A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Why Teachers Succeed in the Classroom

Teacher and students

Teacher Deborah Apple leads her 11th-grade physiology class at San Francisco’s Wallenberg High School in an activity illustrating how rewards can affect behavior.

What inspires teachers, and how do they inspire students? ED’s regional officers found some common threads as they shadowed educators from coast to coast to celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week. From a teacher who found her calling while volunteering in Peru to the National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree who uses music to communicate difficult science concepts, the variety of teachers they met spanned all styles and subjects. All of the teachers, however, were united by their passion for their work and dedication to getting the best out of their students. Highlights are below:

  • Thirty-year teaching veteran, Linda Krikorian of Milford, Mass., always finds something positive about the most challenging students: “I try not to leave anyone out; if not, the students fall through the cracks, and as a teacher you never want that to happen.”

    teacher and students

    Paula Williams, Early Learning Teacher at Sheltering Arms Early Learning Center in Atlanta, reviews sight words with her students.

  • Bradley Ashley, Technology Coordinator at NYC Lab School for Collaborative Studies, empowers his students to learn on their own: “I’m not very creative, but the kids are and I get the opportunity to show them ways to be creative. Like the teacher that can’t draw but provides the pen and paper.”
  • Breanna Ratkevic, George B. Fine Elementary School, Pennsauken, N.J., credits a trip to Peru in which she volunteered with children as the reason she pursued the teaching profession: “This experience was so rewarding that I wanted to continue my desire to make a difference in the world.”
  • Ninety-nine percent of Ella Davis’ students at Arabia Mountain High School in Lithonia, Ga., passed the Georgia High School Graduation Test. The school was also one of the first-ever U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools.
  • Rachel Jones, 8th grade Science teacher at Brooks Middle School in Bolingbrook, Ill., realized she wanted to be a teacher after 9/11: “That tragedy caused me to take a look at my life and when I did I was not happy and wanted to do something more meaningful.”
  • National Teachers Hall of Fame honoree, Beth Vernon of Blue Springs, Mo., has dedicated her career to finding the best possible medium to make classrooms more “brain compatible” in all STEM subjects.
  • A team of hand-selected teachers in a brand new school, and a leader with deep community roots coupled with the structure of the STRIVE Preparatory Schools adds up to success for children of color living in poverty at Denver’s STRIVE  Prep SMART Academy.  “Our work does not belong to us,” said school director Antonio Vigil, “it belongs to our students and their families
  • Students of Deborah Apple, 11th grade physiology teacher at Raoul Wallenberg Traditional High School, San Francisco, appreciate the way she uses fun and creative ways to turn every lesson into an adventure. “Ms. Apple keeps it real. She’s honest with us,” said one student.
  • Barbara Isaacson, Head Start teacher at Lister Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash., summed up the week best with the following statement: “I love teaching, and feel there is no greater joy than to help a student learn something new for the first time and share in their excitement.”

The visits were a reminder of the indelible impact teachers have on students each and every day.   As Secretary Duncan said in a recent blog celebrating our nation’s teachers, “they astound me with what they accomplish…they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.” Teachers give so much and expect so little in return. They deserve our undying gratitude.

Patrick Kerr is Communications Director at the Regional Office in Kansas City and Julie Ewart is the Communications Director at the Regional Office in Chicago. 

Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

ed goes back to school

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.

newtech

Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.

Celebrating Teachers During this Year’s Teacher Appreciation Week

Highfive a great teacherToday marks the final day of an eventful Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6th-10th). The Department of Education joined millions across the country to celebrate teachers for their dedication and hard work, but also to listen to teachers on how we can help them in improving our schools and the teaching profession. With so many exciting things going on this week, we’ve compiled a few highlights of how the Department of Education celebrated 2013 Teacher Appreciation Week.

Celebrating and Listening to Our Nations Teachers

Secretary Duncan kicked off this year’s Teacher Appreciation week by encouraging others to not only take a more active role in honoring teachers, but to listen to them actively and celebrate their great work. Celebrating teachers for one week is appropriate Duncan said, but “what our teachers really need—and deserve—is our ongoing commitment to work with them to transform America’s schools.” Read the entire blog post.

