Listening to Language Educators

In every café, you could hear Spanish, Chinese, French and Italian. Language teachers gathered in clusters in and around the Denver Convention Center, where 6,500 language teachers and administrators gathered for this November’s American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Expo.

I am a life-long Spanish teacher and ACTFL member. I attended the conference this year as a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow in order to reach out to language teachers, conduct a roundtable discussion, and provide information about ED’s services and programs. The roundtable experience gave me the change to listen to language educators who were attending ACTFL.

Maryann at the conference

Maryann Woods-Murphy & Nusrat Sohail at the Department of Education’s ACTFL exhibit.

I met Rebbecca Pittenger, the coordinator of Kentucky’s Georgetown College Spanish Immersion Program. Pittenger is a teacher who is passionate about helping her students gain language proficiency. “We’ve taken an immersion model and are applying it to college work,” she said. “We’re a small school in Kentucky, without a large Hispanic population, and we’ve taken on language learning. Students learn philosophy, math and other general education courses, all taught in Spanish!”

Sara Hofler, the Principal of the Paragon School in Orlando, Fla., makes sure students in her specialized K-12 program for students affected by autism or Asperger’s Syndrome, learn German. People often ask her why such students need a foreign language. “You never know where it will lead– students need many opportunities to give them a window to a new world,” Sara told me. “My experiences in Germany and with German changed my life so I expect it will theirs!”

When I asked the language teachers what concerned them the most, the overwhelming response was that too many college students arrive with little proficiency in foreign language because they haven’t been able to benefit from the kind of well-articulated programs that produce strong language skills. In addition, some college programs that train language teachers don’t even require a study abroad component – an experience that is fundamental for a non-native speaker who wants to acquire advanced proficiency. Many of the teachers worried that budget constraints are forcing districts to use electronic language programs to substitute for teachers. Even though many of these 21st Century tools are promising, the teachers believed that they should be used to extend the reach of a language teacher, not to replace him or her.

Secretary Duncan understands how important international education and language learning is for students in the United States. Last spring Duncan quoted Nelson Mandela:”If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” The Secretary added that “we must improve language learning and international education at all levels if our nation is to continue to lead in the global economy; to help bring security and stability to the world; and to build stronger and more productive ties with our neighbors.”

Click here to watch Arne Duncan’s message about International Education.

Maryann Woods-Murphy

Maryann is a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow on loan from Allendale, NJ.

Lessons from the Heart: 2011 State Teachers of the Year Discuss Their Own Favorite Teachers

What does it take to inspire an award-winning teacher?

Not long ago, the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visited the Department of Education, and we asked them to talk about the teachers who had the greatest influence on them. Some praised colleagues and mentors, and others remembered inspiring teachers from their own days as students.  Their tributes were varied and poignant:  “She treated all of us as though we were her special children.”  “She made me love every piece of literature that at the time I absolutely hated.”  “He thinks the best of his colleagues, and so we want to live up to his expectations and prove that he’s not wrong.”  Now at the very top of their profession, the 2011 State Teachers of the Year surely took lessons like these to heart.

Click here to watch a video compilation of the State Teachers of the Year thanking their favorite teachers.

Click here
to watch a video about the 2011 State Teachers of the Year visit to the U.S. Department of Education.

In Honor of Teacher Appreciation Week: An Open Letter from Arne Duncan to America’s Teachers

I have worked in education for much of my life. I have met with thousands of teachers in great schools and struggling schools, in big cities and small towns, and I have a deep and genuine appreciation for the work you do. I know that most teachers did not enter the profession for the money. You became teachers to make a difference in the lives of children, and for the hard work you do each day, you deserve to be respected, valued, and supported.

I consider teaching an honorable and important profession, and it is my goal to see that you are treated with the dignity we award to other professionals in society. In too many communities, the profession has been devalued. Many of the teachers I have met object to the imposition of curriculum that reduces teaching to little more than a paint-by-numbers exercise. I agree.

Inside your classroom, you exercise a high degree of autonomy. You decide when to slow down to make sure all of your students fully understand a concept, or when a different instructional strategy is needed to meet the needs of a few who are struggling to keep up. You build relationships with students from a variety of backgrounds and with a diverse array of needs, and you find ways to motivate and engage them. I appreciate the challenge and skill involved in the work you do and applaud those of you who have dedicated your lives to teaching.

Many of you have told me you are willing to be held accountable for outcomes over which you have some control, but you also want school leaders held accountable for creating a positive and supportive learning environment. You want real feedback in a professional setting rather than drive-by visits from principals or a single score on a bubble test. And you want the time and opportunity to work with your colleagues and strengthen your craft.

You have told me you believe that the No Child Left Behind Act has prompted some schools—especially low-performing ones—to teach to the test, rather than focus on the educational needs of students. Because of the pressure to boost test scores, NCLB has narrowed the curriculum, and important subjects like history, science, the arts, foreign languages, and physical education have been de-emphasized. And you are frustrated when teachers alone are blamed for educational failures that have roots in broken families, unsafe communities, misguided reforms, and underfunded schools systems. You rightfully believe that responsibility for educational quality should be shared by administrators, community, parents, and even students themselves.

