North Carolina must surely be one of the nation's leaders in supporting the literary arts and education. One of the facilities that gather the two together in seminars that inspire and instruct is the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching here in Cullowhee. You may find out more about the history and mission of NCCAT by visiting its website, www.nccat.org.
I was fortunate enough to be involved in NCCAT during its first years when it was housed in Madison Dormitory on the Western Carolina University campus. That was 24 years ago! There I met such memorable seminar leaders as Carolyn Tobin and Jon Rinnander and came to know numerous teachers as colleagues and friends. Several years ago NCCAT moved to a beautiful new facility across the road (HWY 107) where it continues to offer our teachers a place to relax, re-energize, and form communities with each other during the various seminars offered by the staff. Our teachers have had many burdens laid upon them over the past few years by legislatures that have little understanding of the art and practice of teaching our children. Too many tests, too much paperwork, too many restrictions on precious time and resources--this is just the beginning of a list that makes teachers' work more demanding, more stressful. We should all be alarmed by the number of teachers in North Carolina and nationwide who leave the profession each year. We should be asking ourselves and our legislators and school administrators WHY?
(The library and large parlor downstairs at NCCAT)
(Original artwork by NC artists is displayed around the Center.)
The questions being asked in the seminar North Carolina Is My Home:Celebrating Our State's Literary Heritage are ones central to the teaching of NC literature and writing. Alton Ballance, Seminar Director, and his assistant NCCAT Program Associate Linda Kinnear put together a program that enabled everyone to consider such questions as how does one give voice to "home"? How have our writers presented their time and place? What challenges have they faced as writers and what instruction can they offer to teachers struggling to teach a love of reading and writing to their students. How can we encourage students to learn more about their communities, their families, and themselves through writing? As one of the seminar presenters, I had a front-row seat in helping to discuss these issues.
(Watercolor by Bryson City artist Elizabeth Ellison outside our meeting room.)
(Alton Ballance, NCCAT Center Fellow)
Georgann Eubanks, author of Literary Trails of North Carolina, led off the seminar with a place-based discussion of where our authors have lived and brought alive in their writing. She also guided the teachers through a writing exercise based on the work of poet Robert Morgan.
Acclaimed novelists Pamela Duncan, who now teaches at Western Carolina University, and Charles F. Price of Burnsville, whose novels deal with North Carolina History, brought their humor and mutual admiration to their readings from their work. Ron Rash read from his new novel Serena, again emphasizing the importance of place in his development as a writer. Michael Parker, fiction-writer and professor at UNC-G, spoke about the ambiguities and tensions that we face in our local communities, tensions that he has brought into his novels and stories.
(Novelist Charles Price and his wife Ruth share a humorous moment after his presentation.)
(Ron Rash signs books after his reading Monday night.)
(Novelist Michael Parker chats with teachers after his presentation....)
(....and signs books for eager participants, including Constance Ramey, former President of the NC English Teachers Association.)
Fred Chappell, our state's most renowned writer, brought the authors' portion of the seminar to a close with a short story and poem that captivated the circle of teachers. Again, a sense of humor, community, and sheer enjoyment in each others' company marked his presentation.
(Fred Chappell signing his book Look Back All the Green Valley.)
The stars of this seminar? The teachers, of course. A young woman like Rebekah Haithcock, for example, who represents the future of NC public school teaching. Or former NC English Teacher Association president, Constance Ramey, who personifies the life-long commitment to passing on a love of language and literature. Herlinda Bryan who teaches Spanish at Frank P. Graham Elementary in Apex. And all the other lively participants who made this seminar one I will remember for a long time.
(Posing with Rebekah Haithcock, a Spanish teacher at West Caldwell High School.)
(In the seminar room moments before Fred Chappell's presentation.
(Mealtimes give teachers and presenters time to get to know each other.)
(In downtown Sylva, outside Lulu's Cafe, Susan Chappell and Ruth Price give each other a farewell hug before going their separate ways. Fred looks on, while Charles stays in the background!)
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