Note: October is National Principals Month. We can all say “thank you” to principals everywhere by using the #ThankAPrincipal hashtag on social media.
Our Department has long history of frontline staff taking the time to observe and learn in schools and classrooms, affectionately known in our hallways as “ED Goes Back to School.” This month, National Public Engagement staff of ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach were invited by the National Association of Secondary School Principals to take part in Principal Shadowing, in recognition of October as National Principals Month. Local principals in DC and Falls Church, VA, in surrounding areas like Loudon County, VA, and Ellicott City and Gaithersburg, MD, as well as school leaders in New York City, Chicago and rural Hemet, CA, opened their inner office doors to Department outreach staff, and as happens in every shadowing experience, “aha” moments were plentiful.
Last week, across the country, educators were celebrated during Teacher Appreciation Week. For our own part here at ED, we carried out a number of activities with the sole intention of expressing gratitude for those who’ve chosen this unsung profession. A lucky few of us listened in when Secretary Duncan called classroom teachers across several disciplines and in various parts of the country.
Although my interactions with educators here at ED remind me daily of the intelligence and genuine passion it takes to work as an educator, during our calls, I was struck by a humility that is unmatched in any other profession. In a day and age where tweets, social media posts and news stories are dominated by a celebrity’s dress or public figure’s snarky comment, truly remarkable acts of teachers’ kindness, support, and heroism are just part of what’s lost in the cyberspace of minute-to-minute broadcasts.
This week, that humility was so apparent in a three-word phrase that my Education Department colleagues and I heard time and time again: just a teacher. “I can’t believe you called me, I’m just a teacher.” “I never aspired to be anything other than just a teacher.” I’m not sure what to say, Mr. Secretary, I’m just a teacher.”
Each of them, in turn, describing themselves in this way: I’m just a teacher.
From the young Albuquerque teacher who inspires her seniors to a college-attendance rate five times higher than the national average for Native students. To the Baltimore art teacher who wouldn’t allow riots just blocks from her campus to come between her students and their community beautification project on the morning after the worst of the city’s violence. To the true teacher leaders—who’d never think to apply that term to themselves—who decided to leave stable classroom assignments to work in disadvantaged schools with high-needs, struggling students to try and make a difference.
There’s a lesson here, for all of us, but it’s not one to be taught or explained. It’s demonstrated, in all those kind, supportive and heroic actions in classrooms and schools, humbly performed by individuals grateful for the opportunity to have a positive impact on the life of a child.
For teachers, everywhere, actions they do selflessly, every single day—Thank you!
Karen Stratman is the Director for National Public Engagement at the U.S. Department of Education.