May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, which means it’s time to celebrate physical fitness and how it can transform the classroom experience. Physical fitness promotes teamwork, healthy living and optimism for young learners.
Students practicing mindfulness. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
As a spring intern here at the U.S. Department of Education (ED), I was recently given the chance to accompany ED staff during a trip to the Brightwood Education Campus in Washington, D.C., where the entire community is dedicated to the mission of mind and body wellness. Students in all grades learn coordinated exercises designed to stimulate their bodies and their brains. Students at Brightwood come from many different cultural backgrounds and many of them are English-language learners – and the emphasis on exercise and mental health awareness is just one of the many tools educators use to promote diversity.
During my visit to Brightwood, I saw students leading group stretches with their peers, “tapping” out their stress and taking time to walk around the room to improve their circulation. In a pre-K classroom, the students sat in a circle while one student led the exercises. While they sang traditional songs such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” they would do the exercises in sync. The students had just woken up from nap time, so these exercises were intended to reactivate their brains and keep their focus in the classroom. The peer-influence is great to see first-hand because when one student would get off task, their friends would help them get back into the activities. After the exercises the students had a chance to sit up tall, close their eyes, and breathe in unison. Beyond just physical fitness, students and teachers participated in meditation and stretching in order to ease their minds and connect with other people around them.
Ensuring that everyone in this nation is equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed is crucial in our competitive, global economy. One key part of this effort is ensuring that young people and adults of all skill levels who are transitioning to new careers or looking to enhance their careers receive the supports they need to do so. Too often, though, our systems for helping hard-working Americans acquire marketable and in-demand skills can be complex and difficult to navigate for students, job seekers, and employers alike. The good news is that career pathways are a promising solution to that challenge. Career pathways are integrated collections of strategic programs and services that help students and job seekers transition from education to employment. They connect the necessary adult basic education, occupational training, postsecondary education, career and academic advising, and support services so that students and workers can successfully prepare for, obtain, and progress in their career.
Last year, the week after Teacher Appreciation Week, Moe Liss, the teacher who had the greatest influence on my life of any teacher, was being honored near Paterson, New Jersey, my home town. I decided that no matter how many late night buses I had to take to get there and back, I had to attend — it was worth it to honor a great teacher. In celebration of this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to share my feelings about honoring the teacher who influenced me the most.
The author in his office at the U.S. Department of Education. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
It was great to be back in my home territory of Northern New Jersey with several hundred people of various ages that I recognized from my childhood. They were there to celebrate the contributions of Moe Liss, my high school teacher in economics, who went on to support many community causes and train many teachers at a local teacher’s college — a role he still plays in his youthful eighties.
My memories of Mr. Liss (I still cannot call him Moe) were not all pleasant. In his class, he challenged his students to think and learn and use the full range of their abilities. It was not always a happy or comfortable experience, but he always made me learn, and I always was improved by the experience, even though I may have not realized it then. He pushed me and other students way out of our comfort zones and taught me to be inquisitive and to think critically — skills that drive my thinking today and every day in my work at the Department. What he taught me then still serves me very well today — to be a lifelong learner and to use that learning to solve problems. He still drives me to think creatively, solve problems, and continually strive to improve.
This year during Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to express my gratitude for several organizations that appreciate teachers who want to grow as professionals while remaining in the classroom.
In recent years, I found that my greatest passion was to elevate our profession by focusing on the classroom teacher as a leader. This was a natural fit for me since I served for over 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where I developed as a leader with formal leadership training. Much of my success as a teacher has been grounded in the leadership competencies I learned during my military career. I wanted to create similar leadership development opportunities for my colleagues.
So, how does a middle school science teacher from a small district in Massachusetts follow her passion to create leadership development opportunities for teachers? She takes advantages of national level leadership opportunities!
Much like America’s teachers, the U.S. Department of Education sometimes gets a bad rap.
You know the drill. So many times, the stories of frustrated teachers or bad apples get bigger play on social media and in the news than the stories of the millions of American teachers who, like my friends and colleagues, change lives every day. Meanwhile, federal policymakers get blamed for not being omnipotent, as many think they should be, or for not talking to real teachers. However, since the start of this school year, my Teaching Ambassador Fellow colleagues and I have spoken with literally thousands of teachers around the country and brought back to ED what we’ve heard.
