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2016 State Teachers of the Year Speak Out

Thumbnail image for pencils.jpgAs 2016 comes to a close, a new podcast series launched this month aims to capture words of wisdom from the State Teachers of the Year.

In "Leading from the Classroom: Insights from the 2016 Teachers of the Year," individual teachers, all of whom have been nationally recognized for excellence in the field of education, share stories and significant events that helped them realize the importance of their work in the classroom. The initiative was created by the nonprofit organization NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association) and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which runs the National Teacher of the Year program.

As the teachers gathered for a program event this fall to reflect on their time as State Teachers of the Year, they recorded the podcasts to share how they want to continue to influence policy and practice for the benefit of teachers, students, and public education. The episodes cover a wide ground of personal life experiences in and out of the classroom—from working with refugee and immigrant students to running for state senate to advocating for educational equity.

In one episode, Dana McDonough, a 2nd grade teacher at Fostertown School in Newburgh, N.Y., talked about the importance of noticing students' invisible backpacks.

"What is it that the children carry with them that is not visible but, all the same, impacts who they are and their learning?" McDonough asks. "In order to teach each child, you have to reach each child. We as teachers need to create a safe environment that will allow our children to share their stories."

David Morales, a social studies teacher at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, N.M., shared how his experience growing up as the son of immigrant parents affects how he views his own teaching and how teachers should be allies and instill hope for the parents of their students in similar situations.

"Do I do everything I can to help them navigate a system that can be strange and intimidating to a person that understands English and much more so to a parent or student who doesn't?" he said. "Was I doing for the immigrant parents in my class what those wonderful teachers, administrators, and staff had done for my mother and father?"

Seven stories are available online through NWEA, with more to come in January.

A separate initiative also released this month, Protect Public Ed, is the work of a group of 44 teachers who were all State Teachers of the Year awardees—both in 2016 and in years prior. The movement's mission is to "promote positive discussion about what is working in America's public schools, challenge misunderstandings, and encourage action from citizens to support them," according to its website.

The teachers were moved to act after a spike in bullying in schools following a divisive presidential election, according to the Washington Post. They want the initiative to eventually supply resources for teachers and communities to better serve and protect public schools.

As part of the campaign, the teachers created a video statement that public schools must be safe spaces for all students. In the video, the teachers pledge to "make every student feel at home in their classrooms," to "celebrate diversity, teach kindness and empathy, challenge stereotypes," and to "question the status quo, provide role models, speak honestly, open minds, rebel, and take risks."


Teachers, how do you hope to make a difference in 2017?

Source: Image by Flickr user Randen Peterson licensed under Creative Commons

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