Inspired by Teachers. Again.

Joshua Parker at microphone to ask Arne Duncan a question.

Maryland Teacher of the Year Joshua Parker questions Arne about improving achievement gaps. Following the discussion, about 190 teachers discussed the future of the teaching profession with Teaching Ambassador Fellows. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

It wasn’t just the excitement of spending a pre-service day with Baltimore County teachers.  It wasn’t the promise of a new school year just days away.  It wasn’t even Arne Duncan’s encouraging speech that caused me to feel so connected to my day in Baltimore County.

It was the teachers.

Following the Secretary’s speech, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows participated in discussions with about 190 6th-12th-grade teachers. Their optimism and ownership of their profession inspired me.

Through roundtable discussions held immediately following the Secretary’s Back to School speech at Perry Hall High School, teachers from around the county had an opportunity to do what we so seldom have time to do–talk with each other about the larger issues impacting our work. As is often the case, teachers shared with the Fellows how they felt “empowered” and “inspired” simply because we asked their opinion and gave them a venue to talk with each other about their students, their frustrations, and their ideas to move their profession forward.

What encouraged me was teachers’ willingness to share honestly about “the angst in the details.” Instead of shutting down when the conversation turned to difficult topics, they examined what they can do as teacher-leaders in their building and their districts. Instead of simply lamenting a lack of funding, teachers considered ideas for overcoming financial barriers, suggesting, for example, that “administrators could step up and cover a class”–which happens at one school—so that teachers have time to collaborate or attend professional development.

So often educators look for ways to ignite a spark in our students – that moment when faces light up, and we become overwhelmed with the feeling that our students “got it.” Watching the Baltimore County teachers, however, made me wonder how educators can find – demand –opportunities to look for that kind of spark among our colleagues and within ourselves.

This year, let’s commit to making time to ask the questions and share the ideas.

Jen Bado-Aleman

Jen Bado-Aleman is a 2012-2013 Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan to the Department from Montgomery County, Md.

View the video of Arne Duncan’s speech and Q&A with teachers.

Read the blog, “Duncan Tells Teachers Change is Hard.”