20 WORDS for 2020

Teacher-writers share the words that will guide them in the coming year.


A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.

— Emily Dickinson

Iowa teacher-writers will bring 20 words to life over the next 12 months. Contributors looked ahead to 2020 and selected words to use as guides, reminders, motivators, and prayers.


— Kenna Koster and Kerry Neuberger

BREATHE is the only word submitted by two people.  Kerry Neuberger of Garner-Hayfield-Ventura said, “It is easy to get bogged down in all the papers that seem to keep coming in. (My own fault as I assign them.) At times it can be all-consuming, coloring all aspects of my life. When that happens I just need to remember to take a little time and just breathe.”

Kenna Koster is an English and yearbook teacher at Carroll High School. She said, “Hurtful words can come from immediate/jerk reactions. Breathing before responding will help me to avoid angry comments or comments made without thinking.”


— Britt Jungck

Britt Jungck, a sixth-grade teacher at Bunger Middle School, submitted the only word punctuated–with an exclamation mark! “My family just made the exciting, heart-wrenching, fulfilling, and overwhelming decision to take ownership of my family’s century farm in Boone/Dallas County. This means a renovation of a property to replace grief and revive love, a switch of districts but an opportunity to revive my high school teaching methods (I’d like to switch back to high school), a loss of routines and relationships but a chance to revive my curiosity.” Britt would also like to know of English teaching positions in Perry, ADM, Dallas-Center Grimes, Boone, Ames, Waukee, Ankeny, Johnston, etc.


— Kari Straube


Kari Straube, 9-12 ELA teacher at North Fayette Valley in West Union, wins the prize for both first word entered and shortest word: be. “This word reminds me to be where I am. So often I am physically somewhere and mentally miles away. I need to work on that so everything I do is focused.”


— Austin Hall

Dowling teacher Austin Hall said, “After watching a few of her TED Talks, I’m reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly to end 2019. One of the vulnerability myths she mentions is that ‘Vulnerability is weakness.’ I’m slowly but surely becoming convinced (for myself – I see it the correct way much easier in others…) that that is not the case. Vulnerability may include uncertainty, risk, etc., but NOT weakness. All of this is to say that, in 2020, I’m going to be courageous. And that starts with making VULNERABILITY my word for the year.”


— Emma Bireline

Both a noun and a verb, balance is the word that will guide Emma Bireline, English teacher at Atlantic High School. “In 2020 I will be renovating and moving into a 100-year-old farmhouse, teaching, freelance writing, and delivering my second child. It all seems a bit overwhelming! I can do it if I balance my time and energy.”


— Haley Moehlis, ICTE President

Des Moines Valley Composition and Modern American Lit teacher Haley Moehlis said, “Both in teaching and in life, there is this compulsion to go go go. So much to do, so much to get through. In the classroom, when I pause, I’m being intentional to create space for students’ ideas — I’m not rushing to fill the quiet with my thoughts. The same is true in life. Reminding myself to pause let’s me appreciate the world, my world (busy, messy, chaotic, cacophonous as it is).


— Rachelle Lipp

Rachelle Lipp began her teaching career in Iowa and is now in Oregon. “My answer is (at least) three-fold. I can only think of three facets right now, but I bet there are more 😉.
1. I encourage students to advocate for themselves when they need help; however, I hardly ever do the same. This word will help me remember to ask for help when I need it—to improve myself and to improve my teaching practices.
2. Additionally, I’ve been reading Shame of the Nation by Kozol, and I’m appalled about the segregation in our nations public schools. This word will remind me that I have big dreams of advocating for my students — especially my students of color and language learners.
3. This word will encourage me to advocate for teachers—especially new teachers. Teaching is stressful, overwhelming, demanding, and nearly impossible to do well. If we want people to be in this profession and stick with it, we have to raise awareness to several issues. One that I’m passionate about is new teacher (5 years or less) burnout.


— Barb Edlet

English/TAG teacher at Keokuk Barb Edlet said, “I want to be a catalyst for changing our world to be a better place. To remember how making a difference for my students and empowering them will help them be their own catalyst for a better future.”


