The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) annual conference provided Assistant Secretary Peter Cunningham opportunities to hold conversations with the nation’s English teachers.
More than 6,000 teachers from all grade levels attended the conference in Orlando, Florida. This year’s, “Living Literate Lives,” provided a framework for Cunningham to address Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s priorities, including providing assistance for reform at the pre-K-12 levels, supporting teachers and good teaching, and increasing the number of students completing college.
During his two days at the conference, Cunningham held four teacher discussions. He also was the keynote speaker at a general session on Saturday afternoon, and he met with several NCTE executive board members.
At each of the conversations, English teachers expressed their concerns over assessments and advocated for more flexible assessments and an emphasis on critical thinking and reading skills. When challenged to describe what these assessments should look like, teachers offered a variety of ideas, including portfolio assessments in the language arts in addition to some standardized measurements.
Another recurring theme that surfaced throughout the two days was the need for more collaboration. Teachers expressed the desire for less competition and more cooperation. As dedicated professionals, teachers welcome opportunities to share their experiences and successes with other professionals. Some expressed the need to have more opportunities to implement successful strategies from charter or private schools. “We are all about the kids. We’re professionals who want our nation’s youth to be productive workers and downright good citizens and good people,” said one teacher.
Assistant Secretary Cunningham echoed that sentiment in his closing remarks at Saturday’s general session when he said, “We at the Department believe that the work that you are doing is the most important societal work.” He then referenced a recent comment by Tom Friedman that today education is the key to our national security.
Elizabeth Williamson and Antero Garcia
Before joining the Department of Education as Communications Team Lead for the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, Elizabeth Williamson taught English in public school. She is currently an adjunct instructor of rhetoric at Temple University.
Antero Garcia is a Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches 9th grade English at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, CA.