Teachers@ED: Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle

Deb Delisle at a bus tour stop

Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle speaks in Elko, Nevada during ED's back-to-school bus tour. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Delisle, says that after thirty-seven years in education, her “heart lies with kids everyday,” and is grounded in her role as a teacher.

Delisle joined the Department of Education in April after being confirmed by the U.S. Senate. As assistant secretary for the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), she directs, coordinates and recommends policy for programs designed to assist state and local education agencies with improving the achievement of elementary and secondary school students.

Teachers@ED LogoAssistant Secretary Delisle’s career has been dedicated to students across the country. Starting her elementary and middle school teaching career in Connecticut, she later moved to Ohio where she served as a gifted education specialist, curriculum director, elementary principal, associate superintendent and superintendent.

Delisle served as state superintendent of Ohio from 2008-2011, where she was instrumental in leading a successful application for ED’s Race to the Top Program.

With all of her experience, Delisle’s roots as a teacher remain a strong foundation for the decisions she makes each day. “When I think about the work we’re doing, and behind every piece of data,” she says, “there is the heart and soul of a child who wants someone to care about them.”

Click here to keep up to date with Assistant Secretary Delisle and OESE by receiving email updates.

Teachers@ED profiles some of the hundreds of current and former educators who work at the U.S. Department of Education, and how their experiences in schools inform their work for the agency.

Teachers@ED: Steven Hicks, Special Assistant for Early Learning

Steven Hicks speaking with children in a classroom.

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" during Teacher Appreciation Week in May. Official Department of Education photo by Joshua Hoover.

Teaching is in Steven Hicks’ blood. Almost everyone in his immediate family – including his mother, father, and all of his seven younger sisters – has either taught or teaches today. And Hicks is no exception.

 “I didn’t decide I wanted to be a teacher until I actually went and substitute taught,” says Hicks of his decision to pursue a career in early childhood education. According to Hicks, he realized he has a gift for teaching during the 6th grade when a teacher let him lead the entire class in a theater activity. That moment of trust in his ability to convey learning to his peers was “one of those pivotal moments where I thought I was probably going to be a teacher,” he explains.

Teachers@ED LogoHicks grew up in Fresno, California as the oldest child of a large family. After graduating from UC Santa Cruz and working a few other jobs, Hicks took a substitute teaching position with a third grade class in South Central Los Angeles. The principal of the school was so thrilled to see Hicks return for a second day – something the other substitutes had failed to do – that she rushed to the district office to help expedite Hick’s credentials so he could remain in the classroom.

Hicks went on to earn a Masters degree in Early Childhood from California State University in LA. In 1999, he completed the arduous process to become certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. The effort was well worth it. “The most rewarding part of teaching is being able to see that moment when a child discovers that she learned something new and that satisfaction and confidence that you see on her face and in her eyes,” explains Hicks.

In 2008, and with 20 years of classroom experience, Hicks joined the Department of Education as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow during the program’s inaugural year, which spanned over two Administrations: Bush and Obama.  He worked first in the Charter School Office and later, when the Obama Administration came in, under Barbara Bowman, Secretary Duncan’s Consultant on Early Learning. At the end of his fellowship, Hicks joined ED’s full-time staff as a Special Assistant and now works in the Office of Early Learning under Deputy Assistant Secretary Jacqueline Jones.

“Every day I work to promote early learning – and that’s birth to third grade – as a priority in the department,” Hicks explains as what he does for ED on a daily basis. As for his lengthy teaching experience, he says it gives him a strong foundation for the work he’s doing. “I use my experience as a teacher and as a member of an educational community to put in the right evidence, to suggest the right elements, to know how what we were doing at the federal level was going to affect students and the families and the teachers that are affected by the policies that we make here,” he says.

And although Hicks’ day job can be time-consuming, he isn’t done with the classroom just yet. Once a week during lunchtime, Hicks visits DC’s Amidon Elementary through the Everybody Wins program, where he mentors Tremar, a fourth grade student he’s been reading to for two years. “It’s nice to be able to get into the school once a week and work directly with the students we’re trying to help here at ED,” says Hicks.

