Today, Monday, May 24, twelve teachers will be holding a thirty minute phone conference with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. This is a very rare occurrence, and we are working hard to find the best ways to express our views on behalf of the larger group, and our fellow teachers as a whole.
This all began six months ago, when I wrote an open letter to President Obama about his education policies. I started a Facebook group called Teachers' Letters to Obama, and a month later sent a binder of more than 100 eloquent letters from teachers all over America. At the beginning of April, one of our members, Marsha Ratzel, made a connection with a regional officer of the Department of Education and convinced him that we had some constructive ideas to share.
We worked to get a diverse group to represent us, and several were added in response to input from members. Thirty minutes is not long, so we have divided the twelve people into pairs, who will be focused on different aspects of the Department's Blueprint for the ESEA. We are determined to share not only our concerns and criticisms, but also concrete suggestions for ways that policies might be improved.
With input from a survey sent to the 1,970 members of the group, we have some clear directions about what the key concerns are. With a bit of help from the Center for Teaching Quality, we have held several online meetings to discuss how to use our short time. We hope that Secretary Duncan's willingness to hear from teachers will lead to more such opportunities down the road. We will be sharing a full report on what was said next week, soon after the phone conference.
Here are the names and bios of the 12 teachers representing us:
1. Nancy Flanagan was the 1993 Michigan Teacher of the Year, and is a National Board Certified Teacher who also served on the NBPTS Music Certificate team and as Teacher in Residence for the National Board. She taught K-12 Music in Hartland, Michigan for 30 years. Her blog, Teacher in a Strange Land, is featured on Education Week's Teacher magazine--and her current passion is building virtual communities in education. She is a PhD candidate in Education Policy at Michigan State University, where she delivered the commencement address for the School of Education, a high point in her career. She has two children--and next year, both will be through college, thank goodness. Her blog is Teacher in a Strange Land.
2. Jane Ching Fung is a National Board Certified kindergarten teacher in urban Los Angeles. She has taught all of her 23 years for the Los Angeles Unified School District. Jane's teaching experiences range from preschool to teacher education. She serves on the board of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future and PBS Teacher Advisory Group. Jane is a 2002 Milken Educator, National Board Certified, and holds a Masters Degree in Curriculum and Instruction (Reading and Language Arts). She is a member of Teachers Leaders Network and has conducted and published action research on teacher collaboration through the Teachers Network Leadership Institute. She is trying to balance her life as a teacher leader and single parent to two adorable, but challenging boys!
3. Marsha Ratzel is a National Board certified teacher who has worked in middle schools for the past 16 years teaching math and science. She has worked as a District Coordinating Teacher for Technology and is a second-career teacher who spent 10 years as a health systems planner and administrator. She has published in national educational magazines and writes about the successes/failures in her classroom on her blog, Reflections of a Techie.
4. Renee Moore, a second-career teacher, has taught English at the high school and community college level in the Mississippi Delta for 20 years. She was the 2001 Mississippi Teacher of the Year and a National Board Certified teacher. Renee's classroom research on culturally engaged instruction has been supported by the Spencer and Carnegie Foundations. She has served on numerous boards and commissions including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She is a member of the Teacher Leaders Network, and has written extensively in educational publications, as well as at her blog, TeachMoore. She and her husband have also raised 11 children; all of whom completed public school.
5. Bob Williams began his teaching career 23 years ago as a Peace Corps teacher in Gambia, Africa. He currently teaches Geometry, Algebra 1, and Advanced Placement Calculus at Colony High School, Palmer, Alaska.
Bob won an Alaska Teacher of the Year award in 2009 and was one of five national finalists for the 2010 National Education Association Teaching Excellence award. His highest award was a student's 2008 graduation stole with the following note: "Mr. Williams, I have a confession to make. Before this year, I didn't like math. It was a struggle and made very little sense. Calculus was another story entirely. You made it fun, exciting, and easy to learn. I went from despising math to babbling incessantly about integrals and derivatives in the span of 9 months. I sport my [calculus] tee-shirt proudly and will bring my cross-sections project wherever life manages to take me. I haven't told my parents for fear that they will disown me, but I have every intention of minoring in math."
