Here are ten tributes to veteran teachers to mark National Teacher Appreciation Week. Members of the Teach For America community salute the teachers, mentors, friends, and colleagues whose wisdom and care made a difference in their lives.
Lesson #1: Accept the messy.
Ms. Hall. Oh, Ms. Hall. I feel that calling her my co-worker lowers her God-like status. She can control a classroom with a sideways glance and a whip of her hair. Her students know that she cares about them, but they also realize she is no nonsense. She has been invaluable in making me accept the messy crazy imperfection that first-year teaching is. -Blair Mishleau (Twin Cities ‘12)
This post marks National Teacher Appreciation Week.
A 22-year teaching veteran (and my former second-grade teacher), Mrs. Alice Siegel Budd is a Facebook friend to almost all of her students from the 1981 class of second graders at P.S. 273 in Brooklyn, New York.
She regularly “talks” to us, “comments” on our statuses and still wishes us Happy Birthday! She congratulates us on a job well done and admires our families. At one point, she even tried to get us to call her by her first name, Alice. We simply refused her request, all of us—she will always be Mrs. Siegel to us.
My fondest memory of Mrs. Siegel was her standing at the board writing. She has the most amazing penmanship I had ever seen and we all wanted to write just like her. She finally promised us that if we learned all of our required material that she would teach us cursive. I WAS SO EXCITED! I think this was the day I became a lifelong learner.
I was honored to spend an afternoon talking with Mrs. Siegel to learn more about the life path that brought her to teaching.
Last week, LGBTQ activist Scott Wooledge reported that Students First honored House Representative John Ragan, the co-author of Tennessee’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as “Ed Reformer of the Year.” This bill, which would prevent educators from discussing LGBTQ identities in any capacity in K-8 schools, died on the senate floor last year, but was reintroduced in the house by Ragan this February— with some choice modifications.
Ragan’s version of HB 1332, in addition to preventing educators from discussing LGBTQ issues, would also require school officials to notify family members if their child even hints at same-sex curiosity or attraction. In addition to creating hostile environments in our schools, Bills like HB 1332 effectively force teachers to “out” LGBTQ youth. This exposes them to profound potential risks, including homelessness, physical abuse and “conversion therapy." Policies like these force teachers to reinforce the internalization of heterosexism or even become accomplices in this abuse.
Five links that made us think this week:
While Rhode Island was busy becoming the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage, the Senate was too busy to include binational same-sex couples in the new Immigration Bill. Despite the criticism this omission has received, and the efforts of some to create an amendment to include same-sex couples, President Obama reportedly said he would sign the Bill as is. Accepting a Bill that leaves the LGBT community unprotected makes me wonder whether we all really have the same unalienable rights?
This post was originally published on Honolulu Civil Beat and has been reprinted with permission.
The first day of class, I always meet students at the door with a firm handshake and a look in the eye, then I give a PowerPoint on myself.
I tell them about where I’m from and what my passions are. I talk about my experience boxing while in the Army, driving cross-country to live in LA, getting in to Berkeley even though I didn’t do well in high school, and being accepted to Teach For America, which brought me here to Hawaii to teach for two years — five years ago.
Joanna Daniel is a 2012 corps member in Washington.
The first month in the classroom was the hardest. There was an awkward tension that I couldn’t break. My students are a mix of third and fourth graders, a mix of ages and racial backgrounds. At the ages of 7, 8 and 9 years old, they were already making assumptions about each other based on skin color. Bullying quickly became a problem, both inside and outside the classroom. It wasn’t until one of my fourth graders announced out loud to the class, “Well I won’t ever get these math problems right because I’m Mexican. Mexicans are dumb!,” that something changed.
After a long pause I announced, “I am so inspired by the fact that you are proud of who you are and that you are proud to be Mexican.” The class, for the first time in weeks, went dead silent. I pushed aside the math lesson for the day to let everyone think about what had just happened. In that moment, I realized exactly what was missing in our classroom. What my students needed to learn most was that embracing who you are is one of the most important parts of being a life-long learner.
