Using Meditation to Mitigate Stress

It’s news to exactly no one that being an educator is stressful. Long
hours are spent in an environment that churns with mental, visual, and emotional stimulation. And when what should be the end of the work day finally arrives, there is still more to do.

For educators, the list of stress and anxiety-inducing triggers is endless—and potentially dangerous to your career and health. Whether you’re nearing burnout’s precipice, or already staring into the abyss, meditation can help. In this first installment of a two-part series about mindfulness, learn what meditation is (and what it isn’t) and how to create a practice.

Why Meditate? In a world filled with inputs, meditation gives your
mind a rest. It also can help you to learn how your mind works. Instead of paying attention to your swirling thoughts— “I’ll never get these papers graded in time.” “I always knew that parent didn’t like me.”—you will attend to your breath and train your mind to bring similar focus to day-to-day life. That’s all “mindfulness” means: It’s having the ability to direct the mind to pay attention to one thing.

Will Meditation Make Me Happy? Nope. But focusing on your breath in meditation helps your mind learn to focus on the present moment. And it’s that ability to keep your mind in the present moment—not ruminating over something in the past, or worrying about something in the future—that lays the groundwork for the calm, happiness, and increased efficiency that often are attributed to meditation.

Where Do I Begin? Insert small pauses into your day. Sit silently in your home or your car before heading into school, or on your bed when you wake up or before you go to sleep.

How Do I Create a Practice? Select a time of day and a location. Sit upright in a comfortable chair with your feet flat on the floor and your hands palms down on your legs. You may also sit cross-legged on a floor cushion. You’ll benefit more from a quick two-minute daily practice than a 30-minute practice that only happens once a week. Think of your mind as a muscle and meditation as its gym. Like your body, your mind will respond better to regular sessions.

It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everydaylife, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

Now What? Set your timer. Five minutes is a great place to start.
Close your eyes, or cast your gaze toward the floor, and begin to notice your body. If you feel areas of tension—the most common are abdomen and shoulders, where many of us hold stress—imagine directing your breath to those areas and encouraging them to relax. Next—and without losing the sense of relaxation—sit up tall and straight. Many of us also hold tension in our jaws, so relax that area by closing your mouth and keeping your lips and teeth slightly parted.

Do I Breathe in a Special Way? No. Focus on the flow of your natural breath. Take a moment to notice where you feel your breath the most. Is it the air entering your nostrils, or exiting? Your breath may be most noticeable in the rise and fall of your chest, or the movement of your abdomen. Place your attention there.

How Do I Stop Thinking? You won’t. Just as it’s not possible to ask
your skin to stop feeling, you can’t tell your mind to stop making thoughts. That’s its J-O-B. Thoughts will come and go. Just keep your attention on your breath, and when you realize a thought has distracted you, return your attention to your breath. It’s the ability to return to the breath in meditation that enables us to return to a task, a conversation, or a lesson in everyday life, and not be totally sidetracked by worries and thoughts.

What If I Miss A Day? That’s fine. The most important thing to remember is that the reason we meditate is so that we can approach others with patience and compassion. What better place to start than with ourselves?

Lisa Leigh is the editor of NEA Today and NEA Today for NEA-Retired Members. She is a 200-hour registered yoga teacher and a certified meditation instructor.

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Neutrality in the Classroom Shortchanges Students

When teaching about U.S. elections or politics many educators will strive for neutrality. They may insist these discussions have no place in the classroom, while others argue that standardization and a lack of time make them a non-starter. Even if there was an opening, the slightest hint of bias could attract the ire of an administrator or parent. In this hyper-polarized political climate, that’s a line that’s easy to stumble across.

All this neutrality or avoidance may work for the teacher – but what about the student?

Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at Michigan State University, believes that a strict adherence to “neutrality” – not expressing your views to students and/or avoiding political topics – is a tactic that can actually marginalize many students.

Neutrality is itself a political choice, Dunn argues, and is one that bolsters the status quo. What results is a classroom that potentially ignores the fears, interests, and concerns of many students.

To be clear, Dunn is not talking about a teacher who stands in front of the class and reads aloud endorsements for local, state and federal political office and then urges students to go home and tell their parents to vote accordingly.

The kind of neutrality that concerns Dunn is, for example, a decision to avoid discussion of  “controversial” issues – racism, inequity, climate change, or gun violence, for example – out of fear of appearing political or partisan.

Education, at it’s core, is inherently political, says Dunn.

“Everything in education—from the textbooks to the curriculum to the policies that govern teachers’ work and students’ learning—is political and ideologically-informed,” she explains. “Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.”

Especially after as the election of Donald Trump.

Although political polarization didn’t begin with his candidacy, Trump’s incendiary, crude, and divisive rhetoric about race, religion, gender, and immigration that marked his campaign (and his presidency) has been deeply unsettling to many, if not most, Americans.

“I don’t care what my school administration says. My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

According to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 2016 presidential campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms…particularly acute in schools with high concentrations of minority children.”

Yet, as Dunn and her colleagues Beth Sondel of the University of Pittsburgh and Hannah Carson Baggett of Auburn University concluded in a recent paper, many teachers continue to feel pressured to remain neutral when discussing Trump and are generally uncomfortable addressing racial and social justice issues in the classroom.

“This pressure (to stay neutral) is reflective of the lack of trust, autonomy and professionalism for teachers in our current climate,” the study, published in the  American Educational Research Journal, concludes.

The researchers surveyed 730 teachers from 43 states to gauge how their pedagogical choices were affected after the election.

Some respondents made it very clear they did not adhere to what they saw as misdirected directives from school or district officials to stay away from anything Trump-related.

One middle school teacher explained that despite the fear many of his students had of deportation and harassment, “my school, tied by a never-ending desire to remain ‘unbiased,’ did nothing and told teachers to limit conversations about the elections because such conversations were not included [in the standards].”

“I don’t care what my school administration says,” the teacher continued.  “My loyalty is to my students and their lives, . . . not to administrator requests to avoid conversations that are uncomfortable.’’

Generally, however, responses from educators were littered with words such as  “fearful,” “anxious,” “unsure,” and “scared,” even as they acknowledged that a more engaged, proactive approach in the classroom may be necessary.

One educator from Massachusetts summed up the dilemma this way:

“Trump unlike any other presidential candidate stands for everything I work to combat: racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. My students fall into categories of people he wants removed or controlled, in his America. I do not know how to talk to my students about this and be neutral (as per country policy).”

According to the study, teaching after the election was most challenging for those who were “ideological outsiders” – Clinton voters in areas where the majority of voters were pro-Trump and vice versa.

“Teachers had to negotiate if and how to talk about their own beliefs knowing that their students’ parents and/or colleagues may disagree with them,” Dunn says.

For example, an elementary teacher from a predominantly White school in Michigan explained,

“I always feel nervous explicitly discussing politics in my classroom due to the variety of views of my students’ parents and my own fear that parents will be upset or complain about me if my own view come up explicitly in classroom lessons/discussions. I know I have students whose parents supported both candidates passionately and I do sort of feel a responsibility to respect their parents’ views (no matter how much I may disagree)”.

It doesn’t help that so much of our discourse is labelled “political” or “partisan,” including discussions about human rights and social justice. Pedagogical choices, the researchers argue, should not be confined by this false construct.

“Making justice-oriented pedagogical choices is not about partisanship or controversy but, rather, is reflective of an overarching commitment to equity,” they write.

Both what is taught and how it is taught is shaped by the cultural, social, political, and historical contexts in which a school is situated. We can’t pretend that teachers can leave these contexts at the door.” – Alyssa Hadley Dunn, Michigan State University

Anchoring discussions to a justice and equity framework can provide educators with a path forward. Still, many of the respondents in the survey did not feel particularly well-prepared to take this on, let alone publicly challenge the presumed virtues of a neutral classroom. The study concludes that teacher training programs need to better prepare educators in adapting their classrooms to help students understand current events and political upheavals. The researchers recommend that current teachers, especially those “ideological outsiders,” seek out networks across schools and districts that can serve as “restorative and supportive communities.”

While Dunn and her colleagues are careful not to downplay the pressures educators face, they emphasize that, ultimately, teachers are charged with preparing their students to work toward a more democratic society.

With 2019 and 2020 shaping up to be just as tumultuous as the previous few years, what are the chances more educators will feel empowered and better prepared to talk politics (for lack of a better word) in their classrooms?

Don’t count on the administration to lead the way, at least not yet. “Districts are still issuing bureaucratic demands on teachers that take their time away from the most important thing they can do in the classroom: create responsive and relevant curriculum for their students,” explains Dunn.

And while too many parents still believe the classroom door should always be shut to any political discussion, they may be “ignoring the reality that such a move is never really possible,” Dunn says.

teaching controversial issuesTeaching the ‘Hard History’ Behind Today’s News
For educators, uncomfortable discussions come with the territory. The challenge is to help students grapple with controversial issues without turning into enemies. The job is also to prepare people with multiple points of view to survive and thrive in self-government.

NEA EdJustice engages and mobilizes activists in the fight for racial, social and economic justice in public education.

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Educators Share their Most Memorable Gifts

From practical and personal to silly and sentimental, the gifts educators receive definitely leave a lasting impression. We asked our Facebook fans to share their most memorable gifts, and, in the spirit of the season, they delivered. Happy Holidays!

A half bottle of used perfume. A fifth grade boy who lost his mom said I reminded him of of her so he wanted me to have her favorite perfume. I wore that perfume every day.
Holly, Bradenton, Florida

A Christmas ornament given to me in June because his locker was such a mess that he “lost” it until the end of the year locker clean out!
Amy, Boyne City, Michigan

It was a hand-written colorful birthday note from a 6th grade student. She wrote about how much she appreciated me not just because of my role in her life, but as a single mother to my own daughter (2nd grade at the time), and how she saw me working hard in that role, as well. It touched my heart and went well beyond her years.
Stacey, Chandler, Arizona

A simple “Thank you” from one of my high schoolers at the end of the year. I said good morning to him every single day that I drove the bus and he never answered, sometimes even scowled. I knew he was going through something deep. On the last day of school, he told me his mother had left the family and he felt lost. He said he felt happy to hear the ‘good morning’ each day.
The best gift ever! It resides in my heart. Marti , Traverse City, Michigan

The students in a club that I sponsored surprised me with a life-sized cardboard cut-out photo of me so that I could be in two places at once. Debi , St. Louis, Missouri

After my dad, a retired science and social studies teacher and park ranger, died, my student bought a tree to be planted in his memory. I got a certificate and everything. My dad planted hundreds of trees in his lifetime, so this was perfect. Emily, Pheonix, Arizona

I taught students from Haiti in a bilingual program. When school was about to be dismissed for Christmas Break they spontaneously got up and begin to run around the room hugging one another, shaking hands, and wishing each other Merry Christmas. Just watching that go on was such a greatest gift! It was heartwarming. Marilyn

When, 15 years after leaving my class, my student, Marco said, “ I became a singer because of you.”
Pam, Oneieda, Wisconsin

After my house was burglarized my third-graders bought me new earrings! Linda, Pensacola, Florida

When I was student teaching a boy gave me a “Favorite Teacher” ornament that he had taken off of another teacher’s tree. You might not see the love in this, but he was very poor, already in a gang, and had never been successful in any class before. It told me I was making a difference in his life…on so many levels. To this day, I don’t care where he got it. Kathleen, Brentwood, California 

I received a hand-painted portrait of my Golden Retriever, done by a second-grade student in a frame made by his Grandfather. Suzanne, Louisville, Kentucky

One of my students made me a traditional Dominican meal which still makes my mouth water when I think about it! Melissa, Hopewell, New Jersey

I worked in a Dual Language school and most of my students were from migrant worker families. Once a young girl gave me a perfume set. I spoke with her mother and expressed my gratitude for the gift. She told me that her daughter worked the fields with them for a month so she could save enough money to buy it. She told me that the gift was her way of showing how proud she was of me for earning my Masters, which I had just done that December. She told me she wanted to be exactly like me and grow up to be a teacher. I still have that empty perfume bottle. My student graduated and is now a teacher and I am honored to have been a small part of her life. Lisa, North Carolina

A seat on a bus. The parents organized a trip to Chicago to see the King Tut exhibit. They paid for all the teachers who wanted to go! Polly, Lebanon, Ohio

My very first student was on the autism spectrum and was primarily nonverbal. Toward the end of the year, I was telling my educational assistant that I had been accepted into the Peace Corps and was going to the Philippines He looked me in the eye and said clearly, “I’ll miss you, Reyna.” Best gift ever and is what got me into the field of special education and autism. Reyna, Nehalem, Oregon

I was pregnant and on bed rest. I went into school the day before break and found a note that said, ”Mrs. Mascaro, I don’t have any money to buy you a gift, so I cleaned your desk. Merry Christmas!” Best Gift Ever.
Kelly, Central Square, New York

A rubbing of my cousin’s name from the Vietnam memorial I received in the mail. A former student was in Washington, D.C. his junior year. I was his third-grade teacher, and always read them “The Wall” on Veterans’ Day, and told them about my cousin. I can’t believe he remembered that! Stephanie

One of my students made a Lord of the Rings cookbook for me. He found the recipes online, and made a leather cover with the Tree of Gondor. I treasure it. Ann, Anchorage, Alaska

After winter break I had a first-grader drag in a Christmas tree he found in the alley to school to give to me. Dolores, El Paso, Texas 

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Your Computer Isn’t Broken: Quick Tech Fixes for Students

The Number One reason—according to students—why their computer doesn’t work is… It’s broken. As a teacher, I hear this daily, often followed by their preferred solution, “I need a different computer.” My students innately think computer problems are something they can’t solve. I asked them what happened in class when I wasn’t there to fix the problem, or at home. I usually got a shrug and one of these responses:

“My classroom teacher can’t fix them.”

“My mom/dad can’t fix them.”

“The school tech people couldn’t get there fast enough.”

Which got me thinking about how these problems that bring learning to a screeching halt really aren’t that complicated. They don’t require a Ph.D in engineering or years of experience in IT. So why not teach kids how to troubleshoot their own problems?

I started with a list. Every time a student had a tech problem, I wrote it down and then ticked it off each time it happened. It didn’t take long to determine that there are about 16 problems that happen often and repetitively. Once students learned how to solve these, they’d be able to fix half of the problems that bring their education to a screeching halt. I spent the school year teaching the solutions authentically as they arose starting in kindergarten. By the end of second grade, students felt empowered. By the end of fifth grade, they rarely asked for help.

Here’s my list but yours may be different. Include those that arise in your school’s educational endeavor. For example, if you use Macs, right-click issues won’t be as big a deal.

Once students have these in their toolkit, they realize they can solve their own problems, they can troubleshoot, and they can act independently. Not only does this impact how they use technology but every other part of their lives.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is
the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources, including a K-8
technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, and a K-8 Digital Citizenship

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Dual-Language Immersion Programs Boost Student Success

If you are an English Language Learner (ELL) enrolled in a dual immersion program, learning to speak, read, and write English is about many things. It’s about new words. It’s about pronunciation. It’s about becoming bilingual and biliterate. Above all, it is about something very elemental: maintaining your native tongue while gaining access to grade-level classes in math, science, and other subjects.

Dual-language immersion programs are effective because they encourage students to master English but not at the cost of losing their native language, says Elizabeth Villanueva, a language and literature teacher at Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif.

“Language is power,” says Villanueva, a member of the Sacramento City Teachers Association (SCTA). “When we encourage students to use their language while learning English, academic success follows.”

In Minnesota, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) is one of the state’s largest school districts with more than 37,000 students who speak more than 125 languages.

“Maintaining a student’s native language is vital to their self-esteem, family heritage, and identity,” says See Pha Vang, a teacher with the SPPS Office of Teaching and Learning. “German, French, Spanish … all native languages are critical to who we are as individuals.”

Two-Way Language Learning

Numerous studies have shown that academic skills and knowledge transfer between languages, according to James Crawford and Sharon Adelman Reyes, authors of Diary of a Bilingual School, which combines narratives and analysis from a Chicago magnet school to demonstrate how dual language programs work.

“Students who learn to read well in, say, Spanish, tend to learn to read well in English over the long term,” the authors state in an article for Colorin Colorado. “Developing fluent bilingualism also gives children a variety of economic, cultural, cognitive, and psychosocial advantages.”

Dual immersion has proven successful precisely because “it avoids skill-building in favor of natural approaches to language acquisition,” according to the authors. “Students acquire a new language incidentally, as they understand it, by making sense of it in context, while engaged in purposeful activities.”

Comprehension is enhanced when children from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds interact and learn from each other in the same classroom, according to Crawford and Reyes. Immersion teachers employ sheltering strategies that adjust the language of academic lessons to students’ current level of understanding.

“The emphasis is on developing children’s capacity to use the language for meaningful pursuits, an approach that is far more likely to engage their interest than memorizing the syntactical forms of English or Spanish,” they state. “It is also far more likely to foster proficient bilingualism.”

Heritage Language Learners: Spanish

Latino students enter U.S. public schools at varying degrees of language literacy. Some are from families who have been in the U.S. for generations and happen not to speak fluent Spanish. Some are bilingual in Spanish and English. Some are immigrants who cannot speak a word of English, while others are illiterate in even their native tongue from lack of formal schooling.

“The linguistic needs of a second or third generation Latino are very different from someone who arrived in the U.S. at age 16,” says Villanueva, who has conducted research and written numerous papers on language and cultural heritage. “Whatever their grasp of English, we should use their linguistic skills to empower and enrich their education and sense of self.”

Dual language programs and curriculum, says Villanueva, can prompt student’s interest to connect new words and knowledge with their own learning experiences and surroundings.

“When students make these connections, they create an internal relationship with the subject matter, new words, and culture that builds their confidence,” she says. “This ultimately leads to academic success.”

In 2017, Latinos were almost 18 percent (57.5 million) of the U.S. population. As members of the nation’s largest ethnic or racial minority, many ELL Latino students exist in a familiar environment surrounded by Latino family members, music, food, and culture. For those who are literate in Spanish, learning English is enhanced when they are encouraged to immerse themselves in both cultures and languages, according to Villanueva.

“Encouraging them (heritage learners) to read and write in Spanish not only prepares them better for academic success in mainstream courses, it also enhances their learning skills in English,” she says. “Dual immersion programs work well because these students are motivated to cultivate their Spanish as well as their English skills.”

Heritage Language Learners: Hmong

In Saint Paul Public Schools, the top four languages are Spanish, Somali, Karen (spoken in Myanmar (Burma) and the borders of Thailand), and Hmong, a language and dialect native to China, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand.

Hmong is an endangered language, says Vang, a native of Laos who speaks Hmong, Lao, and English. She also studied Spanish in high school and college.

“The main reason is that Hmong is, traditionally, an oral language,” she says. “It is passed on verbally from one generation to the next.”

In response to the growing Hmong community in St. Paul over the last dozen years, the district established the Hmong Dual Language Program for elementary school students and Hmong Language and Culture Program for students in middle and high school.

Vang, who joined the dual language program about five years ago, says there are no higher education institutions or recognized scholars in the Hmong language arts to reference regarding lesson plans, curriculum, and other etymological formalities.

“We are our own resources,” says Vang, a member of the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers (SPFT). “We (language teachers) consult with each other and with Hmong elders about the language, cultural values and identity.”

In SPPS, many of the enrolled Hmong students arrived in the U.S. not knowing English. The Hmong immersion program was developed to foster bilingual, biliterate students by easing them into speaking English as they progress with their peers through the public-school system.

In the early years of their education, Hmong students spend the majority of their school day reading, writing, and speaking in Hmong. Their instruction involves learning English through the use of their native language. As students gain knowledge and experience, the percentage of classroom time using English increases.

