Transcript of presentation speech by Robert Brooke, NeWP Director
I am pleased to present the 2008 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year Award to Cathie English.
Cathie English teaches at Aurora High School, where she has been since 1992. Her students routinely succeed in state speech events and gain college credit through her senior composition courses. She’s been involved in the Nebraska Writing Project since 1997, when she participated in our first Rural Institute. Since that time, she’s been a leader in our state network and in our parent organization, the National Writing Project. Here in Nebraska, she served as our first Technology Liaison, has been on our Advisory Board for almost a decade, was the Community Liaison for the 2001 Rural Institute in Aurora, and last year helped me facilitate our main Summer Institute in Lincoln. For most of this decade, she’s also worked with the National Writing Project’s various technology initiatives. She’s led their Technology Professional Writing Retreat three summers running. She helped the Virgin Islands Writing Project set up its Summer Institutes. She’s also been part of the New Site Leadership program, helping many of the beginning Writing Project sites across the country imagine just what their work should be. And at the same time she’s been teaching her students and leading all these local and national programs, she has remained committed to her own writing. She’s written articles for English Journal, The Quarterly, and The Voice. She’s published poetry and creative nonfiction. She completed a Master’s Thesis on Great Plains spirituality, and even this month is hard at work on her summative essay for doctoral candidacy.
In short, Cathie English is an inspiring teacher of writing, a strong advocate for teachers locally and nationally, and a very good writer herself. These are exactly the traits we celebrate with this Award–an award named for our friend and colleague, Carol MacDaniels, who epitomized these traits in her work with the Nebraska Writing Project up until her death in 2001. I believe Carol would be especially pleased with this year’s award recipient, since Cathie English got her start with NeWP in an institute Carol facilitated.
Cathie English is known at Aurora as a teacher that strives for excellence in her students and helps them reach that excellence. One of her colleagues wrote in support of her nomination:
Over the past fifteen years, Cathie has given me a serious run for my money (as the teacher reputed to put in the most after-school hours). Whether she is working with drama or speech students or simply pouring over essays, she has selflessly devoted herself to bringing out the best in her students.
Many of her students concur. One of her student nominators wrote:
Mrs. English is truly a great teacher. Because of her challenging curriculum and high expectations for us students, I feel much more prepared for college classes next year. Her passion for writing and reading is very refreshing and inspiring.
Another student nominator explained one way Cathie manages to draw so much good work from the class–her passionate and open commitment to exploring ideas:
Mrs. English treats us like young adults, not children. I noticed a quote by Aristotle taped to Mrs. English’s desk which reads, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” Even when Mrs. English does not agree with an idea or opinion presented in class, she does not shoot it down. I can respect her for that.
Some of Cathie’s professional colleagues noted this same aspect to her inspiring excellence. The passion for lively discussion she fosters in her classroom clearly has extended throughout her professional work. The Associate Director of the National Writing Project site development team describes Cathie this way:
Cathie is the real thing, a vibrant and committed teacher leader who stands out at the New Site Leadership Institute each year as a model member of the community that every new NWP site director hopes to inspire.
Closer to home and perhaps more down to earth, a Nebraska nominator tells us:
When I first met Cathie in class, I thought “boy she talks a lot.” I remember that we had a project to do together and I wasn’t sure how to respond to her. She was outspoken and intelligent and driven. (But as I worked with her,) She inspired me, and influenced me to join the technology retreat. Whenever I meet someone who knows Cathie, whether it be a former student or colleague, they have nothing but admiration for her work and her influence on their work. She is a teacher-leader and a credit to her profession as well as the NeWP.
If Cathie’s teaching and professional leadership both stem from her passion for ideas and dialogue, so too does her writing. In her writing, whether academic or creative, Cathie strives for connections between ideas and between the people who are committed to them. She emphasizes the emotional connection that for her is key to intellectual engagement. Reading her writing, it’s no wonder that her students and colleagues gain so much from working with her. I’d like to finish my comments by reading a short selection from Cathie’s writing that I hope shows this search for connection between people and ideas–a brief passage from her 2002 Master’s Thesis, “Twin Paths to Spirit”:
Like the Lakota and the Benedictines, my ancestors immigrated to the Great Plains, and now I have lived here, thanks to them, for my whole life. I have traveled other places, but I always come home. The sunrise is blinding the morning after a blizzard. Everything is still. The blue sky stretches overhead and I can see for miles atop this prairie hill…The landscape that surrounds us on the Plains is part of the grammar of our quest for personal purpose. In my reflections on reading Lakota and Benedictine materials, I am convinced we all approach the spiritual connection to our landscape in significantly different ways. Landscape is necessary to the Lakota because immersing oneself in the surrounding landscape is part of how one lives in this interconnected world. Landscape is necessary to the Benedictine because isolation and emptiness is part of the purification of soul that opens portals to God. …For me, to some extent, these two paths to spirit have merged. …For me, someone who has lived her whole life on the Plains, it is listening and observing and discovering the holy in a landscape that others might overlook.
Please join me in recognizing Cathie English as the 2008 Nebraska Writing Project Carol MacDaniels Teacher of the Year.