Who We Are

The Iowa Council of Teachers of English is the volunteer organization that facilitates deep connections and professional learning face-to-face and online for English/language arts teachers of all stages.

Meet your Executive Board members:


Multicultural Outreach Coordinator Rafael Benítez teaches 8th grade Language Arts and Reading at Louisa-Muscatine Junior High School in Letts, Iowa. In addition to teaching, Rafael coaches football and basketball. He begins his new journey this upcoming August at Bunger Middle School in the Waterloo Community School District as an 8th grade Literacy instructor. Rafael loves how the English content allows him to teach the life skills that every person needs: reading, writing, and speaking. Coaching allows Rafael to extend his teaching beyond the classroom, build relationships, and feed his competitiveness. He loves to learn from others in the profession and build professional connections to improve his craft of teaching. His motivation comes from his students, family, and his favorite teacher, Laurel McCreary. When Rafael is not teaching or coaching, he loves to spend time with his family, friends, and girlfriend, Vanessa (who also teaches 8th grade Language Arts). His hobbies include: eating french fries, watching sports, writing, working out, and wishing he was taller. His motto for teaching comes from the words of Tupac Shakur, “I’m not saying I’m going to change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.” Follow him on Twitter: @benitezrafael42 or email rafaelbenitezreyes16@gmail.com

Social Media Coordinator  Allison Berryhill teaches at Atlantic High School. Allison taught in Exira and Audubon before taking a 14-year hiatus to raise her six children with farmer-husband Dan Hoegh. In 2003 she joined the staff at Atlantic High School where she directs the journalism department and teaches freshman English. She also serves on the board of the Iowa High School Press Association. In a past life she worked as a freelance writer; in a future life she wants to be a circus clown. She is also a wedding officiant.  Follow her at @allisonberryhil and schoolblazing.blogspot.com.

Recognition Coordinator Jessica Cakrasenjaya teaches English at Ames High School.

Conference Chair and Professional Organizations Liaison Kirstey Ewald has served on the ICTE executive board for fifteen years.  Currently, she works as a school improvement consultant at AEA 267 (soon to be Central Rivers AEA).  Previous to this, she taught in a high school English/language arts classroom for twenty years.  She says, “I’m an ELA teacher who just happens to be serving teachers and students through the lens of my school improvement work.  I most love the times in this position when I’m able to collaborate directly with teachers who are thinking about how to enhance their classroom practice and increase student learning through a new instructional framework.  That reflection about the need to change and the willingness to take a risk is the heart of learning.”  When she’s not driving her car across the state to support districts, you’ll likely find her trying to organize the myriad boxes still left from moving a year ago, binging on TV shows via Netflix or Hulu, enjoying a live music show somewhere, or — no surprise here — reading a book.  Reach out to her on Twitter, @KirsteyELA, and/or through old-fashioned e-mail: kewald@aea267.k12.ia.us.

College Liaison Dr. Calle Friesen teaches at Buena Vista University.

Advocacy Co-Coordinator  JoAnn Gage teaches English and journalism at Mount Vernon High School. Her courses include Honors American Literature, Mystery Stories, 21st Century Journalistic Writing, English I, and Publication & Design. She advises Mount Vernon’s newspaper and yearbook, and is involved with the Iowa High School Press Association. JoAnn enjoys taking photos of her husband and two sons, who do not enjoy having their pictures taken.

Conference/Event Coordinator, Brenna Griffin teaches ninth graders English at Peet Junior High in Cedar Falls, Iowa. In addition to the stereotypical English teacher hobbies of reading, writing, and discussing big ideas, Brenna enjoys cooking and yoga. Her family consists of a husband, John Burnett, and two daughters, Eleanor and Tess. She doesn’t like picking favorites among books, but one she would highly recommend is State of Wonder by Ann Patchett.

Award Co-Coordinator  Austin Hall teaches and serves as English Department Chair at Dowling Catholic High School in West Des Moines. Austin is entering his seventh year in the classroom and is excited to be teaching Reading for Pleasure, a senior elective that he created centered around choice reading and reading workshop at the high school level, for the first time. Obsessed with growing his classroom library, students and colleagues have referred to his room as everything from the DCHS bookstore to The Library of Congress; he calls it a work in progress. When he’s not feeding his Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Half Price Books addictions, Austin enjoys visiting his family in the Twin Cities, binge-watching Netflix and HBO Now, and loyally following his oft-underachieving sports teams: Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Buffalo Bills. He can be reached at ahall@dowlingcatholic.org or followed on Twitter @hall2austin.

Website Coordinator Darin Johnson teaches amazing students English Language Arts at Ames High School. Darin writes: “I am benevolent, innovative, loyal, industrious, determined, genuine, introspective, scholarly, expressive and a lover of language. Others tell me that I have a dry sense of humor, and I strive to be a lifelong learner.” Darin blogs at www.heroiczpd.us and comments on Twitter @DarinMJohnson. Reach him at darin.johnson@ames.k12.ia.us.

President Erin Miller is currently the teacher specialist for literacy, social studies, music, teacher technology librarians, counselors after teaching English at Ames High for 6 years. Erin has previously been the awards co-chair and secretary for ICTE.  Erin has previously taught middle school and high school in Ankeny and Colfax-Mingo. These experiences have left her with a passion for helping teachers to be effective, efficient, and energetic in the classroom. Outside of school, Erin loves to spend time with her family, including her daughter Kate, husband Jake, and loyal dog Jessie. She enjoys running (ok, jogging), reading, watching ISU sports, and spending time on the water. She loves taking reading suggestions – email her at erin.miller@ames.k12.ia.us or find her on Goodreads to help feed her passion.

