Ozarks student teacher holds writing contest for high schoolers

Release Date: 6/17/2011

Almost anyone who loves to write can point to a favorite teacher who encouraged their work and made them work harder at it. For some lucky 11th graders at West Side High School this year, that teacher may have been Natalie Grove.

Natalie, a senior and English/Secondary Education major from Huntsville, Ark., took part in this spring’s Maymester program, in which Ozarks education majors participate in a three-week intensive practicum to give them hands-on, in-class teaching experience earlier in their educations than most programs do. Faculty members reside with the student teachers in Bagwell dormitory, cook for them, work with them on their teaching skills, and go with them daily to either the high school or junior high where the young teachers-to-be get valuable teaching experience.

Part of Natalie’s pedagogy was a writing assignment for her students. “This year I was at West Side High School, and I was with an 11th grade classes,” she said. “I taught three classes, two regular and one pre-AP.”

Natalie Grove

Natalie Grove listens to a student presentation. Grove's Miss Arkansas project ‘Inspire Your ThINK: Motivating Teen Writers to Change the World’ was an important part of her recent student-teacher training.

She said she taught the use of sensory impressions in writing through a story in which its young protagonist meets Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, on a steamboat trip up the Mississippi to Memphis, set in 1860. He tells Clemens he wants to be a riverboat pilot. Clemens advises him to stay in school.

“It wasn’t the best story ever written,” Natalie said, “but that worked to my advantage. I was able to say to the students, ‘What would you have done to make it better?’ For their big project at the end, I gave them a prompt – imagine you’re living on the banks of the Mississippi rover in 1860. What would it have been like? Earlier we’d talked about what was going on historically in that time period, and for the writing project they did pre-writing, drafting, and peer reviews. We ended up having a lot of fun, and in the end they said they enjoyed the experience as well as the freedom I gave them within the parameters of the assignment.”

She said one aspiring young writer who’d already written a couple of 200-plus page volumes of “post-holocaust science fiction” told her he enjoyed the historical writing so much he wanted to continue it on his own.

Natalie, who will compete in the Miss Arkansas pageant in July and whose platform is youth literacy, took the project a step further. “The teens of today’s society are confronted daily with life-changing choices,” she said. “Often the adult choices teens face are so overbearing that they retreat with fear and trepidation from life and become silent and stagnate. As a future educator, it is my duty to do all that I can to prevent and nurture the wounds that teens acquire when they lose their footing in life. That said, I strongly believe that by way of releasing emotions through writing, teens can temporarily lay down their burdens and feel free to express themselves.  If teens can alleviate the pressures around them, they can often step back, discover their ambitions, and ultimately make decisions that lead to brighter futures.”

Natalie said she collaborated with her professors and came up with the idea of holding a writing contest as a way of expressing her educational philosophy. “I had to send home permission slips and everything,” she said. “I and two other judges went through and divided the stories into a ‘good pile’ and a ‘not-so-good pile’ – the parameters were ‘historical fiction,’ ‘Mississippi River,’ and a ‘descriptiveness/creativity.’ The top five will be published on my web site for the Miss Arkansas pageant, ‘Inspire Your ThINK: Motivating Teen Writers to Change the World.’”

As for herself, Natalie said she wants to be not just a teacher, but an exemplary teacher. “I grew up in a dance studio where my mother taught,” she said. “So I credit her a lot for my wanting to teach. But part of it is innate. I was always the one who wanted to play school teacher and made my brother sit and do lessons. I already knew when I came here to U of O that I wanted to teach. Next year I’ll start my teaching internship here in Clarksville. I’m going to teach seniors, and once a day go down to 8th grade. I’ll be certified for 7th through 12th language arts. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Although her goal ultimately is to obtain her Master’s degree in Education, this summer the 2009 Freshman Cheerleader of the Year and Co-Captain of the Cheerleading Squad is concentrating on the Miss Arkansas pageant, which is a preliminary to the Miss America pageant.

For more information on Natalie's project, go to http://www.inspireyourthink.com.