Hicks has come a long way since he took that first teaching job back in 1988 in South Central LA, and although he’s had to learn from his mistakes over the years, he still believes teaching has been one of the most fulfilling and joyful aspects of his life. “It’s so cliché to say ‘Oh, it’s so rewarding,’ but it really is,” says Hicks. “I think there are few jobs where you get to see that and affect so many lives directly.”

Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach

Former Geometry Teacher Supports States as Their Reforms Take Shape

Editors Note: Teachers@ED profiles some of the hundreds of current and former educators who work at the U.S. Department of Education, and how their experiences in schools inform their work for the agency.

One of Tate Gould’s favorite memories as a teacher was his lesson on geometric proofs. He would set up a “courtroom environment” where students played the role of lawyer, trying to develop a method for solving various geometric proofs.  Each team had the opportunity to present their approach defending their method against “objections” from other teams while engaging in a healthy defense and debate about their method for solving the problem..

Teachers@ED LogoWhat made these lessons interesting for students was the fact that there was no single way to solve the geometric proof. And Gould, who now works on the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top team as the deputy director of Implementation and Support Unit for Technical Assistance, would say the same is true with education reform. As states are coming up with different and innovative plans to better educate their students, there is more than one way to achieve the end result of reforming the classroom experience.

Gould has ample education experience, both on the ground in schools and in the policy arena. He attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill for his undergraduate degree and was National Board Certified as a secondary education math teacher. He taught 9th through 12th grade for over five years in a high-needs school. He earned a masters degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a doctorate from UNC, both in education policy.

Tate Gould helping a student solve a problem

Tate Gould was a secondary education math teacher before coming to the Department of Education.

While teaching, Gould tried to connect with individual students while being mindful of teaching an entire class. He recalled that one of the challenges of teaching is building trust of the individuals in order to manage the class.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I just didn’t know it,” he said. “I always kind of gravitated to the type of work. I like managing people, and teaching allows you to do that constantly. I liked treating the classroom like a team and trying to get that team to accomplish similar goals.”

Gould has experienced a similar challenge in his work at ED. While the Race to the Top initiative awards states that are leading the way in ambitious plans for implementing innovative, coherent and comprehensive education reform, Gould has similar challenges with navigating the relationship between the states and the federal government.  The challenge: how to foster a level of trust with each state while demonstrating to them that they are collectively working on the same goals.

“A good teacher manages the individual, but also the group,” Gould said. “That’s what our challenge here is. These plans are really what the states came up with. How can we get them to teach and learn from each other? How do we create a supportive environment for them with experts, other federal grant programs, and external organizations to create a network of resources to help these states achieve ambitious goals?”

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and a recent intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Teachers@ED: José Rico

Editors Note: Teachers@ED profiles some of the hundreds of current and former educators who work at the U.S. Department of Education, and how their experiences in schools inform their work for the agency.

Carlos and Celia Rico had big hopes for their children, which is one reason the couple emigrated from Mexico, and settled in Chicago. José, Carlos and Celia’s oldest, quickly adapted to the new language, culture and climate, and with a combination of support and inspiration from teachers, he became the first person in his family to go to college. Still, Rico never expected that he would one day become the executive director for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Teachers@ED Logo“When I first started school, I was one of those students who had a hard time,” Rico said. “My school did not have a bilingual education program; it was one of those sink-or-swim programs. The school didn’t provide support for my parents, and there was no support for me to access the curriculum.”

Founding a School to Help Students Like Him

This all changed when Rico reached high school and he came to know teachers who pushed him to excel. His strongest subjects were math and science; high marks in these areas earned him an engineering scholarship to the University of Illinois. Soon thereafter, he became a high school science teacher. Later on, after having worked in youth development programs, Rico took notice of the power in young people taking responsibility for their education; he decided to harness that power by opening his own community high school, which had a health clinic and provided classes for students learning English, in addition to general academics.

“The motivating factor was not wanting students to face the same obstacles I had faced,” Rico said. “My passion has been to try to design education programs that value students, include their parents and expect high standards from everyone.”

