A little RESPECT

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Super grainy photo of me at the Department of Ed (Photo Credit: a really nice security guard who said “Do you want to take another next to the Secretary’s picture?”)

Yesterday I spent the day with teacher leaders from around the country discussing the Department of Education’s initiative called the RESPECT project. The goal is to elevate the teaching profession by completely re-envisioning what it would look like to become, be and remain a teacher in the US. The project is still in its formative stages and today was about getting various groups (including the AFT, NEA, TFA, E4E, and the organization I represented the America Achieves fellowship) together to give feedback on the project’s draft vision statement. The draft is still under wraps  can be read here and the Department of Ed is planning more feedback sessions in the future. If you just want a quick overview, here are a few highlights:

  • reorganized classrooms that move away from a closed door and rows of desks to include open classrooms, integrated technology and schools defined by teacher collaboration
  • an extended school year and day that allows teachers greater flexibility for working with students, planning lessons and collaborating with peers (this also included ideas like moving away from age-based grade levels, hybrid teaching positions with lots of release time, and off-school-site learning)
  • distributed leadership (shared administrative responsibility between principals and lead teachers)
  • teaching career pathways that start out with a Residency (like doctor’s do) and end up with Master Teacher positions where teachers make up to $150,000

Sounds good right? But if you’re any thing like me distributed leadership, hybrid positions and $150,000 salaries seem like pie-in-the-sky. That being said I left the meeting feeling really hopeful that before I retire I might seem some of these changes become reality. There is no question teachers have a public perception problem in this country and unfortunately the effects of that are evident in the achievement gap and under-achieving classrooms. However, one of the biggest messages of the day was that if the teaching profession is going to be overhauled it is going to be done by teachers. As Secretary Duncan said, “The Federal government did not start the Civil Rights movement.”

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2 thoughts on “A little RESPECT

  1. Ann Vega says:

    I am returning from an IDEA ALLAN recruiting weekend, so my reply is via iPad. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors of this rant!

    I have been in education for 25 years and have seen the drastic trends that education takes.  I started teaching in traditional classrooms where teachers were assigned 25 to 27 students and  were expected to teach reading, math, science, social studies, and art.  I quickly learned that creating lessons that integrated science and math concepts helped students see applications of the two better.  The same worked for reading and social studies to a certain degree.  I was asked to work with gifted students and that led to an awareness of how nice it was to teach students who are basically on the same level.  Normal classrooms have so many different levels that teachers strive to address all the learning needs and styles of all their students.  

    When my husband and I moved to Houston, I got a job at a wonderful  open concept school. I admit, the whole idea of no walls, no student desks, and no teacher desks scared me.  But, I would say I had four of the best teaching years of my life.  The whole school was built around a sunken media center where every teacher could not only see the library,  but they could literally see their own students working on research or computers from his/her teaching space.   Each long area serviced two grade levels- 8 to 10 teachers and students with no desks or walls.  We had tables and a cabinet that held student belongings inside and was a chalkboard on the outside.  Students fared well, but the best part of the whole concept was that as a teacher, I saw some if the best teaching of my career. I grew because I would see different teaching methods and see others teaching at their best.  Teachers taught ELA to their students and then students would rotate to another teacher for Science, Social studies, and Math.   Principals walked through their whole school and could monitor quickly and efficiently.  Back then principals and VP’s or facilitators were required to teach at least one class a day.  Imagine, they never forgot what it was like to be in the classroom because they were expected to create lesson plans and do what the rest of we’re doing.  Cypress- Fairbanks had such wonderful curriculum and wonderful teachers, I loved open concept classrooms after this. The  students from this school were so  extraordinary  that I still keep in touch with them 21 one years later.   

    Since returning to the valley, I have home schooled my children, taught a multi-aged 6th-8th grade class and become  a librarian with a charter school district.  I have seen incredible administrators and teachers work towards the same goal: getting students into college.  What began with traditional classrooms has evolved into rotating classes that use Direct Instruction (the curriculum used when I was in grade school) and the use of hybrid learning spaces with computer labs and reading labs.  Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, we were put in ability groups too.

    I like the  residency concept of Teaching Career Pathways,  but it sounds a lot like an  Education Degree with an extended student teacher stint. That is how most teachers began their career years ago.  Now,  teachers earn a degree and complete a program helping them to get certified.  It will be interesting to see what happens with Project Respect.  I for one am glad that someone like you is there giving your insight.  Keep us informed of what is happening at the Department of Education and hopefully we will see the day where the teaching profession is regarded as the important job it is.

  2. Lara says:

    So absolutely thrilled to see you are writing – and eager to see a teaching movement. Continue leading sister.

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