More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast

In an article posted on SmartBlogs on Education, Duncan reiterated the importance of year-round support for teachers, noting that “teachers have earned every bagel breakfast, celebratory bulletin board, gift card and thank-you note,” but that “we need to do something a bit more substantive and lasting than the bagel breakfast, too.”

EDgoesbacktoschool

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited Benning Elementary Campus Early Childhood faculty in D.C., as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

ED Goes Back to School

During the week ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” to shadow teachers in classrooms. Over 65 officials took part in the second annual event designed to give Department officials an opportunity to witness the day in the life of a teacher and hear directly about ways the Department can greater support their work and better understand the demands placed upon teachers. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned.

Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom

Early in the week, ED hosted a Google+ Hangout at Howard University to celebrate African American teachers in the classroom. The Hangout, moderated by NBC News’ Tamron Hall, comprised of African American educators from across the country, discussed the rewards of teaching, the critical role of good teachers, and the challenges they face in preparing students for college and careers. Watch the archived version of the Hangout.

Highlights from Teacher Appreciation Day on Twitter

Thousands took to Twitter this week to share heartfelt tributes and stories of the teachers who have inspired them. Check out our collection of some of the best from Teacher Appreciation Day. For updates on the latest information from ED, follow @USEDGOV & Secretary @ArneDuncan on Twitter.

Phoning Thanks

Estelle Moore, a 2nd grade teacher at Greencastle Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., got a surprise phone call in honor of Teacher Appreciation Day on Tuesday, May 7—she was one of five teachers across the country to get a surprise “thank you” phone call from Secretary Duncan. Ms. Moore has taught for more than four decades and has been with Maryland County Public Schools for 39 years.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player

Kelsey Donohue is a senior at Marist College (N.Y.), and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast

Great teaching can change a child’s life. That kind of teaching is a remarkable combination of things: art, science, inspiration, talent, gift, and — always — incredibly hard work. It requires relationship building, subject expertise and a deep understanding of the craft. Our celebrated athletes and performers have nothing on our best teachers.

But, in honoring teachers, I think Teacher Appreciation Week needs an update. Don’t get me wrong — teachers have earned every bagel breakfast, celebratory bulletin board, gift card and thank-you note. Given the importance of their work and the challenges they face, teachers absolutely deserve every form of appreciation their communities can muster.

But we need to do something a bit more substantive and lasting than the bagel breakfast, too.

Complex as teaching has been over the years, it’s more so now — in part because of reforms my administration has promoted. The reasons for these changes are clear. Despite many pockets of excellence, we’re not where we need to be as a nation. The president has challenged us to regain our place as world leader in college completion, but today we rank 14th. A child growing up in poverty has less than a 1-in-10 chance of earning a college diploma.

To change the odds, we have joined with states and communities to work for major reforms in which teachers are vital actors. The biggest are new college- and career-ready standards that 46 states and the District of Columbia have chosen to adopt. These higher standards require a dramatic rethinking of teachers’ daily practice: working toward standards tied to literature and problem-solving; using data to inform and adapt instruction. It’s hard work — but done well, our children will have a better shot at a solid, middle-class life.

The teachers I talk to don’t question the need for broad change. They are enthusiastic about instruction that emphasizes depth rather than coverage, worthy literature to read and real-world problems to solve. They passionately want to be part of helping more students get prepared for college and career. But many have told me that the pace of change is causing real anxiety.

I’ve heard repeatedly that, given the newness of the college- and career-ready standards, teachers really want to see what they’re aiming for. They want models of excellence that they can study. And it all feels like the change is happening at once. It’s impossible not to be touched by the strength of their feelings — their desire to get it right, and for many, the worry that they won’t.

There’s no question in my mind that raising the bar for our students is necessary and that America’s educators are up to it. But I want to call on the other adults in the system to redouble their efforts to support our teachers through this change.

I’ll start with my own team at the Department of Education. We are listening carefully to teachers and other experts as we walk through this transition, and working hard to figure out how to make it as smooth as it can possibly be for teachers and for their students. And I pledge to redouble our own efforts to work with states, districts and schools to help connect educators who can offer a vision of outstanding teaching under these new standards.