José Rico

José Rico

Rico’s charge within ED is to link individuals and organizations from within and outside the education system to meet the local and national challenges faced by Hispanics today and spread the word about education initiatives in early learning, higher education, K-12 and other specific areas that focus on the Hispanic community. He also works to develop relationships with thousands of Hispanic leaders across the country who are implementing these changes.

Most recently, the White House Initiative and the White House Office of Public Engagement brought together more than 500 Hispanic community leaders for a Hispanic Community Action Summit in Los Angeles, the 17th regional summit organized by the office to address important issues such as: funding resources for pre-K-postsecondary education; health care; small business needs; immigration issues; and communication infrastructures among Latino organizations.

Local Leaders Want a Federal Partner

“Leaders on the ground want the federal government to be a partner,” Rico says. “People in the Hispanic community want us to play a role. Some states have cut back on education and it has a big impact on the Hispanic community. People want us to work with them and bring a diverse group of stakeholders to the table.”

Educating Latinos is not only important to their community, Rico emphasizes; it’s critical for the country. In the last two years, Latinos have become the largest minority group in the nation’s schools.

“I’ve seen the power education plays in a kid’s life, regardless of where they come from. Education leads to a better job, and it is a way in which our country can fulfill the promise that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can be successful.” Rico says. “There’s no way of denying that the future of America depends on the education attainment of Hispanics.”

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Teachers@ED: Newton Piper, Customer Service Specialist, Office of Special Education Programs

Editors Note: Teachers@ED profiles some of the hundreds of current and former educators who work at the U.S. Department of Education, and how their experiences in schools inform their work for the agency.

When Newton Piper started out as a teacher in Thailand, he decided he would demonstrate students how plants absorb water by transforming himself into a human root system. So he went out and bought his own supplies—all it took was some creative placement of tubing and several buckets of water.

Teachers@ED Logo“I ran the tubes up and down my legs and arms and I put the two buckets of water next to me at each side and sucked the water up,” he said. “The kids were really amused. They’ve e-mailed me about it [years later]. You do bizarre things as a teacher, and sometimes kids remember it.”

Piper was a math and science teacher for students in first through ninth grade as part of an English immersion program in a town outside of Bangkok. Transitioning from a first grade class to a ninth grade class during the one-minute walk from one classroom to the other required what he calls “the Clark Kent spin” to get into a different teaching mindset. The experience required learning to employ a variety of instructional techniques and taught him a lot about how a child’s English ability can act as a fundamental barrier to his or her learning.

“The kids who had done well early on in English could keep up. For those who had fallen behind, however, limited English proficiency made accessing the content extremely difficult at times,” Piper said. “Sometimes I had to teach multiple lessons at the same time and reorganize the class in a way that would work for all of my students. I had kids in ninth grade who were practically fluent, and other kids who could barely tell me their name in English.”

Meeting those individual needs has given Piper valuable perspective as a customer service specialist in the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education. Lessons learned while teaching have led him to believe that student needs associated with “fundamental barriers” such as English proficiency, disability, or family background, need to be accommodated early and aggressively to ensure that all students are empowered with critical foundational skills that will enable future learning. It is critically important to address these issues before what might be an achievement “gap” in first grade becomes an insurmountable “chasm” only a few years later.

Newton Piper reads to a student

Newton Piper with Mog, one of his students in Thailand

When Piper returned to the U.S. in 2009, he began working towards a master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from The George Washington University, which he has since completed. During that time he entered the Department of Education through the Student Career Experience Program. He began working as the assistant to the deputy director of OSEP, then assistant to the director, before moving into his current position responding to constituent inquiries related to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) for the Office of Special Education Program’s monitoring division.

In describing some of the challenges associated with delivering services under IDEA, Piper explained that, “schools are often very overwhelmed with limited resources and a lot on their plate. Some kids have greater needs than others and cannot fit in a figurative box, which presents a challenge.” In explaining OSEP’s role, he explained that, “OSEP is focused on supporting States, including through connecting them to technical assistance providers that we fund. There has been a shift from a compliance orientation to administering the IDEA, to a focus on the bottom line, which is improving results for students with disabilities across the country.”

Piper believes that by helping provide States with supportive resources, ED is contributing to a system in which passionate teachers can effectively meet the needs of all of their students. The perspective he gained during his three years teaching in Thailand has allowed him to appreciate just how invaluable such support can be.