“If you live here, you have to learn English,” says Vang. “But there are also tremendous benefits to speaking your own language and other world languages. The boost in self-esteem, world-view, and joy of experiencing other cultures cannot be valued enough.”

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The Bittersweet Experience of Teaching Overseas

Judi Nicolay has taught in Brussels for 24 years (Photo: Leilani Hyatt)

Randy Ricks teaches at Lester Middle School located on Kadena U.S. Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. Tokyo, Bangkok, and Hong Kong are a short plane flight away.

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture,” says Ricks, a member of the Federal Education Association (FEA). “The opportunities to travel are great.”

In Brussels, Judi Nicolay teaches English, history, and finance to the children of military service personnel and foreign diplomats at the annex of the U.S Army Garrison. Cities like Hamburg, Germany, Paris, and Vienna, are a drive or train ride away.

“It’s one of the advantages . . . seeing new places,” says Nicolay, who has taught in Brussels for 24 years out of her 30 as a federal employee of the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA), the civilian branch of the Department of Defense that serves more than 70,000 students of service members and civilian staff in 11 nations, seven U.S. states, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For 28 years, Stacey Mease taught school in South Korea and Turkey before her current assignment at Robinson Barracks Elementary School in Stuttgart, Germany.

“The military community is really a melting pot,” says Mease, a former military dependent who attended four DoDEA schools growing up. “I enjoy working with people from all over America who have different backgrounds.”

The combination of living overseas for years, while firmly planted in U.S. military culture, helps some FEA members cope with being away from family back home, according to Rhoda Rozier Cody, who teaches at Humphreys Central Elementary School at Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, a rural city in the middle of the South Korean countryside.

“Day to day life is pretty normal, but when we travel it is to places that we may not be able to visit if we were working in the States,” she says. “It is a global experience working overseas.”

DoDEA’s Changing Landscape

Weekend train trips across Europe. Basking in the Middle Eastern sun. Wandering the cobblestone streets of ancient Asian cities. That’s only part of the experience of working overseas for DoDEA. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of negative aspects to the job.

“There are many reasons why I joined DoDEA that are no more,” says a veteran teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Some teachers fear losing their jobs.”

Stacey Mease

Stacey Mease teaches in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo: Sabrina Wilson)

While DoDEA schools have adequate resources, there are many components that make the job challenging.

“DoDEA used to provide very good professional development both during the summer and school year that really met the needs of teachers,” says a teacher, who has worked with DoDEA since the 1990s. “In recent years, professional development has been one-size-fits-all.”

After more than 30 years of teaching within the DoDEA system, as well as growing up in a military family, a second educator expresses dismay about a lack of support from DoDEA officials.

“These last few years, we are having an issue getting respect from our leaders,” the teacher says. “It is a shame, because living overseas, our teachers, administrators, students and parents have always been more like a family.”

According to several accounts by FEA members who were attracted to DoDEA by the chance to work in a variety of countries, opportunities to transfer to a different location within the system have all but vanished.

An Imperfect System Getting Worse

DoDEA salaries and benefits are commensurate with those in school systems based in the U.S. As federal employees working overseas, teachers receive benefits that include health insurance, retirement contributions and allowances for housing and transportation.

Under the tax law passed this year, allowances and assistance for airfare and the shipment of vehicles, clothing, furniture and other household goods are now being considered as income and therefore taxable. DoDEA has not clearly communicated the change to new teachers entering the system, FEA says. Consequently, new teachers and retirees are being blindsided by a high tax debt.

“There is a current effort by the federal government to place an unfair tax burden on employees who receive moving assistance from the government when entering or leaving federal service,” says FEA President Chuck McCarter. “In addition, too many people are not receiving their proper pay or having their pay docked for bogus debts the government claims they owe. FEA continues to press management to resolve these issues.”

Chuck McCarter

Federal Education Association President Chuck McCarter (Photo: Courtesy of FEA)

Efforts by the Trump administration to weaken bargaining rights, union representation, and employees’ rights to due process government-wide are affecting DoDEA teachers.

“They (DoDEA officials) are also forcing bad contracts on our stateside and overseas bargaining units,” says McCarter. “They all stem from DoDEA management’s complete lack of respect for its school-level employees.”

McCarter says DoDEA senior officials possess a pervasive attitude of: “If you’re not happy, make an adult decision and leave.”

“Management simply does not care what building-level educators—the people who actually work with students on a daily basis—have to say about the learning and working environment in our schools,” says McCarter, who spends weeks at a time meeting with FEA members, who belong to eight DoDEA school districts containing 166 schools in the U.S., Europe, and the Pacific.

When it comes to curriculum, decisions are made by people based at DoDEA headquarters in Alexandria, Va., “who have not been in the classroom in years,” says McCarter.

A separate survey by FEA reveals the following:
– 82 percent of members say DoDEA is not heading in the right direction.
– 17 hours per week, on average, is the time members work outside the duty day.
– 19 percent of members’ workday is spent on non-essential duties assigned by management.

“Decisions are made with no input from the field and no thought to how they’ll be implemented, how to train the school-level staff to use new resources, or how these new programs and initiatives dreamed up by management will impact classroom learning and the amount of time educators have to work directly with students,” he adds. “There is also a disturbing trend toward the micromanagement of classrooms, ignoring educators’ professional judgment.”

Last spring, DoDEA management lobbied Congress—which, along with the Pentagon and White House, serve as DoDEA’s de facto school board—to create a new law governing DoDEA schools that would have gutted bargaining and due process rights.

“Fortunately, with help from NEA members who wrote to Congress on our behalf, we were able to convince lawmakers that DoDEA’s proposal was a bad idea,” says McCarter.

In a 2017 report of the best places to work in the federal government, the Partnership for Public Service ranked DoDEA in the bottom 5 percent—322 out of 339 agencies. The report is an assessment of how federal workers view their jobs and workplaces, considering leadership, pay, innovation, and other issues.

Sheltering Members

“As public employees, our members are often afraid to point out problems and shortcomings of DoDEA out of fear of management targeting them for retribution or even dismissal,” says McCarter. “It’s not a healthy environment and certainly not one that would promote improvements in the system.”

The Federal Education Association is NEA’s state affiliate representing more than 8,000 faculty and staff in the DoDEA system. FEA represents two bargaining units: Stateside (including Guam) and Overseas (including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba).

The overseas unit is divided into two areas:
– Europe, where members are located primarily in the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.
– The Pacific (South Korea, Okinawa, and mainland Japan).

Randy Ricks

“I love living in a foreign country and experiencing the local culture. The opportunities to travel are great,” says Randy Ricks (Photo: Courtesy of Randy Ricks)

FEA members worldwide include teachers, counselors, school psychologists and speech/language pathologists. Education support professionals (ESP) are part of FEA’s stateside bargaining unit but are represented by other unions overseas. FEA also has an active NEA-Retired membership.

As federal employees, FEA members have strict limitations on their actions and speech in the work place.

“The Association does its best to shelter members, but we simply can’t stop all of the blows when the whole system right now is rigged against federal employees and their unions,” says McCarter.

But there is a bright side to working for DoDEA, he says.

“The faculty and staff in our schools enjoy great respect and support from the military parents and communities we work with,” says McCarter. “And, of course, our members have the utmost respect and appreciation for those military personnel and their families, whom we are honored to serve.”

A Pacific Tale

The U.S. government regularly looks for teachers to work abroad. When Mary Anne Harris was teaching at a Catholic grade school in the early 1990s, she attended an international teachers’ recruitment fair.

“I found the international schools tended to serve the elite members of both American and local nationals near U.S. embassies,” says Harris, in her 26th year with DoDEA, based at Kadena Middle School in Okinawa. “In contrast, DoDEA schools provide educational opportunities for the children of servicemen, like my father.”

Like many FEA members, Harris grew up in a military family. Her father served in the U.S. Air Force.

“I liked the idea of serving those who serve our country,” she says. “DoDEA teachers are a unique group of individuals who left home to seek adventure overseas.”

Harris says her students experience the hardship of frequent residential moves and parent deployments, but still maintain “a resilient moxie that is totally amazing.”

“We are a highly successful school system that provides students with loving, motivational and educational learning opportunities,” she adds.

The same could be said of educators like Harris who in October lived for several days under lockdown and without electricity after Okinawa experienced a massive typhoon.

“We managed,” she says.

Salary Schedule

Educators working overseas are considered defense civilian personnel and are compensated according to a public law (86-91) created for overseas DoDEA schools.

According to figures for the 2017-2018 school year, the pay range is $44,170 (Step 1) for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree through $89,205 at the top of the scale (Step 18) for a teacher with a Ph.D. A teacher with a master’s degree would start at $48,490 (Step 1), reach $64,735 at Step 10 and top out at $78, 795.

Steps 15-18 are longevity steps payable upon completion of four years of service in Steps 14-17, respectively.

Salaries for educators overseas are set at the average pay for educators compiled from more than 250 urban school districts as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau with a population of at least 100,000. Figures for the current school year were still being tabulated at press time.

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With the Free Press Under Attack, Student Journalists Thrive

Student journalists at Clayton High School, outside St. Louis, took a hard look at football-related brain injuries this fall, asking questions like, “Why do we still play football? What do we know about what it does to people’s brains?” and interviewing players, athletic directors, and a concussion expert at Vanderbilt University.

This followed a cover story on designing a “more perfect school,” based on what scientists know about sleep, exercise, and learning science, and preceded a deep dive into post-surgical pain medications that sometimes may lead young people to heroin addictions.

These aren’t easy times to be journalists. Recent polls show one in three Americans can’t name any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, and more than a third of Republicans think “press freedom does more harm than good.” From the White House, President Donald Trump recently tweeted that “a large percentage of the media” is “the enemy of the people.”

And yet, the students at Clayton High School are doubling down on journalism. Never in her tenure have more students been involved in their award-winning print and online news outlets, says journalism advisor Erin Sucher-O’Grady. “We have about 850 students in the whole school—it’s a relatively small public school—and I have about 100 students involved in the Globe and the website,” says Sucher-O’Grady.

And it’s not just Clayton High School. College applications to notable journalism schools are up—24 percent at Northwestern University, for example. At the University of Maryland this year, the incoming class in the journalism college is 50 percent bigger than last year. “Every time [Trump] calls journalists the ‘enemy of the people,’ or says something about ‘fake news,’ or gets a crowd at a rally to jeer at the White House press corps,” Maryland journalism dean Lucy Dalglish told the Washington Post, more students decide “they’re going to major in journalism.”

Fake News?!

This isn’t the first time that current events have inspired a flood of journalism students. In 1972, Washington journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward captivated the nation with their investigation of a corrupt White House. A generation of students was inspired to work in newsrooms. Then, like now, young people sought to seek truth and change the world.

Today’s headlines—from climate change to police shootings to federal shenanigans—carry a similar message, that the work of a free media is critical and necessary to a Constitutional democracy. “We’re in a sort of singular moment, in the way that I perceive happened after Watergate, where we understood that it’s an important civic responsibility to do this work,” says Sucher-O’Grady. “There is a sentiment that America needs journalists.”


The Globe Newsmagazine, a production of the journalism staffs at Clayton High School in St. Louis, has won national awards.

Even as journalism students are energized by current events, their studies aren’t the same as they were in 1972. Consider the rise of “fake news,” or news articles that are wholly made up and published on the Internet. In 2016, about one in four Americans visited a fake-news website during a five-week period, according to a Princeton University study that tracked the internet movements of willing participants. A more recent study found that fake news travels faster on Twitter than actual truthful news.

My students wonder what their role is in fighting this: What do they do? I tell them their main role is not to pass it on!” says Dennis Swibold, a professor of journalism at the University of Montana in Bozeman.

But fighting fake news shouldn’t be the job of journalism teachers only, says Swibold. “We’re talking information literacy here, and I don’t care if you’re a scientist or an economist, you have to care about being able to find credible information. If truth is under attack, it’s not just journalists who should be worrying.

“I asked my class of 20 today, and only three or four say that ‘maybe’ they had any training in information literacy,” says Swibold. “This has to be a broad push through education.”

Paul Aubrey, a journalism teacher at North Kansas City High School in Missouri, agrees. “My students talk about this from day one. We look at news stories and talk about how to recognize real news,” he says.

Clayton High School journalism advisor Erin Sucher-O’Grady (center) with two Globe staffers in 2013.

But the issue is bigger: “It’s not just about teaching kids to be student journalists, it’s about teaching all students to be skeptical consumers of information,” says Aubrey. “My personal opinion is that it should be required of all students.”

Meanwhile, more than ever, journalism teachers are talking about truth and accuracy. “We talk a lot in our law and ethics unit about anonymous sources and what they do to the public’s trust of news outlets. Journalists will use anonymous sources when that source is afraid they’re going to lose their job, or when they’re afraid they might come to financial or legal harm because of talking,” says Aubrey. “But I don’t think news outlets are good at explaining why they use anonymous sources, and it breeds distrust.”

Future Woodwards

On Sucher-O’Grady’s staff at the Globe, she might have a future Bob Woodward or Gwen Ifill, or she might not. Over the years, a few of her former students have landed at local newspapers, but being a student journalist doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a working one someday.

And that’s okay.

“I tell students and families that I know the majority of students entering this space aren’t going to be journalists in their future professions,” says Sucher-O’Grady.

“The things I really care about are transferrable into any field—the having a conversation with somebody you don’t know and having that person walk away and say, ‘That was professional,’ the writing skills obviously are useful, and also the leadership skills. This is a student-run publication by our school board policy—kids are in the drivers’ seat—and so we talk about how upperclassmen need to mentor and coach the underclassmen who will someday take their place.”

The New Voices Act

The movement to protect student journalists

In September, the student newspaper at Vermont’s Burlington High School reported a guidance counselor had been charged by the state with six counts of unprofessional conduct. One day later, the school’s interim principal ordered student journalists to remove the article. They refused—and the article remains online today.

But in Pennsylvania, a student editor says her principal suppressed about a dozen articles, including a front-page story about marijuana use and an editorial about the district’s mishandling of students’ sexual assault complaints.

The difference? Vermont—and not Pennsylvania—is among 14 states with laws to protect student journalists from censorship.

In recent years, the nationwide New Voices campaign, led by the nonprofit Student Press Law Center (SPLC), has sought to expand protections for student journalists. Last year, it helped introduce bills in eight states. In March, a New Voices Act became law in Washington.

In states that pass New Voices, lawmakers nullify the effects of the 1988 Supreme Court ruling in Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier, which allows principals with “legitimate pedagogical reasons” to censor student journalists. Since then however, principals have used Hazelwood as cover to kill articles about hazing in school sports, unsafe conditions in school facilities, and other embarrassing reveals. “It is a mentality that the paramount concern of school governance—more important than effective teaching and learning—is to get through a day without controversy,” writes SPLC Executive Director Frank LoMonte.

In Paul Aubrey’s classroom, principals haven’t censored anything that he recalls—but the threat of censorship still impacts his students’ thinking. “They’ll come up with an idea and then say, ‘Oh, they’ll never let us do that!’ and abandon it,” he says.

“Administrators are very concerned with image, and they want all the news about a school to be positive. And most student publications are very positive because students are proud of their school for the most part,” says Aubrey. “But there are problems everywhere and the point of journalism is to shine a light on those problems. If you’re not allowed to practice that as a high school journalist, you start to believe you have to give in, that you can’t fight power.”

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Effective Engaging Strategies Not Just an Investment in Students

Recently, I conducted a survey of sixth through twelfth graders and asked them one simple question: What engages you as a learner? The responses flooded in from every school model out there—from each coast, and from districts both rural and urban. And no matter the student, their responses could be categorized into the same 10 strategies of student engagement.

I’ll be covering some of those strategies throughout this NEA Today series on student engagement, but my focus today is on rationale. I want to make the argument that by focusing on student engagement, you, the teacher, will be more engaged as well. It’s not the only reason to focus your practice on student engagement, but there’s no reason not to rank your own enjoyment of teaching high up on the rationale-meter.

As I say in my book, Just Ask Us: Kids Speak out on Student Engagement (Corwin, AMLE 2017), using engagement strategies to lure kids into learning—while it might seem draining—is actually an investment in your own energy as an educator.

Being engaging as a teacher is not just an investment in students; it’s also an investment in you and your quality of life.

After all, I’m selfish. I want to like my job. I want to like how I spend my day. Focusing on student engagement, even before I focus on content, not only ups my own  enjoyment and makes classroom management easier, it also happens to positively affect student achievement. It’s a win- win.

Neurologist-turned-educator, Dr. Judy Willis says that “when we scrub joy and comfort from the classroom, we distance our students from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.”

Boredom, as it turns out, isn’t just an energy-sucker, it’s a brainpower-sucker too. In other words, if a student is bored, a cycle can begin where the brain becomes less able to re-engage.

Yet, teachers often tend to focus their curriculum development efforts primarily in content standards—sometimes to the detriment of enjoyment.

Educator and author Kelly Gallagher says, “Engagement first, then content, then rigor.” In that order. Kids simply won’t learn if they aren’t engaged. For that reason, I believe that the student engagement standards are, in the land of Google-able answers, as important to utilize as the content standards.

So it’s also about doing a job we can be proud of. We can’t help our students without using engagement strategies. We as a profession are competing for these kids’ attention with so many other outside elements. We are competing against social media and Netflix. We are competing against having crushes and getting dumped. We are competing against hunger and homelessness, bullying, and abuse. We are competing against elements in our students’ lives that range from traumatic to simply more interesting, and those elements will win out…unless we prove to students that we or our curriculum can be more engaging.

The good news is that engagement is cyclical. If your students are engaged, you will be too. See, student engagement acts like a teacher’s batteries. The students’ eureka moments, their excitement, discoveries, and efforts recharge you. And much like your phone gets a new boost of energy after you slap on a spare charger, you get a new surge of engagement for each day the students are engaged.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

When that silent student in class appears online to praise and give feedback on another student’s essay, that engages us. When that seemingly bored student lifts his head from the desk in alert attention at the prospect of going outside to read under a tree, that engages us. When the student who never shares the air actively listens to her peers in her small group, seeking advice from others in the room, that engages us. When that student asks to use Minecraft to visualize the setting of her novel because she’s been allowed to choose her own way to show her knowledge, that engages us.

So to sum up the answer to the question: Why focus on student engagement? Here’s why:

  •  It increases student achievement.
  •  It makes classroom management easier.
  • It increases teacher enjoyment in a really difficult job.

It’s become a part of our responsibility to not only teach the content, but to teach it in a way that stands a chance against the competition. And the only way to do it is to tackle our students’ levels of engagement.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron is a middle school teacher, a fellow of the National Writing Project, and a faculty member at Buck Institute for Education. This article is Wolpert-Gawron’s first in an NEA Today series about student engagement.

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The Wild and Amazing World of Augmented Reality

The poster child for a cutting-edge classroom over the years has included computers (back in your mom’s school days), iPads (a surprisingly long time ago), 3D printing, Maker Space, and G Suite. By now, those have all been mainstreamed, with savvy parents asking, “What else do you offer?” In today’s world, “Augmented Reality” is the most popular ending to the sentence that begins, “My school actually has…” Called AR for short, the technology does exactly what the name suggests: It allows students to learn more about what they see.

Using reality inspired by their lesson plan, teachers expand—in fact, they supersize—lessons with motion, color, websites, audio, and other pieces that enrich students’ experience. When students unpack learning via AR, they want more and don’t want to leave. They also develop a willingness to solve complex math problems and understand deep concepts just
so they can see what else comes with augmented reality.

