2015-2016 Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellowship Program Applications Now Available!

“The Ambassador Fellows are a critical investment in ensuring that the decisions affecting students are informed and implemented by our nation’s best teachers and leaders. The answers to our most challenging educational problems lie in the voices of the courageous principals and passionate teachers our Fellows bring us every day.”
– Secretary Arne Duncan

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Teaching Ambassador Fellows gathered at the Teaching and Learning conference for the announcement of the Teach to Lead initiative earlier this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

Applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on December 18, 2014 and are scheduled to close on January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST. For more information about the application process, visit our Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows program pages or go directly to the applications for the Teaching and Principal Fellowships on USAJobs.gov.

Since 2008, the Department has employed 87 outstanding teachers on a full- or part-time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. Last year, ED piloted a Principal Ambassador Fellowship that brought three highly-talented principals to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis.

Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in the school community, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in a variety of activities that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about instruction, school culture and climate, educational leadership and policy.

Both of the highly selective programs reflect the belief that teachers and principals should have meaningful opportunities to learn about and shape the policies that impact students and school communities nationwide. As teachers and principals are often the most trusted sources of information about education policy for parents, community members, colleagues, and students themselves, it is imperative to create more ways to link the Department’s programs, policies, and resources directly to the field.

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The 2013-2015 Principal Ambassador Fellows and Secretary Duncan. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

The Ambassador Fellows have directly contributed to hundreds of activities at the Department and captured the voices of thousands of teachers and principals from every state. They were particularly instrumental in the RESPECT project and in inspiring and executing the Department’s current Teach to Lead initiative. They were also critical partners in offering flexibility around tying teacher evaluations to new assessments and addressing a culture of over-testing.

There are two different options for candidates. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment, based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship, on the other hand, enables teachers and principals to participate on a part-time basis, while still allowing them to fulfill their regular school responsibilities.

All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies, sharing their expertise with federal staff members, and providing background on federal initiatives to other educators. This helps teachers better understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. For the Fellows, the program provides greater knowledge of federal educational policy, strengthens their leadership skills, and gives them the firsthand opportunity to address some of the  challenging issues facing education today.

“Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow has been the best professional learning of my career,” says Tami Fitzgerald. “I have learned about educational policy, but more than that, I have discovered that my voice can be heard, and our collective voices can make a difference.”  Principal Ambassador Fellow, Rachel Skerritt adds, “The Principal Ambassador Fellowship is intended to be a beneficial resource to the Department, allowing ED to hear valuable input from school leaders. However, the experience has been just as beneficial to my own learning and leadership. I constantly bring back best practices to my own school, having had the privilege of meeting passionate principals nationwide.”

Great teachers and principals—please consider applying and sharing this information with your colleagues! Sign up for updates on the Teaching and Principal application processes, call 1-800-USA-Learn, or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov or PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.

Gillian Cohen-Boyer is Director of the Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

Supporting Great Teaching Through Better Teacher Preparation

20141125_TeacherPrep_GreatTeachersMatter_Twitter

Great teachers matter enormously to the learning and the lives of children. Every parent knows it, and study after study proves it.

Unfortunately, teachers, principals and researchers have made clear: too many teacher preparation programs today aren’t equipping teachers with the skills they need to be successful. Teaching is one of the most important and challenging careers, yet new research shows that many teacher preparation programs offer easy A’s instead of rigorous learning

That’s why ED today announced new regulations that will build on momentum to improve teacher training. The proposed regulations will be different than current reporting requirements – which focus almost exclusively on inputs – by establishing meaningful outcome indicators, like employment outcomes, teacher and employee feedback, and student learning outcomes.

The proposed regulations will also:

  • Encourage states to develop meaningful systems to identify high- and low-performing teacher preparation programs across all kinds of programs, not just those based in colleges and universities;
  • Reward only those programs determined to be effective or better by states with eligibility for TEACH grants, which are available to students who are planning to become teachers in a high-need field and in a low-income school, to ensure that these limited federal dollars support high-quality teacher education and preparation; and
  • Offer transparency into the performance of teacher preparation programs, creating a feedback loop among programs and prospective teachers, employers, and the public, and empower programs with information to facilitate continuous improvement.

