In the fall of 2014, white students will no longer be the majority in the nation’s public school system. Combined, there will be more Latino, black, Asian, and Native American public school students than white students for the first time in the nation’s history. 

Colleges have long faced scrutiny for seemingly lenient processes when dealing with rape cases on campus, and now the government is stepping in to protect the welfare of the nation’s students. The Obama administration released the names of the 65 colleges currently under investigation for their handling of sexual-assault cases. 

Katie Castellano Minaya

This week, New York City welcomes its 2014 corps to my beloved city, a place where I call home and am raising my two daughters. Ten years ago, I was in the incoming corps members’ shoes, and didn’t yet know that my life would be forever changed by my students and fellow teachers in the South Bronx—and by one student in particular, Oscar.

On Saturday, I attended Oscar’s high school graduation alongside his family. I was reminded that my commitment to my students and my community was in no way a two-year gig. I am a teacher for life, and celebrating Oscar’s tremendous accomplishment reminded me that the impact I can have on my students—and their impact on me—goes beyond a single school year.

Dear Oscar,

Do you remember that first day of school in September 2004? I do. I remember meeting my 28 new second- and third-graders from the Hunts Point area of the South Bronx. You met me, a brand-new Teach For America teacher, Miss Castellano. You probably saw right through me: excited and scared to death, but bent on providing a bilingual education for my students, one that never happened for my parents and grandparents who immigrated from Italy and Colombia.

This isn’t a choice.

This isn’t a phase,

And it’s not a mistake.

I’m not any different than I was before,

Except maybe a little less burdened. 

- Christine, age 14, Poet Warrior

This spring, Christine Vela shared a powerful poem with the world—in it, she comes out and breaks the silence surrounding her sexuality. This PRIDE month, we must stand with Christine. We must stand with all of our LGBTQ students.

Though the world gets more accepting every day, students still face a great deal of harassment and discrimination for their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, there is no debate when it comes to affirmative action. The Court’s most media-friendly judge spoke to ABC News about why she is unrelenting in her support of this polarizing institution. 

A national education advocacy group is going after America’s college-dropout factories, calling for the government to cut federal funding to schools that do not meet minimum performance standards.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

In April, 14-year-old Christine Vela, a student in Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project, shared a poem called “Breaking the Silence.” It included these lines:

With one heart-wrenching throwback of this closet,

I’ll say the words I’ve been meaning to say

My whole life.

I’m lesbian.

Christine recorded a video reading of her poem for the Poet Warriors Project, and this act of bravery garnered national attention (a BuzzFeed staff writer, who highlighted the video in an LGBTQ poetry roundup, said, “Seriously, I have nothing more to say—just watch.”) This June, as TFA celebrates Pride Month, Poet Warriors founder Emily Southerton asked Christine about social justice, SAFE classrooms, and more.

Emily Southerton: With your poem, you broke the silence and shared your own personal story. What role does personal storytelling play in social justice movements?

Christine Vela: Personal storytelling, especially in social justice movements, plays the role of illustrating day-to-day oppression in a relatable way. This concept is manifested in a variety of art forms, and is especially prominent in spoken-word poetry. I believe it somewhat relates to the concept of “show, don’t tell,” as well, however simple it may seem. One of my favorite slam poets, Guante, has just begun a series on the art of spoken word poetry. In his very first video in the series, he explains the difference between showing and telling, and to summarize this concept, I’ll simply use a quote he says in his video: “Don’t write a poem about war. Write a poem about what it’s like to stand in your brother’s empty bedroom.” In the former example, it is easy to dismiss the concept in question, whereas in the latter, it is more emotionally insightful, playing upon the audience’s feelings in a way that they can better understand. The concrete imagery of a brother’s empty bedroom makes the concept of war more real to one who has never experienced it. It is the authenticity of one’s personal narrative—the good, the bad, and the ugly—that advances movements, and not simply the discussion of ideas in a way that leaves out the humanity of the people in question, though the discussion of those ideas is certainly important as well.

There’s no denying that there are differing opinions about “what works” in education. At times, the voices of teachers—the ones who most intimately deal with these complex issues—are lost in the mix. Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with three State Teachers of the Year from across the country to pick their brains about teaching, continuous learning, and the state of American education today. An edited version of our conversation appears below.

Joshua Parker is a Compliance Specialist in the Office of Title I of Baltimore County Public Schools and adjunct professor at the Notre Dame of Maryland University. He is the 2012 Maryland State teacher of the year.

Luke Foley, the 2014 Vermont State Teacher of the Year, teaches at the STAR Alternative Program at Northfield Middle High School in Northfield, Vermont. He uses a creative and experiential place-based curriculum to engage his students in their education, their school, and their community.

