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Over the course of my life, I have been very lucky to meet and work with some of the most wonderful people in the world, people whom I admire and respect, people who make the world a better place. The group that has meant the most to me has been the doctoral students I have had the great fortune to work with over the years at Arizona State University. As I look at the list of names of former students I provided for requesting letters of support, I can’t help but think of all the great things they have done and how much the lives of others have been changed through their work. It has been a privilege to be associated with them and to have, in some small measure, made a contribution to their success.
As I look at this list of names, I can’t help but laugh because this looks like the names beneath a newsletter photo we once took of these folks as a group when they were all doctoral students presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English Convention in New York back in 2007. Our presentation was entitled “From the Ranch to the Rez, from the Bitterroots to the Barrio: Developing a Sense of Self and Place in Young Adult Literature of the West,” and with eight presenters (five more than standard practice), the conference organizers had to reschedule our talk in the conference ballroom instead of one of the much smaller breakout session rooms. Each of our doctoral students was to talk about his or her favorite adolescent novel set in the western United States and how this book would help young readers find themselves through the reading experience. For some of them, it was the first time they had been to a national convention and here they were presenting to some of the biggest names in the field of adolescent literature! Each one of them went over their scheduled time, and thank goodness we were scheduled just before lunch because we went way over our time. Their excitement was so very evident and contagious that all those famous professors and authors who had chosen our session stayed past the scheduled ending time even though it meant missing some of their lunch. Many of them even stayed later to ask questions.
We have never looked back since. Each of those ASU doctoral students went on to be leaders in their various fields within English education, often connected to adolescent literature, and now that list of names reads like a Who’s Who in English Education.
Knowing how talented, devoted and knowledgeable our doctoral students are, I have always thought it was my job to help put them in the right place at the right time, so they could show the world what they know, what they are learning, and how they are trying to change the world. Every year, I try to organize them into groups with various members, some members who are out in the field of higher education, some members who are still in the program at ASU, and some members who are middle and high school classroom teachers who are graduates of our undergraduate and master’s programs. I ask them to put together a proposal for one of our national conventions, either the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN), or the International Reading Association (IRA) and then to pool resources to get there (share rides, share rooms, whatever it takes). Those whose proposals are accepted then welcome those whose proposals were rejected into their presentations so that everybody gets a chance at presenting, and often turning their presentations into publications. We generally have an army of students and former students at the NCTE convention, and we always hold a dinner for everyone, sometimes with as many as 30 people.
I have also encouraged them to take charge and put on our state NCTE affiliate conference, the Arizona English Teachers Association annual convention, and year in/year out, our current and past students serve as conference chairs and are the bulk of the presenters.
Although I believe in making any resources under my control available to our doctoral students, I think the most important thing I can do is to help them pursue what they are truly interested in. For seven years I was the editor of The ALAN Review, NCTE’s journal on adolescent literature, and I continue an eleven year run as editor of the Books for Adolescents (recently changed to Print Based Texts) pages of the IRA’s Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy. Every doctoral student has the opportunity to conduct author interviews and write book reviews, which I then publish in the journals, but it has always been about the authors that most fascinated them. This means, for example, if one of our students is interested in adolescent books for reluctant reader boys, that student chooses who he or she thinks is the best author of that type of book and when a new book comes out, the next issue of the journal will contain that student’s interview and book review. In that same vein, I have always made certain I introduced our doctoral students in person to their favorite adolescent authors at our national conventions or when they are on book launching tours and then followed up with a suggestion that a publication project come out of that meeting.
I feel as though mentoring our doctoral students is an association for life. I knew almost all of them when they were middle or high school teachers and encouraged them into the program. Now that they are all professors with their ideal jobs. I continue to collaborate with them in a number of ways. Bryan Gillis, Director of Middle School Education at Kennesaw State University, and I are the book review editors for the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents website. We have 300+ reviewing ALAN members whom we guide through the writing of ten reviews each month (along with our own book reviews). This year, Laura Walsh (SUNY Potsdam), Kathy Deakin (Metro State University), and I published a very popular book on Stephenie Meyer and the Twilight series (Stephenie Meyer: Into Twilight: Rowman and Littlefield, 2012) after all the students in our program worked together to host several events for Ms. Meyer, including the Vampire Prom for a thousand young readers from all over the world. Stacey Graber is about to begin her first professorship (Youngstown State University), where she will be collaborating with me on a book proposal (submitting this weekend) about teaching nonfiction texts with the new National Common Core Standards. Marlinda White-Kaulaity, who published on Indigenous adolescent literacy in both The ALAN Review and the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy while she was in our program and who is now at the University of New Mexico, Gallup, continues to work with me as we attempt a national consortium on Native American Education called Indigenous Education for All. We have been turned down twice on funding, but the third time will be a charm. Katherine Mason and I actually taught in secondary education on opposite sides of the freeway in Kansas City many years ago, and we once went back together to present at the University of Kansas. Katie continues to work as the editor of SIGNAL Journal and sends me manuscripts to review on a fairly regular basis. She is now the head of English Education at Wichita State University after beginning her career at Kennesaw State. April Brannon is crucial to our new “Print Based Text” column in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy because she reads and reviews not only adolescent books but also adult books and makes professional connections to the authors. She is providing both book reviews and author interviews for this new venue in that journal, a venue for which I am responsible. Last but not least is the very first doctoral student whose committee I chaired, Darren Crovitz. This year marks the very first year for Dr. Crovitz as program director of English Education at Kennesaw State University, one of the largest teacher preparation programs in the country. Although I have been using a book I wrote for Pearson, Prentice, Hall (2004) in my Methods of Teaching Writing class, next time around I will be using Darren’s new book Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing (Heinemann, 2012) because it is the latest word on secondary writing pedagogy.
All in all, these past 13 years have been delightful, and I am very grateful. I feel kind of like the bus driver who drove the Olympic gold medal winning Dream Team to the basketball court back in 1992. My job is mostly just to get them all on the bus and get them where they need to be on time and in the right place. When they get in the game, they will be fantastic!! I am honored to have been nominated for this award and even more honored to have worked and continue to work with these great professors.