But I also want to call on policy makers, district leaders and principals to find ways to help ease these transitions to higher standards. What does that mean?

  • Find opportunities for teachers to lead this work. There is far too much talent and expertise in our teaching force that is hidden in isolated classrooms and not reaching as far as it can to bring the system forward. Teachers and leaders must work together to create opportunities for teacher leadership, including shared responsibility, and that means developing school-level structures for teachers to activate their talents. This may mean reducing teaching loads to create “hybrid” roles for teachers in which they both teach and lead.
  • Find, make visible and celebrate examples of making this transition well.Teachers often tell me they’re looking for examples of how to do this right. Let’s spotlight teachers and schools that are leading the way.
  • Use your bully pulpit — and share that spotlight with a teacher. Whether you are a principal, superintendent, elected leader, parent or play some other role, you have a voice. Learn about this transition, and use your voice to help make this transition a good experience for teachers, students, and families. Especially important is educating families about what to expect and why it matters. Invite a teacher to help you tell the story and answer questions.
  • Be an active, bold part of improving pre-service training and professional development, and make sure that all stages of a teacher’s education reflect the new instructional world they will inhabit. Teachers deserve a continuum of professional growth; that means designing career lattices so that teaching offers a career’s worth of dynamic opportunities for impacting students.
  • Read and take ideas from the RESPECT Blueprint, a plan released last month containing a vision for an elevated teaching profession. The blueprint reflects a vision shaped by more than a year’s worth of intimate discussions the department convened with some 6,000 teachers about transforming their profession. Teaching is the nation’s most important work, and it’s time for concrete steps that treat it that way — RESPECT offers a blueprint to do that.

Don’t get me wrong — teachers deserve a week of celebration with plenty of baked goods. But I hear, often, that this is a time that teachers want some extra support. They deserve real, meaningful help — not just this week, but all year long.

Arne Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education.

This article originally appeared in  SmartBlogs on Education

Celebrating and Listening to Our Nation’s Teachers

So many of America’s teachers are amazing. Each day, they take on the extraordinary responsibility and highly complex work of moving all students forward. As I visit schools across the country and talk with teachers at the U.S. Department of Education, they astound me continually with what they accomplish every day. Not only are teachers some of the smartest, most compassionate people I know, but they do work that few of us could accomplish on our best days.

Secretary Duncan with teacher

Secretary Arne Duncan speaks with a teacher at Elk Elementary Center in Charleston, W.Va., during his 2012 back to school bus tour across America.

During Teacher Appreciation Week, the people who value teachers often take time to send them a note of thanks or a token of appreciation. This is appropriate. The least we can do once a year is to push “pause” on our lives and thank them in the short term. However, what our teachers really need—and deserve—is our ongoing commitment to work with them to transform America’s schools. They need us to acknowledge them as professionals who are doing our nation’s most important work. We can begin this work by making it a priority to listen to and to celebrate teachers.

Here are some ways we plan to listen to and to celebrate teachers at the Department of Education this week.

Listening. On Monday, May 6, we will host a Google hangout celebrating African-American educators around the country, broadcasting from the campus of Howard University. You can view the conversation – “Celebrating African-American Teachers in our Classrooms” – live at 4 pm Eastern or check out the archived version of the Hangout afterwards at our YouTube site. You can also follow the discussion on Twitter at #AfAmTeachers. On Wednesday and Friday, our Teaching Ambassador Fellows will host roundtable discussions with teachers of children with exceptionalities and teachers of English language learners. We want to know from them what is working in their schools, what is not working, and how we can better support them.

Celebrating. Every day this week I will be making phone calls to great teachers who are leading change from their classrooms. We will also be celebrating teachers on Twitter; please be part of that by using the hashtag #thankateacher. On Wednesday I will drop by a local Teacher Appreciation Breakfast to thank teachers for making tremendous progress closing gaps and raising achievement in their school. We are also hosting a reception at the Department for the more than 400 current and former teachers who work at the Department of Education, and talking about how we can better make use of their experiences to improve our work.

