Burleson teacher selected to attend prestigious summit
Steffanie Johnson, an advanced placement English teacher at Burleson High School, recently attended a Humanities Texas symposium in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. The three-day event focused on topics and skills central to the state’s high school English language-arts curriculum.
The theme for this summit was “teaching the American literacy tradition.”
Distinguished scholars from universities across the nation worked with teachers to improve the quality of classroom teaching in Texas. The institute offered dynamic presentations, probing discussions and focused seminars in which scholars and teachers developed strategies for engaging students. Author Oscar Cásares read from and discussed his work with teachers at an evening event during the program.
“Humanities Texas was pleased to co-sponsor the Austin institute,” said Executive Director Michael L. Gillette. “Giving talented teachers the opportunity to interact with their peers and leading scholars will enable them to engage students with exciting new resources and perspectives on our nation’s literary history.”
Johnson was selected to attend the symposium after she submitted an essay explaining why she wanted to attend and why she thought continuing education for teachers is important.
The veteran teacher, who has been teaching at BHS for 14 years and previously taught at Cleburne High School for 11 years, said it was an honor to sit down and collaborate with scholars and speakers.
“They lectured and then helped us one-on-one on different facets of literature,” Johnson said. “Just learning about the different facets of American literature from these scholars was a great experience.”
One of Johnson’s favorite speakers shared with the teachers how selections are chosen for the Norton Anthology of American Literature, which is the “go-to” book for American literature teachers, she said.
“He talked about how selections were chosen to be in the book, and how sometimes they are deleted based on what teachers across the nation think are important to teach at the time,” Johnson said. “I found that really interesting.”
A challenge for Johnson was learning more about contemporary poetry while at the symposium, which is being taught more frequently in school.
“It is more emotionally driven as opposed to having literary characteristics, so learning how to teach that, what to do with it, and how to grade the outcome of student’s work was something new.
Johnson’s favorite time period in American literature was during the Harlem Renaissance, which took place in the 1920’s and saw the rise of an intellectual and artistic expression in the dominantly African-American community in New York City.
“I look at the different perspectives of the writers at that time and see how they were trying to break away from being looked at as African-American authors as opposed to American authors,” she said.
The experience taught Johnson even more skills to bring back to her students to help them prepare for the rigors of higher education and college-level English courses.
“It’s very difficult nowadays to find meaningful professional development for experienced teachers, especially at the secondary level and so it’s important to me to try to find something that will actually be useful and not only prepares students for state testing, but to prepare them for college and the expectations that go along with that,” she said.