Natalie Torentinos is a graduate student at The George Washington University and an intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach.

Teachers@ED: Vanessa Tesoriero, Small Business Innovation Research Program Specialist

Vanessa Tesoriero lost her hearing at age 17, which was all the more challenging due to a great love of music. “I grew up playing the piano, flute, guitar, and singing,” Tesoriero said in an interview for the Homeroom Blog. “Music was a huge part of my life.” But instead of giving up her favorite activities, this obstacle was surmounted with a fierce determination and desire to help others in the Deaf community and beyond.

Teachers@ED LogoTesoriero decided to turn her frustration into inspiration. The motivation behind Tesoriero’s teaching stemmed from wanting a deeper understanding of her own disability.  Driven to find the answers, in college, she learned sign language and studied audiology, speech pathology, and linguistics.  She soon grew to love teaching others, which eventually led her to become a teacher and later brought her to Department of Education in the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services.

She attended Columbia University’s Teachers College, studying Deaf Education. Upon graduating she went on to teach at a state school for the deaf in Brooklyn, later moving to the New York City Public School system to teach at the city’s only public school for the deaf.

“I always wanted to share music with my students – even though some skeptics would ask why I would want to teach music to deaf children. It seemed almost ironic, but my students love dance, vibration, and music. Everyone loves music!”

Vanessa Tesoriero

Vanessa Tesoriero

While teaching, Tesoriero directed the school musical, “Free to Be You and Me”, striking a chord with both the hearing and deaf students of the school, as it “brought the whole community together” with a compilation of songs, poetry, skits and dance. Based on the book by Marlo Thomas and Friends, the essence of the play focused upon promoting individuality and comfort with your identity.

“It was a showcase of everyone’s talents, and the students loved it. I played the piano while the children sang, signed and danced. It gave these children a sense of confidence that some weren’t necessarily experiencing in the classroom academically. It really opened up opportunities for kids to shine in other ways.”

Inside Tesoriero’s classroom, learning exercises accompanied the similar theme of inclusion and promotion of self-identity. Using “open-ended” approaches, she allowed the students to be creative and approach problems differently.

“I wanted to open their minds to the value of differences, promote respect, tolerance, and cooperation in showing them that being different can be a good thing.”

Tesoriero’s experience in the classroom continues to play an important role in her job at the Department of Education. After her recent completion of the Administration Program for Special Education Leaders at Johns Hopkins University, Tesoriero now finds herself at ED as the Small Business Innovation Research Program Specialist at the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research.

She oversees grantees who are researching and developing cutting-edge technologies and products that focus on helping people with disabilities. With views as a consumer, advocate, and educator, Tesoriero is excited to be part of the process, as she understands just how important these kinds of developments are.

Catherine Tracy

Catherine Tracy is a student at Stonehill College and a recent intern in the Office of Communications and Outreach

Ed. Note: This post is one in a series of blog posts that highlights teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.

Teachers@ED: History Teacher Brings 20 Years of Teaching to ED

Charles Henderson taught high school and middle school for over twenty years in Indiana and in Michigan. After a long and satisfying career, rather than retiring, Henderson took his passion for students, learning and U.S. history to the Department of Education in Washington.

Teachers@ED LogoHenderson’s work at the Department is, in some ways, far removed from his history teaching days. He is now an Education Program Specialist with a small team in the office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and his work is mainly concerned with awarding grants to schools and nonprofits. Yet, his experiences as a teacher serve as a valuable source of insight to his work at ED.

“As an educator, I can walk into a school district, talk to a principal or teacher and we’re talking the same language,” explained Henderson. One type of grant he typically works with involves providing funding to improve student discipline. Henderson’s years of dealing with rowdy students puts him in excellent standing to address these issues. “I understand what [teachers] mean by ‘disruptive class rooms’… I’ve been there,” said Henderson.

Mr. Henderson and football team

Dr. Henderson with one of his football teams.

Before teaching, Henderson played linebacker and was an assistant coach at Western Michigan University. After college he took a job as a high school history teacher and football coach.

