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.


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

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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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Teacher Appreciation Week Gets Underway

“Whatever we do to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession, we should bear in mind that reforms that fail to heed the voice of teachers are doomed,” Secretary Duncan said in a Huffington Post article to kick off Teacher Appreciation Week.

Duncan noted how important it is that we ask teachers how the profession should be changed, and that the Department of Education wants to hear directly from teachers, particularly on a proposed $5 billion competitive program of the Obama administration to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession. The program is called the RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, a vision document for reforming the teaching profession has been posted for public comment on the Department’s website, and will be available for comment until June 19.

Secretary Duncan is also asking that you join him tomorrow, Teacher Appreciation Day, and donate your Facebook status to a teacher who has made a difference in your life, and thank a teacher on Twitter by using the hashtag #ThankaTeacher.

Throughout the week we’ll be highlighting videos of people from around the country thanking teachers for making a difference in their lives. Today we heard from Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mayim Bialik, a PhD and actor on “The Big Bang Theory, as well as Jamie Hyneman from TV’s MythBusters.

Watch our Thank a Teacher video playlist:

Join Us and Thank a Teacher

Darlene McCampbell, my high school English teacher, was an extraordinary teacher. She challenged us, encouraged us, and brought out the best in us. Mrs. McCampbell is still teaching and inspiring students today. Great teachers help mold the future every day, and are integral to our country’s economic and national security. Teachers have an impact that far outlasts any lesson plan they may give, and we never forget a teacher who inspired us to do great things.

Today marks the beginning of National Teacher Appreciation Week. This week is a great week to give teachers the praise they deserve every day, but it also provides an opportunity to hear from teachers on how we can make teaching not only one of America’s most important professions, but one of the country’s most valued professions as well.

The Department of Education has an array of events planned throughout the week to both celebrate teaching and listen to teachers. One of the events to celebrate teachers will take place tomorrow, Teacher Appreciation Day, as we kick off a national campaign to thank our teachers on Facebook and Twitter.

Please join me tomorrow by donating your Facebook status to a teacher who has made a difference in your life, and thank a teacher on Twitter by using the hashtag #ThankaTeacher.

It’s one small token of appreciation for those who are truly America’s nation-builders.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Watch a video of Secretary Duncan and Mrs. McCampbell:


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


Ask the Teachers

Cross-posted from the Huffington Post.

When I ask teachers why they teach, they almost always say that it is because they want to make a difference in the lives of children. They talk about the joys of teaching and the singular rewards of watching children learn. Often they mention former students who get in touch years after they graduate to thank them for their success.

Yet stories of lasting and life-changing teacher-student relationships contrast starkly with what teachers say when asked about their profession. In short order, they lament inadequate training, top-down reforms, teaching to the test, budget cuts and a lack of time to collaborate.

Teachers talk about the pernicious effects of poverty and family breakdown on their students and the long hours that teachers put in nights and weekends that go unrecognized and uncompensated. Most teachers still say they love teaching though they wouldn’t mind a little more respect for their challenging work and a little less blame for America’s educational shortcomings.

With half of new teachers quitting within five years, and with half of current teachers set to retire in the next ten, the need for dramatic change in the field of education is both urgent and timely. There’s much underway and much more to be done, but whatever we do to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession, we should bear in mind that reforms that fail to heed the voice of teachers are doomed.

That’s why, for the last six months, 16 active classroom teachers working temporarily for the U.S. Department of Education as Teacher Ambassador Fellows have been doing a lot of listening. They have held over 200 meetings with their colleagues across the country to help shape a proposed $5 billion competitive program of the Obama administration to strengthen and elevate the teaching profession. It is called the RESPECT Project, which stands for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching.

When we ask teachers how the profession should change, their ideas are grounded in everyday experience. Teachers say their schools of education did not adequately prepare them for the classroom. They would have welcomed more mentoring and feedback in their early years. They say that effective principals and engaged parents are essential to creating the right conditions for learning.

Teachers embrace accountability, but say the current generation of tests is stifling teacher creativity and student engagement. Most of the ones we have spoken with are not against testing per se, but, they hope that new tests, now in development, will better measure critical thinking and student learning.

Teachers support evaluations based on multiple measures: student growth, classroom observation, and feedback from peers and parents. They neither want evaluations that are overly reliant on basic fill-in-the bubble tests, nor do they want evaluations that ignore the impact of teachers on student learning.

Compensation is rarely the first thing teachers complain about but, with starting pay averaging around $39,000 and top pay averaging around $67,000, teachers are underpaid compared to other professions. Many top college students do not consider teaching because the pay is too low. Others leave because they can’t support a family.

On performance pay, many teachers reject outright the idea of competing with their colleagues for bonuses, yet many also believe that great teaching-especially in low-income schools–should be financially rewarded. In Chicago, where I served as school CEO, a group of star teachers designed a performance pay program that rewarded all adults in the school, not just the teachers, for student gains.

Many teachers we have spoken with are open to changing rules around tenure. They think the bar for tenure should be higher. Many say it shouldn’t be guaranteed for life. But they are equally adamant that without due process, teachers are at risk of being fired for reasons unrelated to performance.

Teachers are most excited by the idea of career pathways with differentiated roles that offer the opportunity to earn more money without having to leave the classroom and the job they love. For example, student teachers and recent graduates could apprentice with mentor teachers. As they prove their effectiveness, they could advance to new roles–professional teachers, master teachers, and teacher leaders with increasing responsibility for running their schools and shaping curriculum.

What teachers say they want more than anything is time–time to collaborate, plan lessons, improve their practice, and work one-on-one or in small groups with their students. Unfortunately, we shoehorn schooling into a too-short school day and year.

Nothing is more important than preparing our children to compete and succeed in the global economy. That means we need to make teaching not only one of America’s most important professions but also one of America’s most valued profession.

America’s teachers are hungry for comprehensive reform to their profession and they are ready to lead the change. Indeed, they are the only ones who can.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education