Higher Education News
Last year, the week after Teacher Appreciation Week, Moe Liss, the teacher who had the greatest influence on my life of any teacher, was being honored near Paterson, New Jersey, my home town. I decided that no matter how many late night buses I had to take to get there and back, I had to attend — it was worth it to honor a great teacher. In celebration of this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, I want to share my feelings about honoring the teacher who influenced me the most.
It was great to be back in my home territory of Northern New Jersey with several hundred people of various ages that I recognized from my childhood. They were there to celebrate the contributions of Moe Liss, my high school teacher in economics, who went on to support many community causes and train many teachers at a local teacher’s college — a role he still plays in his youthful eighties.
My memories of Mr. Liss (I still cannot call him Moe) were not all pleasant. In his class, he challenged his students to think and learn and use the full range of their abilities. It was not always a happy or comfortable experience, but he always made me learn, and I always was improved by the experience, even though I may have not realized it then. He pushed me and other students way out of our comfort zones and taught me to be inquisitive and to think critically — skills that drive my thinking today and every day in my work at the Department. What he taught me then still serves me very well today — to be a lifelong learner and to use that learning to solve problems. He still drives me to think creatively, solve problems, and continually strive to improve.This seemed worthy of thanks many years later. I had mentioned Moe Liss and this celebration to then-Secretary Arne Duncan and I was able to bring with me to New Jersey that day a congratulatory letter from the Secretary thanking Mr. Liss for his years of service as a dedicated teacher. (who, it should be noted, continues to be involved in education today as the head of a teacher training program at a local university.)
I had the opportunity to read Secretary Duncan’s letter and personally thank Moe Liss at the celebration for his contributions to my life and many others then and now. While critical thinking skills are now a part of many challenging college- and career-ready sets of state standards, their importance then was not as fully recognized, and they inspired me then as they do now. Questioning and inquiring and seeking to understand the others’ views is what Moe Liss emphasized every day. He was there with me in many decisions, pushing me to go beyond what felt good, to question and do good. He applauded me when I made a good decision and hissed and booed me when I made a bad decision. I feel his thanks every day for my work to help improve education, and now it is my opportunity to thank him.
As I thanked Moe Liss, he seemed truly surprised and appreciative. After reading the letter, I added my own thanks. Many of the teachers that Mr. Liss trained were in the audience, along with local teachers from my hometown. They all told me how they were dedicated to improving education in Paterson and the surrounding areas and how challenging their work can sometimes be. Some told me that they had been ready to quit. But now hearing my thanks to Moe Liss, they felt even more inspired to try again to achieve greater success with their teaching.
Although Teacher Appreciation Week had just ended, I told the gathering that every day should be a time to celebrate and thank a great teacher.
My parents taught me a lot and supported my inquisitiveness and education, but they were, relatively speaking, easier graders. Moe Liss was not. He had a toughness about him — and he made you earn your grades and challenged you in every answer you gave in class. He cared to make you better — and he did make me better. I benefit from his gifts to me each day and he keeps driving me to work hard, because there are still more problems to solve and more students to serve.
I thanked Moe Liss that night, but I cannot thank him enough for an important job very well done.
Phil Rosenfelt is Deputy General Counsel for Program Service at the U.S. Department of Education.
This year during Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to express my gratitude for several organizations that appreciate teachers who want to grow as professionals while remaining in the classroom.
In recent years, I found that my greatest passion was to elevate our profession by focusing on the classroom teacher as a leader. This was a natural fit for me since I served for over 20 years in the U.S. Coast Guard, where I developed as a leader with formal leadership training. Much of my success as a teacher has been grounded in the leadership competencies I learned during my military career. I wanted to create similar leadership development opportunities for my colleagues.
So, how does a middle school science teacher from a small district in Massachusetts follow her passion to create leadership development opportunities for teachers? She takes advantages of national level leadership opportunities!
In May 2013, I was fortunate to be accepted to the NEA/Teach Plus Future of the Profession Fellowship. I felt incredibly connected to these high-energy teachers who were beyond enthusiastic about elevating our profession. The experience introduced me to Google Docs, Google hangouts, webinars, Twitter and Linked-In. All of these activities helped me to shape a vision for how I might deliver leadership training to classroom teachers, but I was unsure of the steps and support I would need to create and implement this type of training opportunity.