Award Co-Coordinator Haley Moehlis teaches sophomore English and AP Literature and Composition at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines and also serves as a demonstration teacher for the DMPS district.  She is grateful for the daily opportunity to nerd-out on grammar and vocabulary, to offer advice and support as students navigate the murky waters of young-adulthood, to pay witness to the discussions, insights, and writings of her students, and to shirk household duties because she is reading. Current Moehlis classroom experiments include: interactive notebooks, the flipped classroom model, SRG, mid-process video feedback on student essays, and a golden paperclip award. The Moehlis household is bustling with boys: her husband Matt, 8-year-old Jasper (a big ol’ sweetheart of a dog), 6-year-old Oliver, 2-year-old Levi, and baby Milo.  In her free time, Haley enjoys sewing, nature hikes, camping, The New York Times, coffee, spending time with friends, and laughing.

Executive Director Dr. Donna Niday coordinates the English Education program at Iowa State University. She teaches young adult literature, English methods courses, and a graduate literature methods course, as well as supervising student teachers. She is a co-author of three books about mentoring beginning teachers. Previously, she taught middle school and high school English. Her interests include reading and traveling, and she never grows tired of either! She has been involved in ICTE for many years and has enjoyed seeing the organization grow and change. She encourages all teachers to actively participate in making the educational profession even stronger.

Past-President & NCTE Liaison Jennifer Paulsen is an instructional coach at Holmes Junior High in Cedar Falls. She tells us: “When I don’t have my nose firmly pressed into a book, I am usually knitting, crocheting, or otherwise creating with sticks and string. My passions are history & genealogy. A gregarious rebel, I love working with discussion techniques and censorship issues in the classroom. I am firmly committed to the joy of singing and dancing (badly) every day. My students say I have 100 books in my top 10, and they are pretty accurate. My “go-to” books for any teen include: Boy21 by Matthew Quick, We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, Winger by Andrew Smith, Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. My favorite adult book series is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I live on a farm with my dear husband Chuck and my teenage son Tommy. We like to watch Marvel superhero movies together, in addition to raising sheep, pigs, rabbits, and horses. We are also involved in 4H Safety and Education in Shooting Sports as archery instructors. You can find my fleeting and occasional thoughts about teaching and learning at http://2020teachervision.blogspot.com or on Twitter @jennypaulsen555.”

Treasurer Mark Schillerstrom teaches English at Johnston High School. Schillerstrom has held a variety of positions with this organization and has previously taught at Fort Dodge Senior High and Maxwell (a long time ago–before Maxwell became a compound district). Mark, also known as Kino (a clown), is learning to be a woodworker (still a beginner since he still has 10 fingers), and chases after a variety of other interests that tend to ebb and flow. Favorite authors include John McPhee, Kurt Vonnegut, Malcom Gladwell, Raymond Carver.

Secretary Nikki Smith teaches English at Urbandale High School. She has previously taught for Colfax-Mingo schools. Teaching allows her to combine all of her passions: reading, writing and children. She loves the new challenges and celebrations teaching offers every day. Nikki thrives on the professional experiences and opportunities provided through ICTE and the Iowa Writing Project as means to grow as a teacher, learner, and writer. She and her husband, Casey, are new parents to their daughter, Mila. She sometimes blogs about teacher narratives at theoneaboutteachingenglish.blogspot.com or can be found on twitter @MrsSmithUHS.

Publications Co-Coordinator Melissa Springsteen-Haupt teaches 7th and 8th grade language arts at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows Middle school. She is an advocate for student and teacher voice in writer’s workshop. She loves to disappear into science fiction and fantasy novels, travel the world with her husband, and fuels her overactive imagination while running long distances on gravel roads. She blogs at themrshauptsteen.weebly.com.

Advocacy Co-Coordinator Melanie Wirtz teaches 8th grade Language Arts at Peet Junior High in Cedar Falls. She is a National Board Certified Teacher with a passion for creating a love of reading in her students and helping students grow as writers. Melanie is in her 20th year of teaching. She has taught 7th – 12th grade and loves the energy that comes with junior high students. She is also an active member of ISEA and NEA, working hard to ensure teachers’ voices are heard in the community and by our government officials.  Melanie lives in rural Cedar Falls with her husband Scott and son Carson. She spends her free time Melanie loves to bake, read, and spend time working in the yard.

We are the Iowa affiliate of the National Council of Teachers of EnglishJoin NCTE today!

We are dedicated to intellectual engagement, collaboration, and excellence.

In a November 2012 TEDx Talk, John Green explains where the title of his third novel came from, and he illuminates the history behind the fictitious town of Agloe, New York. Green explains that what two cartographers fictitiously created in the 1930s became a reality when developers built a general store on the cartographers’ site and named it Agloe General Store in the 1950s.

Green describes Agloe as “an irresistible metaphor to a novelist, because we would all like to believe that the stuff we write down on paper can change the actual world in which we’re living.” As English/language arts teachers, Green’s idea of writing changing the world through writing is irresistible to us as well.

At the end of his TEDx Talk, Green talks about the ability of the Internet to provide “places for intellectual engagement” and community. Green says: “When we invented Agloe, New York, in the 1960s–when we made Agloe real–we were just getting started.” So welcome to the Iowa Council of Teachers of English website, a place dedicated to intellectual engagementcollaboration, and excellence.

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