By Carolyn Marnon – Kevin English, 25, is an innovative young leader fighting illiteracy in Michigan. The Wayne Memorial High School English teacher was named to the International Literacy Association (ILA)’s first 30 under 30 list. This global list included nonprofit leaders, classroom teachers, authors, volunteers, researchers, technology startup founders and entrepreneurs working in 13 countries to close the literacy gap. The ILA is a global advocacy and membership organization dedicated to advancing literacy for all. The aim of the list is to highlight the next generation of literacy leaders who are stepping up to the challenges of today’s evolving literacy landscape.
Kevin was nominated for the list by friends, Beth Shaum and Brian Wyzlic. He met them two summers ago at nErDCamp, an education conference for those who teach reading and writing in the classroom. Brian stated, “When I first heard of the International Literacy Association’s 30 Under 30 List, Kevin’s name immediately came to mind. The work he has done for education, specifically English education, at such a young age, is admirable. From what I knew about him from our face-to-face encounters as well as from his social media presence, I knew ILA needed to take a close look and consider him for such a list. Quite frankly, if a 30 Under 30 list didn’t include Kevin English, I’m not sure I would have faith in their methodology.”
What inspired Beth to nominate Kevin? “A mutual friend texted me one evening and told me I should nominate Kevin for this award. I had never heard of it before, but once I read about it, I knew Kevin was a perfect candidate. When I first met Kevin, I was surprised at how wise and put together he was given that he was only in his second year of teaching. Looking back at my own experience, I certainly didn’t have it that together in my first couple of years. Not only that, but the fact that he was elected to a school board position in Van Buren at the age of 19 made me stand up and take notice.”
“This new generation of champions plays a critical role in the future of literacy at a time when the literacy landscape is evolving rapidly,” said Marcie Craig Post, Executive Director, International Literacy Association. “For that reason, we are eager and honored to be able to highlight the important contributions and commitment of these leaders through what will become our annual 30 Under 30 list.”
Kevin was featured in the September/October 2015 issue of Literacy Today, ILA’s bi-monthly magazine, and across ILA’s platforms. He will also be invited to participate in upcoming activities that support the shared cause of advancing literacy for all. When he saw the biographies of the other winners, Kevin thought, “I’m not necessarily one of them, starting organizations. This (teaching) is ordinary work, but it’s good work.”
Kevin has been on the Van Buren School Board, where the school district is about half the size of Wayne/Westland Community School District, for 6 years. He is currently Secretary. His fiancee is also a teacher, teaching 2nd grade in Belleville. Teaching at Wayne Memorial is his first full-time job. He currently teaches 9th and 10th grade English and is in his 4th year teaching here. He did teach part-time briefly at Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti back in 2012.
Kevin bubbles over with enthusiasm when he speaks about all the programs he is involved in and about teaching English. He thinks fast and he talks even faster.
Kevin says there are different ways to read and that is one of the things the English teachers at Wayne Memorial are trying to teach their students. It takes a different mindset to read social studies vs. science vs. English. They want students to think about what they are thinking while they are reading. Kevin is in his 2nd year as a leader for Reading Apprenticeship Improving Secondary Education (RAISE) teachers. In every subject, high school students must read and understand complex text—now more than ever. Teachers have lost the option to teach “around” the text. Reading Apprenticeship helps teachers make this game-changing transition.
Kevin is in a research group with 11th grade and AP English teacher, Dave Kangas. They are trying to come up with the best way students will understand what they are reading and what teachers doing to help that.
Kevin is involved with the Eastern Michigan Writing Project, a community of professional educators that provides opportunities to collaborate, improve, enhance and celebrate literacy in classrooms and communities throughout southeast Michigan. He was a fellow 3 years ago. This year, the theme is Total Contact Literacy and will be held at Eastern Michigan University Saturday, October 24, from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. This free EdCamp will be an unconference where attendees decide what they want to discuss and learn. “Teachers are the best teachers of teachers,” commented Kevin. Right now, more than 40 people have signed up. If you are interested in attending, go to http://edcampemwp.-blogspot.com/ for more information.
For the first 10 minutes of class, students in Kevin’s classroom can read whatever they want. “If they aren’t reading with you, they’re not reading without you,” says Kevin. Students then write in their notebooks everyday. Kevin writes too. “If you teach writing, you should actually write.”
Kevin believes it’s important to provide choice of reading materials to the students and provide access to books. 9th grade student Darnell O’Neal III said, “I didn’t really like reading.” Now he is reading basketball books and Sports Illustrated because basketball is what interests him.
Kevin is always searching for grants and ways to bring literacy to his classroom. He was awarded $4000 in books from Book Love Foundation. The Book Love Foundation is dedicated to teachers who inspire a love of reading. They provide classroom libraries of hundreds of books carefully chosen to meet teenagers where they are and lead them to the deep rewards of reading. They put those books into the hands of teachers who demonstrate a commitment to enrich reading lives for all students.
Kevin has also received a grant from the National Council of Teachers of English. He was able to extend his stay at the Minneapolis ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of NCTE) conference. He was able to meet with YA (young adult) authors, learn more about YA literature in the classroom, and received books that were given away. He has received a grant from the Wayne Westland Foundation for the Improvement of Instruction to use for book groups and to have literate conversations with peers.
How does Kevin find all these grants? He says he reads and researches a lot. “If I want something, I have to find a way to make it happen.” Outside of teaching, Kevin enjoys reading YA literature, talking about books to raise awareness of reading, professional development activities, learning, playing with his 4 year old niece and travel. “School is fun for me.”
Ms. Patti Ball sponsors a reading and writing club for students who want a safe place to write what they want to write. She is working on a book club for the students. Kevin helps wherever he can. He is also the Class of 2017 co-sponsor with Mrs. Chelsea Birchmeier.
Teachers in the English department at Wayne Memorial have signs outside their doors with the cover of a book they are currently reading.
You might think that Kevin English became an English teacher because of his name. Not true. It was his 8th grade history teacher who inspired him to become a teacher. He never read a book for fun while he was in high school. Reading books was something you were forced to do. In college, Kevin minored in history, but later decided he wanted to be an English teacher.
“Kevin is not just a phenomenal teacher, but he is also someone who advocates for our profession. He is willing to speak up and speak out where and when it matters, a trait that is rare in teachers these days, as many fear for their jobs if they speak out. I’m still trying to convince him he needs to run for Congress someday since we need more educators in politics. He says he’s committed to staying in the classroom though,” Beth Shaum stated.
If you have Young Adult books you no longer want, consider donating them to Mr. English’s classroom. He does not mind having more than one book of a certain title. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are aware of any grants for English teachers, let him know that also.