What We Owe the Next Generation of Teachers

I was a fairly mediocre teacher when I first started. Sometimes I look back on my first few years and wonder why my students didn’t walk out on me. My old slides look atrocious; my handouts were too wordy; my instruction was completely teacher centered: me talking, me explaining, me doing some weird dance.


“I’m the teacher I am today largely because I stuck it out and learned from my early career failures and missteps.” (Photo courtesy of the author)

There were some long, sad, doubt-filled nights my first few years of teaching. I thought frequently about moving into law. For the first several years of my career, every spring, I would thumb through an LSAT prep book and browse law school catalogues. It wasn’t until my seventh year that I didn’t get that “ritual spring itch.” That’s when I knew I had hit my stride.

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Teach with Corazón and a Lot of Ganas

I began teaching roughly 10 years ago. With nothing more than a teaching certification and a lot of ganas or desire to be successful, I was hired at César Chávez High School. At the end of the interview, I remember the principal telling me that I had answered every single question incorrectly, but that he saw potential in me and was willing to give me a chance. One of the questions he asked me was if I wanted the students to like me. I was quick to respond — no. I was there to teach students, not to be their friend. Boy, have I come a long way!

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Ensuring Equity Across Rural Schools

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.

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Teachers Across Many Nations With a Singular Purpose

In Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author)

In Jordan. (Photo courtesy of the author)

As we celebrate World Teachers Day 2016, I want to thank my teaching colleagues around the world for daring to take on this extraordinary profession, for spending long hours honing a unique set of skills, for teaching generations to come how to mine their own capacities and for helping our young people forge a stronger, more resilient and problem-solving oriented world community.

As I look back on the years I spent teaching in the tribal lands of Zuni, New Mexico, in a rural schoolhouse in Brazil, in an overcrowded classroom in Egypt, at a central university in Jordan, and at an international school in Italy, I am awed by the degree of untapped resourcefulness that all my students possess. Despite the vastly diverse cultural backgrounds, economic classes, and social circumstances within which we teach, there is a common, extraordinary set of skills teachers must employ to draw out this resourcefulness and help develop a resilient, solution-oriented child.

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Voice from the Classroom: The Value of a Mentor

I’m new to teaching and have recently earned my master’s in education. I just started to implement the strategies I learned during student teaching in my own classroom. Getting to start from scratch is very exciting, but also a little intimidating. I am finally moving from wondering how I would make my classroom look, how I would start each class, how I would run each class, and how I would teach the curriculum, to actually putting it all into practice.

Learning in the classroom isn't just for students! Mentors can be invaluable for new teachers. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Learning in the classroom isn’t just for students! Mentors can be invaluable for new teachers. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

I’ve always asked a lot of questions and welcomed advice from others, but sometimes other teachers don’t have the time to take out of their day to provide guidance. Every teacher is so busy — balancing life and work; in fact, I don’t know a teacher who works only 40 hours a week. However, somehow I was lucky enough to find myself not only in a great school, but in a fantastic math department, with the best mentor I could ask for.

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The Presidential Election: A Lesson in Civics

As a social studies teacher, I’m always excited to teach students about their legal rights, our political system and how they can become engaged citizens. However, that excitement kicks up a notch during a presidential election year because I’m reminded of the importance of teaching students how to become engaged citizens. As a social studies teacher, it’s up to me to set the foundation for my students so they will be able to engage productively.

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Exchanging ideas in civics class. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Each year around Constitution Day (September 17), the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania releases data showcasing some Americans’ limited understanding of civics and government. Two alarming statistics from their most recent study: three-quarters of respondents could not name all three branches of government, and thirty-one percent of respondents could not name one branch. This data provides a yearly reminder about how important it is for me to arm my students with this knowledge so they can become informed citizens who don’t end up as one of those statistics.

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Veteran Teacher Shares Hopes for the New Year

Secretary King and senior officials got on the bus and went back to school this week during #OpportunityTour, which visited exemplary PK-12 schools and institutions of higher education and celebrated local ideas and initiatives across several southern states, including Alabama. This week’s edition of Voice from the Classroom brings us perspective from the 2008 Alabama Teacher of the Year, Dr. Pamela Harman.

After teaching for more than 20 years, I can say that everything about a new school year is exciting (except maybe having to wear shoes).

