Angelina D. Phebus

(Photo credit: sunchild123)

Teach For America’s emphasis on the importance of identity and culture in teaching is impressive. I am Choctaw, and I became interested in serving as a South Dakota corps member during grad school. The Native Alliance Initiative (NAI) and Teach For America’s commitment to growing its presence in Native community schools resonated with me and my experiences as a student.

I did not have any Native teachers when I was in school. I received a good education, and I adored my teachers, but I never felt validated or understood in terms of culture and race. The concept of Native culture was so uncommon in the community where I was raised that most of my classmates assumed I was Hispanic. I had a hard time understanding who I was and why my family had relocated from their community, and I went through a difficult process of self-discovery. I was inspired to serve as a teacher in a Native community so that I could provide my students with cultural experiences that I didn’t receive as a child. I was determined to serve as a role model to my students of what is possible and foster a love and appreciation for culture in my classroom so that my students would never have to experience the emptiness of not knowing and understanding their identity.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Hardy Farrow, government and economics teacher at Power Center Academy High School in Memphis, TN

Hardy created the Let's Innovate Through Education program (LITE) to empower students to develop their own businesses or nonprofits for their communities. The goal of the program is to inspire students make their community a place they’ll want to live in for the rest of their lives while developing their leadership potential. LITE students compete against each other for the chance to present their ideas to the community at a spring gala.

Dr. Eric Lander with Brandon Podyma and Kathryn Davis.

In the world of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—collectively known as STEM—Dr. Eric Lander needs no introduction. He is one of the principal leaders of the Human Genome Project, and is the founding director of the Broad Institute at MIT and Harvard. As a very proud MIT and Teach For America-STEM alumni, you can imagine that I jumped at the opportunity to participate in Dr. Lander’s massive open online course (MOOC) “Introductory Biology: The Secret of Life.” I had missed the chance to take a course with Dr. Lander as an undergraduate, and I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass me by.

What made the MOOC even more exciting was that Dr. Lander wanted to involve teachers, allowing them to take the lessons of STEM’s premiere leaders back to their P-12 classrooms. He and his team made an incredible opportunity available to corps members and alumni: take the course, take the information back to your students, and be eligible to win a trip to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), tour Dr. Lander’s laboratory, and meet the man himself!

While many teachers signed up for the MOOC, two stood out as having exceptional visions for advancing their students’ STEM work: Amgen Fellow Brandon Podyma (Eastern North Carolina Corps ’12) and 12-year veteran teacher Kathryn Davis (Bay Area Corps ’02).

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Emma Ellman-Golan, middle school science teacher at People for People Charter School in Philadelphia, PA

Emma didn’t have much available technology to use in her classroom, so she decided to take advantage of the one piece of technology her students were already armed with—their smartphones.

Emma created an Instagram account to facilitate learning around the clock. She posts photos of student work, deadline reminders, test review material and things she does in her everyday life that connect to science. The account has helped show her students that science exists outside of their textbooks.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Angira Sceusi, geometry and computer science teacher at Reagan High School in Houston, TX

Angira wanted to give her students the technology tools needed to succeed in college and beyond, so she developed and implemented a computer-based geometry curriculum complete with online practice, assessments, and research.

Since starting the curriculum, Angira’s students have outperformed every other geometry class on campus by 5 to 30 points on every assessment. Angira also partnered with a local nonprofit, Compudopt, to provide valuable technical training and a refurbished laptop to each of her students.

Veronica Palmer (Los Angeles ’06) and Milagros Barsallo (Colorado ’09) of RISE Colorado – 2014 Social Innovation Award Winner.

Seven years ago, Teach For America launched its Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Initiative to support our alumni choosing to make an impact through education entrepreneurship. In our first four years, we saw the development of many successful alumni-led ventures, contributing to a burgeoning global community of innovative educators challenging P-12’s status quo by expanding educational access in low-income communities.

In 2011, we began to realize that we could (and should) play a more active role in accelerating the growth of those alumni-led ventures most transformative for students in low-income communities.The Alumni Social Innovation Award was created to challenge our alumni entrepreneurs to solve the most persistent problems contributing towards educational inequity. With the generous financial support of The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, The Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, and Joyce and Larry Stupski , the annual award invests up to $100,000 in these ventures and provides strategic coaching for the alumni entrepreneurs growing them.

