Author Archives: Woody

English Teacher’s Novel Set For Publication

Since we honored Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle in 2003, she has emerged as a prolific author while continuing to cultivate young minds as an English teacher at Swain County High School in North Carolina. 

Her latest novel, Even As We Breathe, is to be published by the University of Kentucky Press in the summer of 2020. The novel focuses on a young Cherokee man, who must clear his name when he is accused of abducting a diplomat’s daughter while working at a World War II prisoner-of-war camp in North Carolina. 

Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle

Ms. Clapsaddle, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (ECBI), resides in Cherokee, N.C., her hometown, with her husband, Evan, and their sons, Ross and Charlie. 

A recent article in Cherokee One Feather, an ECBI publication, tells the story of how she became a published novelist.

Her first novel, Going to Water, won the Morning Star Award for Creative Writing from the Native American Literature Symposium in 2012. The novel was the 2017-2018 selection for Western Carolina University’s One Book program. 

She is the author of a series of bi-lingual children’s books published by EBCI and illustrated by Cherokee artists. She wrote a chapter in a novel titled Naked Came the Leaf Peeper, a collaboration of several writers from western North Carolina. She is co-editor of the Journal of Cherokee Studies and writes bimonthly columns for Smoky Mountain Living magazine.

She received an Alma Exley memorial scholarship while at Yale, where she earned her B.A. degree, and then she earned an M.A. from William & Mary College.

She returned home to Cherokee, where she served as assistant to the principal chief of the EBCI for three years before beginning her teaching career.  

From 2007 to 2012 she taught English and Cherokee studies at Swain County High School. She left the classroom in 2013 to serve as executive director of the Cherokee Preservation Foundation. She returned in 2015 to Swain County High School, where she continues to teach. 

Congratulations to Annette Saunooke Clapsaddle, who has secured a prominent place in the literacy scene of western North Carolina. I’m sure her experience as a published author enables her to bring exceptional depth to her teaching. Her students are lucky to have her as their teacher.

By the way, when we honored Ms. Saunooke, I was surprised to learn that a Cherokee community was living in North Carolina. I thought the Cherokees had been expelled from the southeastern states in the 19th century and relocated to Oklahoma. But here’s the story, in a nutshell. 

Until the early 19th century, the Cherokees controlled a vast territory encompassing parts of present-day Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. Under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830 to evict the tribal members from their homes and territory. Thousands of Cherokees were forced westward to Oklahoma, in a devastating march that became known as the Trail of Tears. At the time that catastrophe, a few hundred individuals escaped to the mountains of western North Carolina, where they were able to reclaim land and eventually establish their reservation, where thousands live today.

This story is told in an excellent novel called Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazer, another writer residing in western North Carolina. 

– Woody Exley

Black Male Teachers Have An Impact On White Students, Too

Preston Thorne, an African-American former teacher and coach, now serves as outreach coordinator and student success coach at the University of South Carolina. In this essay, he shares his thoughts on the positive impact that he and his black male colleagues have had not only on black students but also on their white classmates. He notes that only two percent of U.S. teachers are African American whereas 80 percent are white women. Meanwhile, half of the nation’s school children are students of color. Woody Exley

Preston Thorne

I was wasting time on Twitter when I came across a post that stopped me mid-scroll. The original post posed a question: How many black male educators did you have in kindergarten through 12th grade.

One of my former students chimed in with a shocking number: One…Coach Thorne.

That’s me; that’s who I was. I taught social studies at Blythewood High School (in South Carolina) for 11 years and was an assistant football coach.

At first glance, the number one seems to be an indictment and a referendum on what we in education circles have known forever — we need more black men in the classroom. But upon further inspection, with a little critical analysis, I believe there is power in one.

Fewer Black Boys Dropping Out

Statistics tell us that having just one African American teacher in elementary school reduces drop-out rates among black boys by nearly 40 percent and increases their recognition as gifted students.

But stats don’t tell the story.

The story is a student sharing that my class was the first time they really learned about the triumphant history of African Americans in the United States. The story is a text message from a former football player telling me about his future career plans and how much the lessons he learned playing football in high school shaped him. Having a black male leading a classroom can provide a mirror for young black students to see themselves as academics, leaders and professionals instead of those images often portrayed in the media.

