During my 11 years as a classroom teacher, I have learned that many things shape the learning opportunities available to a child. These factors can range from the abilities of the classroom teacher, to the climate of the school, to the leadership and vision of administration. We rightfully spend a lot of time discussing how to ensure our children receive the very best in all of these areas. However, last week I encountered one factor we don’t talk about nearly enough, something that can make a more profound difference for children than all others. What is this difference? 23 miles.
Bringing together Black male teachers and principals and building a network of learning, support and empowerment is essential, relevant and necessary not only for Black male students, but for all students. This is the essential mission of The Fellowship, a Philadelphia-based group that was founded to support current and aspiring black male educators through advocacy, engaging policy makers, expanding the teacher pipeline, and quarterly professional development opportunities called, “Black Male Educators Convenings” (BMEC).
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.
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.
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.
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:
If You’re Currently in the Classroom
Check out our Teacher’s Edition newsletter. We’d love for you to sign up — and tell your friends! This weekly bulletin gathers the latest news and info for educators – and includes resources for teachers, by teachers. We’d also invite you to learn more about the Teach to Lead initiative and our Teaching Ambassador Fellowships and Principal Ambassador Fellowships.
I am a white woman and my fiancé, Brent, is a black man who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, at the height of the crack epidemic.
Unlike me, Brent was excited about his thirtieth birthday – a day several of his childhood friends didn’t have the chance to celebrate because they were in prison or dead. Brent’s mom may have saved him from meeting a similar fate when she sent to live with his aunt to attend school in the affluent suburb of Summit.
Brent and his friends were just as smart and talented as their suburban counterparts, but their schools were underresourced—as a result of a racially unequal society— and couldn’t support student development the way that staff and families knew their children deserved. That’s why Brent’s mom made the difficult decision she did.
And, that’s why Secretary Duncan’s recent speech on Investing in Teachers Over Prisons at the National Press Club resonated with me, both personally and as a social justice advocate.
I became a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education to learn about education policy and champion my core educational beliefs—cultural competency training for teachers and human rights-based learning for students—toward the goal of creating a more just society in which future generations won’t experience the injustice that Brent and his peers did. I hope the Secretary’s speech proves to spur a nation defined by unequal access to resources and opportunities to feel “uncomfortable with this truth” and take action to change it.
The Secretary understands what happened to change the course of Brent’s life. He believes in the power of excellent educators to support students’ personal and academic growth. He also recognizes the pernicious effects of systemic racial inequity.
Black men are incarcerated at a rate six times higher than that of their white counterparts. Traditionally underserved students of color attend and complete college at lower rates than their peers. America imprisons black people at a higher rate than in Apartheid South Africa.
These facts aren’t coincidence – they’re the result of a system defined by racism and inequality on an individual, cultural and institutional level.
In his remarks, Secretary Duncan urged America to challenge the status quo. He urged us to examine unconscious biases by taking an “unsparing look at our own attitudes and decisions, and the ways they are tied to race and class”. And, he urged that we do “something transformational and revolutionary” to fix our broken system: shift funding out of prisons and into our highest-need schools. By doing this—along with the other key components of the Secretary’s plan— we can disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and improve outcomes for all students.
The Secretary said that despite the progress we’ve made, “we have to do more” to provide all students with equity of opportunity. We have to do more to send more students to flourish in college and fewer to languish in prison. We cannot continue to squander the potential contribution of countless students who are left “on the sidelines,” like Brent almost was. This shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but it is.
And, the time is now to put this revolutionary thinking into action. We can’t wait any longer to do right by all of America’s children and to fulfill the promise of our nation.
King/Drew Magnet High School isn’t just preparing its students for graduation; it’s preparing them for life.
The school may be located in one of the most disadvantaged parts of Los Angeles, California, but its students are reaching for the highest levels in education – and they are succeeding. Students at King/Drew not only gradate in high numbers, fully 90% of those who graduate go on to attend college, including many of the country’s top schools, and they receive millions of dollars in merit-based scholarships and university grants.
