Teachers’ Favorite Moments During Teacher Appreciation Week

What a week!

All year long, we at the U.S. Department of Education seek to bring teachers’ perspectives to our work and to understand, as much as possible, their classroom realities. Just last week, we hosted conversations with National Hall of Fame Teachers and State Teachers of the Year, and  every week of the year we talk with teachers about their work and what they need from us.

Still, Teacher Appreciation Week is different. During Teacher Appreciation Week we honor our nation’s educators in special ways.

The current and former teachers at ED compiled some of our favorite moments in a short list of memories that resonate with us.

Marie-Reed-Elementary

Secretary Duncan chats with teachers during Marie Reed Elementary School’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast (Photo credit: Leslie Williams/Dept. of Education)

ED Goes Back to School: Department staff working in Washington, D.C. and at the nine regional offices shadowed more than 70 teachers around the country. They prepped for their school visits by attending a pre-shadowing workshop hosted by teachers at ED, who offered insights into lesson planning. Through the extended visits, ED officials experienced slivers of insight into the complex and fast-paced world of teaching. At the end of the day, ED hosted a debriefing session and reception in which ED staff honored the teachers they shadowed, along with Secretary Duncan.

  • At J.A. Rogers Elementary in Kansas City, Mo., ED’s Jeanne Ackerson met Library Media Specialist Paula York’s unique co-worker: a live-in dog (a boxer) who helps to calm fears, relieve anxieties and teach skills to inner-city children. York said she gets great satisfaction when students leave her classroom with a love for reading. 
  • ED’s Jamila Smith, who observed third grade and kindergarten teachers Laura Arkus and Nicole Entwisle at Hyattsville Elementary School (Hyattsville, Md.), was the first to speak at the end-of-day debriefing. “These two teachers handled 21+ kids all day long and they never stopped,” she said. “Yet each kid was touched, each child was heard, and everyone was reached.”
  • After the day of shadowing Kalpana Kumar Sharma at Brightwood Education Campus (Washington, D.C.), ED’s Joy Silvern told the teachers who visited the Department, “We will only get the right answers [to address education challenges] if we stay grounded in your experience and knowledge.”
  • Shannon Schwallenberg teaches 3-year-olds at who are at a 6-month developmental level at Frances Fuchs Early Childhood Center (Beltsville, Md.). She explained to staff why teachers spend so much of their own money on school supplies. Though she receives six butterflies with her class butterfly kit, Schwallenberg said she buys more because, “I want each child to have the authentic experience of releasing their own butterflies.”

Teacher Social at the White House: Twenty-two enthusiastic teachers from around the country participated in a White House social with honorary “First Teacher of the United States” Dr. Jill Biden and Secretary Duncan.

  • Teachers’ tweets from the event were inspirational and fun. One (@TheMathLady) wrote, “Ya know, just another day of hanging out on the South Lawn of the White House.” Meanwhile, Teaching Ambassador Fellow Joiselle Cunningham got a little disoriented on the property and temporarily lost Secretary Duncan.  
  • Teaching Ambassador Fellow Lisa Clarke reported that while talking with the teachers, she heard Secretary Duncan repeat at least three lessons he had learned from listening to teachers who were shadowed by ED staff. “The teachers really were heard,” said Clarke, “and he learned from them.

Leadership Calls: Each day of the week, Arne Duncan called a teacher to thank them for their work and talk about their leadership. Here are highlights from two of the calls:

  • After failed attempts to reach him through a cell phone, Arne connected via landline with Mark Garner, a high school teacher at Camas High School (Camas, Wa.). The call, caught on video at the school, shows interesting interactions among Duncan, Garner and Garner’s ninth grade English class.
  • Prior to talking with Marca Whitten, who teaches at the Studio School in the Glassell Park community of Los Angeles, Calif., Duncan spoke with her principal, Leah Raphael. Raphael was a 2010 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department, and when former boss Arne Duncan asked how she liked starting a school, she said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” Later, Whitten explained to Duncan how the school community chose Raphael as its principal. “We met and I knew within 30 seconds,” she said. “How did I know? Well, she speaks from the heart, she listens from the heart, and she’s smart, smart, smart.”

Marie Reed Elementary’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast: Teachers were a little overcome by a surprise visit from Dr. Jill Biden and Arne Duncan during the Washington, D.C. school’s Teacher Appreciation Breakfast.

  • One fourth-year teacher with tears in her eyes said, “Jill Biden is a rock star… I only got to speak to her for a moment, mostly because I couldn’t even get words to come out of my mouth when she came to my table.”
  • Veteran teacher Maggie Davis talked with Duncan about retiring from the profession after 36 years of accomplished teaching. She said she feels good about the direction of the profession and how the vision of the principal has sharpened. She also said she believes that there is more good to come.

#ThankATeacher: ED added to the national #ThankATeacher conversation via social media by providing signs for folks to use to record why they are thankful for teachers and asking them to share pictures of them and their signs.

  • Teacher appreciation was contagious. The #ThankATeacher tweet with card from @usedgov reached potentially about half a million users, and the hashtag #ThankATeacher was used in over 42,000 Tweets during the last seven days.
  • The tweets from students, parents and teachers—including the State Teachers of the Year—reminded us all why we do this work. The simple student pictures thanking teachers for “being nice” and “teaching me division” really tug at our hearts.
  • Around the building, staff posted on doors and cubicle walls all manner of messages to teachers they have loved, thanking them for: “believing in me”; “not giving up, no matter what”; and “introducing me to bow ties.”

During Teacher Appreciation Week, it is nice to bring teachers cards and doughnuts. But it’s also a little bit strange because we wouldn’t take our doctor a cupcake or drop by an architect’s office to pass out cookies. At ED, we seek to appreciate teachers by actively trying to understand what they do.

Laurie Calvert is a 14-year National Board Certified Teacher from Asheville, North Carolina, and the Department’s Teacher Liaison.