Now in its third year, the Award has invested $450,000 in 11 alumni-led ventures. Our number of applications received has increased by 166 percent over the inaugural year – growing our alumni entrepreneur community to over 300. Our inaugural winner, T. Morgan Dixon (Metro Atlanta Corps 00), recently won the prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship. Last year’s winner, Elliot Sanchez (Greater New Orleans Corps 08), was recently named as one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30 in Education.” Award winners, finalists, and semifinalists have impacted thousands of students, families, and communities, and they have asserted themselves as changemakers working relentlessly towards a world where no child will be deprived of an equitable, just, and excellent education.

Building on this impact, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you our winners. Winners participated in three rounds of due diligence over a five month period, engaging in a process that invested 141 alumni applicants and 66 internal and external judges. Their ventures have the potential to produce game-changing impact on behalf of the students, families, and communities we serve, and we are proud to both honor and invest in them.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Over the next two weeks, we’re introducing you to the 10 finalists in the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. Meet the teachers who are changing the way their students learn and vote for the most inventive to win!

Alissa Changala & Sarah Batizy, social studies and reading teachers at USC Hybrid High School in Los Angeles, CA

In October 2013, only 12 percent of ninth graders at Alissa and Sarah’s high school were on-track or advanced on the ACT-CCR reading standards. Six months later, 70 percent had achieved that goal. Alissa and Sarah helped lead them there by creating a personalized, rigorous, and engaging learning path for each student.

The two innovators developed online lessons that students move through at their own pace. Working in groups or as individuals and at standing desks or in the beanbag nook, students learn in the environment most conducive to their style and track their individual progress in a gradebook.

Pass The Chalk Editorial Team

Did you know boys commit suicide at five times the rate of girls? They do worse in school, have more social problems and learning disabilities, and are less likely to attend college. Yet frequently their needs are ignored—often because many boys believe reaching out is a sign of weakness.

Recognizing that boys’ issues and problems have too long been ignored, Rosalind Wiseman (author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, the book that inspired Mean Girls), decided to pull back the curtain on “Boy World.” Working collaboratively with middle-school and high-school boys for a period of two years, she charted the emotional terrain that boys inhabit. But, as she was working on her book for the boys’ parents, Rosalind realized that teenage boys themselves are in desperate need of guidance. They need a book that speaks directly to them (in a boy-friendly format and in their language) about the problems they face every day. With the help of 200 middle and high school-aged editors, Rosalind has identified and answered the most pressing questions teenage boys have.

How do you get out of the friendzone (where girls refuse to take you seriously)?

What’s the right way to react when getting made fun of?

How do you talk to your parents so that they’ll actually listen?

Wiseman’s The Guide has already become a popular ebook. Now it's available in hard copy online and wherever good books are sold, and It includes additional lesson plans. Get a feel for the kind of advice the book offers in the excerpt below:

Sixty years after the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education ruling ended segregation in schools, data shows that segregation unfortunately is still alive and well in the American education system. Slate magazine explains why this issue persists so many years later.

Kansas professors can no longer tweet as freely as birds. On Wednesday, the Kansas Board of Regents approved a final copy of the social media guidelines to which employees must adhere. The new rules, which apply to faculty and staff of the state’s universities and colleges, are being slammed as vague and unconstitutional.

Aaron Bos-Lun

(Photo credit: ganeshaisis)

I often say that a gay-straight alliance is like an iceberg: you can only see a small part of it, you can only imagine how far it goes, and you have no way to tell how big it really is.

During my first year of teaching, I was asked by multiple students to sponsor a GSA, which is a student-led organization that creates a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ students and their allies. As a gay teacher who kept my personal life private, I didn’t necessarily feel ready to attach myself to the word “gay,” but I realized the kids needed this space and my only option was to sponsor it. After all, these students were in a much more difficult situation than my own involving identity and personal safety.

I got the GSA approved at the beginning of my second year, and I had no idea what to expect. In talking with my students, we all had similar anticipations: that this would be an important club for a small group who really needed it, the handful of students who, at the high school level, already knew and had accepted that something about themselves was different, and needed a safe environment in which to navigate those choppy waters. 

My first indication that the GSA was something bigger came when signs went up advertising our first meeting. A supportive TFA colleague had hung a sign advertising our first meeting in her classroom. Without exception, she had a student in each class see it and shout out some version of, “Why are you hanging that up?” (sometimes phrased more offensively). But also without exception, she’d have another student respond with, “Where else do they have to go to feel respected?” This exchange was always followed by silence—hanging that sign was the first time a lot of students had ever thought about an LGBTQ student not as an abstract gross thing but as a fellow student.

A little bit more of the iceberg was being revealed.


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.

Learn more about Teach For America


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. 

Read more »