National Council of Teachers of English
Program, Organization, Membership and Financial Support, History
The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is, according to their literature, "a professional organization of educators in English studies, literacy, and language arts." This private, nonprofit organization is dedicated to promoting English language education at all levels, from kindergarten through graduate studies.
The NCTE hosts four annual conferences, at which members have the opportunity to attend panel discussions, seminars, and workshops to improve their professional skills. In addition, it maintains a presence at the conferences and conventions of affiliated organizations, such as the Modern Language Association of America (MLA), the International Reading Association (IRA), and the Speech Association of America (SAA).
In addition to the national conferences, the NCTE produces several publications aimed at disseminating information it considers important to its general membership. The official newsletter is The Council Chronicle, in which are published articles on the issues, trends, and concerns facing teachers of English. Another publication of general interest is the English Language Quarterly. Other periodicals serve specific subgroups in the larger membership: College English, Primary Voices K–6, and Teaching English in the Two-Year College, for example, have clearly defined constituencies. All told, the NCTE supports the publication of twelve journals.
Each year the NCTE also produces twenty to twenty-five books, most of which are specifically intended as teacher's guides or texts. Among recent titles are Teaching Poetry in High School, Lesson Plans for Substitute Teachers, and Evaluating Writing. This continues a long tradition; the first full-length publication produced by the NCTE was Current English Usage, produced in 1935 and long a staple in high school classrooms.
The NCTE also sponsors a number of annual awards. Two are granted to individual students in every state and are meant to recognize outstanding achievement in writing. Candidates are nominated by their high-school English teacher and must submit three writing samples. A third award, also granted on a state-by-state basis, honors the best student publication of the year. Finally, there is the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English, awarded in recognition of scholarly achievement by a member of the NCTE.
Because professional development is an important aspect of the NCTE mission, the council is committed to supporting its membership in advancing their skills as well as their knowledge of the changing nature of American education, particularly as it affects the teaching of English. For this reason it maintains the NCTE Research Foundation, which makes available grants to support scholarly research.
A final aspect of the NCTE mandate is advocacy. The council is actively involved in providing guidance to policymakers at the local, state, and national level on all issues relevant to the teaching of English. For instance, the NCTE has been very active in the fight against censorship of reading materials in schools, and has been equally involved in advising policymakers on ways to expand and improve literacy among the nation's children.
As of 2002 the NCTE had 77,000 active members in the United States and Canada. The council recognizes the wide range of interests and specializations represented within its membership, which is therefore broken out into three separate divisions: elementary (K–6 grades), secondary (middle school and high school), and collegiate. In addition, there are several special-interest departments called conferences. These are the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC), the Conference on English Education (CEE), the Conference for English Leadership (CEL), the Two-Year College English Association (TYCA), and the Whole Language Umbrella conference (WLU). Each division is run by a section committee and an independent governing board.
The publications arm of the NCTE is separately administered. In addition to the books and periodicals produced by the organization, there are bulletins, public information updates, and special reports issued to members as well as to the broader public.
The national council is overseen by a board of directors, made up of representatives from all the divisions as well as from affiliated, nonmember groups such as the MLA. A slate of nominees is developed by a nominating committee, then voted on by the current board. The board meets annually to discuss NCTE business. A smaller executive committee is responsible for the day-to-day activities of the council and includes a president, vice president, executive secretary, treasurer, and representatives from each of the council divisions, as well as the immediate past president. This group meets with greater frequency, three times a year on average, and reports its activities to the board of directors.
Affiliate organizations, from local English associations to national organizations with a strong interest in the promotion of English language use and literacy, are an independent but highly valued constituency within the NCTE. Their participation in national conferences is actively encouraged. In addition, such groups are frequently enlisted in the pursuit of NCTE-sponsored special projects, such as literacy campaigns, curriculum development, and teacher education.
Membership and Financial Support
The NCTE prides itself on keeping its membership open to all teachers of English and others in related professions. The council supports its programs by membership dues, paid annually, and through the sale of its books and other published materials. In addition, it receives government support in the form of grants.
The NCTE was founded in 1911 by a group of educators in Chicago, Illinois, known as the English Round Table of the National Education Association. This group wanted to create a professional response to changing needs and values regarding education, particularly English language education. The impetus for this early effort was a concern that school curriculums were becoming too narrow and were incapable of addressing the needs of an increasingly diverse student population. A special committee was formed to address these issues.
These concerned educators at first set themselves a limited task: to explore the problems arising from a rigid, narrowly defined approach to English language instruction. Soon, however, it became apparent that more was needed, and that only a national professional organization would have the ability to affect policy decisions. By 1919 the original investigatory committee had grown large enough to become such an organization. Because of its open-door policy regarding membership, the NCTE from the first maintained a divisional structure, with separate groups representing elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educators.
Over the next several decades the organization continued to grow. By 1948 it was clear that the simple divisions based on grade level were inadequate, and the CCCC was formed to address the special needs of communication and composition teachers at the college level. This reliance on committee organization proved to be extremely useful, for it permitted interested groups to concentrate their focus on particular issues or trends. Membership grew dramatically in the second half of the twentieth century, and over the years new committees were formed, leading to the five-conference structure in place at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
NATIONAL COUNCIL OF TEACHERS OF ENGLISH. 2002. <www.ncte.org>.
DORA V. SMITH JAMES R. SQUIRE
NANCY E. GRATTON
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