This was the first of many conversations surrounding diversity that occurred in my class. I realized that my students needed to have a safe place to talk about being Mexican, Hispanic, African American, Black, Pacific Islander, Asian, or white. They needed a place to share their stories about what it meant to be of that particular race or background. They needed to share what it feels like to have someone follow you in a store because they think you might steal, why there aren’t nice stores around their homes, why they know so many people in jail, or how these stereotypes hurt their feelings.
Five links that made us think this week:
Remember those science fairs at school where you had to stand in front of your entire classroom (and their parents) and explain everyone how earthquakes happened? Well if you thought that was intimidating, the White House Science Fair might not be for you. Check out these kids doing some incredibly smart science experiments in front of the President himself. They get an A+ for bravery!
This post marks National Poetry Month.
It's 100 degrees. The air is thick as butter. Trucks are rumbling by, spraying clouds of mosquito repellant in their wake. It's 5:30 am. We must be in the Delta. We must be at institute.
I originally set out into this world to become a writer. After a few years of failed attempts, I considered the saying: those who can’t do, teach.
My formal education is in English literature, with an M.F.A. in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. If I was going to become a real teacher, I needed a degree and I was getting closer to 30. Teach For America offered me exactly what I was after: the ability to teach, change lives, and earn a degree in an alternate way. I applied and decided to delve full force into becoming the best teacher I could be, but first I had to go to institute.
Yamilée Toussaint (New York ’08) is the founder of STEM From Dance and also works on Teach For America’s Growth, Development, Partnerships team. She is a 2013 Winner of Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award.
Nearly 80% of future careers will require awareness of and facility with STEM. But with a mere 2% (approx.) of STEM workers being Black/Hispanic women (U.S. Department of Commerce), low STEM engagement has become an enormous barrier to access to the economic freedom and empowerment offered by STEM careers.
I wasn’t awakened to this problem until I got to college. I was one of two black female students in the mechanical engineering department of my graduating class at MIT.
When you look around your college classroom and only see a few people who look like you, doubt starts to creep in. That doubt can make you hesitate to ask questions, give up when confused, and shy away from exploration.
At MIT, I witnessed an alarming number of fellow black female students leave the program, under the grip of these self-doubts. When I reflect on what made me stay and thrive, and I believe that it was mainly my mindset. I truly felt “I belong here” and it was this confidence that enabled me to stick it out.
I’ve learned through my own experience as an engineering student and later as a corps member that confidence is one of the main barriers that keep underrepresented minority girls from entering (and staying in) STEM.
Kelly Amis (Los Angeles ‘90) is the founder of Loudspeaker Films, an independent production company focused on social justice issues. She is a 2013 Winner of Teach For America’s Social Innovation Award.
A few years ago, when I started filming what I thought would be a feature-length film about education inequality in America, my goal was to share all that I had learned and witnessed working in urban schools and education reform over twenty-plus years.
My Teach For America experience had opened my eyes to the way some of our schools treat lower-income, urban, minority students—everything from lowering expectations and allocating fewer resources in the classroom, to allowing abusive or inept teachers to remain on the job.
I learned through teaching—and then research and policy work—that not all schools prioritize children’s learning in a safe, joyful environment. There may be many individuals in a school that are highly capable and committed to their students’ success. But too often the overall culture—at least as I and many teachers I’ve known have experienced it—seems to be one where failure is abided, adult interests dominate and blaming the students, parents and their communities for lower academic achievement is a routine and acceptable practice.
When I tracked down some former students from the school where I taught in South Central, Los Angeles, the consequences of our failure to provide every child with a high-quality education moved into high relief. Two young men I interviewed, Jerone and Korey, went through a photo album from my teaching days that I had brought with me and pointed at student picture after student picture: dead, dead, prison, dead.
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