“All students should be prepared for college and for careers because they should have all options open to them,” says English Teacher Latosha Guy. Teachers at King/Drew are preparing their students for the future by meeting their full range of needs, from career internships and fairs to after-school health and educational tutoring.
Teachers and students across the country are working together to focus on college and career readiness by setting and reaching higher standards inside and outside of the classroom. Teachers are helping their students succeed by nurturing and building their confidence along the way. As student Symmon-e Scott puts it, “High expectations make me nervous, but I know I can do it if I really put my mind to it.”
We will continue highlighting extraordinary educators doing remarkable things in classrooms nationwide in our video series. To learn more, visit our Partners in Progress page.
“The Ambassador Fellows are a critical investment in ensuring that the decisions affecting students are informed and implemented by our nation’s best teachers and leaders. The answers to our most challenging educational problems lie in the voices of the courageous principals and passionate teachers our Fellows bring us every day.”
– Secretary Arne Duncan
Applications for the U.S. Department of Education’s 2015-2016 cohort of Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows opened on December 18, 2014 and are scheduled to close on January 20, 2015 at 11:59 pm EST. For more information about the application process, visit our Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows program pages or go directly to the applications for the Teaching and Principal Fellowships on USAJobs.gov.
Since 2008, the Department has employed 87 outstanding teachers on a full- or part-time basis through the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship program. Last year, ED piloted a Principal Ambassador Fellowship that brought three highly-talented principals to work for the Department on a full- and part-time basis.
Teaching and Principal Ambassador Fellows are outstanding educators, with a record of leadership in the school community, strong communication skills, and insights on education policy based in their school and classroom expertise. They come with networks of support from their professional communities and have participated in a variety of activities that have prepared them to write and speak frequently about instruction, school culture and climate, educational leadership and policy.
Both of the highly selective programs reflect the belief that teachers and principals should have meaningful opportunities to learn about and shape the policies that impact students and school communities nationwide. As teachers and principals are often the most trusted sources of information about education policy for parents, community members, colleagues, and students themselves, it is imperative to create more ways to link the Department’s programs, policies, and resources directly to the field.
The Ambassador Fellows have directly contributed to hundreds of activities at the Department and captured the voices of thousands of teachers and principals from every state. They were particularly instrumental in the RESPECT project and in inspiring and executing the Department’s current Teach to Lead initiative. They were also critical partners in offering flexibility around tying teacher evaluations to new assessments and addressing a culture of over-testing.
There are two different options for candidates. The Washington Fellowship is a full-time appointment, based at the Department’s Headquarters in Washington. The Classroom Fellowship, on the other hand, enables teachers and principals to participate on a part-time basis, while still allowing them to fulfill their regular school responsibilities.
All Teaching Ambassador Fellows spend one year learning about key federal programs and policies, sharing their expertise with federal staff members, and providing background on federal initiatives to other educators. This helps teachers better understand and implement these efforts at the federal, state and local levels. For the Fellows, the program provides greater knowledge of federal educational policy, strengthens their leadership skills, and gives them the firsthand opportunity to address some of the challenging issues facing education today.
“Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow has been the best professional learning of my career,” says Tami Fitzgerald. “I have learned about educational policy, but more than that, I have discovered that my voice can be heard, and our collective voices can make a difference.” Principal Ambassador Fellow, Rachel Skerritt adds, “The Principal Ambassador Fellowship is intended to be a beneficial resource to the Department, allowing ED to hear valuable input from school leaders. However, the experience has been just as beneficial to my own learning and leadership. I constantly bring back best practices to my own school, having had the privilege of meeting passionate principals nationwide.”
Great teachers and principals—please consider applying and sharing this information with your colleagues! Sign up for updates on the Teaching and Principal application processes, call 1-800-USA-Learn, or email us at TeacherFellowship@ed.gov or PrincipalFellowship@ed.gov with questions.
Gillian Cohen-Boyer is Director of the Principal and Teaching Ambassador Fellowships Programs at the U.S. Department of Education.