He spent the next 20 odd years teaching students in high school and middle school, fostering young students’ development into unique and talented adults. “Many of my students still call me, and that’s the reward – seeing them now as young men and women with their professional lives and their families. You can’t beat that as a teacher,” said Henderson. Showing off a picture of a former student’s toddler, Henderson recalled the joy of seeing the child’s mother progress from a young girl who wanted to be a doctor, to a high achieving student in high school and on to be a successful adult with children of her own. “To this day she calls once a month,” he said.

Henderson discovered his relationships with his students to be the best part of teaching, and he also holds that strong student-teacher relationships greatly facilitate learning in the classroom. “If you have a good relationship with a student then that student will not only listen to you but be able to be more focused in the class room… kids have a way of knowing if the teacher doesn’t care,” said Henderson, who also holds a masters degree in counseling.

Henderson and his classHenderson also holds a master’s degree in education administration and a Ph.D. in public administration – he knows a lot of what he refers to as “theory.” However, it is the knowledge gained as an educator, forming close relationships with his students that make him “more sensitive to not only the teacher’s role but the student’s standpoint” as an ED employee.

Luke Ferguson

Luke Ferguson, a student at Oberlin College in Ohio, was a recent intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach.

Ed. Note: This is one in a series of blog posts that highlights teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.

A Place at the Table

Pictured left to right:  NBCTs Geneviève DeBose, Laura Kretschmar, Meg Switzer, James Liou, Mark Bolt, and Dan Brown, with Arne Duncan.

Pictured left to right: NBCTs Geneviève DeBose, Laura Kretschmar, Meg Switzer, James Liou, Mark Bolt, and Dan Brown, with Arne Duncan.

“You don’t have to wait for a place at the table. You can take a place at the table or create your own table. I think of the Civil Rights movement. They didn’t wait for a place at the table. They created their own. The Arab Spring, their own table. The Occupy Movement, their own table.”
— Arne Duncan

On Wednesday, more than 100 National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) took their place at the education policy table.

During a daylong event, teachers who have demonstrated their commitment, excellence and achievement in the classrooms shared their experience and expertise with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and key policy makers from the Department and the White House.

The event, which began at the White House and concluded at the Department of Education, was designed to honor and hear from the newest crop of NBCTs—teachers who have earned an advanced credential that demonstrates they are effective and accomplished practitioners.

After hearing from a host of great speakers including White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, I was honored to moderate a panel conversation between a diverse group of five NBCTs and the Secretary.

This rich conversation reminded me of the dedication, thoughtfulness, and intelligence that is characteristic of the teaching profession. We discussed how completing the National Board process increased how we reflect on our practice and articulate our instructional choices. We shared innovative ways that we use the National Board’s Five Core Propositions in our classrooms and schools. The bulk of our conversation, however, focused on the future of our profession and the role we play in leading that movement and taking our place at the table.

NBCT and panelist Dan Brown spoke of creating hybrid positions where teachers split their time between teaching and out-of-classroom responsibilities. The out-of-classroom time could be used to observe and mentor fellow teachers, organize family and community partnerships, or a host of other possibilities that benefit students and the school community. This would prevent teacher burn-out, improve retention, and benefit the school community.

Laura Kretschmar, another newly certified NBCT, spoke about the importance of making schools places designed for intellectual growth and collaboration. “Very few teachers can become accomplished in isolation,” she said.

Kretschmar advocated for schools to create structures that allow teachers to open the doors to their classrooms and regularly share best practices. She also challenged the country to think creatively about how to create a more diverse teaching force that better represents our students. Today, nearly 35% of our students are Black or Hispanic, but less than 5% of our nation’s teachers are Black or Hispanic men.

When we opened the conversation up to the audience, one assistant superintendent asked the panel how he could get his teachers to be as dedicated and accomplished as they are. The panel had a variety of answers, all of which involved bringing teachers to the table to provide input and guidance on decisions in their districts and schools.

Some encouraged districts to create opportunities for teachers to be part of the decision-making process at the local level through fellowship opportunities. Others suggested that districts create meaningful forums for teachers to collaborate and learn from each other’s best practices. The importance of tapping into teachers’ passions and creating opportunities for them to incorporate those passions in the classroom was also suggested. Lastly, panelists encouraged districts to create partnerships with teacher organizations like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and teacher unions to activate and utilize a cadre of almost 100,000 committed and accomplished teacher leaders in this work.