— Victor Mena

Victor Mena will use his word of 2020 in his teaching at Akron-Westfield: “I chose this word because our world is evolving at a rapid pace and we need to adapt to it. We cannot ignore the issues that are being posed, and we don’t want to be left behind. I will use this term to help my students understand this word through studying literature and comparing the changes of time periods.”


— Mikayla Warrick

Pre-service teacher and new member to the ICTE Facebook family Mikayla Warrick chose a word that affects her as a student and soon-to-be teacher: “In my experience in high school and college, I would like to see more empathy coming from teachers. As a student, it would have greatly affected my time in school knowing I had a teacher working to understand me as a person.”


— Rex Muston


Several readers may want to steal Rex Muston’s word for their own: meraki. “The word showed up in a book we read for a group at school. I like it because it really ties to labors of love. I have it painted on the wall above the door to my room,” said the poet and Keokuk Language Arts teacher.


— Cassie Alber


Cassie Alber teaches Honors Sophomore English and AP Lit in Boone. She chose a word to apply both to herself and to her students. “I am continually trying to be innovative and challenging the kids while challenging myself!”


— Missy Springsteen-Haupt


Currently a ISU EdD student, Missy landed on a word of inspiration: “I chose this word because things have been weighing me down too much over the past few years. I am looking for fresh starts, fresh ideas, and refreshing my passion for this profession.”


— David Duer

David Duer is a poet who also teaches US Humanities, AP Lang & Comp, African American Lit & Culture at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids. He used a moment in his classroom to determine his word choice: “I used [judicious in class today and one of my sophomores said they really liked the word and wrote it down in their notebook. I just enjoyed that moment, but it is a good word. Let’s all be more judicious next year.”


— Kim Van Es

Kim Van Es teaches English teaching at Northwestern College. “As someone who follows politics, it is easy for me to be down, angry, and frustrated. Even though some of this anger is good, righteous anger, I don’t want this posture to rule me. So by making BEAUTY my word of the year, I am committed to noticing something genuine, precious, or lovely in each day. This self-charge will require a paying attention, a listening and watching that is not my normal pace. Wish me luck.”


— Nicole Mena

Nicole Mena, a teacher at MOC-Floyd Valley High School, captures a desire many teachers feel: “As I struggle through the daily joys and challenges of teaching, I hope I can remember to be content in the moment I am living. I want to fully revel in the messy, beautiful adventure of working with growing minds on a daily basis. It’s a natural tendency as teachers to be looking forward and hoping for even more in the future, but I want to learn to be okay with being in the present and being content with where I am, so I can grow and reflect even more as a person and teacher.”


— Jennifer Hartwig

ACGC teacher Jen Hartwig chose a word that will both remind her of her strengths and push her to adapt to the challenges of her work. “Mindshift is my word this year to help me remember that I still have my mind – the things that make me the teacher I love to be – but that I just have to shift that mind, not totally change or abandon my teaching style. I just have to shift a bit. I can do that.”


— Lauren Stephens

Lauren Stephens is a poet and English teacher at Dike-New Hartford. “My mind has been so busy this past year. I want to grow in so many ways, both professionally and personally, but I have a nasty habit of chasing new ideas before I’ve dug deep enough to give my initial goals the time and attention they need to take root. I want to refocus my goals for this upcoming year and put them in several visible places as a reminder. I want to write about them and slow myself down to reflect on what stays in my line of vision and what needs to go.”


— Donna Niday

Donna Niday teaches English education at ISU. She says she is “continually impressed by the outstanding English teachers we have in Iowa.” Donna chose the word “inspire“: We need to inspire our students to read, write, and learn. When I walk through my classroom doorway, I will think, ‘Inspire!‘”



— Allison Berryhill

Allison Berryhill is a journalism and English teacher at Atlantic High School. As the co-chair of ICTE publications, she compiled the responses to compose this post. “After reading the uplifting word choices of the 2020 contributors, I was tempted to abandon my bland, pragmatic word in favor of something more lofty. But I need this word. I will use it in the coming year to remind me to write things down. Too often I rely on my memory, which allows ideas and thoughts to slip by. In 2020 I will use my notebook not only as a place for reflection, but as an ongoing list of moments/words/ideas I want to remember.”