Teachers Drive the Conversation with the Department of Education Tour


Toni Hull meeting Sec Arne DuncanWhat do you want the U.S. Department of Education to know about you, your school, and your community? Many teachers had a chance to answer that question as they participated in roundtable discussions with Teaching Ambassador Fellows from the department this past September.

The Teaching Ambassador Fellows are official representatives of the Department of Education, as well as classroom teachers themselves. Out of 600 applicants, 12 teachers were selected this past year to represent the department and teacher voices. I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the fellows for 2012–13.

Part of being a fellow this year involved a bus tour across the country with Secretary Arne Duncan. We held more than 100 roundtable discussions with more than 900 teachers, and there were so many lessons that came from those conversations that I wanted to share with other educators.

As a science teacher for 16 years, I truly understood all of the sentiments expressed by the teachers at the roundtables. It was a very emotional experience to see teachers working so hard but feeling undervalued. The roundtables were a great opportunity for me to visit classrooms in other states and see the great things that are occurring in schools across this nation with students at all levels. Through these inspirational stops on the bus tour, I was able to speak with faculty at colleges, secondary schools, and elementary schools.

One of these inspirational visits was with Lowry Elementary School in Colorado, where the entire school lunch program is based around a community school garden that the students maintain. I also visited two blue ribbon schools in Utah where the teachers “do it all” because there are no specialists for subjects such as art, physical education, or music.

Teachers were so excited about the opportunity to voice their views at the roundtables. Many of them echoed the words of one teacher in Colorado who said, “help us get out the message that teaching is credible, respectable, and rewarding.” And that is exactly what the Department of Education’s project known as RESPECT [DOC] is all about.

The RESPECT project’s initial draft was created when last year’s fellows went out and spoke to more than 3,500 teachers about what is needed to transform the teaching profession. This document has since become the department’s vision for this transformation. During the bus tour roundtables, teachers were asked to state three words to describe the teaching profession. Most of the words given by the teachers were positive such as “relationships,” “caring,” “responsibility,” and “challenging.” But the feeling of being underappreciated resonated with every group of educators. Another teacher said it simply, “to change the profession you must change the perception”; which is exactly what the RESPECT project aims to do.

As a result of the bus tour, four main themes emerged:

  1. The desire for increased communication with input into education policy;
  2. The continuum of shared leadership;
  3. Quality, meaningful professional development; and
  4. The important idea that all education stakeholders must be included in transformation conversations.

Do you agree with these themes? Disagree? The Department of Education wants to hear your voice! More information about the RESPECT project can be found at www.ed.gov/teaching/national-conversation. Also, if you’d like to find out more about the highlights of the events that occurred on the bus tour, check out this post from the department’s Homeroom blog.

So you might be asking what happens next? Well, we have already embarked on a new journey by recently completing a Southwest minitour. Four of us fellows were involved in the Southwest tour that included numerous stops in Arizona and New Mexico. We are now expanding the conversation about transforming the teaching profession and education reform by reaching out to community members, parents, administrators, legislators, and other important stakeholders. The Southwest tour was the first regional tour and will be followed by other regional tours in 2013. Be on the lookout because the Department of Education may be coming to a location near you!

Keep doing amazing things each and every day, and please share your successes, challenges, and ideas with the Department of Education. Teachers need to take the steering wheel on the bus of transforming the teaching profession, otherwise someone else will steer us in the wrong direction.

Toni Hull ED dept bus tourIf you would like to learn more about the fellowship or about applying, click here.

Toni Hull is a 2012–13 Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow and a science teacher and instructional specialist from Deming, N. Mex. She is also the current Secretary of New Mexico ASCD. You can follow Hull on Twitter.