The regulations would provide significant flexibility for states, allowing them to set performance thresholds and additional performance categories or indicators. Programs would be assessed using a minimum of four performance levels: exceptional, effective, at-risk, or low-performing.

These changes will not only create a new feedback loop among programs and prospective teachers, employers, and the public, but it will also empower programs with better information to facilitate continuous improvement.

Final regulations will be published in Summer 2015. You can learn more about the proposed regulations on our teacher preparation web page, which includes a printable fact sheet and PowerPoint presentation.

Update: The Proposed Rule on Teacher Preparation Issues was published in the Federal Register. Formal comments are due February 2, 2015.

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. 

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

Testing, Early Learning, and the Pace of Reform: Talking with Teachers

Our work at the US Department of Education aims to make sure that students throughout this country have the education that they deserve – an education that will give every student a genuine opportunity to join a thriving middle class. A crucial part of that work is supporting, elevating and strengthening the teaching profession.

As often as I can, I spend time talking with teachers about their experience of their work, and of change efforts to improve student outcomes. (We have an important effort, called the RESPECT Project, dedicated to make sure that teacher voices consistently informed policy and program efforts here at the Department of Education.)  Lately, we have begun bringing a video camera to the conversation, and teachers have been generous in letting us capture these conversations so others can see them.

Recently, I visited Rogers Heights Elementary School in Bladensburg, Maryland, near Washington, DC. Rogers Heights’ students bring the diversity typical of so many urban communities; its student body is 97% minority, and 89% qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Half the students have limited proficiency in English.

I was really struck by how smart, committed and passionate the teachers were. We had an intense, honest, sometimes difficult conversation, and I left inspired. The kids at Rogers are in great hands.

I invited teachers to take on any topic they wanted to, and they took on some important and even difficult ones: the pace of reform, the need for arts education, the impact of early learning, and testing. These conversations with teachers help us get smarter about change in education in this country. I hope you’ll take a look; we’ve posted an 8 minute excerpt along with the full video of the hour-long conversation.


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

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education 

Teachers@ED: Lisa Vazquez, Information Resource Specialist

A passion for empowering individuals guided Lisa Vazquez’s teaching career throughout a broad range of schools and subjects. Her diverse skill set and varied teaching experiences enabled her to develop novel, “outside-the-box” techniques for empowering students and encouraging them to take on challenges in creative ways. This spirit was evident in one of Vazquez’s more creative lessons, which challenged one of her Chicago classes to combine writing, community service, performance and activism into a single project.

Teachers@ED Logo“For me, it’s important to understand that, no matter what your age is, you have the ability to act, to accomplish something, to effect change,” Vazquez said in an interview for Teachers@ED, an occasional series on the ED Blog that highlights current and former teachers working at the Department of Education.

Vazquez’s students were required to find, in her words, “some topic, some issue that they knew about from personal experience, something they cared strongly about.”

“They needed to figure out who their audience was, what their message was, and they had to write or create original poetry that spoke to that experience.”

These poems were then performed in each student’s community. The students also had to incorporate community service into the project, record their service hours, and present an account of their final project to the class.

Lisa (second from the left) holds a discussion with her 7th grade class.

“I wanted them to understand how poetry, or art, could effect change,” Vazquez said. “It could be a tool in and of itself. “

Originally from Chicago, Vazquez has taught English, writing and drama at all levels of education, from kindergarten to graduate-level university students. A former teacher in the Chicago public school system, Vazquez also has taught English and helped students conceive and write theatrical productions in Uruguay. Vazquez was especially adept at forging relationships between her Uruguayan students and exceptional individuals from the country, including the survivors of the 1972 Andes plane crash that inspired the film Alive.