As an affordable boost to educational engagement, AR in theory takes students into Harry Potter’s world where school hallways are lined with interactive paintings. After downloading an Android or iOS AR app, students aim their phones at an image (called a “trigger”) and reveal deeper content layered on top of the physical world. The content can be a student’s discussion of a book they read or the inspiration behind their artwork. Unlike QR codes or other embedded link technologies, AR content is superimposed onto existing materials in the student’s own real-time environment.

How is AR Different From Virtual Reality?

Ask anyone about AR, and the usual answers will conflate it with Virtual Reality (VR), which is a wonderful education tool in its own right. But there are important distinctions between the two. Kathy Schrock, Adobe Education Leader, Google Certified Teacher, Sony Education Ambassador, Discovery Education STAR and a DEN Guru, and columnist for Discovery Education (just to name a few of her accolades) said it best:

“Augmented reality layers computer- generated enhancements on top of an existing reality to make it more meaningful through the ability to interact with it.”

“Virtual reality is a computergenerated simulation of real life… It immerses users by making them feel they are experiencing the simulated reality firsthand.”

How to Use AR

While AR isn’t difficult or expensive to use (especially when compared to 3D printing or makerspaces), it does require forethought and planning. You’ll need a smartphone or tablet with a back-facing camera, an augmented reality app (many free versions are available), a trigger image (you can create one yourself, probably for free), and an Internet connection. Then, scan the trigger image with a mobile device app and see what happens!

10 Ways to Use Augmented Reality in the Classroom

I collected the best ways to use AR in the classroom from colleagues and edtech websites (like Edutopia) to provide a good overview of the depth and breadth of education now being addressed with AR-infused projects:

Book Reviews: Students record themselves giving a brief review of a novel that they just finished, and then attach digital information to a book. Afterward, anyone can scan the cover of the book and instantly access the review.

Classroom Tour: Make a class picture image trigger a virtual tour of a classroom.

Faculty Photos: Display faculty photos so visitors can scan the image of an instructor and see it come to life with their background.

Homework Mini-Lessons: Students scan homework to reveal information that will help them solve a problem.

Lab Safety: Put triggers around a science laboratory that students can scan to learn safety procedures.

Parent Involvement: Record parents encouraging their child, and attach a trigger image to the child’s desk.

Requests: Trigger to a Google form to request time with the teacher, librarian, or other educator.

Sign Language Flashcards: Create flashcards that contain a video overlay showing how to sign a word or phrase.

Word Walls: Students record themselves defining vocabulary words. Classmates scan them to get definitions and sentences using the word.

Yearbooks: So many ways, just know AR will energize any yearbook.

AR is the next great disruptive force in education. If your goal is to create lifelong learners inspired by knowledge, AR, in its infancy, holds the seeds for meeting that goal.

Jacqui Murray has been teaching K–18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over 100 tech ed resources including a K–8 technology curriculum, K–8 keyboard curriculum, K–8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. Murray is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, webmaster for four blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. Find her resources at Structured Learning. This essay first appeared at

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10 Challenges Facing Public Education Today

Whether you’re a classroom teacher, school counselor, paraeducator, bus driver, cafeteria worker or school secretary, everyone who works in a public school faces a new school year ready to do the job they love. But they are also prepared to confront undeniable challenges. These challenges may differ district to district, school to school, but one thing is clear: the voice of educators is needed now more than ever and their unions are providing the megaphone. It’s not up to our teachers and school staff to shoulder this burden themselves. Administrators, parents, communities, lawmakers must do their part. But as the mobilization of educators that began earlier this year has demonstrated so powerfully – the “Educator Spring” as NEA President Lily Eskelsen García calls it – the nation is finally listening to what they have to say.


When educators from around the country walked out of their classrooms last spring, their message was clear: Our students deserve better. By taking this action, they said no more jam-packed classrooms with 40-plus desks, no more decades-old textbooks held together with rubber bands, and no more leaky ceilings, broken light fixtures, pest infestations, and cuts to basic curricula that are essential to a well-rounded education.

“We are truly in a state of crisis,” says Noah Karvelis, an educator from Arizona, where cuts to public school funding have been deeper than anywhere else in the country.

Public school funding has been cut to the quick all over the country after excessive and reckless tax cuts.

It’s been more than 10 years since the Great Recession, but many states are providing far less money to their schools today than they did before the crash. Our schools are crumbling and educators are leaving the profession in droves, unable to pay off student debt or make ends meet on stagnant salaries.

As of the 2017 – 2018 school year, at least 12 states had slashed “general” or “formula” funding—the primary form of state support for elementary and secondary schools—by 7 percent or more per student over the last decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Seven of the states—Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—enacted tax cuts costing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each year, instead of restoring education funding.

“To add to this heartache, new teachers in our state of North Carolina have never known anything different, and many even believe our current reality is normal,” says Todd Warren, a Spanish teacher and president of North Carolina’s Guilford County Association of Educators. “While the wealthy and corporate elite recovered from the recession of 2008, public school teachers and their students did not. North Carolina public school teachers make more than 11 percent less on average than we did 15 years ago when salaries are adjusted for inflation.”

But it’s the students who suffer the most from budget cuts, particularly poor students. Public education has been a pathway out of poverty for families for generations, but that pathway is blocked when schools are unable to offer a decent education.Too often, low-income students end up in schools with the lowest funding, fewest supplies, the least rigorous curriculum, and the oldest facilities and equipment, according to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

On average, school districts spend around $11,000 per student each year, but the highest-poverty districts receive an average of $1,200 less per child than the least-poor districts, while districts serving the largest numbers of students of color get about $2,000 less than those serving the fewest students of color, the study says.

No more, says Todd Warren.

“There are enough of us to say, ‘Enough!’” says Warren. “It is time to leverage our power now.”

Join millions of voices fighting for our nation’s public school students and educators. Take the #RedforEd Pledge! 


A 2018 survey by the Pew Research Center conducted two months after this year’s February school shooting in Parkland, Fla., showed that 57 percent of U.S. teenagers are worried that a shooting could take place at their own school. One in four are “very worried” about the chance.

Those numbers are staggering but hardly surprising given the rash of school shootings that have captured headlines this year, and in previous years. Since the shooting at Colorado’s Columbine High School in April 1999, more than 187,000 U.S. students have been exposed to gun violence in school.

Fed up with lawmakers’ inaction, students across the nation in 2018 are leading a national movement to bring common sense to the discussion.

Educators understand if students don’t feel safe at school, achievement suffers. It’s the paramount duty of everyone in the community–and the politicians who represent them–to help create safe learning spaces.

Arming teachers and school staff is not the answer. According to an NEA survey, seven in 10 educators said arming school personnel would be ineffective at preventing gun violence in schools and two-thirds said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.

Educators across the U.S. stood up to reject the idea that more weapons would help save student lives. As of May 2017, only one state had passed a law that mandated arming teachers and staff.

“We don’t want to be armed. We want better services for our students,” says Corinne McComb, an elementary educator from Norwich, Conn. “More psychologists and counselors who can be present for the students more than one day a week or month. We need services for families. We have the money, we can do this.”


Kathy Reamy, a school counselor at La Plata High School in La Plata, Md., says the trend is unmistakable.

“Honestly, I’ve had more students this year hospitalized for anxiety, depression, and other mental-health issues than ever,” says Reamy, who also chairs the NEA School Counselor Caucus. “There’s just so much going on in this day and age, the pressures to fit in, the pressure to achieve, the pressure of social media.”

It doesn’t help, adds Denise Pope of Stanford University, that schools have become “a pressure cooker for students and staff…and student and teacher stress feed off each other.”

According to a 2018 study by the University of Missouri, 93 percent of elementary school teachers report they are “highly stressed.”

Stressful schools aren’t healthy for anyone. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure, a little nervousness over an exam, or a teacher who wants students to succeed. We all feel pressure, but something else is going on.

The causes and convergence of teacher and student stress has been a growing concern over the past decade. Research has consistently shown that stress levels in newer educators especially is leading many of them to exit the profession within five years.

Teachers need adequate resources and support in their jobs in order to battle burnout and alleviate stress in the classroom. If we do not support teachers, we risk the collateral damage of students.

One solution for students could be more one-on-one time with psychologists and counselors. But that’s a challenge since so many of those positions have been cut and are not coming back. That said, more and more schools take the issue of stress seriously, and have begun to look at ways to change policies over homework, class schedules, and later school start times to help alleviate the pressure many students feel.

“People are finally seeing what negative stress does to the body, what that does to the psyche, and what it does to school engagement,” says Pope. “Schools and communities know stress is a problem and they want solutions.”


Think back on the days when you were in middle school and high school. Remember the awkwardness, anxiety, and angst that hung over you like a cloud? Your students, no matter their behavior, are probably grappling with the same troubling emotions, says Robin McNair, the Restorative Practices Program coordinator for Prince George’s County in Maryland.

“When you look beyond behavior, when you truly look at the person behind the behavior, you’ll often find a cry for help,” says McNair, whose work in Restorative Justice Practices (RJP) aims to drastically reduce suspensions and expulsions, increase graduation rates, and transform student behaviors.

RJP has proven to be the most effective way for educators to break the school-to-prison pipeline, a national trend where children—mostly low-income and children of color—are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems through harsh “zero tolerance” discipline policies for even minor infractions.

In the 2013 – 2014 school year, the most recent nationwide data available, black students were three times more likely to receive both in-school and out-of-school suspensions than white students.

Rather than casting out students after wrongdoing, RJP seeks to reintegrate them into the classroom or school community to make amends and learn how to handle problems more positively. 

Simply put, students are better off in school than they are when they’re kicked out and left to their own devices in an empty home or apartment, where court involvement becomes more likely. But all students who participate in RJP—even those not directly involved in a conflict—report feeling safer and happier.

McNair suggests that educators strive to create a tight-knit community, even a family, in their classrooms from day one so that students not only know each other, but genuinely care about each other. 

“Restorative practices aren’t only for use after a conflict or incident. These practices allow us to proactively build community within a classroom and within a school by nurturing relationships between teachers and students,” McNair says. “When students know that you care about them they are more likely to follow the rules and more likely to stay in the classroom and do the work,” adds McNair.

Learn more about restorative practices in schools.


According to the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC), about 8 million students missed more than three weeks of school during the 2015 – 2016 school year, up from 6.8 million the previous year.

Chronic absenteeism is typically defined as missing 10 percent or more of a school year. This translates  to roughly 18 days a year, or two days every month. Chronic absenteeism is usually a precursor to dropping out. And dropouts often wind up before the court.

Educators like Lois Yukna have created innovative ideas designed to keep kids in school. Others can learn from what Yukna is doing. 

For more decades, Yukna was a school bus driver in Middlesex County, N.J. Today, Yukna is a school attendance officer in New Jersey’s Woodbridge Township School District. Her job now is to make sure that once students get to school, they stay. 

When students don’t attend school regularly, Yukna works closely with students, parents, and the courts to turn the situation around.

“Something needed to be done because the main goal is to educate students, and they can’t be educated if they’re not in school,” says Yukna.

She noticed that students who were frequent no-shows at school were the same ones whose behavior when they attended resulted in detentions, suspensions, and sometimes, trouble with police.

Yukna and a guidance counselor in the Woodbridge district put their heads together to come up with something that would emphasize restorative practices instead of suspension and encourage students to return to and stay in school.

Supported by NEA grants, the program exposes about 100 students “to a world of possibilities through internships, mentorships, and achievement incentives.” Parents have classes on nutrition, health, and the impact of social media and family dynamics on learning. “They learn how to motivate their children to come to school and do their best,” Yukna says.

In the first year, approximately 85 percent of the students improved in at least one area: academics, attendance, or attitude. In the second year, all of the students improved in each area. Best of all, of the participants who were seniors, 100 percent graduated in 2017.

—Contributed by Joye Barksdale


In the last few years, schools and states nationwide have spent a lot of time designing new plans to coincide with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed by Congress in 2016. 

Now that ESSA state implementation plans are done, what should educators expect in the new school year? 

Expect to see more schools identified for improvement under the law’s expanded accountability system. Some states, like Washington, have already released their list of schools, which were identified through multiple measures of academic and school quality indicators, not just test scores.

The challenge here is that while the accountability system was expanded, the money to help support the additional schools identified for improvement was not. These schools will be put on tiers of support. The greatest amount of money will go to the highest priority and trickle down. 

As the school year continues, district leaders will need to create ESSA implementation plans, leaving schools identified for improvement with the task of building their own site-based plans. Since the plans must include educator input—not only teachers, but also paraeducators, nurses, librarians, counselors, and other education support professionals—this is the period during which the voices of NEA members will be critical. 

“Get in front of it,” recommends Donna Harris-Aikens, director of NEA’s Education Policy and Practice department. “It is possible that the principal or superintendent in a particular place may not be focused on this yet.”

To learn what’s available at their schools, educators can use NEA’s Opportunity Checklist, a short, criteria-based tool to quickly assess what’s available at their school, and the Opportunity Audit, a tool that is rooted in the seven NEA Great Public Schools (GPS) criteria, which addresses the research and evidence-based resources, policies, and practices that are proven to narrow opportunity and skills gaps.

While some may be discouraged by the thought of placing more schools on an improvement plan, the truth is that despite some funding challenges, ESSA remains a promising opportunity. 


(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

If the last several months are any indication of the challenges educators will face around the immigration status of students, they should expect uncertainty and fear.

It’s been an emotional roller coaster for Dreamers—young people brought to the U.S. as children, who have received the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, protections over the five years of the program. In September 2017, President Donald Trump rescinded DACA. Five months later, he vowed to work with Congress to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country illegally as children. In April, he tweeted “DACA is dead” and “NO MORE DACA DEAL.”

“We have a lot of students on hold,” says Hugo Arreola, a campus lab technician for the Phoenix Union High School District in Arizona. A DACA recipient himself, he sees his students and community in turmoil. “Many are afraid to renew their DACA applications, student anxiety is up, and people are still scared. The environment is very tense.”

Hugo Arreola

“It’s hard being in this limbo,” says Karen Reyes, a 29-year-old teacher of deaf pre-kindergartners in Austin, Texas. A former Girl Scout who has lived in the U.S. since the age of 2, Reyes attended U.S. public schools from kindergarten through graduate school, eventually earning a master’s degree in Deaf Education and Hearing Science from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

“One moment you have your hopes up, thinking a deal might happen, and then there’s a tweet and people think you’re back to square one,” she says. That’s not the case, she explains. “But they don’t realize all the work we’ve done, the allies we’ve made, and the foundation we’ve built. We’re not back to the beginning. We’re just on a detour.”

Arreola and Reyes are active union members helping to inform, engage, and empower the immigration community in their respective hometowns.

Through Arreola’s unions, the Arizona Education Association and Phoenix Union Classified Employees Association, and local allies, he’s involved in various workshops, information forums, and trainings that help inform people of their rights. “It starts in the local area and making sure you have representatives who understand the realities of the situation and how this impacts their area,” Arreola explains.

Reyes has been involved with citizen drives, sponsored by her local union, Education Austin, and United We Dream. 

Educators can take steps in their own communities to fight the uncertainty and fear undocumented students face.  Go to NEA Ed Justice to learn more about Safe Zone school board policies and NEA’s toolkit for “Know Your Rights.”


Every few months it seems educators get inundated with stories about the next big thing in classroom technology—a “game changer” set to “revolutionize” teaching and learning. Sound familiar? It should. Education technology, for all its benefits (and there are many), tends to be subject to egregious hype. A lot of money, after all, is to be made and many school districts—eager to demonstrate that their schools are on the “cutting edge”—can make some rather questionable purchasing decisions. 

Just recall the 2013 decision by Los Angeles Unified School District to proceed with a $1.3 billion plan to put an iPad loaded with a Pearson curriculum in the hands of every student. Technical glitches and lack of teacher training were just a couple of problems that eventually crippled the initiative.

Educators know better than anyone that healthy skepticism or at least caution about the latest classroom technology will end up serving their students best. It’s a stand that gets teachers branded as resistant to change, a convenient and unhelpful label. It has more to do with what’s best for student learning. 

The good news is that the impulse to buy into the latest hype has been curtailed somewhat over the past few years as educators have taken a seat at the table. If you want to try the latest and greatest virtual learning, gamification, personalization, the first question always has to be “What is best for my students?” As Tracey Matt, a language arts teacher in Albia, Iowa, says. “It takes a great teacher to foster independent learners. This must be done with the use of technology on the forefront, but it should not supersede the importance of an instructor.”

Technology will continue to advance and more “game-changers” are invariably lurking around the corner. Maybe they can revolutionize the classroom, but it’s the educator who is best suited to determine how and why new tech should be used to best serve students. 


Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos may be privatization’s most visible and stalwart proponent, but school privatization has been a threat to public education for more than 20 years and is financed and championed by a network of corporate interests. Their goal: to use their financial muscle and propaganda to undermine the mission of public schools and position the nation’s students as commodities upon which to draw a sizeable profit. 

Still, DeVos’ appointment to lead the nation’s education agenda in 2017 was a huge boost just as charter schools and voucher programs were losing a little steam. (Vouchers have been voted down at the ballot box every time they’ve been attempted through referendum.)

DeVos is a vocal advocate of cutting education spending and freeing up federal dollars to expand charter and voucher programs nationwide. Charter schools have expanded dramatically since their introduction in 1992, and currently serve about 5 percent of the nation’s students. 

Educators, however, are determined to stop vouchers from taking hold in the way charters have done. Voucher schemes drain hundreds of millions of dollars away from public school students to pay the private school tuition of a select few.

They “are destructive and misguided schemes that use taxpayer dollars to “experiment with our children’s education without any evidence of real, lasting positive results,” says NEA President Lily Eskelsen García.

Educators and activists are making a huge difference in their states by lobbying lawmakers to reject vouchers (often rebranded by their advocates as “education savings accounts” or “tuition tax credits”).

In 2018, New Hampshire educators led the way in defeating a plan to establish so-called “education savings accounts,” which would have diverted a massive chunk of taxpayer money from public schools to fund the private school education of some students. Private schools would have to accept public funds but provide “no access to financial records, student achievement data, and no say in how the school is run,” says Megan Tuttle, president of NEA-New Hampshire. “The absence of public accountability for voucher funds has contributed to rampant fraud, waste, and abuse in current voucher programs across the country.”

NEA: Vouchers Cost Kids

Voucher proposals have been defeated in other states but their proponents are nothing if not relentless. Which is why, according to David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, activists must stay alert to the ongoing effort to push school voucher initiatives and to hold them up to public scrutiny.

“There’s a need to be vigilant in every state where governors and key legislators support these bills,” Sciarra says. 

Join in the fight against vouchers and pledge to protect quality public schools for all students.


Did you yell at the TV when you heard Betsy DeVos confuse proficiency and growth during her confirmation hearing? Are you disturbed by out-of-touch lawmakers like Arizona’s John Allen, who said teachers work second jobs so they can afford boats and big homes? Do you cringe at the fact that some Kansas lawmakers have tried to skirt the state supreme court’s ruling that they must remedy the woeful underfunding of schools?

 The reality is that too few elected officials at the local, state, and federal level have the in-depth knowledge of public education that only comes from working as an educator. And it shows in their policies and their budgets. 

 As if educating students every school day weren’t enough, it’s also on you to make sure officeholders understand the issues you face in the classroom and how to make progress solving them.

 The key is to show up and speak up.

 “We have to make our voices heard by the people who are making decisions that affect our classrooms,” says Maryland music teacher Jessica Fitzwater.

Balvir Singh, a high school math teacher from Burlington, N.J., won a seat on the Burlington County Board of Freeholders in November. Singh, an alum of NEA’s See Educators Run candidate training program, previously served on his local
school board.

“Elected officials need to understand that it’s not just dollars and cents, students’ entire lives will be impacted by these decisions,” she adds. 