When I was a new teacher, the beginning of the school year intimidated me. I was nervous about both my content knowledge and my pedagogy. So my goals for the year focused on improving my practice and strengthening my teaching skills. I worked to deepen my science content knowledge, and I developed a repertoire of instructional skills and habits of mind necessary to promote my students’ success and capacity for life-long learning. It was difficult for me to push students’ learning because I was still honing the skills I needed to teach and evaluate it.

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The Arts for All Students in All Content Classes

Acrylic paint, sidewalk chalk, and calligraphy pens are staples of my English class. These items, along with reciting poetry and acting out scenes from plays allow my students to communicate through a variety of mediums, and to integrate their creative capabilities into their everyday learning.

In 2001, I walked into my 6th grade classroom ready to share my love of reading and writing. However, I soon discovered that my students were in need of much more than an enthusiastic teacher with an English degree. I needed to engage them and make them want to learn.

Stacey Dallas Johnston incorporates the arts in her English classes. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Stacey Dallas Johnston incorporates the arts in her English classes. (Photo courtesy of the author)

My students that year struggled with the basics of reading and writing. Many had already decided that they hated school, and could already be labeled as chronic absentees. Instead of teaching Shakespeare, I was struggling to keep students engaged. I too struggled that year. It took a few months, but The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster was the gateway into exploring the arts. We broke the story into parts and acted it out, we made 3D models and we wrote poems as the main character. It was a start.

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An American Teacher in China

Every year during back to school season, I find the time to reflect on students I’ve met in the past and unique classroom experiences I’ve had.

I have had the opportunity to visit China twice – once in 2012 and once in 2015 – and during both visits I was able to visit schools and speak with teachers and students.

During my last trip, I spoke with teachers in Luoyang, Shenzhen, Beijing and Wuhan.

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33 Voices from the Classroom

Substantial conversations about teaching and schools cannot happen without the voices of teachers and principals. It seems obvious. Yet in too many places, educational policies are being written without our input, panels at education conferences are held without any teacher-speakers, and teacher expertise is routinely called into question.

For the last seven months, ED has taken one small step by publishing on our blog more first-hand accounts from practitioners than virtually any other source – pairing major policy announcements with powerful Voices from the Classroom written by teachers and principals who describe why these policies matter. When the Secretary announced a plan to make teaching in high-needs schools the best job in the world, we published a narrative from a teacher in the Bronx who shared how teaching there allows her to be an agent of change and to support her students in becoming agents of change too. When ED proposed a new rule to combat disparities in the treatment of students of color with disabilities, two special educators shared why such an action would make a difference in their schools.

Secretary King chats with teachers during ED's most recent 'Tea with Teachers' - regular gatherings hosted by our Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

Secretary King chats with teachers during ED’s most recent ‘Tea with Teachers’ – regular gatherings hosted by our Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

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Building a Foundation for Children Starts in Pre-K

codyclassAs a kindergarten teacher, I have seen that attending a high-quality pre-K program makes a significant difference in children’s kindergarten success—and later success as well. This is why I am passionate that access to high-quality pre-K should not be a luxury afforded to some, but an invaluable resource offered to all.

From my experience, there are three major advantages students gain from high quality pre-K program:

They have key social skills.

In kindergarten, children constantly work in groups, whether in small teacher-led instructional groups, at activity learning “centers” or at math and phonics stations. In reading and writing workshop and most other activities, they work with partners or in small groups. This requires kids to negotiate disagreements, understand the social conventions of conversations, and balance their needs with others’. In pre-K, children have had lots of experiences like this.

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Chronic Absenteeism: The First-Order Challenge Facing Our Nation’s Schools

Principal Manko and students are all smiles! (Photo courtesy Joseph Manko)

Principal Manko and students are all smiles! (Photo courtesy Joseph Manko)

Principals like me in schools around the country face a daunting challenge. While the national conversation focuses on test scores, school performance, and academic growth, one key question that has been absent is — how do we move kids academically, when they don’t show up to school?

Chronic absenteeism – missing over twenty or more days of school in a typical 180-day year – is rampant across the country and particularly so in high poverty schools where obstacles like inadequate housing, transportation, unforgiving work schedules, and improper health care make regular attendance difficult. In my hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, some schools have chronic rates of close to 30%. That means that one third of the students are missing over 10% of the school year – begging the question of how meaningful academic growth is even possible.

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