Jonathan Crossley, the 2014 Arkansas State Teacher of the Year, teaches English, oral communication, and drama at Palestine-Wheatley High School in Palestine, Arkansas. By using Socratic seminars, student-led questioning, and relationship-building, Jonathan led his students to the title of Most Improved for Literacy in the entire state of Arkansas (36% to 90% proficient or advanced). He is a Delta '10 TFA alum.

You’ve all had rich, exciting careers in the classroom. What are three things that you wish you had known when you first started teaching?

Joshua Parker:. Throughout teacher-preparation programs, most of what is emphasized is the content knowledge and pedagogy, but I find the soft skills and traits are what really make the difference between good and great. Brilliant lectures have died from the lips of apathetic teachers. Teacher-prep programs are great and necessary for being a teacher. But they are only the beginning of knowledge needed to become a great teacher. You need to be fueled from a desire within to research books and articles that are pertinent to your particular area. The knowledge you receive before you teach can’t match the knowledge you self-select after you start teaching.

Joseph Wilson and Anne Jones

It's easy for industry leaders to forget that discovery and innovation often start in the classroom.

This post originally appeared at U.S. News & World Report.

Our kids are amazing consumers of technology. With a few taps and swipes on their mobile devices, they have nearly instant access to much of the world’s information via downloadable apps and websites. But with a projected 8.65 million U.S. workers needed by 2018 in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (collectively referred to as STEM), they need to be more than just consumers – they need to be makers.

On Wednesday, the White House hosted its first-ever Maker Faire, bringing together tinkerers and entrepreneurs of all ages to share their creations and find areas of collaboration. The “big idea” of the Maker Movement is simple: to encourage people to seek solutions to everyday problems, identify new areas of opportunity and offer contributions that advance society – in ways both silly and significant.

Among these “makers” were a significant number of teachers and students, reminding us that the classroom is often the nucleus for innovation.

(Photo credit: FutUndBeidl)

The first time I stepped in front of a class of 27 seventh graders—all at different levels, with varying needs and wildly diverse backgrounds and personalities—I knew this job was going to be anything but average. No matter how tired or stressed-out I was about making a particular lesson perfect, my students counted on me every single day to bring my “A game.” This meant figuring out on the fly how to teach mitosis when the light bulb on my projector burned out. Or hitching a ride to school from a tow truck driver after my car broke down so that I wouldn’t be late to my students’ first frog dissection. Or painstakingly figuring out exactly which student still needed help on which standard, unit after unit.

I still look back on my three years in the classroom as both the hardest and most rewarding years of my professional life. The skills I acquired—quick-wittedness, leadership, relentless prioritization—all set me up for success in my current role in the policy world. Yet, despite what current and former teachers know to be true about the demands of the job, data from a new Third Way poll of high-achieving undergraduate students shows that most Millennials have a very different, and somewhat alarming, perception of the teaching profession:

Companies normally love when their social media forays go viral, but Delta Airlines would have preferred for its celebratory tweet after Monday’s USA-Ghana World Cup game to remain low key. The airline juxtaposed two images that symbolized the competing nations - the Statue of Liberty for the USA and a giraffe for Ghana. The use of a stereotypical image to represent the African nation offended many who pointed out that there are actually no giraffes in Ghana.   

The Washington Redskins trademark was cancelled by the US Patent and Trademark office this week. Declaring the name “disparaging to Native Americans,” the board ruled 2-1 in favor of cancelling the trademark. The ruling did not deter the Redskins owner who vowed to the appeal the decision, and keep the controversial name.

(Photo: Flickr)

It almost sounds like a cheesy summer action flick: “Institute ... this time, it’s personal.”

This summer, I am serving as a Corps Member Advisor for the incoming 2014 corps. I am thrilled that institute is in my hometown of Chicago this year; my placement school for the summer is in the neighborhood I grew up in. Yes, I am making my epic return to Englewood, seven years later. When I graduated from Walter Payton College Prep and left for Oberlin College in the fall of 2007, I vowed that one day I would return to my roots and work to make my community a better place. Atonement comes this summer. Although institute is only five weeks long, the seeds that I will plant can impact a generation of kids and their families.


About Us

We believe education is the most pressing issue facing our nation. On Pass the Chalk, we'll share our takes on the issues of the day, join the online conversation about education, and tell stories from classrooms, schools, and communities around the nation.

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The thoughts, ideas, and opinions expressed on Pass the Chalk are the responsibility of individual bloggers. Unless explicitly stated, blog posts do not represent the views of Teach For America as an organization. 

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