The Teachers Edition

May 7, 2014  |  Sign up to receive THE TEACHERS EDITION.

One row of the Teacher Call-A-Thon

ED staff held a phone-a-thon to thank teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. Some teachers (and ED staff) were so jazzed by the calls that they posted messages like this on Twitter and Facebook:  Karin Hogen @KarinHogen "Just got a personal call from Mia at @usedgov thanking me for #TeacherAppreciationWeek and it made me cry!!! Thanks so much!"


"I'm Calling from the U.S. Department of Education..."

We say it so often that the words seem to have lost their meaning: Teaching is the most important job in the world. This week teachers and officials at ED took time to press pause and thank teachers for their courage, their leadership, their persistence, and for simply making a difference.

President Obama began by issuing a proclamation honoring NATIONAL TEACHER APPRECIATION DAY AND NATIONAL TEACHER APPRECIATION WEEK, 2015. Educators can download the proclamation or just scroll to our favorite parts:

"...through the Teach to Lead initiative, the Department of Education is empowering teachers to have a voice in what happens in their schools and their profession without leaving the classroom. And we are working with states to implement best practices that will help more of our best teachers -- across all disciplines -- reach the communities and children who are most in need..."

"...This week, as we remember the teachers who touched our lives and shaped our futures, let us recommit to supporting those who serve in America's classrooms."

ED ON THE LINE. Throughout the week a number of ED officials, including Arne Duncan, phoned educators across the country, thanking them for their work and giving them an opportunity to say whatever was on their minds. A retired teacher and principal from Ohio told us, "I haven't regretted my decision to go into education for one minute." Watch a video of Arne's surprise call to Lori Blow, a teacher in Texas who will be retiring at the end of this school year.

SPECIAL EVENTS. Duncan also surprised teachers by dropping in at a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast at Moten Elementary School in the District of Columbia and participating in a teacher appreciation event at the White House with members of the President's Cabinet and area educators. Area teachers Charisse Robinson (Cleveland Elementary) and Gary Hamilton (Wheatly Education Campus) spoke about the power of their profession. 

WISDOM FROM TEACHERS. New York science teacher Steve Robinson, who had advised President (and Senator) Obama on education policy and recently returned to teaching, said, "Sure, working at the White House has lots of long hours, but teaching is absolutely exhausting." Northern Virginia Community College chemistry teacher Reva Savkar said, "Teaching isn't about covering material. It's about helping to uncover [hidden truth] so that they can discover and make meaning."

An all-day symposium with male educators of color is planned for Friday at the U.S. Department of Education's headquarters.

Watch a short video of the surprise visit at Moten Elementary. Read about which favorite teacher U.S. Chief Data Scientist D.J. Patil called to thank on Teacher Appreciation Day. View Assistant Secretary Deb Delisle's thank-you video to teachers.

Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples


Class Act

All of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year who we met last week are amazing. Still, after watching this 2:44 video clip of Shanna Peeples describing how she became a teacher--and what had kept her from joining the profession--it's clear that the CCSSO got it right when they chose this Texas teacher as the National Teacher of the Year. 

Though drawn initially to teaching, Ms. Peeples feared the commitment it would require and the sheer amount of work involved. Even more, she says, "I knew it was gonna break my heart in the way that everything you truly love will." Find out what made her take the leap anyway and why she sees teachers as "warriors of hope."


A Profession Worth the Fight

When 2014 National Teacher of the Year Sean McComb found himself inspecting hall passes years ago, he wondered if teaching was the right career choice. In this eloquent blog, the Maryland teacher reflects on the complicated and contextual nature of his profession and wrestles with the issue of whether or not today's young people should enter the profession. His conclusion: teaching is worth the fight (Huffington Post).  

Teach to Lead update

MAY THE FORCE BE WITH YOU. Every day during this special week, Jonas Chartock and Chong-Hao Fu (Leading Educators) will illuminate some of the impressive results of teacher leaders from across the country. Their Force of Teacher Leadership blog will share some of the challenges facing teachers and some resources to help them succeed (EdWeek).

AND THE COUNT REACHES 73. Education First and the National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future (NCTAF) have joined the list of Teach to Lead official supporters bringing the latest count to 73. Check out the complete roster.  


Editor's note: The following is part of a series reporting on excellent African American educators. Educators were selected by the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.


Celebrating African American Educators

Lee-Ann Stephens is a High Achievement Program Advocate at St. Louis Park High School in St. Louis, Missouri, serving students of color enrolled in honors, AP and IB courses. In 2006, she was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year. She also works with several educational organizations, including The Minnesota Campaign for Achievement Now and Educators 4 Excellence.

 What is the one thing you most celebrate about your students?

 I serve African American students who take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and honors classes. They are successfully navigating a system that wasn’t originally set up for them. They are recognizing that they deserve to take these classes and internalizing the high expectations that I hold for them, which is cause for celebration.