I was humbled by the opportunity to share the national stage with such a committed group of accomplished educators. These National Board Certified Teachers and the Secretary remind me and the nation, that it is imperative for us to advocate for our students and ourselves as professionals.

As teachers, what will we do to create a place for ourselves at the table? As districts and policy makers, what will you do to create a space so the voice of the experts is included in the dialogue?

Geneviève DeBose

Geneviève DeBose is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow and NBCT on loan from the Bronx, NY.

View YouTube video of the event at the White House, including the discussion between NBCTs and Arne Duncan.

Read Dan Brown’s EdWeek blog about his reasons for becoming an NBCT.

Check out a related blog about the NBCTs’ discussion at ED.

Read the press release about the day-long celebration of teachers.

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.”

Teachers@ED: Brad Jupp, Senior Program Advisor on Teacher Initiatives

With fifteen years of classroom experience under his belt, former English teacher Brad Jupp now finds himself in Secretary Duncan’s office as a senior program advisor on teacher initiatives. In that role, Jupp uses his on-the-job knowledge of the profession to help keep Secretary Duncan and the rest of ED better informed of the “classroom and schoolhouse perspective.”

“I think about teaching and learning problems every day,” Jupp says of his work at ED. “I also think about the way teachers understand policy. And then finally, and most importantly, I think about what students need to do to succeed in school every day.”

Jupp’s “dream job” remains the work he did as an English teacher at an alternative middle school for at-risk 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students.  Asked to recall the story of a single student, he told about John Chacon,  who had been expelled from school twice before sixth grade and was sent to Jupp’s school in lieu of a third expulsion.  Over the course of three years, Jupp and his colleagues collaborated with the boy’s family, school officials, and community health organizations to support Chacon and prepare him for high school.  It wasn’t easy.  Chacon was academically behind because of his frequent suspensions, and in his eighth grade year, after two years of escalating mental health attention, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Nevertheless, Chacon completed the eighth grade, and improved in both reading and math on state tests.  In 2004, Jupp had a chance meeting with his former student at a pet store, where the young man was now working the cash register.

Brad Jupp, Senior Program Advisor on Teacher Initiatives

“He told me that he’d graduated from high school and that, had we not stuck with him during middle school, he never would’ve graduated,” Jupp said. “I think about that case all the time when I’m at work. It’s a case of all of the things that we as teachers work to make come together in the single life of a student.”

Jupp entered teaching after reading Jonathan Kozol’s Death at an Early Age. ”I wanted students to be able to experience difficult and beautiful literature, even though they might be struggling readers when they were 11 or 12 years old.” He found success by encouraging his students to understand their reading assignments as part of a broader and more rewarding process of problem-solving, not as boring and repetitious practice.  For example, in his first year of teaching, Jupp assigned Ezra Pound’s version of the Old English poem The Seafarer to his sixth-grade students.

“You don’t have to pander to kids by choosing superficially relevant literature,” he said. “You actually can get the kids to bring their own lives and relationships forward as they discuss a tough poem, in the terms that it gives you. The Seafarer is about being lonely and outlawed from your community, and it’s a terrific poem that sixth-graders can understand.”

Now at ED, Jupp advises the Department’s leadership on how teachers approach policy matters. “Every day I’m here, I ask, ‘what would a teacher think when he heard this come out of our mouth?’” Jupp said. “Or, ‘what would a teacher do when he saw the signal we sent?’”

Jupp’s presence of mind and commitment to effective problem solving have made him a crucial player in ED’s efforts to reform education in real time. However, his best asset may be his unwavering commitment the true goals of public education. “Ultimately we’re not just in this because of teaching and learning problems or because we need to shape the world of teachers and principals and other educators that work in the schools,” he said. “It’s really, we’re here to get kids to grow academically and as people, then complete school and succeed in life.”

Ed. Note: This post is the first in a series of blog posts that will highlight teachers at the Department of Education who offer invaluable expertise and continue their commitment to education, the teaching profession and students.