That means showing up and sharing your story at school board meetings, lobby days with state lawmakers, and town halls when your members of Congress are back home. Check your state association website and attend your next local association meeting to find out how to get involved. 

And if your elected leaders still aren’t listening, throw your support behind people who will.

 This November brings a critical opportunity to elect (or re-elect) pro-public education candidates who are not beholden to those who want to privatize education, and who are willing listen to educators and parents. 

Educators are reliable voters. But you can inspire others to head to the polls for pro-public ed candidates as well.

 Latwala Dixon, a math teacher at Columbia High School in Lake City, Fla., says talking to people about the importance of voting in past election cycles has made her even more passionate about the issues that affect her as an educator and a citizen.

 “I tell a lot of people, if you don’t use your right to vote, you will lose it,” Dixon says. Some of the people she speaks with—friends, acquaintances, colleagues—have responded enthusiastically, but others indicate they do not believe their vote makes a difference.

“So what you’re only one vote? Your vote counts,” Dixon says emphatically. “What if all of you ‘only one vote’ people got out there and voted? It could really turn the tide.”

Here’s another “tide turning” way to make sure elected leaders invest in schools—become one yourself! If you’re considering a run or supporting a colleague who is running for office, check out NEA’s candidate training program for members at

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Hygge: The Classroom Design Word That Means Calm

(Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

The first day of school is exciting—and also a little anxiety-provoking. But with a few calming classroom design elements from the popular Danish design trend hyyge (pronounced “hoo-guh”), you can help put your students at ease the minute they walk through the door.

Hygge is a Danish concept that means comfort, togetherness, and well-being, and it was what motivated third-grade teacher Aubrey Dane’s classroom design decisions.

“I’ve always been particular about design in my own home and I enjoy having a calm environment myself,” says Dane, who teaches at Redmond Elementary School in Washington, the state that introduced us to cozy coffee shops.

Dane used calming colors in her classroom, dimmed overhead lights and hung softer, string lights. She also created a cozy reading corner.

“The first step in setting up a space for ‘hygge’ is to designate a ‘hyggekrog’—the cozy nook,” says Jane Zhang, cofounder of, a classroom design website that’s been called the Pinterest of classrooms. “You don’t need a giant space to snuggle up in a blanket with a book. In a classroom, dedicate a corner or section of the room for cozying up.”

In Dane’s hyggekrog, she included a comfy chair with a big pillow, soft lanterns and string lights, and a cozy carpet. She also framed children’s book covers that pop with color on a dark background in dollar store picture frames that she spray painted to match.

To create a hygge-inspired classroom, follow these tips from Dane:

Start With Calming Colors

Many classrooms are painted in dull industrial colors. If you can paint your classroom, choose calming colors like light gray or light blue paint, which are softer than typical school paint colors. A lot of teachers have been able to paint their classrooms—some do it themselves, others were lucky enough to get the district to do it.

Aubrey Dane

Fabric or Paper the Walls With Calm Colors

If you can’t paint, cover the industrial cinder block walls with a calming solid color paper or fabric. I used black paper in the book nook with bright borders, but I kept a color scheme of calming grays and blues. On the fabric, which doesn’t tear or get all wrinkly, I can hang the book covers so they really pop. I used lots of staples because I’m in a portable classroom where the walls can be stapled. It’s really easy to decorate as a blank canvas. If you don’t have that, you can cover your bulletin boards with calming fabric colors and your doors. Wallpaper works very well on doors, too. Choose calming colors or patterns. I like cohesive blues and grays, but pick colors that you love and that make you feel good. If you feel comfortable and calm your students probably will too.

Limit Wall Hangings

When I was a student I found walls with too many posters and colors distracting. There were too many things to look at and different colors. It was overwhelming.
Try to minimize what’s on your walls. Only include what’s necessary. So often teachers put all their posters about everything so that all the tips for students are there, but it frequently leads to information overload and students stop using them as reference. If you put up fewer posters, students will pay attention more carefully.

Change it Up

If you have a lot of great posters, you can still display them, just not at once. I have a select few posters that I’ve framed—get them at the dollar store and spray paint them and they look great on a budget. Then I swap them out rather than having them all up at once covering the walls. I immediately noticed that students were calmer, more engaged.

I also switch out the book covers that I frame and students sometimes choose which books we’ll have framed in the nook. It provides interest and a spot of color in the calming nook.

Aubrey Dane limits her classroom color scheme to two or three calming shades, and also keeps bulletin board content to a minimum so students are not overwhelmed by visual clutter. (Photo courtesy of Aubrey Dane)

Framing is Easy and Cheap!

Framing posters and book covers makes them seem fancy, important, and special and it’s an easy design hack. Remember, the dollar store is your friend!

Dim the Lights

A key element in hygge is soft lighting, like flickering candles or the glow of a crackling fire. To create softer light in your classroom, turn off the overhead fluorescent lights, make use of natural light as much as possible, and use lamps where you can. You can use hanging twinkle lights in your hyggekrog as well as a lamp or two, but check with your district first.

My string lights are very lightweight LED lights that don’t get hot, and if they fall they’re plastic so they don’t break. All my lamps are LED lamps as well, with low wattage, soft white bulbs. Together with natural light coming in through the windows, there is a good amount of light in the classroom that’s not as harsh as the overheads and allows the kids to feel calm and to think.

Cozy, Comfy Seating

Start with the book nook, but in addition to the hyggekrog, have different and comfortable pillows, chairs, and workspaces throughout the classroom so students can feel comfortable, even feel like they could be at home.

Calm, Cool Community

A hyyge classroom design takes away anxiety that many students have at the beginning of the year. They see that the classroom is their space, designed for their comfort. They see it as a place where they can sit down and relax and not feel threatened. Hygge creates a family type of environment and helps build our community as a class. The whole idea is to build a community environment. Once you have that, everything else starts to fall into place.

Farewell Desks, Here Come the ‘Starbucks Classrooms’
While the idea of modeling a classroom on a Starbucks coffeeshop may elicit skepticism, the move to more flexible seating is grounded in research that points to real gains in student health and classroom engagement. Meet some teachers who are happy they “ditched the desk” in favor of standing tables, stability balls, crate seats, couches, and beanbag chairs.

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Educators Push Back Against Whitewashing of AP World History

In 2001, the College Board added World History to its catalog of Advanced Placement (AP) courses. AP World History, which starts in 8000 B.C.E and spans almost 10,000 years, provides a unique look at history by studying empires and cultures that predate Western records, empowering and engaging students from all different backgrounds and origins.

But recent proposed changes to the curriculum have triggered a backlash among many educators. The College Board recently announced that, instead of starting at 8000 B.C.E, the course will cut out all history before 1450 (Periods 1-3), effectively negating the lives and impact of ancient peoples before Western colonization.

Many teachers and other education professionals oppose these changes (to take affect in the 2019-20 school year) on the grounds that they could alienate students of color and undermine the primary functions of the course – learning to contextualize and identify causation throughout time. Taking out three periods of history could severely limit a student’s ability to achieve these goals.

“I was dumbfounded at how they were basically removing half of the course, in which there is some of the most rich, diverse content of the entire curriculum,” says Tyler George, an AP World History teacher in Michigan.

Like other concerned educators, George believes the changes made to the course are a step backwards from the increasingly diverse classes that are offered by the College Board. To begin the history of the world at 1450 is to begin with European expansion, effectively shaping the experience of cultures across the world through the lens of Western conquests.

As Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, recently wrote, “[the College Board] hasn’t proposed a new title for the course, but we recommend calling the class what it is: European Colonial History.”

Restructuring or Whitewashing?

According to George and other educators, students could be left oblivious to the cultural origins and broader context of modern events. So many history classes and textbooks are already whitewashed, telling the story of Eastern countries through the white man’s perspective. AP World History offered a unique opportunity for students to watch history unfold in a way most social studies classes failed to present.

The restructuring of AP World History could also disenfranchise students of color and of differing origins. History before 1450 tells the story of cultures that blossomed and made the world what it is today – long before Western empires robbed them of their liberty, says George.

“Imagine being a Pacific Islander and the only way you will begin to study your history is either by watching Moana or starting at the point when the U.S. and other countries begin expanding,” George explains. “Imagine being of African heritage and slavery is one of the first topics that come up in class. Imagine being from the Caribbean and your first lesson is the devastating impact of the Columbian Exchange on your indigenous ancestors.”

At the 2018 World Open Forum in Salt Lake City, Trevor Packer, senior vice president of AP courses, insisted that the content cuts to AP World History were a response to teacher grievances regarding the vast amount of information packed into the course. While the class is notably rigorous, many teachers sill disagree with the action that was taken.

Former California public school teacher Amanda DoAmaral attended the forum and confronted Packer. She argued that people in power are essentially telling her students they don’t matter and questioned why the College Board is deciding to do the same instead of helping them learn and grow in a world that doesn’t always support them.

So far the College Board’s only solution is to offer a Pre-AP course that covers the material that would be cut from AP World History. The new course would take pressure off teachers and present the information to students more effectively by “[spreading] this important and valuable content across two academic years, rather than just one,” College Board spokesman Zach Goldberg told Politico.

Unlike other AP courses, however, Pre-AP will not be funded by the College Board and won’t appear on any of the AP exams. Districts may subsidize the AP tests, but funding for the Pre-AP courses may fall on individual schools.

George’s school district in Michigan is only composed of 360 high school students, making the Pre-AP course basically unaffordable.

In her speech to Packer, DoAmaral noted that many schools cannot afford pencils, let alone another course. And without period three material represented on the test, teachers 10 years from now will probably stop teaching it.

Educators across the country are not sitting still and are determined to show the College Board the true ramifications of altering the AP World Curriculum.

“I’ve been teaching AP for a decade and I’ve never seen a hornet’s nest stirred up like this,”  AP European History teacher Tom Richey told Politico.

For the past few weeks the hash tags #SaveAPWorld and #SavePeriod3 have been trending on Twitter and other social media sites. At the World Open Forum, DoAmaral was accompanied by hundreds of other teachers ready to give their students a voice and challenge Packer and other College Board administrators to rethink their actions.

‘AP World History is Needed More than Ever’

The call to action has not stopped with educators; many students have taken to social media to share the impact that AP World History has had on their lives and academic experience. Dylan Black, a student and recent veteran of the AP World History course, created a petition on to try and reverse the cuts to period 3. Dylan’s campaign has resonated with teachers and students across the country, garnering over 10,000 signatures as of June 20, 2018.

“The class is demanding on students,” Black writes on the petition, ”but is also one of the most rewarding, life-changing classes I’ve ever had the privilege to take.”

Tyler George says he will not stop emailing, calling, and advocating on social media until his and other educators’ voices are heard.

“In a world that is fueled by quick reactions on social media, biased news, and people responding to passion rather than facts, AP World History is needed more than ever,” George says. “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

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Who is the Average U.S. Teacher?

In 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) polled 40,000 public school teachers across the country as part of the National Teacher and Principal Survey. The survey covers a wide range of topics about the teaching profession. The complete report will be issued later in the year, but some of the results from the survey are being released. Here are a few of the highlights so far.

The Teaching Force Is Still Predominantly Female and White

The 3.8 million public school teachers (full and part time) in the United States in 2015-16 is significantly higher than the 3 million who were teaching in 1999-2000.  During that time, K-12 student enrollment increased 7 percent from 45.9 million to 49 million. About 77 percent of public school teachers today are female.

Despite the attention given to the need to recruit more teachers of color, little progress has been made in diversifying the profession. Overall, the percentage of White teachers has declined slightly from 84 percent in 1999-2000. In 2015–16, about 80 percent of public school teachers were White, 9 percent were Hispanic (an increase of 3 percent since 2000), 7 percent were Black, 2 percent were Asian, and 1 percent were of two or more races.

The Average Teacher Has 14 Years of Experience

In the 2015-16 school year, teachers in public schools had on average about 14 years of experience and worked roughly 53 hours a week.

More Teachers Hold Advanced Degrees

The percentage of public school teachers who hold a postbaccalaureate degree (i.e., a master’s, education specialist, or doctoral degree) has increased since 1999-2000. Fifty-seven percent had such a degree in 2016, compared to 47 percent in 2000. This trend is evident at both the elementary and secondary levels. Roughly 55 percent of elementary school teachers and 59 percent of secondary school teachers held a postbaccalaureate degree in 2015–16, whereas 45 and 50 percent, respectively, held a postbaccalaureate degree in 1999–2000. Furthermore, traditional public school teachers are much more likely to have a master’s degree than their counterparts in charter schools.

Union Membership = Greater Satisfaction with Salary and Job

According to the NCES data, overall, 55 percent of teachers are not satisfied with their salaries. By a significant 12-point margin, however, teachers who belong to a union or education association are more likely to be satisfied with their salaries than those who are not. Almost half of teachers who belong to a union report that they are satisfied with their salaries. Thirty-seven percent of teachers who do not belong to a union say they are not.

When asked to respond to various questions about their job, the data shows a clear correlation between satisfaction with salary and general job satisfaction. For example, if you are satisfied with your pay, you are more likely to believe that your school is run reasonably well and that you and your colleagues are a “satisfied group.”

On the other hand, a higher percentage of teachers who were dissatisfied with their salary were more likely to believe that the “stress and disappointments involved in teaching at this school aren’t really worth it” and  “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.”

Still, research has shown that teacher job satisfaction generally depends on a variety of factors, including the availability of mentorship (crucial for newer educators), collaboration with colleagues, classroom autonomy, working conditions and support from the administration.

Teachers Spend Too Much of Their Own Money on Classroom Supplies

Overall, 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies. The average teacher spends $479 every year.

If you are an elementary school teacher, you are more likely to spend more than your counterparts in high school. The average amount spent by elementary teachers was $526. For high school teachers, that figure was $430.

In addition, the average amount spent was higher for teachers at city schools ($526) than teachers at suburban, town, or rural schools ($468, $445, and $442, respectively).

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Sex Education in Schools Needs an Upgrade

Despite the prickly challenges it presents, sex education has always been an issue that many educators have championed, perhaps even more so now as the #MeToo movement has forced the nation to confront the pervasiveness of sexual assault in our society. Young people are also inundated with increasingly confusing messages.

“The world is changing so quickly. They are getting a barrage of information about gender and relationships and how they are supposed to act and not act,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood, who was on a panel responsible for creating widely accepted standards for sex education. “Unfortunately, too much of it is confusing and not helpful, so we need good comprehensive information about these issues.”

She and other experts say educators should actively support effective sex education in a number of ways – by teaching sex education and addressing related issues in the classroom, advocating for strong programs district wide and by supporting students who are increasingly seeking straightforward information.

tn 2017, The National Education Association recommitted its support for “sensitive” sex education programs taught by well trained educators who thoughtfully involve parents and give “careful attention to developmental needs, appropriateness to community settings and values, and respect for individual differences”.

Some schools are modeling their initiatives after a comprehensive, cutting-edge curriculum that educators in San Francisco schools developed for all of the district’s some 57,000 students, which now more thoroughly addresses critical issues involving consent and sexual preference, according to Christopher Pepper, a health educator who helped author the curriculum and teaches sex education in the district and advocates for it nationwide.

“In the wake of recent sexual harassment scandals, many schools and communities are examining how they talk about consent and healthy relationships. Health class is the perfect venue for those conversations, and now is the time to make sure sex ed is taught sensitively, thoughtfully, and comprehensively in every school in our country,” explains Pepper. “Teachers shouldn’t be shy about this.”

The State of Sex Ed

Research has found that nearly all students receive some sort of sex education, but the subject matter often varies, particularly regarding issues of abstinence and gender.

Some states and districts require “abstinence only” (now sometimes called “sex risk avoidance) philosophy be taught, while others cover issues helpful to the estimated half of students who may be sexually active.

Few states address consent and healthy relationships, according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress.

“According to state laws and education standards, only 10 states and the District of Columbia mention the terms ‘healthy relationships,’ ‘sexual assault,’ or ‘consent’ in their sex education programs,”  write Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown. “This means that the majority of U.S. public school students do not receive instruction through their state’s sex education program on how to identify healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors.”

Sex Education Curricula in States

Sex Education Curricula in States
(Source: Center for American Progress)

NEA advocates for programs that cover abstinence along with birth control, family planning, prenatal care, parenting skills, substance abuse during pregnancy and issues associated with teen pregnancy. It also recommends that topics such as sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual harassment, homophobia, consent and sexually transmitted disease be covered thoroughly.

Representatives of NEA served with Kantor on that panel that worked in 2012 to develop Future of Sex Education (FOSE) standards that are used to guide policy in 41 states, according to Nicole Cushman, executive director of Answer, a Rutgers University-based sex education resource that was one of three key sponsors of the FOSE effort. The standards have been supplemented with a variety of resources, including standards for teacher preparation and tools that can help educators develop or map their systems and find research supporting its recommendations. Kantor says they will be updated this year.

Jessica Sales, a professor of behavioral science and health education at Emory University who authored a report last spring that reviewed the latest research on sex education, says she is encouraged by political activism related to consent and assault, and by the youth empowerment, but worries that the Trump administration’s priorities in its budget and appointments to key posts favor a more restrictive approach.

“Today, despite great advancements in the science,” Sales writes,
“implementation of a truly modern, equitable, evidence-based model of comprehensive sex education remains precluded by sociocultural, political, and systems barriers operating in profound ways across multiple levels of adolescents’ environments.”

What’s Happening in Schools

The San Francisco sex education program, which is being copied throughout California and in other regions, establishes sex education at every level, beginning in elementary school where it cvers topics such as touching and puberty, and in middle school where it uses a “Healthy Me. Healthy Us.” curriculum that addresses topics such as birth control, sexual harassment, personal boundaries and LBGTQ issues.

Pepper says a popular high school “Be Real. Be Ready.” curriculum with 26 lessons is delivered to ninth graders, focusing on ways to be “shame free and non-judgmental” while offering “developmentally appropriate information about health, sexuality and relationships at every stage of their lives.”

Pepper notes that the district’s initiative also requires wellness center in each school where students can get information and support.

Health class is the perfect venue for those conversations, and now is the time to make sure sex ed is taught sensitively, thoughtfully, and comprehensively in every school in our country,” he says. “Teachers shouldn’t be shy about this.”-  Christopher Pepper, health educator

On the east coast, Michelle Rawcliffe teaches sex education to about 400 middle schoolers in the quiet little town of Woodstock, CT. She has found that students, parents and others in the community now understand the need for this material, and have urged her to cover controversial topics such as condom use, safe sex and issues of gender identification.

“I’ve found I can use family and the community as resources and then serve as a resource to them.” she says, noting that a health advisory council with adults and students has been very valuable.

“Having parents and families talking about these topics and working alongside the schools sends a much louder message and has an even bigger impact on the student,” she adds.  (Kantor notes research now shows parents overwhelmingly want sex education for their children)

Rawcliffe, who has been teaching sex education for 28 years in high school and middle school and helped develop resources for schools in her state, says students have a good idea of what is needed and seek honest information in a safe atmosphere.

Some of Rawcliffe’s high school students sought discussions about condoms which resulted in a condom availability program in her school, and others let her know she was making assumptions about abstinence and sexuality that were not accurate.

“We need to give students the opportunity to lead – and really listen to them and hear their concerns,” she says.

Peer-Led Sex Ed

While many experts believe students should have a say in sex education programs, some want to take that idea one step further. They believe students should deliver the material.
 Peer-to-peer sex education has gained attention in several regions, including New Jersey and North Carolina, where Teen PEP, has successfully spread to more than 60 schools.

“The learning dynamic changes when the person teaching you is just like you,” says Tom Galan, an adviser for the program at Passaic (NJ) High School. “There is a visible sense of relief when a teenager realizes they are not the only one going through a particular situation. Compare that to someone two or three times their age talking about sex and all the issues this generation is experiencing. The message may be the same, but the delivery is very, very different.”

