At first everyone was quiet and kept to themselves, but by the end, we had acted out scenes and had perfected the dialect which was used within the book. I left this session feeling energized, and it helped remind me literature can be super fun and engaging if taught in the right way.

Sunday morning arrived and even though exhaustion had taken root in my body, I couldn’t wait to get back to the conference. My final session I attended had Donalyn Miller as the speaker. I had heard from previous teachers and professors she was awesome to listen to. Her message revolved around just how important it is for students to have access to books—something I want to make sure I do when I have my own classroom.

After the session, I took time to reflect on everything I learned. I was thankful for this opportunity, but even more grateful to have grown as a person along the way. It made me realize that I can’t wait to have my own classroom one day, and I am super excited to be an English teacher!

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ICTE Executive Board Recognized at Affiliate Meeting Thu, 05 Dec 2019 21:48:51 +0000

ICTE executive board members gather for a photo at the NCTE affiliate meeting at the fall conference Nov. 24.

Iowa teachers meet up at the Pratt Street Ale House while in Baltimore for the NCTE Fall Conference.

Allison Berryhill, publications coordinator, and JoAnn Gage, website coordinator, accept the Affiliate Website of Excellence Award at the NCTE Affiliate Breakfast in November.

Five members of the ICTE executive board attended the NCTE Fall Conference held in Baltimore Nov. 21-24. Kirstey Ewald welcomed everyone to the meeting as the Standing Committe on Affiliates (SCOA) chair. At the meeting, ICTE received the Affiliate Website of Excellence Award. The affiliate breakfast capped off a conference rich in learning and networking. Many Iowa teachers attended the conference. A few got together for an evening at the Iowa meet-up organized by ICTE President Haley Moehlis.


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When I Picture My Father Sun, 17 Nov 2019 17:03:25 +0000 When I picture my father,

I picture a truck,

My father stepping up and climbing in,

Ready to head to the field or to deliver grain to the elevator,

Or proudly opening the door for his satisfied customer to take the wheel.


When I picture my father, 

I picture a tractor, 

My father perched atop,

Confident and comfortable like it’s his recliner, 

But alert with anticipation of all that’s before him.


When I picture my father,

I picture a machine shed,

My father lying inside beneath a refurbished truck,

Just the legs of his grease-stained overalls sticking out from underneath,

Or scurrying around from toolbox to trailer.


When I picture my father,

I picture a farm,

My father preparing, planting, harvesting,

Driving his pickup, tractor, or truck from field to field,

Checking the bins, power-washing the machinery, working up a sweat.


When I picture my father,

I picture a kitchen,

My father leaning back with his feet crossed on a chair,

Reading the newspaper in his underwear and “holy” shirt,

Not his Sunday shirt, but one of many t-shirts riddled with welding holes.



When I picture my father,

I picture a recliner,

My father resting from the day’s hard work,

Relaxing with a magazine about farming,

Or enjoying Lawrence Welk, The Waltons, or RFD-TV.


When I picture my father,

I picture a church,

My father sitting at the end of the pew,

His family lining the seats to his left,

His friends filling the seats all around.


When I picture my father,

I picture a family,

My father talking, telling a joke, repeating his Bill-isms,

Always sharing a story about one of the other kids,

Always happy that his quiver is full.


When I picture my father,

I picture a table,

My father controlling his life through the consistency of food, 

Or sharing yet another joke with the table mates around him,

Or reveling in one of his two favorite pies: hot and cold.


When I picture my father,

I picture my mom,

My father reaping the love and service of his dedicated bride,

Living faithfully with her for 70 years,

Growing in his appreciation for her love more and more each year.


When I picture my father,

I picture a blessing,

My father living out for me the importance of hard work and consistency,

Exhibiting for me how I should and should not live,

Confirming for me that the Lord has blessed me all my days.

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Two Poems Tue, 05 Nov 2019 02:56:02 +0000  



The rotten trunk of the dead oak
at the home of my children’s mother
lasted longer than our marriage ever could.


Last week it gave up the ghost,
falling with an imagined death rattle
across the fence into Kathy’s yard.


We bonded looking at it as we sweated,
and bonded as we father and sons struggled
and bonded as we stopped when Scott got there.


A cowboy hat and a tractor make Scott a tall hero,
he lifted, and cradled the log with diesel subtlety,
like a child he was gently carrying from a sleep.


A woman in her late forties was saved that day
and two boys in their teens stepped toward lumberjackdom
moments after a father threw tools in a truck bed
and drove away.





I’m losing her to her “teens,”
between the second set of bench, and abs,
with the Backstreet Boys oldies playing,
and laughs we share over my bad dancing as a dad.


We are close, and gone in the same shared moment
like the sunlight from the windows of the weight room
is warm with us inside,
and fighting a losing battle to wind and cold outside.


She is far enough from when she was my Peanut
to know it was adorable,
the fat folds in her wrists, the way she brought joy
from attempts to growl like a lion.


We can joke, and do
as I did with her brothers,
how none of them could pronounce Yastrzemski,
at bedtimes back when it was forever.


The mirrors on the walls
behind the bench press racks,
tell me how well I am working the weight, working out,
but for a moment I am choking a sob.

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