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Virginia Journal of Education


Ten Minutes With...

Rebecca Elswick
Position: English teacher, Grundy High School
Local Association: Buchanan County Education Association
Years worked in education: 31

What is a typical school day like for you?
As yearbook advisor, I usually begin the day with students seeking me out to purchase a yearbook, pay for a senior ad, bring photos for those ads, pick up photos that were delivered to the school, or inquire why they haven’t gotten said photos. While this is going on, I also return phone calls about everything from business ads to scheduling photos. All of this is before school officially begins!

Next comes my photojournalism class, followed by teaching the 30 seniors in my Advanced Placement/Dual Enrollment English 12 class. Students who successfully complete this class earn credits for both English 12 and college Freshman English, through our local community college. The focus is college-level writing, and I spend a great deal of time on my soapbox, explaining to students that to be successful in college, they must go beyond the writing requirements of standardized testing.

Later, I meet with the 21 students in my Appalachian literature class. We read and discuss works by many of the great writers of Appalachia, such as James Still, Harriet Arnow, Ruth White and Olive Ann Burns.

What do you like about your job?
I love seeing that “spark” from my students when they’re writing and realize they’re communicating! Their eagerness to learn is infectious and, as always, they teach me far more than I can teach them. I adore watching my students’ creativity blossom, and I love to see them take pride in their work. Each year, I collect my students’ writing and we publish a student anthology. I love to see their reactions when they see their writings in a book.

What is hard about your job?
It is disheartening to see high school seniors on the brink of graduation worry about how they’re going to pay for college. For many, if not most, it casts a huge shadow over their high school endeavors. With today’s troubled economy and the cost of college skyrocketing, I see students become so discouraged that they abandon all hope of going to college. Even many who are able to secure loans or scholarships must work throughout college, making time for studying difficult and often jeopardizing their grades.

Can you tell us a little about your writing?
I began writing stories when I was in the sixth grade and fortunately, I had many teachers that encouraged me to keep writing. After college and my first teaching job, like many adults, I got sidetracked by life. For many years, writing was something I was going to do “someday.” In 2006, “someday” finally came in the form of the Appalachian Writing Project (AWP) at the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. AWP’s mission is to improve writing proficiency and learning in our public schools by training teachers to become writing consultants and agents of change in their school systems, while recognizing themselves as writers.

It was then that I became serious about writing and began to submit my work for publication, accumulating publications in literary journals and anthologies. In 2008, I started a novel. That summer I was accepted into the Appalachian Writer’s Workshop in Hindman, KY, where I studied with author Sharyn McCrumb. In 2009, I returned to the Hindman workshop with half the novel completed and studied with Kentucky author Silas House. Returning again in 2010, I had a completed novel that I was revising with hopes of publication.

In March 2011, I happened upon a contest sponsored by Writer’s Digest. I discovered it on Twitter, and the rules were simple:  in a single tweet of 140 characters or less, pitch your novel. The grand prize was a publishing contract. I entered the following tweet: Mama always said you could tell a real lady by the shoes she wears, but then nobody ever accused Mama of being a lady.

I won the contest and my debut novel, Mama’s Shoes, was published in December.

How has being an Association member been helpful to you?
Teachers gain numerous benefits by belonging to associations like the VEA and NEA. There’s security in numbers and the larger the number, the greater our voice. Just as I believe that students benefit from cooperative learning, I believe teachers learn from one another. What better network than the VEA/NEA?


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