Sherry Barr, director of the Center for Supportive Schools, a Princeton, NJ,-based advocate for education programs and a Teen Pep sponsor, has found it offers a curriculum that covers key topics such as communications with peers and parents, consent and refusal skills and pregnancy prevention – all typically delivered by trained peers, who must take a for-credit, year-long training course.

“The Teen Pep peer educators receive the most up-to-date, sex education research and are able to deliver the information to the student body in a mature, fun and realistic fashion,” Galan says, noting that administrators have been supportive. “They are blown away by the maturity and knowledge of the peer educators and become raving fans.”

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How Many Teachers Are Highly-Stressed? Maybe More Than People Think

Everyone knows that teaching is one of the most demanding and stressful professions. And most are probably aware that a majority of teachers are feeling a high level of stress. Still, we may have been underestimating the magnitude of the problem, according to a new study by the University of Missouri (MU).

Keith Herman and Wendy Reinke, both professors in the MU College of Education, and doctoral student Jal’et Hickmon-Rosa found that 93 percent of elementary school teachers report that they are experiencing a high stress level. The study was recently published in the Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions.

The researchers asked 121 teachers who taught kindergarten through 4th grade in an urban Midwestern school district to complete self-report measures on their levels of burnout, stress, efficacy, and coping. The teachers were asked such questions as “How stressful is your job?” and “How well are you coping with the stress of your job right now?” The researchers then linked the resulting data to the behavioral and academic outcomes of their students. They found that high teacher stress levels were usually associated with poorer student results, such as lower grades and frequent behavior problems.

In the study, educators with low levels of stress and high coping ability were pratically non-existent.

While Herman wasn’t surprised that most teachers feel stressed in their jobs, he didn’t expect that “only 7 percent rated themselves as having both low levels of stress and high levels of coping with their jobs.” (Herman and his colleagues are finding similar results in a yet-to-be-completed follow-up study with middle school teachers.)

The University of Missouri study, while generally corroborating previous research about the job pressures educators face and the potential impact on students, brings something new to the table. “We could find no other study that simultaneously examined teacher stress and coping levels. While stress and coping are related to each other, they are distinct constructs,” Herman says.

Focusing on how educators succeed or fail at “coping” with job pressures can be misconstrued as placing the blame squarely on those individuals. Talking too much about “burnout,” for example, implies that many teachers simply can’t hack it in the classroom and it’s ultimately up to them to make the necessary changes. Doris Santoro of Boiwdon College believes teachers are just as “demoralized” by a changing profession as they are “burned out” by its demands. Schools, communities and policymakers, therefore, are all responsible for restoring what has been stripped from the profession.

I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and mistreated.”

Herman agrees. The stress level felt by educators is a wake-up call to the country about the state of the profession, but supporting their use of effective coping strategies must be part of the solution – and educators recognize this.

Herman recalls the reaction of a group of teachers he was training in classroom management intervention a few years ago. After outlining basic coping principles to stress management on the board, Herman turned around to the class and saw the participants “feverishly taking notes,” he recalls. “I was struck by how many teachers had not been acquainted with this very useful approach to coping with inevitable life stressors.” Herman, with Reinke, co-wrote “Stress Management for Teachers: A Proactive Guide,” published by Guilford Press in 2014.

While individual coping matters, real, sustainable success is unlikely without a comprehensive school-wide commitment to create healthier and productive climates for staff and students.

“Administrators set the tone in their building for how teachers are perceived and supported. Prioritizing teacher well-being and giving higher rates of recognition and positive feedback to teachers versus criticism and judgment helps set a positive tone,” Herman explains.

More broadly, improved workplace conditions, greater autonomy in the classroom, and a voice in decision-making can also go a long way in giving teachers the professional respect that is so pervasive in high-achieving countries.

The recent strikes and walkouts of educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Colorado has forced the nation to take a hard look at not only the underfunding of public education, but also how their profession has been denigrated. This kind of national attention, says Herman, can help society acknowledge that undervaluing the teaching profession harms students.

“I’m surprised that few people seem to connect the dots back to their own children. When I think of my daughter, for instance, I know that I don’t want her to spend an entire day with an adult who is feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, and mistreated,” Herman explains. “That’s a bad setup for everyone. I hope we are calling attention to the fact that teachers need our support, as parents, as community members, as policy makers, and as private citizens. When teachers are neglected, our children are neglected.”

How to Survive Year-End Stress
No matter where you teach, what grade, subject, or school, you will experience this end-of-year insanity. How can you deal with it and stay sane?
Don’t Be Afraid to Say “No”
While taking risks and responsibilities is important for career development, managing yourself and your time is just as crucial. All educators—from new to experienced—are susceptible to burnout.
Lean On Me: How Mentors Help First-Year Teachers
The inability to keep teachers teaching costs districts $7.3 billion a year. Mentors can help.

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In Teachers We (Should) Trust

When author and innovation expert Ted Dintersmith set out to visit public schools in all fifty states during a single school year, he hoped to find solutions to the most vexing problems facing classroom educators. He soon discovered that the very solutions he sought had already been found – by the teachers themselves. All we need to do, he says in his new book, What School Can Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers Across America, is to listen to them and trust in their creativity and expertise.

NEA Today sat down with Dintersmith to talk about the extraordinary educators he met during his cross-country journey.

First of all, tell us what an innovation expert is.

Ted Dintersmith: It’s someone who understands what constitutes a legitimate innovation, what types of people can make innovation happen, and what conditions are conducive to innovative people and organizations.  I spent my career in this world, running an innovative start-up business, spending more than two decades in venture capital, and supporting innovative non-profit initiatives.  The trip that inspired my book was all about listening to and learning from remarkably innovative teachers showing us how to prepare students for a world of innovation.

You set out on your cross-country journey to raise awareness about the need for innovation in our schools, but your goals expanded. Why?

TD: As my nine-month immersion unfolded, I stayed true to raising awareness, but was stunned by the remarkable innovative teachers I was meeting along the way.  They know there’s urgency in reimagining school and moving beyond obsolete metrics, and I was blown away, and a bit humbled, by their insights, perspective, and classroom practices.

What else surprised you about the educators you met?

TD: For starters, every single one struck me as dedicated, caring, and willing to go to the ends of the earth to help the children in their care.  These teachers don’t get the trust, respect, and compensation they deserve, but they manage to power through it to fight for better lives for their students.  That is inspiring to observe, and something all adults in our country need to be aware of.

What were the school conditions that allowed the teachers you met to become extraordinary educators?

TD: It starts with trust. The innovative practices I write about were created and driven by classroom teachers, but supported by administrators who, in different ways, had the back of their teachers. Then, I think it’s important to make the surrounding community aware of the need to reimagine school.  If you’re a lone wolf teacher who has students enthusiastically taking on ambitious and authentic challenges, working in teams, being held accountable to a high standard of accomplishment, you still can get wailed on for doing things differently. It’s really important to bring the entire community (parents, school boards, local businesses) into the discussion of how best to prepare our students for a very different world.  Finally, I found that teachers — counter to what many assume — are not averse to being held accountable, but want to be held accountable to standards that matter, and to standards they have a voice in designing.  Given trust, community support, and well-conceived standards, our teaching force can be unstoppable.

What other qualities do extraordinary educators share?

TD: The classrooms I was blown by away were, in the specifics, quite distinct.  But they shared certain common principles. These teachers were creating learning environments where students master what they study, develop essential skillsets and mindsets, have the agency to blossom into self-directed learners, and approach their school work with a sense of deep purpose.  I use the acronym PEAK (purpose, essentials, agency, and knowledge) to keep these core principles in mind.

What outdated modes of education need to end and what new modes should we usher in?

TD: The outdated models are the conditions and metrics we impose on our schools, with public schools bearing the brunt of these constraints.  In the world of innovation, young adults need to be creative problem solvers, critical thinkers, collaborators, communicators, and responsible citizens (they all start with ‘C’ for some reason!).  But when we hold teachers and schools accountable to obsolete, generally poorly-designed tests, we put our teachers in a horrible dilemma.  In meeting and talking with thousands of teachers, they — far more than legislators, policymakers and mega-foundations — understand that these tests of low-level and narrow competencies aren’t preparing our kids for their futures, and all too often driving the joy and real learning from our classrooms.  What I find as I travel, though, is that there is a deluge of pent-up innovation in our teaching force, which would be unleashed if we just trusted them to engage and inspire their students.

Ted Dintersmith

Ted Dintersmith

What did you learn from you trip that made you hopeful?

TD: There’s so much to be hopeful about.  Someone said to me recently, “The dam may be about to break.”  I think they’re right.  So many have seen the abject failure of the reform agenda — from NCLB to RTTT to today’s lack of national education leadership.  It’s time to move on, and start trusting those who own the consequences of what happens in the classroom — our teachers and students.  They are more than up to the challenge, and are doing amazing things all over the country.  Time to unleash them!

We’re seeing very encouraging signs of what happens when people join together to make real, and informed, change in our country — from the student-led movement to enact sensible policies on guns to the teacher-led movement to provide adequate resources to our schools.  We’re at a real inflection point in the future of our country, and we can’t afford to tinker around the edges of our most pressing challenges.  I put education at the top of the list, since if we launch young adults into life as purpose-driven problem solvers, we will be in a position to make headway across the board.  But if we continue to let the reform agenda rule the day, with its focus on testing, accountability, and college-ready, we will leave millions of young adults vulnerable in a world where machine intelligence is advancing rapidly, erasing millions of routine jobs.

Can teachers lead the way to transforming our schools?

TD: Not only can they, but they are doing it, all across the country.  I was so inspired as I traveled to see the positive change that’s happening.  In every community I visited, I found remarkable, inspiring innovations led by classroom teachers.  If we can celebrate these practices, and put in place the conditions that let all classroom teachers do what they entered the profession to do — engage and inspire our children — we’ll be entering an education period that might well be called a modern day Renaissance.

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Design Thinking: Connecting Students to the Larger World

Jill Jensen’s students take stock of a woodsy on-campus space: “I really don’t know what they’ll come up with!” she says.

Five years ago, Maine high school teacher Dan Ryder stumbled into a Twitter chat. He lurked, he listened, and what he heard he loved. It was an online conversation among K–12 teachers about “design thinking” in the classroom.

“I found my tribe!” he says.

He’s not the only one. In recent years, hundreds of educators across the U.S., from kindergarten through college, have been inspired to upend their typical methods and dive into design thinking. Their classrooms work like Silicon Valley-style innovation labs with students asking questions and defining problems, and then brain-storming, prototyping, and testing solutions.

It’s more than a new approach or five-step process to problem solving, and more than a 2.0-version of project-based learning, says Ryder.

“Design thinking is a mindset,” he says.

And it starts with empathy.

At the heart of design thinking are students trying to solve problems that affect people. Those people might be fictional characters in a novel, or they might be their community’s very real homeless adults. The process requires students to interview others about their needs, or ask themselves what it’s like to be that person, the client or “end user.”

“The secret sauce is the empathy piece,” says Ryder. It’s the idea that students are attempting to solve problems—real problems—with their brainpower, and that their level of success depends on how well they serve the needs of others.

“The human-centered piece is probably the most profound and important thing we do as educators,” says Laura McBain, director of K12 community and implementation at the K12 lab in Stanford University’s

“It allows students to think about the challenges the world is facing,” says McBain, “and puts them in the driver’s seat to be really engaged to solve those problems, to feel empowered to change the world!”

Into the Woods

In Maine, Ryder has spent most of his career as a high school English teacher. Recently, he became education director of a new Success and Innovation Center at his school, Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, Maine, a community of about 8,000 people. The goal of the center is to provide multiple pathways for students to be successful.

“I’ve got one kid who is bombing his English class,” says Ryder, “and he’s building a new classroom podium to demonstrate his understanding of [Arthur Miller’s play] “The Crucible,” with quotes etched into the podium that he can identify as significant to the play or meaningful to kids who might see the quote.

As a teacher, you can go from small—like your classroom as your community—and expand it in widening circles to your grade, or to your school, or to the community that your school is in.” – Jill Jensen, Glacier Hills Elementary

“This morning I met with a couple of students who are designing a museum exhibit about yellow journalism, using primary source documents. They’re asking questions like, ‘What kind of lighting works best in a museum? What color palette?’ Even if they don’t make the full-on exhibit, they’ve done the thinking—the critical thinking piece—that serves the museum visitor and demonstrates their understanding of yellow journalism.

“It’s just so much better,” says Ryder, “than, ‘Okay, this is sophomore English, Let’s think about the themes that emerge in Chapter 2.’”

Ryder’s students follow a five-step approach popularized at Stanford’s First, define the problem. Second, brainstorm or “ideate” solutions—lots and lots of solutions. Third (and fourth), prototype and test those ideas. Lastly, reflect: What worked? What didn’t? Why?

Jill Jensen, a K–5 science specialist at Glacier Hills Elementary in Eagan, Minn., just south of St. Paul, first stumbled across design thinking while searching for strategies to help her and her colleagues develop in their students what educators call the “4 Cs” of 21st century skills: creativity, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

“We had already been doing a lot with engineering challenges, and this felt like a natural next step,” but with some extra benefits.

“The empathy piece connected with what we try to do here around connecting kids to the larger world,” says Jensen. “As a teacher, you can go from small—like your classroom as your community—and expand it in widening circles to your grade, or to your school, or to the community that your school is in.”

Recently, Jensen, who was selected for a year-long fellowship in San Francisco’s Teachers Guild, a project of IDEO’s Design for Learning Studio, took Glacier Hills’ fifth graders into the woods around their schoolyard. This past fall, when parents cleared out an area of buckthorn, an invasive, brushy species, they left behind a large, empty space in the forest.

“I thought, ‘This is an opportunity!’” says Jensen.

Students observed and measured, and then got busy brainstorming dozens of ideas. What would other students of different ages enjoy? (Zip lines, of course!) They did some persuasive writing, and brought their ideas to first- and fourth-grade classrooms for feedback. Now they’re surveying Glacier Hills’ teachers to fuel additional ideas around curriculum and instruction.

“I really don’t know what they’ll come up with!” says Jensen.

At Mt. Blue, students worked with Dan Ryder and English teacher Meadow Sheldon to apply a design-thinking lens to “Lord of the Flies.” Left, an interactive museum exhibit plays three versions of Jack’s confessions. Right, a portrait of Piggy that shows how his hope was subsumed.

Getting Started

With the resources available to teachers online, “You could get started tomorrow,” promises McBain. A good project to kick off your efforts, she suggests, is to ask students: “What is significant learning supposed to look like in this classroom?”

“Have them ask the questions, do the interviews, and see where it goes,” she suggests. “Maybe you’ll end up doing a daily community circle, or maybe it will lead to more field work. They’re going to ask for the learning they want to see, and that will allow me, as a teacher, to say, ‘Okay, what’s the next design project?’

“If I’m in the classroom tomorrow, I want to know how my students want to engage with me,” says McBain, who previously taught in Los Angeles schools. “That’s my act of empathy as a teacher. Then we can go out into the community and empathize with others.”

Teachers embarking on design thinking in their classrooms may face two groups of skeptics: Their administrators and their students.

Administrators may be easier to satisfy. “Having done this for a while, I can tell you that design thinking will satisfy far more standards than the typical run through the textbook, and it does it in a far more authentic way,” says McBain. “Our job as educators is to document those standards as we go through the process so that we can say, ‘this is the design challenge we did, and these are the standards we hit.’”

A good strategy to get your administrator on board: Invite them—and parents, too—to be part of the design challenge, says McBain. Ask for 20 minutes of their time to test your students’ prototypes.

When it comes to students, some of Ryder’s love the creativity and the freedom to try, fail, and then try again. Others hate it. “A lot of kids just want to know ’Did I get it right? Or did I get it wrong?’” says Ryder.

“They want it that way because they’ve learned to play the game of school, and here I’m saying to them that it’s not about right or wrong,” he says. “It’s about demonstrating that you’ve done all these layers of thinking, and the degree that you did it well. It’s not fill-in-the-blank and get a 100,” says Ryder, “and that sometimes bothers students, especially some of our high-performing students.”

But real life—and the vast majority of jobs in the real world—aren’t like a Scantron test. The skills and habits required of students who successfully “design think” in the classroom—like creativity, persistence, adaptability, and collaboration—are the skills and habits that will make them valuable to employers in America’s modern, non-industrialized workplaces.

“If you’re in a school where everyone needs to be doing the same thing, it can be challenging to try new things,” says Ryder. But this is worth the challenge, he adds.

“This is authentic learning.”

Dive into Design Thinking!

Three ways to get started:

1) Social Media: The Twitter conversation that inspired Dan Ryder’s dive into design thinking takes place on Wednesday nights (9 p.m. EST) with the hashtag
#DTK12chat. Also search for tweets with #DTK12.

2) Books: Get inspired with “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” from the founder of Stanford’s, David Kelley.

3) Online: Stanford’s has a number of online materials for educators.
Check them out at Also visit their wiki at
Global design company IDEO also has a toolkit for educators, which includes case studies, outlines, and more.
And its project——also has “teacher solutions” to share.

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Making Professional Development More Personal

When it comes to professional development, lots of educators would rather spend an afternoon in the dentist’s chair than sit through a district training provided by a consultant who has never set foot in a classroom.

But today’s professional development, much of it led by NEA—or funded by NEA grants—is personalized, relevant, and offered by those who know educators’ challenges best: other educators. Here’s a roundup of some of NEA’s best affiliate work in professional development (PD).

Ending the Stigma of Mental Health with PD

On  November 17, 2014, Shannon Fuller received a call that would forever change her life. Her husband was being ordered to a psychiatric lockdown facility.

“I was totally blindsided,” she says.

That night Fuller’s husband, who suffers from mental illness, was put into a facility where he wouldn’t hurt himself or others. Three days later, he was suddenly released.

“It was like, ‘Here you go, you can have your husband now,’” she recalls. “But I had no idea what to do! It was the worst two weeks of my life trying to manage this crisis on my own. To this day, I don’t know how I got through it, but I was determined to find a way to prevent that from happening to anyone else ever again.”

Fuller, a paraeducator from Keene, N.H., and president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association, found such a way while attending a professional development seminar on mental illness where she heard the heart-wrenching story of former New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick.

One night while Broderick slept, his son Christian, 30 at the time, nearly beat him to death with a guitar. Christian had been struggling with undiagnosed mental illness for more than 20 years. The seminar was about the science of mental illness, how to bring it out of the shadows to remove the stigma surrounding those who suffer, and how to recognize the five warning signs of emotional stress. The signs, according to Broderick, are personality change, agitation, withdrawal, poor self-esteem, and hopelessness. None of these things were talked about in Broderick’s family before the assault because of the stigma. Now Broderick hopes to end the stigma.

Shannon Fuller

Shannon Fuller

“I was the parent and I didn’t see it. So he suffered for years,” Broderick told Manchester’s Union Leader. “Then we had that horrible tragedy and he went to prison…And I don’t know how he survived that.”

Broderick’s seminar was the inspiration Fuller needed. His story was her story. She knew it was also the story of countless students suffering in silence, and she wanted to join Broderick to raise awareness and end the stigma.

“I decided to apply for an NEA grant to bring mental health first aid to our members—to advocate for our children who cannot speak for themselves and for parents who don’t know what to do for their children who have mental health issues,” she says.

During the first year of the grant, 20 members received the training in Keene. Now the program has expanded to serve everyone in the district. It has even spread into neighboring districts.

