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.

In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: An Open Letter from Arne Duncan to America’s Teachers

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued. Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching.

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft.

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed.

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.

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

Cross-posted from Education Week.

Students and Secretary Duncan Talk About Effective Teaching

When I visited the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., recently, I truly felt that my thoughts and opinions made a difference. Joined with students from across the nation and Secretary Arne Duncan, I was able to discuss my thoughts about what makes an effective teacher. 

RaQuan is an A/B student who plays three sports at the S.O.A.R Academy.

The teacher who brought me to Washington, Ms. Coates, has instilled in me that I play an important role in my education. All the work that she and other teachers do on a daily basis is for the future of our country. This year, I have been more involved with my own education and talk more about what’s going on in my school, and about which teachers or programs I enjoy. 

The Student Voice Series was an opportunity for me to share with other students who care about their education. I was excited to hear that other students just like me are talking to their friends, teachers and other people in their communities, about why education is so important to them. Moving into high school next year, I feel I have a better sense of why an education is one of the most valuable things I can earn.

Arne Duncan and several senior staff advisors met with student representatives of the Teaching Ambassador Fellows, State Board of Education, Project Voyce, the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education, and DCPS at the Department of Education and through a conference call.

All students across the nation should have the same opportunity I have been able to have, which is to talk about their thoughts and opinions. As a student, I have been given the tools from my teacher to share ideas and talk about how school and teachers are most important to me. Having had this opportunity to engage in educational decision-making has taught me the responsibility of making choices about learning, schooling, and the education system. I better understand that what affects me affects an entire student body, and student perspectives need to be considered when changes in education are made!

RaQuan Moore

RaQuan is an 8th grader at S.O.A.R. Academy in Ashland, Va. His teacher, Lisa Coates, is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow who brought RaQuan to the Department of Education to participate in a monthly conversation series between students and Secretary Duncan