The teachers I have met are not afraid of hard work, and few jobs today are harder. Moreover, it’s gotten harder in recent years; the challenges kids bring into the classroom are greater and the expectations are higher. Not too long ago, it was acceptable for schools to have high dropout rates, and not all kids were expected to be proficient in every subject. In today’s economy, there is no acceptable dropout rate, and we rightly expect all children—English-language learners, students with disabilities, and children of poverty—to learn and succeed.

You and I are here to help America’s children. We understand that the surest way to do that is to make sure that the 3.2 million teachers in America’s classrooms are the very best they can be. The quality of our education system can only be as good as the quality of our teaching force.

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking. States, with the help of teachers, are now developing better assessments so you will have useful information to guide instruction and show the positive impact you are having on our children.

Working together, we can transform teaching from the factory model designed over a century ago to one built for the information age. We can build an accountability system based on data we trust and a standard that is honest—one that recognizes and rewards great teaching, gives new or struggling teachers the support they need to succeed, and deals fairly, efficiently, and compassionately with teachers who are simply not up to the job. With your input and leadership, we can restore the status of the teaching profession so more of America’s top college students choose to teach because no other job is more important or more fulfilling.

In the next decade, half of America’s teachers are likely to retire. What we do to recruit, train, and retain our new teachers will shape public education in this country for a generation. At the same time, how we recognize, honor, and show respect for our experienced educators will reaffirm teaching as a profession of nation builders and social leaders dedicated to our highest ideals. As that work proceeds, I want you to know that I hear you, I value you, and I respect you.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Cross-posted from Education Week.

The Changing Face of American Education

Cross-posted from the White House Blog.

One of the greatest challenges facing our country is the coming retirement of more than 1 million baby-boomer teachers. This challenge has presented us with a once in a lifetime opportunity to help reshape education in America by recruiting and training the next generation of great American teachers.

Teaching is a rewarding and challenging profession where you can make a lasting impact. Teachers have a positive influence on students, schools, and communities, now and into the future. Schools across the nation are in need of a diverse set of talented teachers, especially in our big cities and rural areas, and especially in the areas of Math, Science, Technology, Special Education, and English Language Learning.

That’s why the department launched the TEACH campaign — a bold new initiative to inspire and empower the most talented and dedicated Americans to become teachers. We know that next to parental support, there is nothing more important to a child’s education than the quality of his or her teachers.

Many of you are already thinking about becoming teachers. The TEACH campaign provides tools at your fingertips to navigate the academic and professional requirements that will credential you to succeed as a teacher in one of our schools. features an online path to teaching and over 4,000 listed, open teaching positions.

In addition to information on job postingsteacher prep, and financial aid, prospective candidates can watch testimonials from current teachers. Each one was looking for a professionally challenging and financially rewarding career that would allow them to bring their passions, their lives, to work every day.  Go to and listen to their stories.

We’re also setting up TEACH Town Hall events around the country to encourage discussions in communities and at colleges for those who are preparing to step into the workforce. Help us spread the word about teaching careers. If you know someone who is considering becoming a teacher, send them to so they can learn about the resources available for their state and district. Also be sure to let them know that we have an application called Raise Your Hand on Facebook that allows prospective teachers to join a community of teachers across the country and ask about teaching as a career.

Together, we can change the face of American education. We can recruit the next generation of great American teachers.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education

ED Kicks Off International Summit on the Teaching Profession

Later today, Secretary Arne Duncan will join teachers and education leaders from around the world in New York City, to open the first session of the International Summit on the Teaching Profession.  The summit, which will be held today and tomorrow, is the first of its kind being convened by U.S. Department of Education. The event will aim to identify and elaborate on best practices from around the world for recruiting, preparing and supporting teachers in ways that effectively enhance the teaching profession and ultimately, elevate student performance.

Throughout the summit, participants will engage in open and in-depth discussions centered on learning best practices in the following four areas: Teacher Recruitment and Preparation; Development, Support and Retention of Teachers; Teacher Evaluation and Compensation; and Teacher Engagement in Education Reform.

The March summit is a first step in what will be an ongoing dialogue among participating countries about best practices in both teaching and learning. In the weeks following the summit, the Asia Society will lead host organizations in publishing a summary paper to document for the public the insights shared and lessons learned.

Secretary Duncan, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development Angel Gurría, and General Secretary of Education International Fred van Leeuwen, previewed the summit in a op-ed on the

Across the globe, education is the great equalizer, the one force that can consistently overcome differences in background, culture, and privilege. Increasing teacher autonomy and participation in reform is vital not just to improving student outcomes but to elevating the teaching profession. We reject the prevailing wisdom that it can’t be done.

You can read more about the summit, including a list of participants and the summit’s agenda, and you can also watch the closing sessions of the event LIVE online starting at 4 p.m. ET on Thursday, March 17.