 In what ways do you encourage parents, family members, and other caring adults to support the learning and development of African American students?

I encourage the adults in their lives by empowering the students to take charge of their education. Once the students are empowered and taking charge of their education, it is easy to get support from the parents, family members and other caring adults. I let the parents and families know that I am there for their children, both academically and emotionally and that in turn gives the parents and families the motivation to collaborate with me on behalf of their children.

Did you know?

Higher Ed Embraces 

Common Core Assessments

More than 100 colleges in California, 10 in Hawaii, 24 in Oregon, 49 in Washington and 6 in South Dakota use the Smarter Balanced assessment as a placement exam. 

More and more colleges and universities think Common Core assessments are an effective measurement tool. Read more (Smith, Inside HigherED)

photo from English Learner toolkit

Resources for English Learners

STAFFING AN ENGLISH LEARNER PROGRAM. Don't miss the third installment of the English Learner Tool Kit, which is intended to help state and local education agencies meet their obligations to English Learners (ELs). 

Recruiting, developing, and retaining excellent educators is essential to ensure that EL program models achieve their educational objectives, but there are legal obligations. Read more in the Dear Colleague letter

HISTORICAL OVERVIEW OF STANDARDS. Nationally recognized scholar and researcher Kenji Hakuta of Stanford University will present a live learning session at ED: “History, Policy and Research and Implementation of New Standards for English Learners” May 26, from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The session is hosted by the Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition and can also be viewed online. Practitioners from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association will provide teachers’ perspectives in response to the research findings. To RSVP, please contact  

NASA Pre K Lessons


Teaching on the Fly

(with Orville, the Flying Squirrel)

NASA has issued a handy guide to teach pre-K students science and literacy through stories they love. The guide features six integrated science lessons based on popular children’s books. Teachers can also download supplemental activities to teach writing, colors, shapes and math. 

Facebook page showing teachers holding up letters from Secretary Duncan

Left: a Facebook post showing two teachers who received appreciation letters from Arne Duncan. 


More Than Words

Some terrific blogs have been written this week about how to truly appreciate teachers. Here are a few we like.

Common Core Connections

STIMULATING CURRICULUM. Second grade Washoe Co. teacher, Chris Hayes, affirms that her students repeatedly meet high expectations when they get to tackle challenging content. Unleashing Common Core has resulted in rich and unexpected discussions. Learn more (Reno-Gazette Journal).  

INVALUABLE TEACHER VOICES. A new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Idea Exchange report released by The VIVA Project in partnership with Education Post maintains that educators support CCSS and the aligned assessments. The report includes some important findings such as: Teachers strongly support the CCSS because it’s good for their students and their profession and does not dictate curriculum; parents and communities need to be engaged and much better informed about the CCSS; and strong, ongoing professional development is essential to successful implementation of the standards. 


"Even as a child, I was always playing school."

(Dr. Patricia Jordan, a New York teacher and 2015 National Teacher Hall of Fame Inductee, at a recent meeting at the U.S. Department of Education. Dr. Jordan and her fellow honorees described their initial motivations to become teachers, with overlapping stories about family members in education and a universal desire to make a difference. Brigitte Tennis, Washington, said, "The wonder of learning inspired me to go into teaching.")

Quote to Note


Diversity Matters in Pre-K Classrooms

A new report, "A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education," describes the troubling racial, ethnic and economic disparities in preschool classrooms across America. Lead authors Jeanne L. Reid and Sharon Lynn Kagan from the National Center for Children and Families (Teachers College, Columbia University) studied the racial and economic diversity in Head Start and state pre-K classrooms. They discuss how diversity and quality are linked, and recommend steps policymakers can take to increase diversity in preschool classrooms. 

Teacher Giveaways


Teaching Channel Gives Back

To recognize all the amazing teachers out there, the Teaching Channel is giving away some goodies. Register to win some of the thank you gifts that celebrate YOU!

Promise Zones


Help for Underserved Neighborhoods

Eight new sites have been designated as Promise Zones including six urban centers (Sacramento, Hartford, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Camden), a rural area (South Carolina Low Country), and a tribal community (the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota).

Helping students reach graduation and beyond, the "Zones" will help communities build partnerships to improve wrap-around services and ensure that all kids have access to a great education. Touting the community-based effort, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro said, “A zip code should never limit the opportunities and hopes that parents have for their children." Look at the fact sheet and web site.

respectful talk


Encouraging Respectful Talk

Sherwanda Chism, a 4th and 5th grade teacher (Winridge Elementary, Memphis, Tenn.) uses strategies to get students to use respectful talk. Teaching them how to interact socially helps to prepare them for college, careers and to be "life ready." Watch the Teaching Channel video

23 reasons


We Leave Work at 3 p.m.?

Teaching is one of the hardest jobs out there, but the misconceptions about the profession are abundant. This amusing list looks at the way others may see the job (Buzzfeed). 