Participants do not provide therapy or give diagnoses involving mental health. Instead, they learn to listen non-judgmentally, give reassurance and information, encourage professional help and self-help, and assess for the risk of suicide. The curriculum primarily focuses on support strategies that participants can use to help adolescents from 12 to 18 years old. Fuller works in elementary schools and has found the lessons apply there, too.

“Our youngest kids also experience trauma that leads to anxiety and other mental health problems. Recognizing [concerns] at the earliest ages is the best way to help,” she says.

Irv Richardson is the coordinator of public education and school support at NEA-New Hampshire. To stay on top of the types of professional development topics educators want, Richardson asks about the topics they’re interested in and the challenges they face.

He says that over the last four to six years, “topics that deal with mental health and whole child issues are rising to the surface and educators are packing conference rooms and workshops.”

They want PD on everything from the effects of trauma and the opioid crisis on our students to ways they can address climate and equity in an era of hostility and intolerance. Perhaps as a coping strategy, educators also want PD on mindfulness and the care and feeding of the teacher.

I decided to apply for an  NEA grant to bring mental health first aid to our members—to advocate for our children who cannot speak for themselves and for parents who don’t know what to do for their children who have mental health issues.” – Shannon Fuller, paraeducator and president of the Keene Paraprofessionals Association

The seminars and workshops that fill up most quickly, Richardson says, are those dealing with whole child and mental health issues. Kids are more anxious now than ever before, he says, and these days childhood is less a journey and more a race. It builds stress and can compound mental health problems.

Eating disorders, substance abuse, disruptive behavior, anxiety, and depression, which have been preying on students for decades, are finally receiving the attention they need. But there’s a new monster attacking the safety and security of students—the opiod epidemic.

“It’s hitting our students hard and they have trauma,” says Fuller. “They’re seeing their parents high or passing out. They’re seeing loved ones overdose, put in jail, or even die from their drug addiction. There’s trauma and anxiety and, if untreated, they can lead to more serious mental health issues.”

Now, Keene paraeducators all know the five signs of emotional stress. They know how untreated issues can lead to depression or even suicide. Most importantly, they know what to do.

“Educators have to be a frontline defense now,”  Fuller says. “Trauma, addiction, and toxic emotional stress is everywhere.”

By bringing the mental health PD to her colleagues, Fuller feels totally empowered to take mental health by the horns. “It’s not going to take over my life.”

Finding Relevant Professional Development for Iowa’s Changing Students

Des Moines, Iowa, is the fastest growing city in the Midwest, according to the last U.S. Census, Bureau report  and data shows that public school enrollment has grown by 7 percent in 10 years. There is also a lot more diversity among students, driven in large part by a growing immigrant population. One in five students in the school system is an English language learner. More than half of the Des Moines Public Schools student body consists of students of color, and three out of four students qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.

Stephanie Brennan teaches family and consumer sciences at Lincoln High School and has been an educator in Des Moines for 10 years. She’s seen major changes in student population in that time, but she’s never seen such dramatic changes as those happening now in attitudes and the way some students treat each other. That’s why she has registered for social justice PD courses that focus on increasing tolerance and equity and making schools safer for all students.

NEA Today sat down with Brennan to talk about the PD she’s taking and why it’s become so relevant for her and her colleagues.

First, where have you taken most of your PD courses on topics related to social justice?

SB: I’ve taken them through the Iowa Safe Schools Academy, online and in-person courses offered through a partnership with the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) (license renewal partner) and Drake University (graduate credit partner). Many of the courses are developed with partnerships with other non-profit and advocacy organizations who have subject matter experts in the different topics.

Stephanie Brennan

What are some of the specific Iowa Safe Schools courses you have taken and what are you planning to take next?

SB: Providing Support and Caring for Students: Suicide Prevention for Educators; Navigating Conversations on Human Sexuality; Building Support for Refugee Students; Making LGBTQ Students Safe in the Classroom; Stop Bullying in its Tracks; and Understanding and Supporting Trans Youth.

I am also interested in the Black Lives Matter course on racism and preventing sexual assault because those are two really big issues I am seeing in my classroom and in society and I want to make sure I am prepared to have those conversations with my students.

What else are you seeing that makes these courses relevant to your professional practice?

SB: I am still seeing the “Trump Effect” in my classrooms. I have so many conversations with students now about their worry of deportation—the fear they have of losing their parents, their friends, and even their own deportation. This was something I never even had to worry about in the past because of the protections in place. I also see an increase in blatant racism and intolerance in the classroom. Some students seem emboldened to “share” their own hurtful opinions of others. This is also very new to me as an educator.

But the best, most relevant, lesson I’ve learned from all of the trainings I’ve taken is that teachers have to do the heart work, which is the hard work. In other words, you have to dig in and really get to know your students—their lives, their traumas, their pasts, their struggles. That is the only way you can learn how to help them succeed.

Our student population is ever-changing and the issues teens face today are evolving rapidly. I have seen a huge change in the demographics of my students just in my first 10 years of teaching and the Safe Schools Academy courses addresses all of these issues that are rarely addressed in our school’s own professional development programs.

But the best, most relevant, lesson I’ve learned from all of the trainings I’ve taken is that teachers have to do the heart work, which is the hard work. In other words, you have to dig in and really get to know your students—their lives, their traumas, their pasts, their struggles.” – Teacher Stephanie Brennan

What were some highlights of the courses you’ve taken?

SB: I really loved the course on supporting refugee students. There were a lot of really good articles and stories from different perspectives and voices. I also loved the human sexuality course and the courses relating to LGBTQ issues. I am a sex ed teacher and the Gay Straight Alliance faculty sponsor and it really validated my own skills in the classroom and that I am doing a lot to make my classroom feel safe and inclusive.

What’s your best advice to other educators developing their own PD plans?

SB: Make PD 100 percent applicable to you and your students. If you’re seeing your students struggling with certain issues, then you should learn and grow in those areas so you can better support them. Find classes with subjects that you also enjoy, but allow yourself to get uncomfortable. Be vulnerable and willing to talk about your weaknesses in the classroom. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Stay ahead of the game, but don’t stress yourself out trying to get five classes done in one month. Take one each summer and take more than the five required for license renewal, or whatever the requirement is in your state. And when you’re engaged in a course, really dive into discussions with fellow educators. I always learn a lot about the demographics and challenges other schools face and I get to learn from their experiences. Teachers share a lot of strategies and stories that I’ve used in my classroom.

California’s Instructional Leadership Corps

By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin, Courtesy of California Educator

With students of color making up more than 50 percent of the population in California schools, the state has long been a leader in culturally relevant pedagogy. They’ve also been innovators in delivering culturally relevant PD with peer-to-peer instruction.

Grounded in the belief that teachers can take charge of their own learning—and learn from and contribute to the learning of others if they are supported to do so—the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education, the California Teachers Association (CTA), and the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University have partnered to form a statewide Instructional Leadership Corps (ILC).  It’s educators leading educators in professional development, rather than a hired consultant with no firsthand knowledge of the students or school culture.

With more than 1,000 California school districts made up of more than 10,000 schools in which teachers teach one of the most diverse populations of students in the nation, CTA realized they needed to think strategically about their PD and designed the ILC so it would be rooted in local knowledge about the needs of particular students, teachers, and the schools in which they work. It’s all about teachers supporting teachers.

“We have not seen this type of professional development in California” in more than a decade, says Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford. “The type of drive-by workshops that bring experts from the outside and PowerPoint presentations do not work. That does not change teaching practices. We know [which] professional development approaches dramatically improve and those are approaches where teachers work with other teachers in a collegial way.”

One of the leading members of the ILC is Senorina (Noni) Reis.

Senorina Reis

Long before “cultural competency” became a priority in public schools, Reis was busy creating multicultural, relevant curriculum to help culturally and linguistically diverse students succeed. Decades later, she’s still at it as a member of the ILC.

Schools have made strides, but there are times Reis still has to convince educators that it’s necessary to incorporate culturally relevant pedagogy into classroom materials and instructional strategies. Not so long ago, some may recall, students from other cultures were seen as having “deficits” that needed to be overcome for assimilation.

Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Reis and other social justice activists, that kind of thinking has been replaced with the goal of achieving cultural competency, based on the philosophy of building on students’ cultural strengths to promote their achievement and their sense of well-being in the world.

“I have an unwavering belief and philosophy that cultural relevance must happen if equity is our goal,” says Reis, a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership at San José State University. She incorporates this philosophy while teaching graduate students, and folds it into her research on social justice leadership. “As teachers, we need to be activists and not perpetuate the status quo. We must be agents of change when it comes to improving education for all students.”

The California Faculty Association member knows a thing or two about organizing and change. As a teenager, she helped organize new members into the United Farm Workers in Salinas Valley.

We know [which] professional development approaches dramatically improve and those are approaches where teachers work with other teachers in a collegial way.” – Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University

Reis taught preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, and she was an elementary school principal. She has been a mentor teacher and lecturer in the credential program at University of California, Santa Cruz. She has also been a BTSA (Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment) provider and helped create the first unit for that program about equity and multiculturalism in schools. It’s one of her proudest achievements.

During three decades of developing instructional programs to help educators effectively teach English learners, she led the development of several state and national curriculum and coaching programs, including with the California Department of Education and NEA.

Reis’ involvement with ILC includes working with teachers in the local regions, and with CalTeach interns. She created a series of ILC lessons designed to help teachers implement the new standards, “Building Blocks for a Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” which she presented at CTA’s Summer Institute in August. The three building blocks are:

Vision—Implementing your vision for a culturally relevant pedagogy with challenging curriculum. This might include providing an interactive learning environment or having students collaborate at tables instead of sitting in rows.

Curriculum approaches—Levels for multicultural education include language development, contextualization, challenging activities, and instructional conversations. The highest level takes a social justice approach, where students address issues within their own community, such as recycling or DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

Pedagogy—The delivery of rigorous, culturally responsive lessons that address the sociopolitical context of schools. The goal is to engage students through dialogue and encourage them to use questioning to foster critical thinking skills.

“Seeing teachers embrace and implement these changes for the good of their students is my biggest reward,” says Reis.

Relevant PD From Your School Librarian

Allison Mackley is a National Board Certified Teacher Librarian and Instructional Technology Coach at Hershey High School in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

She offers “just-in-time” professional learning opportunities throughout the day for her colleagues who rely on her as in in-house font of development they can put to use in right away.

“Sometimes, I identify a need in the school or across the district when determining a professional development session that I would like to propose,” Mackley says. “Other times, I work with instructional coaches, teams of teachers, administrators or technology directors to determine the most relevant and meaningful topics.

Her high school just went 1:1 with iPads, so she knew that professional learning around meaningful technology integration was going to be essential. She anticipated that professional development about the attitudes of students who have grown up digital would also be necessary.  She gives a presentation called “Living the Digital Life,” that offers opportunities for reflection and learning around the balance between the technological world and instructional strategies that can be used in the classroom.

For new teachers at her school, she co-presents “The Library: More Than Just Books,” which is an interactive library orientation using GooseChase to engage the new teachers in exploring the library program and its services as well as  “Ethical Digital Literacy for Teachers” on security, privacy and resource evaluation.

Why are librarians particularly suited to provide PD?

“I think librarians are naturally curious. We keep current on educational trends, and are experts in the are experts in the field of research, information literacy, ethical use of information, intellectual property and, often, digital and media literacies,” Mackley says. “Being collaborative is part of our culture, which positions us as natural partners with individuals and groups in the entire school community.”

Right now the hot topic in librarian-led PD is technology. Beyond integrating it into lessons, teachers are gaining skills to use technology as a tool to differentiate and customize educational experiences for students, whether that means the need for remediation or enrichment.

What are some quick tips you can get from your librarian? Here are a few Mackley suggests:

  • Have questions about a resource you want to include in a packet for your students? Ask your librarian for tips on copyright and fair use. 
  • Want to learn how to use the latest tech to engage your students? Ask your librarian to demonstrate tools like Canza where you can create your own images or Goosechase where you can create online scavenger hunts for students.
  • Are you spreading fake news without even knowing it? Ask your librarian to help you evaluate sources and how to pass those skills on to your students.

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U.S. Students’ Disturbing Lack of Knowledge About Slavery

Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, according to a new report released by the Teaching Tolerance Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Teaching Tolerance surveyed U.S. high school seniors and social studies teachers, analyzed a selection of state content standards, and reviewed 10 popular U.S. history textbooks to evaluate how slavey – the nation’s “original sin” – was being taught in the nation’s schools.

The verdict: “It’s clear that the United States is still struggling with how to talk about the history of slavery and its aftermath.”

The findings are troubling, says Teaching Tolerance Director Maureen Costello, because “learning about slavery is essential for us to bridge the racial differences that continue to divide our nation.”

“Schools must do a better job of teaching American slavery and all the ways it continues to impact American society, including poverty rates, mass incarceration and education,” said Costello, a former history teacher. “This report places an urgent call on educators, curriculum writers and policy makers to confront the harsh realities of slavery and racial injustice.”

As part of the study, Teaching Tolerance administered a multiple choice survey to 1,000 high school students. The results revealed a disturbing lack of knowledge about the basic facts surrounding slavery. In addition to being unable to correctly cite slavery as the central cause of the Civil War (almost half of the respondents selected “to protest taxes on imported goods”), two-thirds don’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery. Overall, not one question on the survey was answered correctly by 2/3 or more of the students.

Teaching Tolerance also surveyed 1700 teachers on their attitudes on teaching slavery. Almost all teachers (97 percent) agree that learning about slavery is essential to understanding American history. Forty percent of teachers, however, believe their state offers insufficient support for teaching about slavery, and 58 percent find their textbooks inadequate.

Although a high percentage of educators claim they are comfortable talking about slavery in their classroom, the report found that their “responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic.”

For example, one teacher from Washington state told the reseaerchers, “I dislike that it can turn into a race issue, although there are other forms of modern slavery continuing in the present day.” Another expressed concern that “it is challenging to establish a classroom in which race can be talked about openly. They are ready to label each other as ’racist.’”

As Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Associate Professor of History at Ohio State University, makes clear in the preface to the report, teaching slavery is a challenge:

“Slavery is hard history. It is hard to comprehend the inhumanity that defined it. It is hard to discuss the violence that sustained it. It is hard to teach the ideology of white supremacy that justified it. And it is hard to learn about those who abided it. “We the people have a deep-seated aversion to hard history because we are uncomfortable with the implications it raises about the past as well as the present.”

Resources are not the issue. An already abundant supply of online materials are augmented by centers and museums dedicated to the study and teaching of slavery. What’s missing is a national consensus and leadership that leaves many teachers, despite their enthusiasm for the subject, ill-equipped to design let alone implement sound pedagogical practices.

Instead, schools turn to specific practices or approaches that miss the mark. Teachers, when asked by the researchers about some of their favorite classroom strategies, would often describe classroom simulations, which, for a subject like slavery, can be a risky and ineffective approach. Also, slavery is usually presented as an exclusively southern institution, which is inaccurate. And too often we skate over how the racist ideology of white supremacy was used to justify and reinforce slavery.

The tendency not to delve into the nation’s disturbing past is a sizable obstacle, writes David Blight in the introduction to the report. It’s a need “to conceive of and understand our history as ‘progress,’ as the story of a people and a nation that always sought the improvement of mankind, the advancement of liberty and justice, the broadening of pursuits of happiness for all.”

Removing our collective blinders on the integral role white supremacy and slavery has played in the building of the nation first requires a national conversation. By doing a much better job of teaching about slavery, schools can help create a climate for such a dialogue.

Teaching Tolerance assembled an advisory board of distinguished scholars, and partnered with teachers and institutions of higher education, to develop a framework and offer a set of recommendations for teaching about slavery. These include fully integrating American slavery into lessons about U.S. history, expanding the use of original historical documents, improving textbooks, and strengthening the curriculum on topics involving slavery.

Read the complete report here.

Illustration: Teaching Tolerance, Southern Poverty Law Center


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7 Simple Steps to a Digital Detox

Do you sleep with the phone next to your bed?

Or worse, on or under your pillow with it pinging or vibrating with every text, Tweet, or notification?

Do you feel insecure if your device isn’t nearby or on your person?

If you say yes, to any of these queries, maybe it’s time for a digital detox.

If we are going to preach to our kids to be less dependent on technology in their daily life, to limit their screen time, then we should model balanced digital habits ourselves. To help with that, here are seven simple steps for a digital detox with no FOMO.

FOMO or the “Fear Of Missing Out,” as Dr. Jennifer Shapka of the University of British Columbia defined it, is the “fear that others elsewhere are having more fun, or that you are missing out on a rewarding experience. It can lead to feelings of anxiety, envy, insecurity, and loneliness.” 

FOMO is something our kids feel every day. So many of my students come to me in the mornings to borrow device chargers because they fell asleep with their phones on the pillow next to them, not plugged in, but now, not wanting to miss a single Snap, text, or Tweet, they need a charge. They worry that if they’re not posting a selfie about their life, they’re not living their best life. Sometimes we grownups feel the same thing!

Taking a digital detox, or at least adopting a few new mindful tech techniques, can be a healthy step forward. 

Step 1

Buy an alarm clock. Cell phones are not cuddly teddy bears, yet some people sleep with them – in their beds, some in their hands!

I did a very unscientific Twitter poll, and I asked my Education Personal Learning Network (PLN) friends if they sleep with their phones and was surprised by the many responses.

Suzie Martin @librarynbct, a Nationally Board Certified Educator in West Virginia says, “Mostly I lay it on my abdomen if I sleep on my back. Otherwise, it’s clutched in my hand.” Middle School Teacher Librarian Sarah Russo @librelearning says, “I sometimes sleep with it underneath my pillow….it’s what happens when I read on my phone and fall asleep!”

Most of those that chimed in, said they sleep with it next to them and use it for their main wake-up alarm.

Since I don’t have a landline, for safety’s sake, I do have my phone nearby. I keep my iPhone bedside, face down, with Do Not Disturb scheduled from 9pm to 6am, Night Shift activated. I don’t use it as my main alarm, and only allow calls from my favorites which include my family, my media assistant, and my admin.

But let’s face it, alarm clocks are cheap. So why not also give yourself 10 to 20 minutes, or even an hour, to ignore your devices as you get ready for the day with less stress? Get up, get dressed, have coffee, watch morning news, and maybe check your device only right before you step out your door. Start the day on your own terms, without worrying about the latest text, Tweet, push, or post.

Step 2

I have a lot Apps that I don’t use. Every time I go to an EdTech or Library conference, read a cool blog post, or participate in a Twitter chat and hear about a neat new App, I invariably download it and never use it.

If you haven’t opened an App lately, delete it. Not only will it simplify your life, but it will make your device work faster and better. You can always re-install it from the cloud or App Store later if you should discover it’s really necessary. But I’m going to bet you won’t miss it. Bye bye Flappy Bird, Trivia Crack, and Candy Crush and hello HQ Trivia!

Step 3

Download more than a few apps and push notifications become a constant, badgering, beeping, buzzing, swooshing bit of nonsense. I don’t need to know at 2am the latest political storm, that my Instagram video was viewed over 160 times, or which Real Housewife was just caught being naughty in Palm Beach.

Stop the noise.  Get your news on your own terms and when you want it, not when the app decides you need it. Sadly, neither iOS nor Android offers a fast way to turn off all notifications at once. In both cases, you have to tap into your Settings, then go app-by-app to turn them off. It’s kind of a pain, but completely worthwhile.

While we’re at it, now that you’re not following every step an App takes, why not thin out the din of your Social Media herd? I consider Social Media as a conversation and if someone isn’t listening or contributing (they haven’t posted in six months) – what do they bring to my party?