Walking in Teachers’ Shoes. One of my favorite activities all year long is our ED Goes Back to School Day, taking place this year on Thursday, May 9. More than 65 of my senior staff and regional officers will shadow a teacher for a day or half-day, witnessing firsthand how demanding and rewarding it can be to juggle reforms, pedagogy, and practice. After the shadowing, the teachers and staff will meet with me back at ED to talk about their experiences and share lessons learned. Last year our staff benefitted tremendously from the experience, talking about what they saw for months afterward and connecting their experiences with their daily work here.

I encourage everyone to take time this week to not only take a more active role honoring teachers, but to listen to them actively and to celebrate their great work. I hope this week will be your chance to ask a teacher, How can I support you in America’s most important work, all year long?

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Teacher Creates Museum Experience in Classroom

Stepping into Keil Hileman’s classroom was like being magically transported to a wing of the Smithsonian. This archeology teacher at Monticello Trails Middle school in Shawnee, Kan., has decorated every square inch of his space with a fascinating array of artifacts such as tribal masks, model airplanes, a jousting lance, dinosaur skeletons, and miniature replicas of ancient pyramids, to name just a few of the hundreds of items that adorn the room.

I had the opportunity to visit Hileman’s class as part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, when more than 50 ED staffers around the country went “Back to School” for a day to shadow teachers. I quickly discovered that it’s no wonder students line up to take Hileman’s classes.  But it’s not just the unique scenery that draws them in. Hileman never allows a dull moment to creep into his daily instruction.  His classes are like field trips to another land and a different era: alive with authenticity and intrigue.

Mr. Hileman in his classroom.

Mr. Hileman in his classroom.

During my visit, his students gave their final presentations on subjects ranging from the Mayan calendar to John F. Kennedy. One group even gave a live demonstration of a catapult they had built (instead of rocks, the contraption hurled tennis balls).  What made the presentations even more interesting however, was Hileman’s interaction with the students where he demonstrated his vast knowledge of history, science, geography, and numerous other subjects.

No matter how obscure the subject, Hileman appears to know something about it. The man is a walking encyclopedia; and funny, too. And his students clearly eat it up.

Hileman, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow for ED in 2008-2009, has been teaching for 19 years.  When asked about his inspiration for his one-of-a-kind classroom instruction, he relayed a story from his early years that dramatically changed the way he approached teaching:

“I passed around a Civil War bullet during class after watching a film on the war,” he said. There was something about holding a tangible piece of history that really resonated with his students.  “This bullet taught them more than any text books, curriculum, or worksheets ever could. I made a connection with them that I had never made before.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Hileman continues to inspire students who may have otherwise never discovered the many fascinating worlds that lay beyond the classroom.  Finding a teacher like Hileman is like unearthing a hidden treasure. With nearly 2 million baby boomer teachers retiring in the coming years, we need to inspire a new generation of great teachers to join those already in the classroom.  They’re a wonder to observe, and are priceless in value.

–Patrick Kerr is the Director of Communications and Outreach in ED’s Regional Office in Kansas City. 

A Classroom Visit May Be Worth a Thousand Weblinks

As part of ED’s Secondary School Working Group, I’ve heard many speakers, read reams of research, and visited countless web sites to learn about student engagement – what is it that makes a student want to learn and stay in high school?

Rayna Aylward and a group of students

Rayna Aylward, far left, with Mr. Hipkins' class

But I never really understood the concept until I saw it in action at the Capital City Charter Upper School in Washington, D.C.  As part of National Teacher Appreciation Week, more than 50 ED staffers around the country went “Back to School” for a day to shadow teachers.  It was my luck to shadow Julian Hipkins III, an 11th grade U.S. History teacher giving a lesson on the Vietnam War.

But “giving” may not be the operative verb. Class began with a rapid-fire session to define “war.” Students came up with words and phrases and Mr. Hipkins circled back with prompts and questions.  Next, the students talked in small groups about what they knew of the Vietnam War; summaries were posted on the walls, and then the students walked around and added comments to one another’s ideas.

After a short reading/reflection time, the students rotated through a fishbowl-style role play, with half the inner circle playing “French government/business leaders” and the other half “Viet Minh supporters.”  The goal was to persuade President Truman (played by Mr. Hipkins) to support their respective cause.  The crisscrossing dialogue went so fast that no one wanted to stop when the buzzer sounded.  The students switched between inner circle and observers, and the next round whipped by.   At the end, there were more questions than conclusions, and the air seemed electric.

