Transcript of presentation by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director
I am pleased to present the 2007 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Linda Beckstead.
Linda Beckstead has taught English and Journalism at Bellevue West High School for around two decades. She’s highly effective as a writing teacher. She’s been a leader with Nebraska Writing Project since the mid-1990s, and beyond through her work with the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska. She is also a writer herself, currently crafting her regular sermons in her role as a lay minister for her church community.
These are exactly the traits we seek to honor with this award. Our teacher of the year award is named for Carol MacDaniels, whose all-too-brief life exemplified the core values of the Nebraska Writing Project: teachers who inspire writing from their student, who serve as teacher-leaders in the wider community, and who write themselves. I know Carol would have been especially pleased to have Linda receive this award because Linda was a member for several years of Carol’s weekly writing group. As nominator Sharon Bishop put it, “to honor Linda with this award not only recognizes her sterling reputation but also honors the friendship Carol and Linda shared.”
Linda’s students, from struggling to advanced, have benefited from her commitment to the teaching of writing. Nebraska Writing Project teachers may know of Linda’s success inviting at-risk secondary students into writing through poetry, since Linda has presented her poetry unit at the Plum Creek Literacy Festival and in several Southeastern Nebraska schools. Those of you who teach Journalism will know of the summer Journalism camps that Linda administered for several years, and the excellent reputation of Bellevue West’s Journalism program under Linda’s direction. One former student, for example, wrote in support of this nomination:
I was fortunate to have Linda Beckstead as my high school journalism teacher for four years. [She] pushed me as a writer …and pushed our staff to try new things and said never be afraid to take an interesting angle on a story. Without her knowledge…unending support and encouragement, it is certain I would not currently be working as a senior staff member on my college newspaper, nor be pursuing a career in journalism.
This student’s comment about “never being afraid to take an interesting angle on a story” connects directly to Linda’s service as a leader among teachers. In addition to her full-time work at Bellevue West, Linda has served as President of the Academic Freedom Coalition of Nebraska, an organization that seeks to promote and protect the rights of teachers and students for free expression. She has received Intellectual Freedom Awards from AFCON and NCTE for this work. Her principal emphasized this side of Linda’s work in his supporting letter:
Linda teaches our students about the importance of being able to express themselves. She also helps them understand that at times there are limits on that expression….She has strong beliefs in what is right and wrong and is not afraid to educate me. She puts her students first and will work hard to defend them. She can take any situation and turn it into a learning experience for her students, and many times for me…Bellevue West is a better place because of Linda Beckstead.
Nebraska Writing Project has also drawn on Linda’s expertise. After completing her Summer Institute in 1994, Linda served as secondary facilitator in 1995, co-facilitated the Albion Rural Institute in 1998, and co-facilitated the Papillion-La Vista Embedded Institute in 2005. She also served a on our Advisory Board. In short, Linda has worked as a “teacher teaching teachers” for most of her teaching career.
Lastly, Linda has made an ongoing commitment to her own writing. In her many NeWP Institutes, in her classrooms, and with her writing groups, Linda has made a place for writing in her life, no matter how busy with other tasks. I got to know this side of Linda during the years we met with Carol MacDaniels’ writing group. In our weekly meetings over a four year period, Linda shared short stories, a start on a novel, poems, and journals, before discovering what’s become her dominant genre: the personal testimony linked to her Christian vision. Our writing group disbanded after Carol’s passing, but Linda has continued crafting addresses, both formal and informal, for her church ministry. One of her church members wrote in support of her nomination:
What I find refreshing about Linda’s writing is her insight into the ordinary… [her writing] has meaning, and often humor, adding a depth and insight to life that helps me find the greater purpose in my life.
This insight in the ordinary, helping to find greater purpose in life, has been, I think, a constant in Linda’s life as a writer. I’d like to close with a passage from Linda’s earliest writing for Nebraska Writing Project, from the 1994 Institute anthology. Back then, Linda named her journey, as writer, in a travelogue she started in her small group. I think it captures some of what writing has meant for her, and perhaps for many of the rest of us as well. Here’s what she wrote:
My mid-life crisis began shortly after my thirtieth birthday, and I believe it was this event that inspired me to visit my father with my two-year-old in tow. . . . [I] was also inspired by a travelogue by William Least Heat Moon called Blue Highways . In the novel, the author uses his time on the highways and roadside cafes to consider the direction of his life. I felt as if I was nearing a similar landmark. While I knew my destination and he did not, I felt similarly inspired to reconsider the focus of my life. When all was done, I wanted to be able to say that this is where my life had gone because it was where I wanted it to go. I did not want my life to be a series of accidents and lucky encounters. I wanted to be in control of my destiny.
I believe Linda has used writing to understand the life journey she continues on, and has helped many of her students and colleagues find the usefulness of writing in their life journeys. Please join me in honoring Linda Beckstead as the 2007 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.