Students' Corner

Tools for Students

GETTING MEDALS. ED announced a new class of Presidential Scholars that will honor 141 high school seniors for their accomplishments in academics or the arts. The Medallion Ceremony will be held in Washington, D.C. on June 21. 

GET FORGIVENESS. There may really be a way to reduce your student loans and even have some debt forgiven. Learn more about how the government can help. 


Healing and Education Go Hand in Hand

Several stories this week have made it clear that inequitable educational opportunities are part of the underlying problems that have sparked the rioting in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray

Doing right by kids in impoverished neighborhoods by focusing on education was President Obama's message in remarks he made following the unrest. "If we are serious about solving this problem, then we're going to (have)... to make sure that we're providing early education to these kids to make sure that we're reforming our criminal justice system so it's not just a pipeline from schools to prisons," Obama said. Read more (CameraEdWeek).

In another compelling blog, TNTP's Richard Green reflects on the "extra burden on Baltimore’s teachers, who once again are called upon not only to educate but to counsel and calm." He reminds us that the problems belong to most disadvantaged communities. The blog links to some resources that will help engage students in difficult conversations.


Good Stuff for Eduwonks


Though considerable research exists on teacher attrition, retention, and mobility, the findings are sometimes inconsistent or cover only 2 years of a teachers’ career. To learn more about the profession the first four years, the National Center for Education Statistics undertook a Beginning Teacher Longitudinal Study.

One finding showed that teachers who start their careers at higher salaries are more likely to stay in the profession. Most educators know this, but it is reaffirming to have our experiential knowledge verified by the research. 


Recommended Reading

The teachers at ED are interested in following the current and future writing of Letitia Zwickert, the first K-12 teacher to be selected as a Fulbright-Schuman scholar. Ms. Zwickert teaches social studies with an emphasis on international studies and world relations, in Naperville, just outside of Chicago, Ill. This January she is going to study competitive educational systems overseas and--we hope--writing as she learns! For now check out her blog about equity issues in America's schools. 

Zwickert's tenth-grade all-female team recently placed fourth in this year's Euro Challenge competition, recently held at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Learn more.


sticky notepad

Teachers' Notes

• U.S. Government 101. The results of the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress in history, civics and geography got lackluster reviews. Only about a quarter of children scored at a level considered proficient or above on the test compared to better results in math and reading. The results remind us all not to compromise other important subjects in the quest for literacy and math proficiency. Read more (Colby, Bloomberg Business).

• ELA HOW-TO. In this online tutorial, English language arts is made a little easier by identifying key ways through which authors create mystery, suspense and tension within a story. The website, developed by Florida educators, contains resources located from all over the web to support learning in language arts, mathematics, science and civics.

• IN SERVICE FOR PRE-SERVICE. Applications are now open and stipends will be provided to cover lodging and travel for the NASA Pre-service Teacher Institute, a one-week workshop for undergraduate and graduate education majors pursuing a career in K-8 education. The week's instruction will focus on integrative STEM lessons that use NASA resources and align with state and national standards. Applications due May 30.

 DIGITAL READING CLICKS. The White House announced a commitment by major publishers to make more than $250 million in free eBooks available to low-income students. They also launched the "ConnectED Library Challenge," a commitment by more than 30 communities to supply library cards to all students. Read more (Reid, Publishers Weekly).

• UPPING AP AND IB. In this blog by ED's John B. King, Jr., learn more about an initiative to identify and enroll 100,000 low-income students and students of color in AP and IB classes across the country. This is one of the ongoing commitments in support of the goals of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative.This week President Obama announced the My Brother's Keeper Alliance at an event in New York City. Read his remarks and a related news report (Baker, NY Times).

• MONUMENTAL RESOURCES. May is a month filled with opportunities to promote kids’ understanding of both World Wars and the relevance of America’s overseas cemeteries and monuments. Check out this FREE resource to help teachers: World War Cemeteries and Monuments: 5 Ways to Help Older Kids Understand the Significance.

Questions or comments about The Teachers Edition? Send them to ED's Teacher Liaison, Laurie Calvert:


Top 5 Quotes

Wisdom from educators heard by ED

5. “This is a profession of honor and nobility. The benefits far outweigh the benefits of other professions.” (Teacher, Wash.)

4. “I explain Common Core standards as being like learning to bake a cake. There are some steps that you have to know to be able to make a decent cake, but there are thousands of different kinds of cakes to make. There is not one recipe.” (Principal, W. Va.)

3. “I try to remember that the toughest kids are tough for a reason. They come from tough situations.” (Principal, W. Va.)

2. Reflecting on teacher leadership: “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It’s about us taking the wheel.” (Teacher, Conn.)

1. “In becoming a teacher leader, I’ve learned that 'No,' is a complete sentence. Sometimes you have to say no in order to be able to do what you are doing well.” (Teacher, Ariz.)