ED Shows Appreciation by Walking a Day in 50 Teachers’ Shoes

ED Employees went back to school

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."

As I entered the U.S. Department of Education building on the morning of May 9, something felt different. Many offices usually filled with buzzing conversations were empty. Many of my colleagues weren’t in the building. They were in area schools shadowing a teacher.

As part of Teacher Appreciation Week, 50 ED staff in Washington D.C. and across the country participated in “ED Goes Back to School.” Senior officials and career staff, matched with a classroom teacher, spent a full or half day experiencing the life of a teacher. Some co-taught while others observed. Some participated with small groups while others worked with students one-on-one. Regardless of the role they played in the classroom, everyone agreed that the experience was transformational.

“Everything I have done in the last five years was affirmed today,” shared music teacher Mike Matlock.

In a meeting with the Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that evening, teachers and ED staff shared stories from the day and implications for their work.

Massie Ritsch, Deputy Assistant Secretary for External Affairs and Outreach Services, spoke of dissecting a pig at Ballou Senior High School. Mike Humphreys, a National Board Certified P.E. teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary School, shared that his shadow, David Hoff, proved to be a great sport throughout the day, even when getting hit in the leg with an errant T-ball bat. Lisa Jones, a 3rd grade teacher at Watkins Elementary School, spoke lovingly about how her shadow, Ann Whalen, Director of Policy and Program Implementation, didn’t hesitate to dance along with the “Fraction Shuffle.”

Through story after story, I sensed true appreciation for the rigorous work that teachers do every day. “Throughout the day I was amazed by teachers who understand the needs of all students,” reflected Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, who shadowed Flora Lerenman and Caitlin Kevill’s 2nd grade class at Tyler Elementary School. “I loved that when you walk into their classroom, you have no idea who is the special education teacher and who isn’t.”

ED Goes Back to School PhotoThere were also implications for the work we do at ED.

After spending a day in a turnaround school with Mary Balla, a Spanish teacher at Anacostia High School, Suzanne Immerman indicated that the culture of high expectations is helping to transform the school, but she also acknowledged that we need to recognize that real change takes time.

Many spoke of the strong relationships they witnessed between teachers and students and thought aloud about how we might value students’ social and emotional needs more in the Department’s programs and policies.

Audra Polk, a theater teacher at Ballou Senior High drove this point home. “Teaching is nothing at Ballou if you don’t have a relationship with your students,” she said.

Everyone agreed that ED needs to create a new tradition of going back to school, and to do so more often.  Some staff called for this to be a quarterly event; Secretary Duncan and teachers agreed.

The day that began with an eerily quiet building in the morning had become filled with excitement, conversation, and laughter by evening. Relationships were built, lessons were learned, and teachers were truly appreciated.

Geneviève DeBose is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Bronx Charter School for the Arts. She wants to give a shout-out to her father, Dr. Herman DeBose, who shadowed her for two days during her 3rd year of teaching. That experience was the inspiration for “ED Goes Back to School.”


  1. Way to many policy makers & poliicians know zilch about teaching. That said, way too many principals have never been classroom teachers, way too many teachers cannot speak/write/spell English proficiently – & some of our “best” colleges & universities graduate students who are not proficient in Enlish. ESL, foreign, dyslexic, & LD students excepted, NO ONE whose native languge is English should be granted a HS diploma, much less a college degree, if not proficient in speaking/writing/spelling English. No wonder k-12 education limps.

    • Do you mean, “Far too many policy makers and politicians…”? If so, I agree. But, proficient doesn’t mean perfect and text mistakes may be simple typing errors, like “poliicians” or “it’s”. Let’s be supportive of each other instead of hypercritical and improve education together.

  2. Why don’t you try walking in the shoes of an unemployed teacher, a substitute or a highly skilled person who is blocked from teaching by rules, testing and policies? Then you would get a real perspective on the reasons for such large numbers of students who are ill-prepared for academic or workplace settings.

  3. I would love, love, love for someone from the department to come and visit my classroom. I work in a very challeging middle school in Virginia Beach. I do not know what age level classroom that most of the ED staffers went out to visit but middle school is known for it’s challeging environment! Come on out and work with me for a day!

    • I agree. Hope an errant spell-correct program is responsible for your “it’s”. Should be “its”.

  4. The was an invaluable experience for all involved. The students loved having a special visitor and are still talking about it two days later. As educators in and outside of the classroom, sharing dialog about our collective experiences was eye opening.

  5. Our legislators need to be involved in this program. In Hawaii, the state legislators have asked for an invitation to shadow a teacher but even when we have opened our school for the visit no one has ever come to our school. I am impressed that your people were brave enough to participate and to gain some insight in the work we do. I commend you for our efforts. I do hope others will do the same. One day in the classroom will help others to understand that teaching is not just providing a book and assigning work. It is being able to make instant changes to plans you have worked on for days but find that it is not working. It is making a decision to allow John to get away with not doing his work today because you know that he is under stressful conditions at home. It is stopping your language arts lesson to allow students to observe the breaking out of a butterfly. It is preparing a goodie bag for a homeless child and making him feel special without making him feel like someone who is more needy than others. Please encourage others to join in this effort.

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