President Obama’s back-to-school address, delivered in a Philadelphia auditorium, was made a teachable moment for high school students who watched the live broadcast of the speech in their Ann Arbor, Michigan, classroom through the efforts of teacher Tracey Van Dusen, recently appointed by Secretary Duncan as a 2010-2011 Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF).
“Several students said they liked the way the President related his own less-than-perfect school experiences to really personalize it,” said Van Dusen, who remains a full-time government and history teacher at Pioneer High School while serving part-time in the TAF corps, described by the Secretary as “the voice of teachers in the Department,” and “ambassadors to teachers, students and parents across the country.”
The President’s speech provided Van Dusen a perfect catalyst to integrate those dual roles by sharing her newly-honed insights into the real world of federal policymaking with her Advanced Placement Government class. Before the broadcast began, she walked students through a history of federal education policy in the U.S., from the days of one-room school houses to current education reforms like Race to the Top.
The veteran teacher was impressed with the way the President subtly wove messages about education reform into his speech.
“He drove home the importance of education at this point in history by talking about the real-life recession struggles that many families are experiencing, and linking that to students’ everyday school achievement and its potential impact on their future and on America’s future as we compete with other nations,” said Van Dusen.
Van Dusen’s lesson and Obama’s words sparked lively classroom dialogue on a variety of provocative topics, including the appropriate role of the federal government in education, the value of student testing, and what makes a great school. She looks forward to continuing that discussion in her future AP classes, and to expanding the conversation to students in other Pioneer government classes by incorporating the taped video of the President’s address and similar activities around it.
Donning her Teaching Ambassador Fellow “hat,” Van Dusen is excited about the future opportunities she’ll have to discuss federal initiatives with other educators in their districts and states, and to encourage their input into efforts to improve education at all levels of government.
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