One of my respected colleagues online, Brent Warner, Professor of ESL and Proprietor of @EdTechTV says “We should take it upon ourselves to follow people who provide high quality insights and ideas in teaching and education. In turn, we should commit ourselves to providing the same through our own feeds. I see no problem with teachers who want to grow their online presence, but following people with an ulterior motive such as expecting a follow-back does everybody a disservice.”

I don’t just follow back everyone who follows me. I follow people who share original content, engage, contribute, and who interact – just like at a conference or a dinner party. We all learn together!

Step 4

When I’m out to dinner and I see a family around a table, all on their devices and not talking with each other, it kind of makes me sad. This has been a big thing with my family, to not have our devices out at the dinner table both at home and out at a restaurant.

Why not negotiate this? Talk it out and make a deal, one that everyone can live with, when it comes to a digital free dinner. Maybe let everyone check their devices until the server comes to the table to take orders, but after that, all phones are put away so dining together will be a more sociable occasion. Why not try ‘phone stacking’ in a restaurant or at a family meal? Everyone puts the device in the middle of the table, and the first person who reaches for their device has to buy the next round, pick up the check, clear the table, or just get teased. Whatever combination works for you, when you’re all together, BE together.

Step 5

If you’re working out or or just working, getting interrupted can be jarring and unproductive. When you turn on Airplane mode, not only are you saving battery life, but you can fully focus on your workout and not your social networks. Plus, you can still listen to your music and playlists.

Do you want to enjoy Netflix or stream shows while you work out? Turn on “Do not disturb” by tapping on the little crescent moon icon on an iPhone. it’s good not to get snapped out of your work or your workout with notifications.

Step 6

Consider scheduling some regular tech free time. This doesn’t mean sitting in a dark room meditating or a visit to an Ashram – but that’s an option!

But why not choose to spend time out in nature, reading a book, going to a museum, farmer’s market, or doing an activity that’s not connected to technology? I often sit out in nature and read a book for hours.

Liz Zinger, @liz_zinger, our Murray Hill Middle School Math Instructional Team Leader, says that she often puts her devices “in a drawer” on weekends or on holiday, so that she’s fully in the moment and not distracted by notifications.

Set yourself up for success by choosing a time period for your Digital Detox. Whether it’s just a Saturday, a Sunday, a weekend, or a whole vacation – just challenge yourself and choose a length of time and stick with it. But also, be reasonable. Some of you may need your phone for music, or an iPad or Kindle to read. That’s ok! But if you’re using your device, manage distractions by going on Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode the whole time and forgive yourself if you backslide. Schedule time (like an hour) in the middle of the vacation to check your work emails and respond. Whether you go cold turkey or just start “baby steppin’,” taking away a wee bit of screen time and enjoying some authentic real time can only be beneficial.

Step 7

Mindfulness is a big new thing, or maybe the terminology is new but the action is age old. Savor the moment. Be present in your present. Because sometimes we need to disconnect to reconnect with what is important in life. In this busy, hyper-connected world we live, in it’s all too easy to lose ourselves in autopilot for much of the day or even every day.

Social media is a constant challenge to mindfulness. Using your phone, camera or social media in your daily activities can sometimes take away from the full experience of the present. Take pictures of the great places you’re visiting or the cool things that happen, catch the beautiful sunset, the cute puppy face, perfect yoga pose, or Mom’s classic lasagna, and post them all later. Wait until after the moment in a downtime. Still sharing, but not distracted. Not pulled out of the magical moment of right now.

By giving ourselves permission to unplug from the noisy planet, the social swirl, or the digital daze, we can reevaluate our path, take stock in life, strengthen our relationships, and move forward with a sense of purpose and belonging. Deciding on a digital detox, mapping and practicing mindfulness can only be a good thing, but it’s your decision. Tweet or Instagram me what you think! Just kidding. Really, not really.

@GwynethJones, a.k.a. The Daring Librarian, is a blogger, a Tweeter, an International Ed Tech keynote speaker, Google Certified Innovator, PBS Graduate Champion of Change, and the author of the award-winning Daring Librarian blog. Gwyneth also is a career long NEA member and the teacher librarian at Murray Hill Middle School in Howard County, Md.

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Is Progress in Reducing School Suspensions in Jeopardy?

During the 1990s, many school districts adopted zero-tolerance disciplinary policies mandating suspensions for certain offenses, including cursing, shoving other students, and other minor infractions. It became evident that these practices unduly targeted students of color thereby widening the achievement gap and prematurely introducing minority students to the criminal justice system, according to panelists participating in a discussion at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.

Titled, “In Class Not Cuffs: Rethinking School Discipline,” panelists discussed the need for sound government policies, teacher training, and other tools to help schools and systems eliminate discipline disparities.

“They (disciplinary policies) weren’t making schools safer,” said Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, whose keynote speech preceded the panel discussion. “Reprimands led to suspensions which led to expulsions which led to dropping out.”

Under former President Barack Obama, the Department of Education in 2014 issued a 7,500-word “Dear Colleague” letter which made available a range of school climate and discipline resources. It also warned schools against racial discrimination in discipline. While some states and districts were already working to reduce suspensions, the letter inspired others to take measures to address discipline disparities.

“Positive school climates are created when every child feels like they belong there,” Murphy said.

Yet, in October, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos signaled that she may rescind the Obama-era guidance.

“It will once again show that this Administration does not care about people of color,” Murphy said. “We are at risk at throwing away a unique opportunity.”

Panelist Bren Elliott, chief of equity at public schools in the District of Columbia, said the guidance from the Obama Administration was  “extremely helpful” in identifying strategies to build safer, inclusive schools.

Source: The Center for American Progress

“Before, we were pulling at straws,” Elliott said. “It (guidance letter) pushed people to action.”

The Department of Education under Trump has declined to offer more details on its plan. In December, more than 50 members of Congress sent DeVos a letter opposing any changes to existing federal policy. Critics of the current policy guidelines contend that these measures have made schools less safe by preventing educators from disciplining students.

Panelist Abigail Gray, a researcher at the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said: “It’s important to think about how we got here and not demonize schools.”

Gray noted that zero-tolerance policies started decades ago amid rising fears of youth violence in many districts, including the use of guns.

“Research shows that children who are suspended do not change their behavior,” she said. “We also know there are more effective ways to manage discipline.”

The National Education Association and its members have been working hard for years to shut down the school-to-prison pipeline by providing educators with tools and training around alternatives to out-of-school suspensions, including restorative practices. Check out NEA’s guide to restorative practices.

Moderator Evan Stone, co-founder and co-CEO of Educators for Excellence said researchers, policy experts and practitioners should highlight ways to keep students in school, perhaps through in-house suspensions.

“We need our goals centered around academic progress,” he said. “How do we take more of an instructional approach?”

Gray said about half of the districts in the U.S. are starting to recognize the disproportionality of suspensions.

Currently, most of the nation’s largest school districts are actively trying to reduce out-of-school suspensions, while more than 25 states have passed legislation to accomplish the same goal. In the School District of Philadelphia, for example, Gray said school officials revised the code of suspension for non-violent behavior.

“When they restricted the use of suspensions, there were no ill effects,” she said. “Data shows that at those schools having a more collaborative climate, students had a significant lower suspension rate and higher rate of achievement on test scores.”

Panelists agreed that more plans are needed to minimize student conflict and misbehavior. Coaching in “restorative justice,” is another approach to conflict resolution that emphasizes talking through problems with students.

Elliott stressed the need for more social-emotional learning programs to help students communicate, understand, and control their feelings.

“We need to help them build social proficiency,” she said, and to become “more self-aware.”

One step toward achieving this goal is to train staff in understanding the impact of trauma on their lives, said Gray.

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Teacher Burnout or Demoralization? What’s the Difference and Why it Matters

Why so many teachers leave the profession is one of the most often discussed topics in public education. While encouraging and long overdue, it is a conversation that can only be productive if we truly understand the reasons so many dedicated educators make this decision. The exhaustion, despair, anger, and sense of helplessness many teachers feel is usually branded as “burnout.”  But is this an accurate diagnosis?

Doris Santoro, an associate professor of education at Bowdoin College,  believes it is not. Teachers can certainly burn out, but Santoro argues that many are more likely to be demoralized by the direction of public education and the effect it has had on their profession. High-stakes testing, standardization, the stripping of teacher autonomy –  these and other trends have eroded what Santoro calls the “moral rewards” of the profession.

In her new book, “Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay,” Santoro features stories from 23 teachers who have profound concerns about the state of their profession but who have not yet decided to leave. Understanding the root cause of teacher dissatisfaction, Santoro says, is key to not only help dedicated teachers “re-moralize,” but also to revitalize the profession.

The term “burnout” is deeply entrenched in the discussion about why teachers leave the profession. We’ve all used it to some extent. You’ve been making the case for a decade that it could be a misdiagnosis. What tipped you off that the term might be off-the-mark in many cases?

Doris Santoro: I had this amazing colleague at the school I taught at in San Francisco in the 1990s. She was going to teach forever. She was a lifer. When she resigned years later, she sent me her resignation letter. When I read it, I thought to myself, ‘wait this doesn’t fit any of the narratives about teachers we’ve been fed.’ This teacher was not burned out. This woman was saying ‘I can’t teach the way I know I’m supposed to be teaching.’ The profession had changed. This isn’t burnout. This is demoralization.

When we talk about resilience in teachers, it’s usually centered around self-care… I believe in self-care. But that is an insufficient and entirely too passive way to address the problems teachers are encountering today.” 

When I looked at the school staffing surveys that are conducted by the Institute of Education Sciences, they weren’t asking the right questions. So with my study, I had to go small and deep to find out what is going on with teachers who were like my colleague: teachers who are dedicated to the profession, and who have shown their dedication by teaching five or more years. I had these really in-depth conversations with teachers who could talk about having moral or ethical concerns with how teaching was changing.

But I didn’t want to just document that they were having problems. I wanted to know how they were addressing these challenges as well. I’m a teacher-educator in addition to being a philosopher of education, so I’m committed to having great teachers enter, stay, and thrive in the profession, for themselves, their students, and their communities.

In the initial conversations, were your subjects generally resigned to thinking they were just burning out?

DS: Yeah, I think they just thought they were burning out, although some had a hunch about what it meant to be demoralized due to the profession losing those moral rewards.

The burnout narrative comes down to, ‘Sorry, you blew it! You couldn’t hack it, you didn’t preserve yourself.’ With burnout, there’s nothing left, no possibility for regeneration. If you are demoralized, however, you are not done. For these teachers, it’s a new vocabulary.

The transformation that happens to these teachers when they can reframe what they are experiencing can be liberating and empowering. Teachers are able to access a whole new set of tools and possibilities when you are able to reframe your diagnosis.

And the term burnout – by suggesting that the individual is essentially at fault – leads to calls for teachers to show grit or be more resilient, two more pervasive buzzwords.

DS: Absolutely. If the focus is on the individual, then the problem is not systemic or institutional or policy-based. It pushes the resolution right back on the individual. It comes down to, ‘If you were more this way, this wouldn’t be a problem.’

When we talk about resilience in teachers in teacher education, it’s usually centered around self-care. Now, I’m all for self-care, I believe in self-care, I participate in self-care. But that is an insufficient and entirely too passive way to address the problems teachers are encountering today.

In your 2011 article in which you first laid out the distinction between burnout vs. demoralization, you cite high-stakes testing, punitive accountability systems, the narrowing curriculum, and other policies as main causes. In working on the book, were there any factors that contributed to teacher dissatisfaction that surprised you?

DS: First of all, I should stress that it’s not just the high-poverty urban teacher who is feeling demoralized. We’re seeing this happening in some of those schools that show up in the U.S. News list of top schools in the country. I realized that I needed to address that more in the book after many NEA members who read the 2012 interview reached out to me.

Whenever teachers are brought on to investigate and develop interventions, you’re creating opportunities for authentic community and to take action and have a voice, in a way that feels less isolating. Unions can be an incredible source of support fof teachers and help create those communities that can make change.”

What I also learned traveling from state-to-state doing these interviews was that all these teachers are struggling in the exact same ways around these student learning objectives. They talked about profound administrative confusion, the amount of time they put into it, and the frustration that grew out of being told they were doing it wrong, then, ‘no, here’s what we meant.’

Another piece is technology. Not in the sense of ‘I don’t want to use tech in the classroom.’ This is more about the record-keeping technology, the use of proprietary software to build lesson plans that the district purchased, or entering assessments. The time teachers waste just entering data, for example, may on one level seem insignificant, but you’re talking about this being compounded by all these other changes. For the teachers, it’s not a case of ‘I don’t like to do this or I don’t know how to do this.’ It’s because they are being taken away from what they’re supposed to be doing as a teacher.

Whether it’s about new technology or something else, teachers who raise concerns often get tagged with being self-interested. Talking less about burnout and more about demoralization might expose them to more of this critique. How can we avoid this pitfall?

DS: Much of the rhetoric around teacher-bashing and the need for these so-called reforms is because teachers are largely seen as doing what they want.

For the teachers I talked to, the discussion was always around a bigger concern about the well-being of the profession, the integrity of the profession, the well-being of the students and whether they are caring for students in the way that they deserve to be treated.

But we’re totally deaf to the moral concerns of teachers. The ways teacher dissatisfaction is captured, like in the IES staffing surveys, is mostly from a self-interested position, rather than giving them the space to express concern for students or about being stewards of the profession. Instead, it’s all about, for example, ‘This interferes with my family life,’ ‘I don’t like the school leadership,’ ‘I don’t have autonomy,’ and so on.

So when a teacher says, ‘I can’t be creative in the classroom anymore,”  what she may mean is ‘I can’t be more responsive to my students’ needs, and I can’t take something that they are interested in and connect it to the lesson.’

Doris Santoro, author of “Demoralized: Why Teachers Leave the Profession They Love and How They Can Stay”

We obviously need more policy shifts to create a better climate for teaching, but what are some of the steps schools can take to help the re-moralization process?

DS: I hope schools would have a series of conversations with teachers. It could start with talking about what good work looks like. What do you need to engage in good work? What’s preventing you and what can we change right now to move us a little closer? Obviously we can’t remove all the obstacles, but what small shifts can we make?

Some of this is about having school leaders who are willing to have these types of conversations or are willing to think about good work over and above just following policy. Flexibility is key and real change isn’t going to happen in three 40-minute faculty meetings. This is deep work, but the work itself is re-moralizing because it’s helping create an authentic professional community.

In the book, you address some ways leaders can be sources of teacher re-moralization, including unions. What were the teachers you interviewed looking for in their unions?

DS: The teachers I talked to were excited when unions articulated the ideals of the profession. Obviously the bread and butter issues are important, but whenever they heard language articulating their moral concerns about what was happening to the profession coming from the union, they felt supported and connected. Here is what the profession of teaching is all about, here is what our students deserve, and this is what we are going to do to stand up for you and your autonomy as a professional.

Also, when they heard their union acknowledging problems that they were experiencing and talking about collaborative projects together, they were very interested.

That’s a big piece of re-moralization –- involving educators in initiatives to find solutions. Whenever teachers are brought in to investigate and develop interventions, you’re creating opportunities for authentic community and taking action, in a way that feels less isolating. Unions can be an incredible source of support for teachers and help create those communities that can make change.

See Also:
Preparing the Next Generation of Educators for Leadership

Public education needs early career educators to begin advocating for their profession and their students. An NEA program is helping them find their voice.
Social Justice Activism is Forming a More Perfect (And Enduring) Union
Teachers and education support professionals are standing together in the fight for equal opportunity for all students. This is social justice unionism in action.

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Preparing the Next Generation of Educators for Leadership — NEA Today

Crosby Bromley, a physical education teacher in Salem-Keizer, Oregon, never really considered herself a “political” person. To her, the term generally conjured up conflict and power struggles.

“I’m a confident person, but I usually prefer to mediate and help people compromise and reach a solution,” she explains. “But even doing that on a larger scale had always intimidated me.”  Therefore, as an early career educator, the idea of getting actively involved in her local union, the Salem Keizer Education Association (SKEA), wasn’t a top priority.

The perception – common among many younger educators – that the union or was focused primarily on struggles and brinkmanship, Bromley says, clouded her perception.

“Honestly, I really didn’t understand all that unions do,” she says.

Addressing these assumptions and misperceptions is a persistent challenge, says SKEA president Mindy Merritt. “Most people don’t like being in that position of struggle. They tend to cringe. So as an association, we have to learn to understand the needs of early career educators, but also that we help them understand the power of collective voice.”

It’s a voice that, while often used to impact elections and legislation, also elevates classroom practice and social action activism.

Salem Keizer is Oregon’s second largest school district and, like communities across the country, is seeing its teaching force transformed as retirements increase. SKEA has roughly 2300 members, and many are early career educators. Empowering these younger members and tapping into their leadership potential is a top priority for the association.

In North Carolina, where public education has been attacked on practically every front over the past decade, association leaders are determined to keep educators from exiting the profession.

“They’re not sticking around like they used to,” says Ronda Mays, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.  “Being able to attract and retain educators in our district is critical. How do we help our newer members succeed so they will want to stay?”

Mays and Merritt are part of a small but growing group of association leaders who have brought early career educators in their districts into a leadership training program created by the National Education Association (NEA) and the Consortium for Educational Change (CEC).

Merritt first heard about the Early Career Leadership Fellows (ECLF) program in 2015 at a meeting of the Teacher Union Reform Network, a network of more than 200 NEA and American Federation of Teachers union locals. At the conference, the first group, or co-hort, of fellows spoke about how the training the members received was already making a significant impact on their fledging careers.

“We listened to these young educators and were so impressed,” recalls Merritt. “I just thought, ‘Ok, we want in on this!’”

A group of early career educators from Salem Keizer participated in the 2016 ECLF program. After seeing the results from that year’s program, Merritt didn’t hesitate to invite another cohort to the 2017 training, which kicked off in October.

“We’ve seen an increase in activism and involvement in the local,” Merritt says. “Our younger members are bringing fresh ideas to the table and are running for positions in the association at the local and state level. It really has been remarkable.”

The ECLF program is tailor-made for a newer educator like Crosby Bromley, who was selected to participate in the 2017 co-hort from Salem Keizer. She’s confident, passionate about education and her students and is ready and willing to, as she puts it, “step outside her comfort zone.”

“I’m now really thinking about leadership,” Bromley says. “I’m discovering what unions can do for us and vice versa. We can help change and move forward together.”

teacher shortage crisis

A New Generation of Leaders

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 1.56 million teachers, whether through retirement or attrition, will leave the profession over the next six years. Newer teachers are leaving the profession at higher rates than ever before. One in ten early career educators leave after the first year.

“The data consistently show us that a big issue is how much voice, how much say, do teachers have collectively in the school-wide decisions that affect their jobs? Are teachers treated as professionals? That’s a huge issue,” says Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania. Ingersoll says better recruitment strategies are important don’t address the urgency of keeping young teachers in the classroom.

The National Education Association is committed to engaging and supporting educators as early as possible to stem the tide of departures and create a strong and sustainable teaching force. Long-term solutions are needed to keep educators in the profession by improving working conditions, increasing preparation and mentoring, and providing adequate resources that will enable them to do their jobs.

Achieving these goals depends on having strong educator leaders who will advocate for their profession and their students.

They’re not sticking around like they used to. Being able to attract and retain educators in our district is critical. How do we help our newer members succeed so they will want to stay?” – Ronda Mays, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.

According to a 2014 report by the NEA, the Center for Teaching Quality and the National Board for Professional Teaching, “Teacher leadership is no longer optional. It’s importance in student learning, teacher retention, school culture, school improvement, the creating od sound education policy, and productive and innovative teacher associations has been demonstrated by both research and practice.”

