Back to School During Teacher Appreciation Week

ed goes back to school

Steven Hicks, a senior policy advisory for early learning visited DC Prep’s Benning Elementary Campus faculty and students, as part of “ED Goes Back to School Day.”

As part of our celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 6-10), more than 65 ED officials from across the country went “Back to School,” shadowing teachers and experiencing firsthand the challenges and rewards of a day in the classroom. Our team had a unique opportunity to hear about ways the Department can provide greater support for teachers’ work and better understand the demands placed upon them.

Each ED official was assigned to shadow one teacher at various institutions in 13 states and the District of Columbia including; early childhood, K-12, special education, adult learning and English learning programs. Following the regular teaching day, officials and teachers met with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and other senior officials to discuss their experiences and share lessons learned. ED officials benefit greatly from this experience and it helps to inform their work throughout the Department.

Our team had high praise for the teachers they shadowed. Senior Advisor Jo Anderson, visiting second-grade teacher Nicole Lebedeff at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, D.C. compared her teaching style to that of a “symphony conductor” and called the way she managed her classroom a “work of art.” Special Assistant on Early Learning Steven Hicks was impressed with the social and emotional development of the young students at DC Prep, a charter school network with campuses in Northeast Washington D.C., and Teacher Liaison Laurie Calvert was surprised at the advanced level of the curriculum being taught in Riverside Elementary School classes in Alexandria, Va.


Veteran English teacher Linda Golston makes writing lessons engaging for sophomores by harnessing students’ individual passions and 21st century technology at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary Community Schools Corporation. Photo courtesy of Anthony KaDarrell Thigpen

Outside of the D.C. area, Diana Huffman from ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach (OCO) in Denver, visited preschool teacher Cindy Maul at Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., and said, “I wish every child in America had the opportunity to be with this woman.  Her interaction with the kids was so in tune with them.”

Julie Ewart of ED’s communications office in Chicago, praised the way veteran English teacher Linda Golston harnesses students’ individual passions to make writing lessons engaging at the New Tech Innovative Institute of Gary public schools in northwest Indiana. “I was not a good student last year, but now I’m an honors student,” said sophomore Charles Jones, who credits his improvement to Golston’s classwork that “relates to the real world.”

At the end-of-day wrap up discussion, Secretary Duncan asked the teachers what they would like him to know about what is working and what’s not. The teachers offered honest feedback, including:

  • One teacher thanked him for the recently released blueprint for the RESPECT plan (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) – the result of an unprecedented national dialogue for reforming and elevating the teaching profession.  She said that it accurately reflected the concerns and needs of teachers. The RESPECT blueprint calls for teacher salaries to be competitive with professions like architecture, medicine and law; more support for novice teachers; and more career opportunities for veteran teachers.
  • Several other teachers expressed support for President Obama’s commitment to investing in early learning because a lot of students are coming into kindergarten behind the mark. Building on the state investments in preschool programs, the President is proposing $75 billion over 10 years to create new partnerships with states to provide high-quality preschool for all 4-year olds.
  • Teachers from all grade levels also expressed concerns about the frequency and content of testing, state implementation of the new college and career ready standards, parental engagement and how to help parents become more involved in their children’s education.
  • One high school teacher said that we must help students and parents understand that education is the most important tool for social mobility and success in college and career in a global society.

As we wrap up Teacher Appreciation Week 2013, we should make a commitment to remember all year long that our teachers need and deserve our support in transforming America’s schools.

Read Secretary Duncan’s.“More Substantive and Lasting than a Bagel Breakfast,” on the need to support teachers year round.

 Elaine Quesinberry is a Public Affairs Specialist and Media Relations at the U.S. Department of Education.


  1. I am aware of a high school that did not meet the NCLB standards and was granted a federal grant to hire “coaches” to help improve teachers teach. Some were effective mentors, some were not. Among the problems were attendance and progress of ESL students. Good teachers were ignored, not asked for input and completely left out of the process. An English program called “Language” was adopted which required the teacher and students to follow a disorganized, boring text. Individual differences, creativity, innovation and the “teachable moment” were out of the equation. Testing was everything. A principal told the staff, “If I come into your room and you are not teaching something that applies to the standards that will be tested, you must be ready to give me a good explanation.” Poor teachers should be monitored and, if documented, may be fired regardless of tenure. Those people who happily visited the classrooms should spend a week in a classroom with students who don’t want to be there and don’t value education. Teachers often do not refer disrespectful, disruptive, students to the principal because they feel it will reflect on them more than the student. Good teachers, if given the proper support, can still teach, regardless of the students’ attitude, but it comes at a great physical and mental price. Students are being deprived of teaching time when their classmates are deliberately disruptive and testing requires so much time. How can you teach when you test constantly? It dismays me that charter schools get to be innovative and creative and not jump the same hoops that the federal government requires of the public schools.

  2. I have been a SPED Teacher for 28 years in the public school system. My students are stigmatized as “Specie” and looked down upon, not to mention teased and bullied because they are a SPED student. We need to change the system of identifying these students as SPED. It is now possible to do so with FAPE – inclusion and Response to Intervention (RTI). SPED teachers can co-teach in classes where their students don’t have to be identified and hence, can be grouped with other students who function at their academic level in the inclusive classroom. SPED teachers job description should be adjusted to include facilitation in RTI settings with regular ed students who need intervention and SPED students who need resource assistance. All in all, we must find a way to avoid labeling and identifying students with disabilities who require SPED services.

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