Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week

As the national celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week has just reminded us, we must take time to continually acknowledge the many contributions from teachers to invest in our children, from cradle to career, to shape our country’s future as a global leader in education. Throughout the week, stakeholders, communities and schools found unique and meaningful ways to celebrate our nation’s top educators.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted a series of events, including a Google Hangout entitled, “Celebrating African American Teachers in the Classroom,” at Howard University in Washington, D.C. The panel, moderated by NBC anchor Tamron Hall, was comprised of African American educators from across the country and senior officials from the U.S. Department of Education. I had the pleasure of participating in this robust conversation, on topics ranging from quality early childhood education to effective partnerships with families, college readiness and the use of technology to support African American educational excellence.

This panel was notable not just for its use of social media to bring together a panel of passionate, well-informed education advocates, but because the entire panel of speakers was African American males, including two educators; Jemal Graham (7th-grade math—Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens), and Wesley Baker (middle-school social studies—KIPP Truth Academy in Dallas), TX; two Department of Education officials including myself and Jim Shelton, assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement, and Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Howard University, Department of Education.

Given that African American males only make up 2% of the teacher workforce, the participation of the two young male teachers spoke volumes—both about the importance of cultivating and supporting a workforce reflective of the students attending our nation’s public schools, about the work required to ensure we achieve that goal. The Administration will continue to partner with community leaders to improve teacher preparation programs and training a new generation of minority students, especially African American males, to teach in our nation’s public schools.

Dr. Toldson’s research counters a persistent myth about African American males, by showing that there are more than 600,000 more black men in college than in jail, and his work to strengthen the pipeline of minority male educators provided a framework for the panel to discuss some of the challenges and opportunities facing African American educators.

As teachers, Graham and Baker shared the creative ways they incorporate technology into their lessons and communication with parents and families.

Jim Shelton recognized that to be most effective, education funding must be targeted to programs and solutions that will serve the greatest number of students.

I stressed the importance of ensuring African American children have access to high quality early learning programs like those included in President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget request—including high-quality home visiting, child care, Early Head Start, Head Start and public preschool programs and services, for a total investment of over $90 billion over ten years.

While the panel could have continued for hours, what resonated the most was the fact that as a community, we must make a concerted effort to support our teachers and leaders, to volunteer, engage, contribute to efforts to ensure all of our children and youth have the skills and opportunities needed to succeed in the 21st century global workforce and build a stronger economy for American families.

Each of us must contribute if we are to meet President Obama’s ambitious goal of America again having the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020. Community groups and faith-based organizations have a pivotal role, stakeholders need to have proactive conversations at home and at school, and resources need to be shared and allocated widely to have the greatest impact, especially for those most in need of support. Only by working together can we eradicate the opportunity gap that persists for too many of our children, so that all students receive an education that prepares them for higher learning and high-demand careers in our fast-changing economy.

Great teachers make great classrooms. So don’t wait until next year’s Teachers Appreciation Week to thank a teacher—thank a teacher right now. Our future is in not just in their hands but in all of ours: what will you do?

David J. Johns is the Executive Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans


  1. I enjoyed the article and agree we do owe some teachers a debt of gratitude. It was great reading that there are more African-American men in college than there are in jails. I would like for that information to be published in a research article and made widely available. While I realize this article was about teachers it seems to me we never go far enough and look at the full equation. I don’t want people in any career choice to make excuses for why they may not be as successful as they would like, but we (United States) need to figure out how to consistently get parents involved in their child’s education. I know we can’t legislate parenting but how is it that in Head Start and Early Head Start programs staff is held accountable for what is termed “Family Engagement” when the federal government nor state governments have figured out how to engage parents. Head Start and Early Head Start programs can be cited as being deficient and possibly be placed on the Designated Renewal System list (re-compete for their funding) when the problem is at epidemic proportion in the country. How can individual Head Start programs fix a problem the country hasn’t figured out how to fix?

  2. Yes, as a former Dean of Education, I think that the country needs more African American male teachers to serve as role models for young boys, and particularly young African American boys. Schools of Education should focus on preparing more African American male teachers as Mr. Howard Jean and I have done at Cheyney University, Cheyney, PA. Schools of Education need to also include more mathematics, science, and reading content in the education curriculum, like 12 hours of mathematics, 12 hours of science, 12 hours of reading/language arts and 12 hours of social sciences, so that teachers will be more proficient in teaching mathematics, science, and reading at the elementary and middle school levels. Schools of Education should also offer a course in leadership skills. When many teachers graduate from a teacher preparation program, they do not know as a general rule how to be effective leaders in the classroom.

    Dr. Cathine G. Scott, President and CEO
    National Young Minority Girls Academy

  3. We owe our teachers a debt of gratitude as architect and builders of the future generations of American leaders, scientists, presidents, engineers, doctors, politicians who will take up the mantle of piloting United States Of America through the 21st century.

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