Bob has a B.S. in petroleum engineering from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, an M.A. in mathematics education from Columbia University, and an M.Ed. in educational leadership from the University of Alaska, Anchorage. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in public policy and administration.
6. Heather Wolpert-Gawron is an award-winning teacher, fellow of the National Writing Project, and a member of the Teacher Leaders Network. She is an 11 year teacher currently teaching middle school Language Arts. She is also a coach of an award-winning Speech and Debate team. She has written two workbooks on Internet Literacy, multiple articles for educational magazines, and is currently working on a book for fellow tween teachers for EyeOnEducation Publishing. She is an avid blogger about all things policy and practice, writing for The George Lucas Educational Foundation and moderating their middle school discussion group. She also blogs on her own website as Tweenteacher. Her son will be entering Kindergarten in the CA public schools in 2011.
7. Mary Tedrow is a National Board Certified Teacher and a District Teacher of the Year with 21 years in the high school English classroom in Winchester, Virginia beginning in 1978. She is Co-Director for the Northern Virginia Writing Project housed at George Mason University and directs an annual Summer Writing Institute for teacher development in the Shenandoah Valley. For eight years, Mary was the author of Reading Connection Intermediate, distributed to middle school households nationwide. She currently contributes essays to various publications and maintains a blog, Walking to School, focused on education policy. Mary has two grandchildren who will enter the public school system beginning in 2014.
8. Anthony Cody is a National Board certified teacher who has worked for 23 years in the Oakland (California) public schools. He is a coach of science teachers, and leads a team of mentors working with new teachers. His open letter to President Obama last November launched the Teachers' Letters to Obama Facebook group. He writes a regular blog at Teacher Magazine, and is a parent of two sons, one of whom is a high school senior.
9. Rian Fike has been teaching Art in Miami for 27 years at all grade levels. He has been chosen Teacher of the Year at three different schools, most recently in 2009 at Greynolds Park Elementary. Rian's students have won local, national, and international awards - including display in the Smithsonian Institution alongside Pablo Picasso. Rian posts at the Daily Kos.
10. Chuck Olynyk is a 27 year veteran of teaching social studies, having taught world history at in LAUSD for 22 years, 16 at Edison Middle School, and currently at Fremont High School, which is currently in the news because of a reconstitution effort. He has served as a mentor to new teachers, and has made his resources available to anyone teaching social studies at fremonths.org. Chuck is involved with living history organizations (most notably as Kyr (Sir) Yaroslav the Persistent in the Society for Creative Anachronism or the S.C.A.) and has used his experiences in the organizations to bring history to life in the classroom. He is currently blogging away at savefremont.org
11. Elena Aguilar always had aspirations to be a teacher and was the first in her family to go to college. In 1995, she joined Teach For America and was assigned to a bilingual elementary class in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) where she has worked ever since. Aguilar was a founding member of ASCEND, (A School Cultivating Excellence, Nurturing Diversity) a small, K-8 public school which opened in 2001. At ASCEND she taught middle school History and English, engaged in a three year teacher inquiry project, and documented many of the school's practices that led to significant growth for low income students of color. The National Writing Project and the Carnegie Foundation published her research on teaching reading to English Language Learners. Aguilar blogs for Edutopia.com and she is currently writing a book on effective assessment practices. For the last four years, Aguilar has been an instructional and leadership coach in OUSD.
12. Sandee Palmquist: I worked as a paraeducator for a profoundly disabled child while my children were growing up - and I found I loved the work. When my oldest son went off to college I went back to school to get my teaching certificate. I went on to earn my Masters in Teaching and my special ed endorsement. I taught in a special ed preschool setting in Redmond WA for 3 years. Then I worked in an inner city school in Seattle teaching a transitional kindergarten. I left there to open a new program for severely disabled students in 3rd through 6th grade with Northshore Schools and am there now. I run a peer helpers program for my school and am serving on a District committee to develop a true curriculum for severe and profound students. I am in the midst of my National Boards Year with the tests just finished! I have two sons both of whom are now grown and out of the house.
(Note: Retired Massachusetts teacher Bill Schecter is also a part of this group, but unfortunately will be out of the country on Monday.)
What do you think of this conversation? What do you hope is said?
(all photos used by permission)