Junior NCTE nominees explore growth and family in their writing

March 15, 2023 — by Eric Shi
Graphic by Eric Shi
The prestigious NCTE competition attracts the nation’s best writers.
Two juniors were selected to enter their work into the National Council of Teachers of English’s (NCTE) 2023 writing competition, which asks students to explore the theme of ‘Education First.’ 

Junior Sanjoli Gupta remembers seeing the prompt for this year’s NCTE annual National Teachers Council for English (NCTE) writing competition and being intrigued at the idea of writing for a prestigious national writing competition. 

A few weeks later on Feb. 5, she learned she was one of two juniors whose pieces were chosen to be submitted to the competition. The other was Maithreyi Bharathi. Twenty students wrote for the competition.

The NCTE competition is a prestigious writing competition for 11th grade students. Schools nominate a select few students, making getting past the first phase of the competition an extraordinary achievement. 

This year’s prompt for the competition was just two words: “Education First.” The theme was particularly relatable for many students because of its close connection with the high school experience.

“The prompt is important to me because education is such a vital part of our lives, especially as teenagers and high schoolers, so exploring that through a piece that I really connected with was my motivation to write for NCTE,” Gupta said. 

Additionally, the broad nature of this year’s prompt allowed students to branch out and explore.

“For my piece, I used short vignettes to explore the different ages at which I experienced learning and how they had an impact on me,” Gupta said. “I also explored the wonder and curiosity that comes with being a child, and how learning is integral to our growth.”

Bharathi took a different approach to the prompt, instead writing a story loosely based on her own experiences.  

Although both stories were mainly driven by personal experiences, Bharathi’s essay, titled “inheritance,” primarily drew inspiration from her family, while Gupta’s piece, titled “The Magic of Knowledge,” was largely based on her personal experiences. 

“I remember waking up one morning and just having the idea to explore the use of short vignettes to convey my ideas,” Gupta said. “I then wrote the piece before school.”

Both writers, spurred by their love for writing, had an overall good time crafting their essays, with minimal hiccups during the writing and revision process. 

Gupta finished her first draft by February and did revisions with English 11 Honors teachers Amy Keys and Natasha Ritchie for two weeks. She emphasized Keys’s and Ritchie’s importance in helping her revise her essay.

“Ms. Keys and Ms. Ritchie were both extremely helpful during the process and both of them gave me feedback on my pieces, helped me get through the revision process and create a stronger, more compelling piece,” Gupta said.

Bharathari echoed Gupta’s praise of the English 11 Honors teachers, citing how their methodical suggestions involving grammar, style and the overarching message of her piece helped widen her scope on how she viewed the topic, which ultimately helped her craft a far better final product.

Additionally, Bharathari stressed Keys’s contributions in helping her through the few rough patches she encountered in the process.

“I wrote the rough draft the day before it was due, so the revision process was pretty stressful and took a while because I wrote it in one go. Ms. Keys helped me through this, and gave me concrete things to work on,” Bharathari said.

For both, the competition was a way for them to write about their life in and out of school, as well as look back at their memories and heritage.  

“I enjoyed writing the piece because I got to remember formative moments from my childhood,” Gupta said.