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.
Editor’s Note: This is the third post in a series about rethinking discipline in charter schools.
I remember when my 6th grade teacher challenged my class to read a 1,000 page novel—something I knew even then was well beyond what most 11-year-olds were usually asked to do.
At the time, I grumbled about why Ms. Soberman was making our class work harder. Later, when I became a teacher myself, I realized that by assigning such a challenging book, it was Ms. Soberman who was working harder. By raising the level of expectation, she was increasing the likelihood that each of us might struggle – and that she’d have to figure out how to help each of us with our particular challenge.
Recently, the Department of Education released new guidance on Title II that explains how states and districts can use these federal funds to better prepare, support, and retain teachers and school leaders, especially those who serve our most vulnerable students.
Like many principals, I try to be as informed as possible about anything that affects my building, my teachers, and our students. Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS), Md., where I have served as principal for the last seven years, is renowned in the district for ensuring that students’ voices on social justice issues are heard, and I’m also proud of the broad range of teacher leadership opportunities that we have made available and that, I believe, have led us to great success.
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!
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.
U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools (ED-GRS) is founded on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) authority to identify and communicate practices that increase student and community engagement and, in doing so, also raise academic achievement. Annually, the Green Strides Tour shines a spotlight on the potential for sustainable schools practices to engage students, teachers, families, and community members.
Growing avocado. (Photo courtesy of the Green Schools National Network)
The 2016 “Real-World Learning” Green Strides Tour put this commitment on display, as we toured schools, districts, and even a postsecondary Pennsylvania ED-GRS honoree, celebrating their achievements, and educating visitors on the many ways schools old and new, public and private; districts large and small; and colleges and universities can reduce environmental impact and costs, improve health and wellness, and teach by the most hands-on, engaging means possible.
Today marks an important milestone for our nation. The Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has sworn in over one million AmeriCorps members, so many of whom devote their service to ensuring that every child has the opportunity succeed. Since AmeriCorps launched in 1994, young people have dedicated themselves to public service through a range of projects from rebuilding communities to mentoring students. At the United States Department of Education, we are proud to partner with thousands of AmeriCorps members each year. As we celebrate CNCS’ historic accomplishment, I want to thank AmeriCorps members for all they have done to support students, strengthen schools, and promote opportunity in our nation.
AmeriCorps members are champions for opportunity. (Photo: U.S. Department of Education)
When President Obama took office in 2009, he made it clear that national service was a major priority. He signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, launched innovative AmeriCorps partnerships and created the President’s Task Force on Expanding National Service. The President and our team at the Department also recognize the essential role that AmeriCorps members play in our schools. In 2013, we launched the School Turnaround AmeriCorps program to help uplift schools in struggling communities. We committed $2.5 million a year for five years to ensure that schools with the greatest challenges benefit from AmeriCorps’ members hard work and zeal for service. And just a few months ago, we announced the second group of grant awards to seven organizations working across 10 states. A recent study of the program showed how School Turnaround AmeriCorps’ efforts are working. In schools across the country, AmeriCorps members are becoming a key part of building positive school cultures, improving educators’ capacity in the classroom, and forming strong relationships with students that help them learn essential academic and socioemotional skills.
CNCS programs, including AmeriCorps, are also a vital part of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) initiative. CNCS has committed $15 million in grant awards over the next three years to support the Summer Opportunity AmeriCorps that will enable up to 20,000 young people to learn new skills and earn money for college. In addition, this year, CNCS announced a new partnership with the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance to place up to 20 AmeriCorps VISTA members in MBK communities each year. Across the nation, nearly 250 cities and rural and tribal areas have launched and are executing local action plans to create more opportunities for all students as MBK Communities. AmeriCorps is also a key leader of the MBK Success Mentors initiative, which works with MENTOR, Attendance Works, Johns Hopkins University and other partner organizations focused on supporting student attendance.
AmeriCorps members lead this important work because they are champions for opportunity. They know that as mentor, an advocate, and even a volunteer, you can change a community for the better. As a nation, we are truly better off because of the million AmeriCorps members that have served and improved our neighborhoods. I want to thank them on behalf of our Department and on behalf of the millions of students and families that have benefited from their service. The service of the first million AmeriCorps members has been invaluable, and I cannot wait to see the impact of the next million. To learn more about how to get involved in AmeriCorps, visit their website here.
James Cole, Jr., is the General Counsel, Delegated the Duties of Deputy Secretary of Education.
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.
Parents and families are a child’s first teachers, supporters, coaches, cheerleaders, tutors, confidantes, conspirators and advocates. They are the experts about their children and the authors of what they want for their future.
Meet Frances Frost, ED’s first Family Ambassador!
When it comes to school, however, families are sometimes left out of the discussion regarding the needs of their children in receiving the best education possible. Many parents can list examples of changes in their school that they didn’t know were coming or a policy that impacted them in a way no one considered before implementation. That’s why the Department of Education recently created the Family Ambassador. This new position acknowledges the important voice of parents in the development and implementation of education policy.
I’m proud and excited to serve as the inaugural Family Ambassador. I’m the mother of four active children and began my involvement with schools as a parent when my oldest entered kindergarten 13 years ago. I started out visiting her school for parent-teacher conferences and school information nights. Through the PTA, I became more involved and found my voice as an engaged parent in our large school system.
“Merhaba!” “Salaam! “¡Buenos días!” In my eleven years as a public school principal, greeting my students at the door as they start their school day is one of my greatest joys. It also serves an important purpose – setting a welcoming, warm environment in which each student is known and valued. In serving a range of English learners over the years, I have learned to keep five essential values at the core as I partner with teachers and parents to support our whole student body.
Students who are English learners are English learners all day. (Photo courtesy of the author)
First, bilingualism is a gift and an asset. Helping students maintain their native language is crucial for helping them to develop their identity. We always encourage parents to support their children’s native language development, helping our students engage in complex discourse at home, while celebrating the linguistic assets our students bring to school each day.
During Keiji Ishida’s vacation last year in Japan, the 17-year-old Los Angeles teen observed an overwhelming number of subway commuters tethered to their cell phones, texting and playing games. “People were quiet — muted,” he noted, “and that just isn’t right.” Not, he continued, in a country alive with so much beauty and expression.
This discomfort sparked Keiji’s creative streak, evident in his painting, “Addiction,” now displayed in Washington, D.C. at the U.S. Department of Education (Department) headquarters, along with 57 other 2016 Scholastic Gold Medal winners in 2- and 3-D art.
Since the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards’ inception in 1923, it has become the nation’s best- known recognition program for teen artists and writers, and their largest source of scholarships. About 250 people attended the Department’s 13th annual celebration of the winners and the opening of the exhibit. Present were 2016 honorees, their teachers and families, art educators and leaders, and Department staff.
Keiji’s painting — splashes of vivid colors covered with black outlines — creates abstract hands holding cell phones.
“We as students, and people of marginalized communities, belong at the table.”
The idea of belonging is something I’ve struggled with for years. From my lived experiences, growing up as an Asian American and Filipino American low-income student often made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. But recently I was able to participate in a Student Voices Session at the U.S. Department of Education with Secretary John King, Jr. – and it helped me validate myself, and begin the process of understanding that I do belong.
During the session I joined six other students for a panel discussion, where we pair shared and dialogued around our experiences with federal financial aid. We also uplifted our personal narratives as minority students across racial, ethnic, class identities and more. Many drew on ideas of familiarity and of community in accessing resources to pay for college, whether it was through on-campus clubs, local libraries, or families.