“Teachers have made a huge difference in my life. Among my key priorities this year is lifting up our nation’s teachers and the education profession. The Teaching Ambassador Fellowship and Teach to Lead are great steps in this direction. I am eager to work with the Fellows to do even more to support educators as they work to expand educational equity and excellence each day.” – Secretary (and high school social studies teacher) John King on the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship website.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching Ambassador Fellows (TAF) are expected to learn about federal education policy, reach out to teachers and schools and reflect with Department of Education staff what they hear. As a Washington-based TAF, on leave from my school for the year, I have had the unique honor of bringing the voices of teachers I meet across the country directly into discussions at the Department of Education. One way we have done this recently is through monthly meetings we call Tea with Teachers.
Secretary King engages with teachers during a Tea with Teachers session in February. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
During Tea with Teachers, educators from across the United States are invited to come share their unique experiences with Secretary King and other staff members on key topics like teacher retention, challenges faced by Native American youth, meeting the needs of students who are refugees, creating safe learning spaces free from discrimination, and the unique problems faced by students who are undocumented.
ED has held several listening sessions about the ESSA this year. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)
Since President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law, I have seen Department of Education staff have to work quickly through minute details to figure out how to help make this new law work best for 50 million students in 100,000 schools around the country. It has been gratifying however, to also see these staff members pause to take the time it requires to go directly to hear from those who will implement the law. In doing so, our leaders turned to the Department’s resident educators – Teaching and Principal Ambassador and Leadership for Educational Equity Fellows – to organize listening sessions and school visits for them with nearly 1,000 teachers, principals, superintendents and administrators, parents, and community representatives from all manner of rural, suburban and urban settings in 16 states thus far and more sessions still to come.
We know that preparing to become a teacher can be expensive. Sometimes it’s tough to pay all of the bills on time, including student loans. But there are resources and programs out there that teachers can take advantage of and we’ve gathered them all here in one place just for you.
Under certain circumstances, you can get your federal student loans forgiven or even canceled.
Here at ED, one of our top priorities this year is to support teachers and elevate the teaching profession. To do so, we are working to make sure that the right information reaches teachers all across the country. Here are a few of our most popular resources to help support you in your classroom:
Almost time to start paying back your student loans? Contrary to popular belief, your student loan payments don’t have to stop you from living your life. You just have to weigh your options and find a strategy that works within your budget. Here are some steps to get you started.
1. Compare monthly payment amounts
The amount you pay each month toward your student loans will depend on the repayment plan you choose. If you take no action, you will be automatically enrolled in the 10-year Standard Repayment Plan. If you don’t think you can afford that amount or you want a lower monthly payment, consider switching to an income-driven repayment plan, where your monthly payment could be as low as $0 per month. Just know that when you make payments based on your income your monthly payment amount may be lower, but you will likely pay more in total over a longer period of time.
When President Obama launched his My Brother’s Keeper initiative two years ago, he said, “[w]e need to give every child, no matter what they look like, where they live, the chance to reach their full potential. Because if we do. . . then not only will they contribute to the growth and prosperity of this country, but they will pass on those lessons to their children and to their grandchildren. . . And this country will be richer and stronger for it for generations to come.”
The President believes, and we believe, that all young people deserve the chance to participate fully in the American dream. But there are too many young people who feel cut off from that opportunity, whether it’s because they lack support networks, live in impoverished communities, go to under-resourced schools, or have a parent in prison or jail.
Earlier this week, to kick off the first National Reentry Week, we had the privilege of sitting down with an impressive group of high school and college students whose parents are incarcerated in federal prisons. At Benjamin Banneker High School, they spoke eloquently, and with insight beyond their years, of the obstacles they encounter and the burdens they bear. One young woman, a senior, reminded us that “time doesn’t stop when a parent is incarcerated.” As she and others explained, children of incarcerated parents are deprived of a fundamental human need – the nurturing presence of a caring adult – yet they are still expected to carry on and find their way.
Nothing says, “Welcome to adulthood” quite like getting your first student loan bill in the mail. If student loans are your reality, here are some tips that may help you (from someone who is going through this too).
I think everyone can agree that student loans are no fun to pay back, but ignoring them can have serious consequences (and it won’t make them go away.) If you’re worried about your student loans or don’t think you can afford your payments, contact us for help. No matter what your financial situation is, we can help you find an affordable repayment option. For many, that could mean payments as low as $0 per month.
Life after graduation gets real, real fast. To make a plan to tackle your student loans, you need to understand what money you have coming in, and what expenses you have going out. If you haven’t already, it’s important that you create a budget. This will help determine your repayment strategy. Here are some budgeting tips to help you get started.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to paying back student loans. The key question you need to answer is: Do you want to get rid of your loans quickly or do you want to pay the lowest amount possible per month?