“Hey Ben, this is Arne Duncan. How are you doing?”

Initially, Benjamin White, a special education teacher candidate from Eastern Michigan University, didn’t know how to react. He thought he was going to spend Thursday morning on the phone with staff from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services discussing his teacher preparation program. Instead, Ben received a call from the Secretary of Education, thanking Ben for choosing to become a teacher. They discussed teacher preparation, special education, and the need for diversity in the field. Ben told Arne that teachers need to spend more time with students, earlier in their preparation, “getting their feet wet.” Read More

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, Duncan made surprise phone calls several days during the week to show his gratitude for their dedication to the profession and to hear their thoughts on how we can best support teachers in the field.

On Monday, Arne called Helen McLeod, a 39-year veteran at Durham School for the Arts in Durham, N.C., who teaches 8th grade Social Studies and Newspaper. Helen took the call in her classroom, and expecting a parent, was shocked to have a cabinet secretary on the other end. The two discussed the changes Helen had seen during her career, and she told him that the profession is the greatest in the world, “one that keeps you young.”

Tuesday morning, Arne spoke with Misla Barco, a Spanish for Native Speakers teacher at East Palo Alto Academy in Menlo Park, Calif. While Misla’s students are amongst the poorest in the state, with her support, nearly all of them pass the AP exam and over 94% go off to college each year. She spends her weekends shuttling them to college campuses for visits and interviews. Misla’s assistant principal, Jeff Camarillo, brought her into the office under the guise of a preplanned professional development conversation, only to be surprised that she was going to talk with the nation’s top education official. Near tears, Misla said, “Mr. Secretary, you make me a better teacher. I read about the things you are doing to make it better for my kids, and I am inspired.” Though touched by her kind words, Arne made clear to share that he knows its teachers like her who make things better for students.

Wednesday’s call was to Amy Piacitelli, a teacher for 17 years at Charlestown High School in Boston Public Schools.  Amy’s headmaster, Dr. Ranny Bledsoe, called her to the office while she was teaching, much to the amusement of her students. Astonished at the recognition, Amy told Arne that she was flattered, but that she was only successful because she had such strong administrators to work with. As Amy explained, “Good administrators make all of the difference.” How does a teacher return to class, and upon being questioned by a roomful of curious students explain that she just talked with the Secretary of Education? Read more.

Secretary Duncan’s calls were just one of a number of activities throughout the week to celebrate the teaching profession and to listen to teachers on how they think the teaching profession should change. The Department is seeking input from teachers across the country, and recently released a discussion document where teachers and principals can engage in conversations about future policies or program directives. View the document and share your thoughts here.

As we bring National Teacher Appreciation Week to a close, the conversation around reshaping the profession, around elevating it to the level of law and medicine, around showing our respect and gratitude for teachers must continue. Every day should be about appreciating teachers, and every day should be about listening to them as they lead the transformation of their profession.

Watch our collection of Thank a Teacher videos, see how people across the web thanked a teacher this week, and read about “ED Goes Back to School.” 

Greg Mullenholz is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Rockville, Md.

3 Comments

  1. As more and more teacher’s positions are eliminated, I am worried that as a new and innovative teacher, no one will care about what I have to say. This is my second year teaching and I cannot believe that at middle age I discovered my calling in life. Please Mr. Duncan, help us to reach not just our students, but their parents. I chose to pursue my current position because I believe that the students associated with this school, 85% on free or reduced lunch, African-American majority population, and low income families because I believe these students don’t have the opportunities affluent schools give to their students. I have been quite successful while being here, but the sky’s the limit if I could somehow find a way to engage more parents. I will be working in the summer, for free, to give the students a place to be and to receive an education to boot. Please help me help them. I love them so and my heart breaks every time I see hurt and disappointment in their eyes.

  2. I would like to know if Mr. Duncan has any concerns about Gulen charter schools. There seems to be many questions about motives of the leader of this “movement” and to the rapid spread of these schools across the US. Thanks

  3. I was reading where you went to a school as a surprise visit and I read where you talked on the phone to a special education teacher to thank him for becoming a teacher. I applaud you. No matter how many times that I thank the teachers that have made a difference in mine or my children s life. It will never be enough to say how thankful I truly am. I guarantee you if I could sit down with you for 30 minutes I could change so many things if I only had 30 minutes to tell the ideas I have in my head to help children in my area. It would have been one of the most productive 30 minutes you have ever spent with a parent. Because I live in a small town and there is nothing for the kids to do after school hours close to home. I would love to change that. Make a place where kids want to go to play and learn. Kids play and learn the most through play.If i were blessed with money I would put it all towards children. I enjoy the smile on a child’s face when they can read a full sentence without hesitation and correctly. WOW that smile is worthless can nto put a dollar sign anywhere near the satisfaction

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