At ED, Vazquez works in the Information Resource Center (IRC), where she handles customer inquiries, complaints, questions, comments, problems, or, as she says, “anything to do with the Department of Education, from every constituent.” Vazquez works to answer questions from education stakeholders—including parents, teachers, administrators, congressional offices, and general taxpayers—and to connect those stakeholders with accurate and accessible resources.

“We really work to provide information in a way that is easily accessible to whoever the [stakeholder] is,” Vazquez said. As a self-described “communications person,” she also works on teacher outreach and helped organize the Summer Seminar Series for Teachers.

Just as she found ways for her students to communicate their ideas through writing or performance, Vazquez works to ensure ED’s work is transparent and available to the public. Her background as a teacher helps her bridge the knowledge gap between education stakeholders and ED.

“I can relate to educators or parents because I’ve been in a similar situation before,” Vazquez said. “I have a context for understanding what someone’s talking to me about, so I can articulate the Department of Education perspective to them from within that framework.”

While Vazquez says she enjoys her work here at ED, she does miss some aspects of her old job—in particular, helping students empower themselves.

“Everyone needs to have that ‘a-ha moment,’ ” she said, “that moment that brings that sense of accomplishment—the belief that ‘I am doing something,’ which propels someone to move forward in life.”

Students Teaching Students: Meet Seven Hang, Angela Delfine, and Cami Jones

Cross-posted from TEACH.gov. This post is the fifth in a summer-long, weekly blog series celebrating young teachers. We hope these profiles of teachers who have inspired their students and increased their classroom’s performance will inspire the next generation of teachers! Please visit our blog to see the previous posts.

This week we’re profiling three teachers from Breakthrough Collaborative, an organization that places high school and college students in the classroom to teach high achieving, high risk younger students. Please meet Seven Hang, Angela Delfine, and Cami Jones.

Breakthrough seeks to “increase academic opportunity for highly motivated, underserved students and put them on the trajectory of a successful college path; and inspire and develop the next generation of teachers and educational leaders.” With their passion for kids and education, and through innovative methods, Hang, Delfine and Jones are doing just that.

All three teachers discovered their passion for education at an early age. Angela enjoyed playing “school” with her dolls when she was younger and began to envision herself in a life-size classroom as she grew older. Angela is now pursuing a Secondary Teaching Certificate in English, as well as a Spanish minor.

After taking a high school class with “the most upbeat, amazing, and inspiring teacher on campus,” Seven began to seriously consider entering the education field. He continues to inspire her today, and is “the kind of teacher [she wants] to be like: goofy, yet still respected in a positive, learning classroom.”

Cami discovered her passion for teaching in college once she had decided to pursue her first passion, literature. She’s now pursuing a degree in Secondary Education and English from Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. Says Cami about her experience in classes at Northwestern: “I quickly learned that educational inequality is one of the most pressing contemporary social justice issues. At the same time, I was [learning] what I loved about literature.” Cami brings her passion for English to the classroom, and simultaneously, teaching renews her passion for literature.

While they’ve only spent several weeks in the classroom so far, all three teachers acknowledge that they’ve faced challenges. Taking care of the small details while focusing on greater goals has proved to be particularly challenging, but Cami is “learning to focus on the daily realities of running a classroom while simultaneously seeing [herself] as part of a larger movement.” Angela and Seven are constantly looking for ways to improve their techniques and inspire their students.

Despite these challenges, Cami asserts that the teaching profession needs more young people. “The system needs people with energy, passion, and new ideas, [people] who are ready to roll up their sleeves and engage completely.” The profession is changing, as are the students in the classroom, and “new, evolving teachers must come forward,” says Seven. “Young people find it easier to develop connections with students.”

Angela has used innovative and creative techniques to keep her students engaged. “I try to plan lessons that reach out to all students: visual, auditory and tactual/kinesthetic learners, artistic students, and introverted students.” After teaching the students food vocabulary in Spanish, she asked them to write a rap with ten of the words and perform at the front of the class. “The students really enjoyed the project!” says Angela.

