For teachers, there will always be that one student you just have to talk about.

As a coach to 19 Teach For The Philippines Fellows, placed primarily with third graders, I have stopped counting the number of times they have told stories about the same students that make their days always interesting, usually followed by a  sigh or a scratch on the head.

And let me tell you, these are not just any third graders. They're the kids other teachers generally don't want to teach. They're the kids with "labels" on their heads; the kids who are so often misunderstood.

Pass the Chalk

Teachers often find themselves on the margins of debates that directly impact their personal and professional lives. Teach to Lead seeks to change that. First launched in 2014, Teach to Lead is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Education and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Its goal is to expand teacher leadership opportunities, via its online community and regional summits, so “teachers play a more central role in transforming teaching and learning, and in the development of policies that affect their work.”

Teach For America is proud to be an official supporter of Teach to Lead, and encourages our family of corps members and alumni to participate in teacher leadership programs to embolden their own voices on behalf of their students.

Teach For America’s Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships team

On Saturday, January 24 a group of about 50 students aged 9-13 and their chaperones attended a professional hockey game in Rapid City, South Dakota (many for the first time). The outing was a reward; the students were part of the school’s 21st Century program and had demonstrated academic success. A fellow attendee not affiliated with the group described the students as “some of the best behaved he’s seen.”

During the third period of the game, the group was forced to leave out of concerns for their safety. From the suite above where the students sat in the stands, intoxicated individuals allegedly poured beer on the students and peppered them with racially-motivated slurs.

The management of both the hockey arena and the company who owns the suite have issued statements apologizing for what happened. Police are investigating the incident.

And there’s a good chance this is the first you’re hearing of it.

Zarabeth Davis

“Mommy, mommy!  Come look at our hands!” my 4 year old exclaimed as we entered his preschool one morning. His class has been talking about “helping hands” and how to care for one another in their classroom community. He wanted to show me his masterpiece: a rainbow striped handprint over-emphasizing the green band, his favorite color. He then showed me the helper chart and used his strong pre-literacy skills to explain all of the important classroom jobs and which of his friends would be doing what jobs.

The growth young children make as they enter their preschool years is always amazing to see as a classroom teacher; the independence they develop, the boom in their language, the way their minds process the world through why questions, and how their world begins to shift from ego-centric to more mindful of others and the different perspectives of the world. Now that I’m on the parent side of that development, I truly appreciate strong teachers and how they orchestrate so much of this growth through their thoughtful, intentional work.    

I became a teacher in 2010, the same year that California declared Fred Korematsu Day, marking the first day in U.S. history to be named after an Asian American. 

Fred Korematsu was a Japanese-American living on in California during World War II. When Executive Order 9066 was handed down, mandating the relocation of all individuals of Japanese ancestry from designated "military areas" to internment camps, Korematsu exercised his human rights and refused to go to the internment camps, instead going into hiding in the Oakland area. He was eventually arrested after being recognized as a “Jap” and was convicted, placed on 5-years’ probation, and moved to a war relocation center in Utah.

Korematsu appealed his case all the way to the Supreme Court. In 1944, the Supreme Court ruled against him, arguing that the incarceration was justified due to military necessity. It took over 40 years before Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in a federal court, marking a pivotal moment in our civil rights history. 

Shayla Yellowhair

This week thousands of educators from across the country have gathered in Dallas for the Teacher Leadership Development (TLD) Summit. Among the many lively discussions include sessions dedicated to Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) and how it impacts our students. Please join @OneDayAllKids for a Twitter chat tonight, Wednesday, January 28, from 8:00 to 9:00 pm ET to learn more about CRT. Follow #CRTchat to join the conversation.

In my experience, when new teachers hear the words Culturally Responsive Teaching, they want to know what it is then immediately jump into how they should do it.  While this eagerness is not inherently bad, teachers often overlook the fundamental step of asking themselves, “Why culturally responsive teachers? What implications does it have for my own background?”

As a special educator for six years, I aimed not only to provide access to the curriculum, but also to meet my kids where they were and build skills through meaningful learning experiences.  I was in no way a perfect teacher, and it seemed like I was constantly self-reflecting (self-guessing?). Was I the teacher they needed me to be? Were they learning?  One thing I was sure of: when my lessons and planning started and ended with my students in mind, I knew I was on the right track. 

This week thousands of educators from across the country have gathered in Dallas for the Teacher Leadership Development (TLD) Summit. Among the many lively discussions include sessions dedicated to Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) and how it impacts our students. Please join @OneDayAllKids for a Twitter chat tonight, Wednesday, January 28, from 8:00 to 9:00 pm ET to learn more about CRT. Follow #CRTchat to join the conversation.