For a solid 75 minutes, every student had been on task and animated.  If I had to calculate, I’d say the voice ratio was about 20/80 teacher/student.  The lesson was a constant flow of ideas and discoveries, guided by the teacher but powered by the learners.

The bell rang for the next class.  Mr. Hipkins handed out a homework assignment – a Venn diagram on the Vietnam and Iraq Wars – and the students filed out trailing word clouds of McNamara and the Gulf of Tonkin.  I myself am still buzzed, and I just filled out the diagram.

Now that’s engagement!

Rayna Aylward is a special assistant in the Office of the Secretary

“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.

ED Shows Appreciation by Walking a Day in 50 Teachers’ Shoes

ED Employees went back to school

Steven Hicks, special assistant for early learning, spent the day shadowing a kindergarten teacher at Oyster-Adams bilingual school in DC as part of "ED Goes Back to School."

As I entered the U.S. Department of Education building on the morning of May 9, something felt different. Many offices usually filled with buzzing conversations were empty. Many of my colleagues weren’t in the building. They were in area schools shadowing a teacher.

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, 50 ED staff in Washington D.C. and across the country participated in “ED Goes Back to School.” Senior officials and career staff, matched with a classroom teacher, spent a full or half day experiencing the life of a teacher. Some co-taught while others observed. Some participated with small groups while others worked with students one-on-one. Regardless of the role they played in the classroom, everyone agreed that the experience was transformational.

“Everything I have done in the last five years was affirmed today,” shared music teacher Mike Matlock.

In a meeting with the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that evening, teachers and ED staff shared stories from the day and implications for their work.

Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Services, spoke of dissecting a pig at Ballou Senior High School. Mike Humphreys, a National Board Certified P.E. teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary School, shared that his shadow, David Hoff, proved to be a great sport throughout the day, even when getting hit in the leg with an errant T-ball bat. Lisa Jones, a 3rd grade teacher at Watkins Elementary School, spoke lovingly about how her shadow, Ann Whalen, Director of Policy and Program Implementation, didn’t hesitate to dance along with the “Fraction Shuffle.”

Through story after story, I sensed true appreciation for the rigorous work that teachers do every day. “Throughout the day I was amazed by teachers who understand the needs of all students,” reflected Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, who shadowed Flora Lerenman and Caitlin Kevill’s 2nd grade class at Tyler Elementary School. “I loved that when you walk into their classroom, you have no idea who is the special education teacher and who isn’t.”

ED Goes Back to School PhotoThere were also implications for the work we do at ED.

After spending a day in a turnaround school with Mary Balla, a Spanish teacher at Anacostia High School, Suzanne Immerman indicated that the culture of high expectations is helping to transform the school, but she also acknowledged that we need to recognize that real change takes time.

Many spoke of the strong relationships they witnessed between teachers and students and thought aloud about how we might value students’ social and emotional needs more in the Department’s programs and policies.

Audra Polk, a theater teacher at Ballou Senior High drove this point home. “Teaching is nothing at Ballou if you don’t have a relationship with your students,” she said.

Everyone agreed that ED needs to create a new tradition of going back to school, and to do so more often.  Some staff called for this to be a quarterly event; Secretary Duncan and teachers agreed.

The day that began with an eerily quiet building in the morning had become filled with excitement, conversation, and laughter by evening. Relationships were built, lessons were learned, and teachers were truly appreciated.

Geneviève DeBose is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Bronx Charter School for the Arts. She wants to give a shout-out to her father, Dr. Herman DeBose, who shadowed her for two days during her 3rd year of teaching. That experience was the inspiration for “ED Goes Back to School.”

Arne Makes Surprise Visit to Local High School to Thank Teachers

Secretary Arne Duncan made a surprise visit earlier today to Luke C. Moore High School in Washington, to thank teachers and school staff during their Teacher Appreciation Week breakfast celebration.

“I was so excited I almost tripped over the table,” said veteran math teacher Evelyn Merrick. “Secretary Duncan just walked in as a regular person.”

