As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.
Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.
Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.
Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman. Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”
Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”
At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:
- One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession. She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
- Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
- Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
- One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.
As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.
Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.
Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.