Last year, I asked an educator friend of mine how many Black men had been victims of interracial violence in recent years. He immediately rattled off a list of names: Ezell Ford, Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Amadou Diallo, Jonathan Ferrell, Kendrick McDade, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, John Crawford, Trayvon Martin. In more recent months, a parent shared that when she had asked her son what excited him most about turning 16, his response was, “That I made it to the age of 16.” 

Conversations like these have heightened my awareness about the lived experience of some Black men in America and have deepened my curiosity about the responsibility schools hold in service to Black male youth specifically and to youth of color in general. Gloria Ladson-Billings speaks of culturally relevant pedagogy encompassing three areas: academic success, cultural competence and critical consciousness and posed the question, “If school is about preparing students for active citizenship, what better citizenship tool than the ability to critically analyze the society?”[1]

One way in which we can understand the relationship of critical consciousness and active citizenship would be to consider how Black males understand potential injustices in their own lives and in the lives of Black men collectively. To explore this theme, I conducted a survey with a group of African American men and African American male high school students. Based on responses to the following survey questions[2], I wanted to know to what degree is this sample of Black male high school students, all who are at least 18 and in the 12th grade, prepared for what it means to be an African American adult male who is an active citizen in this country?

Jasmine Sanders

Vivian Malone Jones: As a small child, I remember that name parting the lips of nearly everyone around me at least once a year. Heralded as a legend in our hometown of Mobile, Alabama, and a symbol of bold resilience to the millions around the world who witnessed her first steps on the University of Alabama’s campus, Vivian Malone Jones was the first African-American graduate in the university’s then-134 year history. Her entrance into the University prompted George Wallace’s infamous and unforgettable “stand in the schoolhouse door” opposition in 1963. 

Despite adamant national and local resistance, Vivian Malone Jones remained resolute in her attainment of an equal and excellent education. While this event predated even the thought of my existence, I remember always being particularly inspired by the level of fearlessness Vivian embodied.

During my junior year of high school, Vivian was set to be the keynote speaker at a local university to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the seminal Brown vs. Board of Education decision. This was my chance—and I begged my parents to take me to the event with hope of meeting her face to face. I ran—more like power walked—into the auditorium, with my parents lagging behind. I became more inspired after hearing her speech and, after the event, was insistent on waiting through the crowds of people hoping to speak with Vivian. I was finally up: I introduced myself, letting her know that I was also from Mobile and that I was forever indebted to her for blazing a path for women of color like myself. Without hesitation, she pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down her phone number with a simple “call me.” 

Chante Chambers

It was the summer of 1999, and I had just completed my sophomore year in high school. I was interning on Capitol Hill. Up until this point, I had buried myself in books and learning, but I honestly didn’t know much about the professional working world or the hustle and bustle of politics. As a 15 year old, somewhat sheltered teenager, I embarked on what I thought would be a 12-week stint of sorting mail for a big-name senator.

However, at an intern induction meeting, we were encouraged to seek council and support by finding a mentor or advisor on staff who would help make the experience more meaningful. Mentorship was a new concept to me, and as a reserved introvert currently questioning how I landed such a prestigious internship in which all of the other interns were savvy college students, I didn’t prioritize identifying a mentor. I just wanted to survive and do good work.

After a week or two, I was approached by a petite, spirited, assertive woman named Diane. She decided that she was not going to wait for me to seek out a mentor. Instead, she appointed herself as my internship mentor, and this was a critical day that impacted the rest of my life. Though I was initially intimidated, I was also completely in awe of Diane and her story. She had risen to be one of the most successful and powerful people I had ever met—all while raising two sons and financing her education. Additionally, as a Black woman in a predominantly white male-dominated field, she had achieved great professional success and was respected. Yet, she was authentic, quirky, bold, and an image of the type of person I wanted to become.

Paul Pyrz

Leadership is about pursuing your passion, doing so with integrity, and getting over yourself. Leading is not about you. It is about helping others reach their passions, talents, and best selves. That’s what teachers do. That is when teaching is at its best.

Teachers need to spend time “doing you” as best as you can. Explore your thoughts and share them regardless of how they will be received. We need more people that speak their minds and live authentic lives.

At LeaderShape, we believe change is possible by supporting those who lead with integrity and have a healthy disregard for the impossible. Originally established in 1986 to improve leadership on college campuses, today we host the LeaderShape Institute, six days of dialogue and self-discovery for its participants, and additional programs to cultivate our next generation of leaders.


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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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