Looking for more guidance, I attended the Boston Teach to Lead Summit in February of 2015. Shortly after returning, our team established The Total Teacher Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit whose purpose is to host events that connect leadership development experts to ambitious and talented teachers. We recruited parents and students to support our mission and we received help from Teach to Lead support organizations. We’re now in the final stages of planning a Teacher Leadership Summit this summer for 120 teachers in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Attendees will be empowered by interactive presentations by experts in the field of leadership. Teachers will recognize their value as critical leaders in society and develop an awareness of key leadership behaviors that can inspire students and influence learning outcomes.
I want to recognize the NEA, Teach Plus and the Teaching Ambassador Fellows at Teach to Lead. The leaders in these organizations, many of whom are or have been teachers, have done an outstanding job showing appreciation to teachers with a passion to transform education while remaining in the classroom.
Ellyn Metcalf is a 6th grade science teacher at the Dr. Kevin M. Hurley Middle School in Seekonk, Massachusetts. She is the founder of the Total Teacher Project (TTP), a nonprofit organization that believes leadership qualities should be developed and cultivated in teachers throughout their careers just as other professions grow their top performers. For more information or to register for this summer’s Teacher Leadership Summit visit TTP’s website at www.totalteacherproject.com. Continue the conversation on Twitter @TotalTeacherNE.
ED values the expertise that teachers bring not only to their classrooms but also to policy discussions. In addition to the Teach to Lead initiative that supports leading from the classroom, ED also sponsors the Teacher’s Edition newsletter that you can sign up to receive; this weekly bulletin gathers the latest news and info for educators – and includes resources for teachers, by teachers. The Department values the expertise that teachers bring through our Teaching Ambassador Fellowships and Principal Ambassador Fellowships . The Secretary also holds regular “Tea with Teachers” meetings to gain practitioner perspective to pertinent issues such as advocating for undocumented students and building inclusive classrooms. The Department also sponsors several internships for those who are interested in assisting the Department in their work.
Much like America’s teachers, the U.S. Department of Education sometimes gets a bad rap.
You know the drill. So many times, the stories of frustrated teachers or bad apples get bigger play on social media and in the news than the stories of the millions of American teachers who, like my friends and colleagues, change lives every day. Meanwhile, federal policymakers get blamed for not being omnipotent, as many think they should be, or for not talking to real teachers. However, since the start of this school year, my Teaching Ambassador Fellow colleagues and I have spoken with literally thousands of teachers around the country and brought back to ED what we’ve heard.
Many of our fellow teachers are frustrated by things beyond their control; too few are paid adequately or treated respectfully as they do the job they love. And so, not surprisingly, sometimes we hear complaints. I usually respond by saying, “I agree. And ED agrees too.”
Listen to some speeches from the leaders of the Department over the past year and you’ll hear our voices from the classroom and know ED is ultimately on our side. I know, because I’ve been repeatedly asked for my feedback and I’ve seen it acted upon. The speeches have titles such as “Investing in Teachers Instead of Prisons” and “Supporting America’s Educators to Expand Opportunity.” They have called on schools and districts to cut the amount of time kids spend on unnecessary or unhelpful standardized tests and expand students’ access to courses in the arts and sciences, where they might find their passions and learn skills for their future careers. Before stepping down, former Secretary Arne Duncan called for a 50-percent salary increase for every teacher working in the country’s highest-need schools.
Newly-appointed Secretary John King never fails to call on his experience as both a student and a teacher when thinking through policy. He says, “I am who I am because a teacher and a school believed in me and believed it was worth the time and effort to widen my horizons.” He tells stories of students from his classes who call to mind our own — kids like Ricardo, a high school junior who was “brilliant, fascinating, but barely skating by in the class” until engaged by a unit on the Harlem Renaissance. It was students like those he had taught that inspired efforts to push for states and districts to value “creative teaching” over test prep. Perhaps most powerfully, King has taken responsibility for ways in which the Department of Education, among others, has contributed to the creation of a climate where teachers and principals have “felt attacked and unfairly blamed for the challenges our nation faces as we strive to improve outcomes for all students.” He has vowed to change that and is working to do so.
Many teachers don’t have time to listen to speeches or read policy; they’re too busy making sure their students are learning. And for that matter, speeches only get us so far. As we finish out this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week, it is most important that we listen to, honor, and support teachers in doing the work that changes students’ lives. However, I also encourage you to take some time to listen to what policymakers at the U.S. Department of Education have to say. You might just be surprised.