A Life Changing Experience

My experience as a U.S. Department of Education Teacher Ambassador Fellow (TAF) has been life-changing.  I learned that I should be bold and always look for opportunities to elevate the voice of teachers.   In June 2015, I joined an amazing family of Fellows with a wide range of experiences to bring to the table. Some of our common themes of passion included racial equality, fair and quality student assessments, teacher leadership, student efficacy, student advocacy, and a commitment to ensure all teachers not only had a voice but an intentional seat at the table in education discussions.

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My Exciting Life as a TAF…

As a fellow, I had a unique opportunity to raise my voice regarding issues that impacted my profession and share stories from my classroom. In the fellowship, we were charged with conducting outreach to solicit feedback from teachers to inform the Department’s work. I was glad to see that educational decisions were not being made without including the qualified voice of a teacher. When I had an opportunity to consult the Office of Special Education Programs, I considered it a personal privilege since I had started my career as a Special Education teacher.  Ensuring that there is equity for students with special needs is my passion and a large part of my philosophy on education. Throughout the fellowship I had opportunities to support the Teach to Lead initiative, facilitate calls with Teachers of the Year, and even visit the White House when President Obama awarded Jahana Hayes the 2016 Teacher of the Year Award.

Elevating Teacher Voice and ESSA…

During my fellowship, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. As fellows, we conducted nationwide listening sessions to gain feedback and questions. During my facilitation, I heard stories from teachers about how they were marginalized and devalued based on evaluation policies.  I also witnessed teachers empowered by raising their voice on issues that impacted their classrooms. In those sessions, teachers and other stakeholders were able to share their concerns and recommendations for ESSA implementation.

Social Justice and Diversity During my Fellowship…

I had several opportunities to speak with Secretary King regarding our work and what we were hearing in the field. During the 2016 summer, our country was shaken by the killing of Philando Castile. Castile’s death was devastating to the students he served in the St. Paul, Minnesota school where he worked.  Secretary King’s visited the school to encourage families to work in their community to heal and talk to their children about how to cope with the loss. As an educator of color, many of the students I teach reminded me of a young Castile.  And as an advocate for their futures, I feel it is my responsibility to advocate for social justice, speak up against discrimination and support my students’ development as socially conscious citizens.

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Once a Fellow Always a Fellow…

This was a saying I was excited to hear.  At the conclusion of my fellowship, I was excited to learn that it would never really end.  Sure, I wouldn’t have quarterly visits to Washington D. C. or weekly calls with my cohort, but I would still engage in discussions with the Department and alumni.  More importantly, I would continue to be bold and empower teachers to elevate their voices. I strongly suggest educators apply for the Fellowship and make your voice heard at the federal level.

Josalyn Tresvant McGhee currently serves as the Instructional Facilitator for Kate Bond Elementary School in Memphis, TN for Shelby County Schools and was a 2015-2016 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow.

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