But it doesn’t stop there.

Positive Impact on White Students

Author and educator Gloria Ladson Billings argues that having teachers of color impacts white children also.

As she notes, it is important for white students to see black people as capable and able to hold some position of authority over them.

My personal experience confirms these theories. 

Stats can’t tell the story of a white teenage girl seeing a big, bearded black man in Target and doing their secret handshake, while her parents suspiciously watch only to find out it’s Coach Thorne, their child’s favorite teacher.

Having a black male in front of the classroom can provide a window for white students who may never get to encounter the full humanity of a black man.

Positive Effects in the Real World

In an increasingly polarized digital world, any opportunities to interact with someone of another race in the real world can have positive effects.

Though I no longer teach, I am still the ONE for a new group of students — serving as the Student Success Coach in the College of Education at the University of South Carolina.

In October, we will be inviting a select group of black male educators to campus to provide us with insight and experiences so we can build a game plan for creating more ONES.

Every time you see a black man in the classroom or as a coach or as a principal, I guarantee that he is the ONE for someone.

Teaching Is Learning, Says ‘Ivy’ Horan

Isabella “Ivy” Horan, our newest Alma Exley Scholar, has broken into print with an essay published today (10/16/2019) on the editorial page of the Hartford Courant. In the essay, Ivy shares 10 lessons that she has learned from her young students while preparing for a career in education. She’s student-teaching in East Hartford while pursuing her master’s degree from UConn, and some lucky school district is going to be happy to welcome her to its faculty next year. — Woody Exley

Ten lessons I learned from my students

By Isabella Horan

As a graduate student in education who is placed in an internship in East Hartford, I am preparing for a career teaching such things as reading and math.

But teaching goes both ways, and in many instances, my students have taught me far more than I have taught them.

Ivy Horan

Here are 10 lessons I learned from my students that can be applied to the classroom — or to life in general.

Positive relationships are imperative. Students will not learn from you if you do not show them that you are there to support them. It is necessary to build a strong classroom community in which students can make mistakes, grow and feel comfortable with one another.

Laugh. At the start of my student teaching, I prepared detailed, pristine lesson plans. When some of my plans derailed within five minutes because a student made a funny noise or accidentally burped and the whole class burst out laughing, I learned to join in and laugh, too.

Be honest. My students have varying backgrounds; some of neglect, some of love and some in between. When life is hard, my students are real about it. They talk to me, and we work through it together. That’s what a classroom family is for.

Context matters. I have had students who sometimes come into school after only one or two hours of sleep. When these students doze off during a lesson, I check in with them instead of assuming they just don’t care. We need to be understanding, and we will be appreciated in return.

Have fun. Whenever I ask for class expectations at the start of the year, every student says: “Have fun.” Learning has to be fun! We need to sell education to our students. They need to invest in it to become lifelong learners. To my little friends who remind me we need to have more fun, thank you for your willingness to play new games and dance with me across the room.

Be yourself. Kids are real with us; sometimes a little too real — like when they say you “look funny” if you put on less makeup one day. It is hard to be vulnerable with others but it is important in teaching. I let my students know what I am learning in school. I tell them I can relate to some of their stories. I tell them I still have trouble with math, too. When students see you as a real person, they start to recognize you as a role model.

Coffee. I call it my “teacher juice” and my students do, too. When my students run into the room full of energy in the morning and I look like I am still waking up, they are sure to remind me to take a sip.

Appreciate cultural capital. I have learned more about cultures, languages, and experiences from my students than I ever expected. We need to show students how to learn from and work with others who have different backgrounds than we do. This is a necessary skill in the classroom and throughout life. We need to start it young. I can teach them about me, and they can teach me about them.

Things don’t always go as planned. You can plan what you are going to accomplish in each subject each day. But sometimes students need more processing, learning and practice. We need to respect that. I thank my students who are vocal about needing more time on a certain topic.

Try your best. We tell our students to stay positive and remember that they are learning. We don’t apply this point of view to our own lives enough. During student teaching, I made a mistake during one of my first solo lessons. As I became frazzled, one of my students said, “Ms. H, it’s OK to make a mistake. You are trying your best!” I will never forget that. It’s true. I’m not just a teacher; I’m a learner, too.