Luke C. Moore High School is a local School Improvement Grant recipient and has adopted an accelerated academic program with a focus on building critical thinking skills and project-based learning. Read more about Luke C. Moore.

Arne isn’t the only Department official talking with teachers at local schools today. Dozens of ED staff are visiting schools throughout the D.C. area and across the country as part of “ED Goes Back to School,” an organized effort of federal staff shadowing teachers.

The shadowing visits will offer ED officials an inside look at teachers’ day-to-day work while also giving teachers the opportunity to discuss how federal policy, programs, and resources play a role in their classrooms. On Wednesday evening, teachers and Department staff participating in “ED Goes Back to School” will join Duncan for a discussion to reflect on the experience.

Liz Utrup is the Assistant Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education

Thank You Teachers

People from across the country are turning to social media to thank teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week, as well as during yesterday’s Teacher Appreciation Day. From heartfelt “thank you’s” on Twitter, to funny memories of great teachers on Facebook, America is coming together to recognize those who have inspired us to reach new heights.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

To see more, visit ED’s Storify page or view the story below.

Read More

Rethink Teacher Appreciation Week

Great teachers build nations. They inspire, awaken and raise our children’s expectations. They coax imaginations and lead students to discovery. Teachers shape the next generation of decision-makers.

While this work is deeply rewarding, teaching is also incredibly hard—as intellectually rigorous as it is emotionally draining. Over the next five to ten years, at least one million teachers will be eligible for retirement, roughly one third of the work force. Schools are finding it increasingly difficult to draw talented folks into a profession that, in many cases offers:

  • the 50-50 chance they won’t last through their first four years,
  •  the likelihood of underwhelming support and development,
  • a lifetime of low and moderate pay, and
  • the strong likelihood that they’ll reach a point where continuing to teach poses substantial financial hardship.

On this Teacher Appreciation Week, let’s think more meaningfully about what it means to appreciate teachers so that we build a profession that retains its best teachers and recruits the next generation of great talent.

For most teachers, Teacher Appreciation Week is a time when schools bestow small demonstration gifts to staff: mugs, reusable lunch bags with the school logo, chair massages during planning time, lunch catered by the PTA, and so on. While we value these tokens of support, it is far more important for us to reflect meaningfully on the teaching profession and consider what we can do to support great teacher leadership.

True appreciation means understanding what teachers bring to the table and creating meaningful opportunities for them to contribute to the policies and practices that affect their school communities. Let’s engage teachers in policy more directly at all levels. Boston, Massachusetts leads with a strong example. Teachers who serve as Teach Plus Fellows there produced a policy paper advocating for evaluation systems that train evaluators effectively, include peer evaluators and identify high performers. At the district level, districts could create Teacher Advisory Committees where they regularly solicit teachers’ feedback on policies and programs. At the school level, principals could create hybrid roles for teachers, which would allow master teachers to direct new teacher training, perform research on best teaching practices, or design curriculum materials without being completely removed from the classroom. Let’s create a space in which teachers can truly engage in how our schools are run. That is true teacher appreciation.

For the 16 Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education, part of our work has focused on the RESPECT Project, a national conversation we have been having with teachers all over the country about transforming our profession. The RESPECT Project seeks to elevate the teaching profession by proposing a vision that embraces better training, richer opportunities for professional advancement, time for collaboration, higher pay, sustainable hours, and a culture of shared responsibility. We want to attract the best candidates, support our colleagues as they develop, and retain those teachers who are getting it done.

The RESPECT Project and the growing movement to elevate the teaching profession is, as one educator in Rhode Island noted, our generation’s “moon landing moment.” This is the moment when we can rally the entire country around a grand vision to comprehensively remake our education system for the 21st century.

For Teacher Appreciation week, we encourage everyone to honor our teachers by listening respectfully as teachers rethink and reshape the American education system. Let’s collaborate to find practical, community-based and student-centered ways to bring teachers to the table to weigh in on the crucial decisions that affect them and the students they serve.

Now that’s teacher appreciation.

The 2011-2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellows work with the US Department of Education to facilitate the involvement and understanding of teachers in developing and implementing policy efforts at the federal, state and local levels, to improve the likelihood of their success.

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