No doubt about it, last week was a great time to be a teacher at the Department of Education. During Teacher Appreciation Week, the atmosphere brimmed with teacher focus and teacher gratitude.
All week our staff wrote pieces reflecting on the value of teachers. Arne Duncan opened the week with a video message thanking English teacher Darlene McCampbell and encouraging the nation to thank teachers. Later Duncan wrote an open letter to America’s teachers that triggered hundreds of impassioned comments from teachers and generated a robust debate around issues of testing, teacher evaluation and ways to strengthen the profession.
Assistant Secretary Thelma Melendez wrote an homage to her kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Silverman, and followed with a video message. Elizabeth Williamson, who works in Region III, posted a message thanking two teachers whose kindness changed her life, while Deputy Secretary Martha Kanter praised Miss Leverich, and Assistant Secretary Alexa Posny commended Mr. Otto. The president of the Future Educators Association, Leilani Bell, weighed in on our blog with a note of appreciation for Ms. de Costa. The Department also launched Twitter and Facebook campaigns to #thankateacher and sponsored a blog encouraging students to create videos thanking teachers. The #thankateacher tweets and retweets garnered a number of celebrity messages including those from Al Roker, Randi Weingarten, Kurt Warner, and Nancy Pelosi.
The week was also spent celebrating teaching and talking with teachers about issues they face in the classroom. Arne Duncan began Teacher Appreciation Day with a surprise visit to the Arlington County Teacher of the Year at Randolph Elementary School, and he thanked all of the teachers at the school for making a difference in children’s lives. He also congratulated the State Teachers of the Year at a ceremony in their honor at Rose Garden of the White House with President Obama.
On Thursday, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows hosted the Teachers of the Year at the Department for roundtable discussions about important issues in education and a Town Hall with senior staff. New Jersey Teacher of the Year, Danielle Kovach, captured her experience at the roundtable and Town Hall in a post on our Strengthening Teachers Page. While at the Department, several of the Teachers of the Year also took a few minutes to record short videos thanking teachers who had changed the trajectory of their lives.
Besides our respect and admiration for these teachers, the Department of Education offered teachers something that they can use every day of the school year: relief from No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Following the Town Hall, the teachers viewed a preview of a new video entitled “A Teacher’s Guide to Fixing No Child Left Behind,” which explains the President’s plan to solve many problems created by the flawed law, including an over-reliance on testing, narrowing of the curriculum, and evaluating teachers based on one limited measurement.
Over cake afterward, teachers commented that when we truly fix NCLB, every day will be a great day to be a teacher.
Laurie Calvert is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Buncombe County, NC. Read an EdWeek blog article published about the Fellows this week.