What a Gift to Know We Are Not Alone

Andy Schoenborn describes his professional journey from an undergraduate who attended a Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference to his current role as MCTE president, and he invites you to attend the 2015 conference.  Register here.

The question each of us had to answer as a child was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  Some of us could answer this question right away and others struggle, years later, to answer the age old question.  The question itself was easy for me to answer.  In fact, I answered it in kindergarten when my tech-savvy teacher asked each of my classmates this question and used a tape recorder to capture our answers.  Though the tape is lost, I will never forget the authenticity of the experience.  To me, this was serious business.

Teacher: “Andy, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Andy: “A doctor.”

Teacher: “What a great goal!  Why a doctor?”

Andy: “Because a doctor helps people, and I want to help people.”

No, I didn’t want to be a teacher when I grew up.  In fact, when I needed to answer the same question as a high school senior, teaching was not even on the radar.  I chose an Electrical Engineering path at Michigan Technological University.  At the time, it seemed like the right decision. It took one trimester at MTU to realize it wasn’t.

cmuI transferred to Central Michigan University, and everything changed.  

After signing an English major with an emphasis in education,  I met new people and formed new relationships.  Inevitably, I broke out the “What’s your major?” icebreaker and was surprised how quickly conversations with education majors intrigued me.   The passion for learning, sharing, and helping others achieve flowed easily between myself and others.  I found myself engaged in conversations about teaching and learning each day; it was invigorating – I wanted more.

As part of my mid-tier experience with Dr. Elizabeth Brockman, my classmates and I were encouraged to attend the Michigan Council for Teachers of English (MCTE) Fall Conference.  Not knowing what to expect, but knowing I liked the people who were going, I went to the conference.

mcteMy first experience with MCTE was incredible.  I was in a space with 300-plus like-minded educators all with the goal of sharing, learning, and helping all students achieve success.  It was a place where teachers were learning from teachers, and people were helping people!

I left the conference, my head swimming with ideas, and wondered how cool it would be to present a breakout session or, one day, be on the council leadership team.  Both ideas seemed crazy at the time, but the conference helped me to dream and gave my goals direction.

In the (sometimes) anti-teacher climate we live in what a gift it is to know we are not alone.

Over the course of seventeen years since that first conference, I have crossed many personal thresholds that seemed frightening in the beginning – I could not have done this alone.  Thanks to mentors in teaching networks developed over that time I was encouraged to push myself, take risks, and seek opportunities to grow in the profession.  

Toby Kahn-Loftus, past president of MCTE and director of Top of the Mitt Writing Project
Toby Kahn-Loftus, past president of MCTE and director of Top of the Mitt Writing Project

These networks encouraged me to submit my first presentation proposal following a Call for Proposals from an organization I felt comfortable with, the Michigan Council of Teachers of English.  Success there encouraged me to submit proposals to more professional teaching organizations.  I sought out opportunities to improve through summer programs like the Chippewa River Writing Project summer institute.  One year, I spoke with the MCTE president, Toby Kahn-Loftus, and asked how I could become part of the leadership team.  She recognized me and encouraged me to become a region representative – I accepted.

On the leadership team, I felt pride and excitement to learn with and from literacy experts from around the state.  After a few years, I moved up the MCTE ranks from regional rep to treasurer to vice president to president-elect and, now, president.  It has been a wonderful ride.  

As teachers, we search for opportunities to better ourselves and those around us.  Our primary focus is to help others achieve success through the benefits of literate lives.  Though we are in the waning days of summer before the school bell rings, we stay true to our focus.  We spend time reflecting on our past practices as we hone our craft.  We seek out and engage in authentic conversations during summer workshops, social media backchannels, and summer reading for both pleasure and purpose.  Our motivation is our hope for the future – our students.  We know that, as we grow in our learning, our students will grow with us.

My professional growth began with the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, and each Fall its members share with and encourage others to inspire literate lives.  As an organization founded in 1924, MCTE marks the 91st year of a commitment to literacy and the practices that offer the most promise to our students.  As teachers, we are a part of this vast, long history of educators who share common goals and common hopes.

mcte banner

Celebrating the learner in all of us, the 2015 Fall Conference Leading Literate Lives: Exploring Powerful Practices for All Learners promises to be engaging for all.  We have invited two stellar speakers for our morning keynote and our featured luncheon speaker.

MCTE 2015 keynote speaker Jeff Wilhelm
MCTE 2015 keynote speaker Jeff Wilhelm

Distinguished scholar and author Dr. Jeff Wilhelm will be giving the morning keynote based on his research on pleasure reading (see The Atlantic article “The Most Important Lessons Can Teach Kids About Reading: It’s Fun”).  Jeff is a nationally known author and teacher researcher. He has authored and co-authored numerous books on teaching and inquiry and has been a national speaker for NCTE and the National Writing Project. He will also present a workshop titled, “Inquiring Minds Learn to Read, Write, and Meet the CCSS,” in the afternoon.  Jeff’s work is devoted to teachers, inquiry, and assisting developing learners.  

MCTE 2015 luncheon speaker Ari Berk

The luncheon speaker, Dr. Ari Berk of the English Department at CMU, is a internationally recognized writer, visual artist, folklorist/mythologist, teacher, screenwriter, and film consultant.  Ari’s passion for literacy and love of story manifests in his presentation, “Talking to the Dark”–a cheery luncheon talk and reading about how the folklore of ghosts and goblins may help us to explore essential states of being and wholesome topics, such as wonder, fear, sympathy, hospitality, and death.  What a treat on the day before Halloween!  Ari works with students of all ages and has published numerous books, including the Undertaken trilogy, Nightsong, and The Secret History of Mermaids. You can see some of Dr. Berk’s stunning visual work at his website.

You are invited to join us with other Michigan pre-K through college educators on Friday, October 30, 2015 at the MSU Kellogg Center.   Registration for the conference is now open!  Please find registration information here or online.

Seek the adventure of the quest in your questioning; the oneness found in wonder; and the exhilaration of exploring while you grow professionally.

Each of us has our own story to tell and to craft as we progress through the profession. At five-years-old, I recognized my desire to help people.  It’s true, I didn’t become a medical doctor, but throughout my life I have sought to improve my practice as an educator to improve the opportunities for those around me.  Many career shaping professional organizations have supported me throughout my career, but the Michigan Council of Teacher of English was the first – it will forever have a place in my heart.


7Andy Schoenborn (@aschoenborn) is a Great Lakes Bay Region RUBY award and Ray Lawson Excellence in Teaching award-winning teacher of English at Mt. Pleasant High School in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.  He is the president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and a Chippewa River Writing Project teacher consultant with over 80 contact hours of professional development.  Andy focuses his work on creating supportive inquiry-oriented contexts for developing and performing literate behaviors, student-centered critical thinking, and digital collaboration.


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One response to “What a Gift to Know We Are Not Alone”

  1. Elizabeth Brockman Avatar
    Elizabeth Brockman


    Thanks for a great conference today! The break-out sessions were wonderful, and Jeff and Ari were exceptionally strong keynote speakers.

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