Angela, Cami, and Seven find their days in the classroom tiring but know they want to continue. “Teaching is hard work,” says Cami, “but it is a career of direct engagement. Even though I leave work every day completely exhausted and knowing I still have a thousand things to do, I also leave with the feeling that I am engaging directly, I am working toward justice, and I am doing meaningful work.” Seven says that as a teacher, “you never stop wanting to improve. You never stop wanting to learn. Teaching does not stop the moment you walk out of your classroom. You become a teacher for life.”

Lessons from the Heart: 2011 State Teachers of the Year Discuss Their Own Favorite Teachers

What does it take to inspire an award-winning teacher?

Not long ago, the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visited the Department of Education, and we asked them to talk about the teachers who had the greatest influence on them. Some praised colleagues and mentors, and others remembered inspiring teachers from their own days as students.  Their tributes were varied and poignant:  “She treated all of us as though we were her special children.”  “She made me love every piece of literature that at the time I absolutely hated.”  “He thinks the best of his colleagues, and so we want to live up to his expectations and prove that he’s not wrong.”  Now at the very top of their profession, the 2011 State Teachers of the Year surely took lessons like these to heart.

Click here to watch a video compilation of the State Teachers of the Year thanking their favorite teachers.


Click here
to watch a video about the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visit to the U.S. Department of Education.

Thanking Mr. Otto

Mr. Warren Otto was my tenth grade geometry teacher. I have to admit that I was a handful. My father was the high school principal, which meant that I often got away with less-than-perfect behavior. Mr. Otto, however, always demanded the best of all of his students. He realized within two weeks of the term that my behavior was a symptom of not being challenged by the material. He decided that I needed a more rigorous course.

My father was reluctant; he knew the headaches involved with shifting a student’s schedule once the term had begun, which required a lot of effort in the pre-computer era. Mr. Otto insisted, convincing my father—his boss—to make the change. Mr. Otto was right. Being placed in a more demanding geometry class challenged me to achieve things I didn’t know I could do. Mr. Otto’s rigor and high expectations garnered from me and other students respect and admiration.

As editor, I dedicated our high school annual to Mr. “Worn Auto.” I still think of him as my high school hero. He is also a steadfast exemplar of what a teacher truly is: An advocate for each and every student. I would like to thank Mr. Otto for his example, and the millions of American teachers who believe in the abilities of their students and commit their talents and energy to helping each student reach his or her fullest potential.

Alexa Posny is the Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the Department of Education.

Ed. note: This post is part of an ongoing series of ED staff thanking teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Duncan Makes Surprise School Visit to Kick Off Teacher Appreciation Day

“We are so excited you are here with us,” said a fourth grade teacher earlier this morning at Randolph Elementary School in Arlington, Va., where Secretary Duncan made an unannounced visit on Teacher Appreciation Day.  The school day had yet to begin when Secretary Duncan surprised the Randolph staff at a Staff Appreciation Breakfast sponsored by the Randolph PTA.

Secretary Duncan spoke to the teachers who had gathered in the school’s library where students and the PTA had decorated the walls and ceiling with banners and streamers. “Children are lucky to have adults like you in their lives, working for them every single day,” said Duncan. “Thanks for the hard work and the difference you’re making in their lives.”

The Secretary also thanked and congratulated Matt Tosiello, a Randolph third grade teacher and the 2011 Arlington County Teacher of the Year.  Duncan was joined by Randolph Principal Renee Bostick, Arlington School Board Chair Libby Garvey, and the President of the Arlington Education Association Pam Clark.

Throughout the country, parents and students and communities are taking time on National Teacher Appreciation Day to honor their local educators and acknowledge the crucial role teachers play in making sure every student receives a quality education. Click here for more information on the ED’s activities during Teacher Appreciation Week.

Later this morning, Secretary Duncan will continue to celebrate teachers by joining President Obama in the White House Rose Garden to honor the 2011 National Teacher of the Year, Michelle M. Shearer of Frederick, Maryland.

Click here to watch a video of the Secretary’s visit, and you can also see more photos at ED.gov.