Cultivating a new generation of leaders is the impetus behind the ECLF program, which has so far worked with approximately 200 early career educators, representing NEA local affiliates across twelve states. In addition NEA state affiliates in Illinois, Wisconsin, Ohio, Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan have received a Great Public Schools Grant  to start their own state ECLF programs.

“NEA continues to create programs to support members all along the continuum – beginning with emerging teachers, who evolve into accomplished teachers, and ultimately become teacher leaders” said Andrea Prejean, Director of NEA Teacher Quality. “Emerging teachers participate in NEA’s Early Career Learning Labs. Working through problems of practice, new teachers are supported by accomplished teachers who act as mentors and coaches. NEA is especially excited to offer access to more than 100 micro-credentials to our members, in areas such as bullying, classroom management, supporting English Language Learners, and Creating Safe School Spaces for LGBTQ Students.”

Each year, the ECLF cohorts gather for a kick-off training, an intensive two-session that unwraps what it means to be in a union or association and what that represents to members, but also the students and communities they serve.

“The purpose [of ECLF training] is to help these new educators transition from fellows to true leadership,” says Mary McDonald, a senior director at CEC, who conducts the training sessions with CEC consultant and educator Ann Cummins-Bogan.

Central to the program are the “coaches,” experienced educators who serve as a resource for the cohorts, guiding them through potential issues within the district and putting together a plan to address them as they emerge.

As an educator in the latter part of his career, Kurt Kneirem jumped at the chance to serve as a coach to the ECLF fellows from the Poudre school district in Colorado.

“Facilitating the training of the next generation of teacher leaders was a way I saw that I could give back in a substantial way,” says Kneirem, a social studies teacher at Rocky Mountain High School.  “It also means giving me the chance to get to know some amazing young educators.”

Learning About the Three Frames of Unionism

A focus of the ECLF training is an understanding of the three central tenants of “unionism”: industrial unionism (bread and butter collective bargaining, labor/management issues), professional unionism (the collective voice to improve the practice of classroom teachers and other education professionals) and social justice unionism (advocacy for equity to help all children succeed).

In addition to tapping into any resource or mechanism that will help them succeed at their profession, younger educators gravitate heavily toward social justice. That traditional, industrial union model, on the other hand, doesn’t resonate as strongly – at least initially.

Before becoming involved in ECLF and her local, Crosby Bromley wasn’t aware of all the professional development opportunities in her district made possible by SKEA.

“The deeper I get, the more I’m learning about unionism beyond that industrial model. My number one priority is the students and that is the work of the union,” explains Bromley.

“Of the three frames of unionism, that one didn’t interest me as much,” adds Alejandra Guererro Morales, a 2017 fellow from Salem Keizer. “But the training helped me and others understand the connections between the three. They’re co-dependent.”

ECLF fellows from San Antonio during a two-day training session in October 2017.


Taking it District-Wide

Ronda Mays, president of the Forsyth Education Association, who attended the 2017 training with nine fellows from her district, says its unnecessary and counterproductive to confine “politics” to the shadows when communicating with early career educators.

“Politics is a part of education. There’s no separating it,” Mays says. “But we have to stress to early career educators that it’s more about issues. We can fight, lobby, advocate to improve public schools, but we have to it together.”

It’s an understanding that the co-horts will take with them as they elevate their voice in the district – and help their colleagues do the same.

After the initial training, each fellow is charged with reaching out to five other early career colleagues to have a series of one-on-one conversations with them about the realities of their work. The insights and ideas generated by these conversations are shared with the other 2017 cohorts at follow-up meetings.

“These new educators have tremendous insight,” says Merritt. ‘The ECLF program gives them that venue to share their voice. It provides a real sense of purpose because everybody at the table is important.”

The fellows emerge from the two-day training armed with a lot of information. Some may feel a little overwhelmed but that’s ok, says Kurt Kneirem.

“They were very excited to be part of the group. On the other hand, they left with lots of questions about the specifics of the program.  Both of these take-aways were positive, because it’s then up to me and the other coaches to channel that excitement and help the group clarify their direction,” he explains.

Alejandra Guererro  Morales is ready to take the next step in the journey.

“I’m really excited about reaching out to colleagues, taking this district-wide. The training was valuable but I think we’re all ready to put it to work.”

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Better Read than Dead: New Young Adult Book Dives into McCarthyism

L.M. Elliott is a former Washington journalist turned novelist who recently published Suspect Red [Disney-Hyperion], a young-adult work of historical fiction set in a time of national paranoia and xenophobia. (No, not 2017!) The year is 1953, during the nation’s Second Red Scare, when thousands of Americans were accused of being communists, Elliott’s story is told through the eyes of two teenage boys, Richard and Vladimir. Recently, Elliott sat down with NEA Today to talk about the book and how the lessons of McCarthyism are relevant to today’s middle schoolers.

Rumors play a big part in the book. We see them feeding McCarthyism and the blacklisting of artists and State Department employees in a very damaging way. But rumors also are very common in middle school…

L.M. Elliott: Yes! I originally started the book after the Boston Marathon bombing. There [was] lots of conversation and legitimate debate at that point about people’s rights to privacy versus national security. But, as I was researching McCarthyism, and its paranoia, its pack mentality, and the whole thing about labeling people [as patriots or Communists], I thought—oh my god, it’s like middle school took over the world! It’s really horrifying, that kind of guilt by association, accepting innuendo as fact, being afraid to disagree with whoever is king of the hill. That McCarthyism attitude is the kind of attitude that middle schoolers, sadly, contend with all the time, even as they try to form their own sense of ethics and strength and individuality. The more I researched, the more I realized what a good topic it is for seventh through tenth graders.

Another theme in the book is heroism. How do you hope readers will define heroism?

I’m very interested in the heroism of ordinary people who stand up for what they believe in. Frankly, it’s that kind of heroism that changes the world. For a kid to say to a bully at their school, ‘I don’t believe in that. I don’t agree with that,’ that’s more courageous to me than the antics of a fictional 007 character. Today, that means saying, ‘I don’t believe,’ and I’m quoting Trump here, ‘that Mexicans are rapists and responsible for all crime.’ There is so much fear-mongering language being thrown around. It’s easy to get swept up in that paranoia. It takes real courage to stand up and question the mindset of our leaders, whether it’s your best friend or the president.

There are clear connections between the hate speech and fear-mongering of the Hoover and McCarthy days and today’s Islamophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric. Do you think these could be useful connections for educators?

L.M. Elliott

I recently was talking to students in Wilmington, N.C., and they went right to the heart of it. One said to me that ‘Muslim is the new Red.’ It was a brave statement. Part of the reason McCarthy gained such speed and traction, as did Trump, was that there had been terrifying events that preceded them. With McCarthyism, you’ve got the Iron Curtain, the hydrogen bomb, the start of the Korean War, the discovery of atomic spies within our borders. These things primed the country to be afraid, and McCarthy was very good at exploiting it. You’ve got the same thing with Trump—9/11, various terrorist attacks, and an underlying fear that he can exploit with conspiracy theories and fear mongering. The similarities are endless. McCarthy was the king of deflecting criticism by attacking the questioner. We see exactly that today with Trump and ‘fake news.’

What I think it makes clear is that our responsibility, as human beings, is to ground our opinions and actions in our personal experiences, our personal research, and personal thoughts—and not to judge the all by the few. I applaud what I see so many educators do in telling and teaching their students to verify facts themselves. I hope it also can be a springboard for discussions around our First and Fifth amendment rights, the power and importance of petitions, and the potency of well-positioned, peaceful protests by students.

The two main characters, Richard and Vladimir, are cool kids who love books, and they avidly read and share some of the best books of the mid-20th century. Do you have any favorites that you slipped into their hands?

Robin Hood is a favorite of mine. I love that book, and had the illustrated copy as a child. When I learned it had been banned…it’s ridiculous territory! Fahrenheit 451 is a wonderful, eye-opening book. I also happen to love Steinbeck. I think he so humanizes and ennobles the quote-unquote “common man,” the people who are just trying to survive, and he does it with such poeticism. The fact that Of Mice and Men could be banned across the country takes my breath away.

What’s on L.M. Elliott’s shelf?

“Here’s the thing about historical fiction,” says Elliott. “If it’s well done, you’re going to ache for the people. It’s like any compelling story, but with the wonderful side benefit that you’re learning all this other stuff!” We asked Elliott to recommend a few works of historical fiction for young people. Here is her list:

1. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is the story of two female friends, the pilot and passenger of a British spy plane that crashes in Nazi-occupied France. “It’s just beautiful,” says Elliott—a good reminder that “there are beating hearts in history.”

2. Although Elliott is a fan of almost everything by author Laurie Halse Anderson, she is especially taken by Fever 1793, set during Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic. As 14-year-old Mattie Cook struggles to survive, the gravediggers cry, “Bring out your dead!”

3. Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse is the 1998 Newbery Medal winner, and “an amazing book,” says Elliott. Set during the Depression, in Oklahoma, the book’s first-person narrator is a 14-year-old who writes in verse.

4. Christopher Paul Curtis is “great—and very funny!” says Elliott. Her favorite is The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963, for its “great sense of whimsy and tragedy.” In it, 13-year-old Byron Watson’s family drives from Flint, Mich., to Birmingham, Ala., and straight into the Civil Rights Movement.

5.Finally, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, the story of rival teenage gangs in the early 80s, “seems like historical fiction now!” says Elliott. “Everybody should read it, but boys in particular. They’ll find themselves in that.”

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Ready For Some Good News? Educators Share What’s Happening in Their Classrooms

We asked educators on NEA Today Facebook about the best thing that happened in their classrooms and schools last week. Some raised money with their students for disaster relief, others attended fun school-community events, and a whole lot had break-through moments with their students that sometimes brought tears to their eyes. We can all use a little positivity, so here’s a roundup of the good news they shared:

A discouraged dyslexic third grader has realized he can read the books I have set in a bin for him… and asked for permission to take some of the books to his after school program! This is the boy who normally says thing are too hard and puts his head down! Theresa Early, Fairfax, Virginia

Through the generous donations of my friends, I took my low-income, urban, Boston-area students on a field trip to New York City – the Empire State Building, Times Square, Ellen’s Stardust Diner, Liberty Cruise, Pizza Suprema – because they got the highest growth percentile on our state exam, because they worked their butts off every day in class, reading six more books than were in the curriculum, and because they are AWESOME. Nancy Petriello Barile, Boston, Massachusetts

My two newcomers with very little English yet, and who are both still pretty reluctant to attempt to speak in front of the whole class, enthusiastically volunteered to share their mathematical thinking and strategies during a math session this week. They were beaming from ear to ear with pride… Not only proud of them for putting themselves out there, but also for how supportive and encouraging the rest of the class always is of them. Made my week! Jennifer Gage Moke, Portland, Oregon

My seniors and AP juniors hosted a college and career fair for younger students (5th-10th graders). Each of my students became an “expert” on a college, military branch, or career field he or she hopes to pursue, created a table display and one-page informational handout, then they shared their research knowledge with their visitors. Barb Brown Andres, New Lothrop, Michigan

My first grade students performed All You Need is Love at our monthly assembly. We had picked the song long ago but it was so timely. Children remind all of us how beautiful the world is. They inspire me and drive me to be the best I can be every single day. Marianne Vasquez, Bakersfield, California

We presented a check for $5,100 to fund childhood cancer research at a local charity, the N8 Foundation. I work at the same school as Marianne Vasquez. Our school had a good week. Karen Nguyen, Bakersfield, California

I was subbing this week and when I introduced myself to the teacher she screamed and started crying because I had been her 2nd grade teacher!! I was so touched but felt old! Linda Morgan, Highland, California

During a math review quiz, one group worked together and only missed one question. But better than that was the collaboration. I heard things like, “We both got the same answer, do you agree with us” and “yes, I agree because…”. I was so happy I could cry!  Megan Rene, McMinn, Lewiston, Idaho

We had a kindergarten potluck at a local park. It was so fun for the kids, parents and grandparents to have a chance to meet each other. I loved spending time with my students’ families and meeting families from the other K classrooms with my K team. Carol Harris, Steamboat Springs, Colorado

I have a student that is passing a high school math class for the first time… the joy on the student’s face makes all the daily struggles so worth it!  Nell Dearing, Carlsbad, New Mexico

Thursday I returned as a volunteer at our highest poverty school to help some of the most dedicated teachers and work with kiddos that fill my heart! Phyllis Schneider Winkley, Vernon, Connecticut

New student came into our classroom and did not have a “rest buddy” of his own for rest time. The next day, a concerned child brought a gently used and carefully chosen stuffed animal of his own for his new friend. Heartwarming! Shelly Hess, Vincent, Ohio

Our association members attended events in the 3 communities that make up our district, raffling off 12 baskets of books, three Kindle fires and three family memberships to the Philadelphia zoo. Raffle tickets were free as prizes were donated by the teachers. Nicole May Armbruster, Aston, Pennsylvania

I got to see a second-grader who is struggling with behavior be a great role model to a first-grader who is struggling with behavior. ^_^Seeing them interact in such a sweet, friendly manner made my heart happy! Sarah Wood, Keizer, Oregon

An email from a parent informed me that her child loves my class and is excited about learning to love reading and writing, a subject she’s struggled with in the past. 
Joel Elrod Melsha, Orlando, Florida

A student who had done poorly in his first test put forth great effort at home studying, coming for extra help and really focusing during the test. ( that is hard for him). He finished early so I graded his test and it was a perfect test –100%. It was his birthday too. Right from the classroom, we called mom in front of the whole class and celebrate him. His mom was happy and the class applauded him. His smile lit up the whole room. Debra Calle, Bergenfield, New Jersey

A student who is homeless was going to have to transfer schools and be uprooted from all that is stable in his life. Our transportation department figured it out and will be busing him! Autumn Schultz, Toledo, Washington

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Engineer Turned Teacher Helps Students Build Apps for Special Needs Counterparts

Nick Gattuso is a computer science teacher at Point Pleasant Borough High School in New Jersey, where his students have developed a suite of learning applications to assist students with disabilities, as well as an emergency-response app for school officials. Last year, his students’ work was honored by the state school boards association.

“This November will be my 15th year at the high school. Prior to coming [here], I worked for 20 years for Bell Labs. It was the pre-eminent research institution of its time…I was scheduled to be in the Pentagon, in its computer center, on 9-11. The reason I wasn’t there was because it was back-to-school night for my daughter, who was in elementary school. After that…I wanted to give back. I was too old to be a cop or a fireman, so I decided to give back by becoming a teacher.

“I took an early retirement package from Bell, and was literally put into a teaching job with no experience. I have a master’s degree in software engineering, and also a bachelor’s degree in English and poetry. I took an almost $100,000 pay cut—no lie.

“When I was at Bell, we had done this work for a guy who was paralyzed in one arm. It was a voice-activation program that helped him do his work. Years later, I was talking to my son Nicholas, explaining this story and how this program had helped this guy, and we had the idea of building real software, something that means something to people. I went down the hall to the teachers in the special-needs programs, and they were like, ‘We’ve been waiting for you!’

Nick Gattuso

“PALS stands for Panther Assisted Learning Software. In our case, my students have a set of customers downstairs, in special needs, and those customers are dependent on us to create programs that are actually meaningful, that help their lives. One of the applications we built teaches them how to go grocery shopping—with a shopping-cart simulator that has them rolling around a 3D store, picking up the

bread. Another one helps them count money.

“When this thing started taking off, I went down to my administration and said, ‘We have Programming 1, and we then we have AP Computer Science, but there’s really no place for kids to go after that. So we created Advanced Software Engineering Topics. All we do is

project-based, like it would be in college, or in the workplace. There are deadlines, but there are no tests.

“The question is: Did you solve the problem? Did you build something that will enrich the lives of the children downstairs? Did you make their lives better?

Some of my kids are working now for Google, for Apple, for Yelp. They make oodles of money, but they always know that the genesis of their work was building stuff for special needs kids, for doing good for somebody else.”

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Technology Makes it Easier, But What Do We Really Know About Why Students Cheat?

An educator worried about how technology in and outside the classroom has facilitated student cheating won’t breathe any easier after reading a recent story posted on The title: “AI is Making is Making It Extremely Easy for Students to Cheat.”

AI, of course, is artificial intelligence, which in the form of online tool Wolfram|Alpha, provides students “an academic shortcut that is faster than a tutor, more reliable than copying off of friends, and much easier than figuring out a solution yourself.” Since its release years ago, the tool, which solves equations and provides the steps to the solution, has become more sophisticated and, according to the article, its presence in the daily academic lives of college and high school students is growing.

Enthusiasts typically say that most digital technologies are exciting innovations that are changing the way students learn and that schools need to adapt to these rapidly changing technologies – an often-used trope that tends to blunt legitimate debate about the drawbacks for teachers and students.

The technology is impressive, but what many educators see is a quickly expanding catalogue of high-tech tools that have legitimate utility in the classroom, but are also used by students for shortcuts with their assignments or even outright cheating.

Cheating in school is an age-old problem, but there is little doubt that technology – cell phones in particular – has made it almost too easy. Students can take notes on their devices to peek at during an exam, text their friends for answers, or take photos of exams and send them to their friends.

“On social media especially, I think some students just see cheating as ‘sharing,’ And they think it is something good and worthwhile – especially if they see themselves as helping a classmate who is stressed out. They’re being a ‘good friend.’ – Karlee Cysewski, English teacher, Ririe, Idaho

A new survey by McAfee, an online security software maker, found that one-third of high school students admit to using cell phones or other devices to cheat in school. Six in ten reported that they have seen or know another colleague who has cheated on an exam or quiz. The results weren’t markedly different from a 2009 survey by Common Sense Media that revealed 35 percent of students had used their phones to cheat.

While technology provides new avenues for cheating, it’s misguided and an oversimplification to single it out as a cause, says Gretchen Brion-Meisels, a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Focusing too much on students’ use of the Internet, for example – while in some cases necessary – avoids addressing some underlying core issues

“There could be pressure or something significant going on the student’s life in which they’re not getting enough support to do the work, so cheating becomes a coping mechanism,” explains Brion-Meisels.

The high-stakes testing culture, in addition to fueling stress, has corrupted learning in many schools by narrowing the curriculum and defining achievement as little more than scoring well on a bubble test.

If students believe that what and how they are learning does not seem relevant or useful, Brion-Meisels says, cheating is more likely to occur.

Turning “Gotcha” Moments Into Conversations

Monitoring students to curb student cheating, according to Robert Horn, a math teacher in Kernesville, North Carolina, is a “full-time job.”

“The way they cheat does evolve so you try to keep ahead, learning the nuances of the devices that they have or just trying to watch the sleight of hand,” Horn told WFMY News in Greensboro.

High-tech student cheating has become a particularly acute problem in K-12 online learning. School districts are now facing challenges that college campuses have struggled with for years. Districts hire for-profit companies to develop online courses and tests that many students – especially if they are rarely, if ever, in the presence of teachers – find inordinately easy to game.

As a graduation coach at Patrick Henry High School in San Diego, Elizabeth Humphrey works in-person with students who are taking the online courses offered by the district. Usually, however, students work from home, although tests are supervised in-person by teachers.

If a district is setting up online learning that doesn’t require any in-person supervision, they are asking for trouble, says Humphrey.

“With online learning being somewhat new, the conversation is happening and people are strategizing about what works and what doesn’t in dealing with cheating. But in-person tutoring, in-person academic support has to be there, just as in a regular classroom – not to mention a strong emphasis on academic honesty,” says Humphrey.

One-third of high school students admit to using cell phones or other devices to cheat in school. Six in ten reported that they have seen or know another colleague who has cheated on an exam or quiz.

Every educator emphasizes high standards for honesty and makes it clear to students that cheating is unacceptable. An added wrinkle, however, is the perception among some students that what they are doing isn’t necessarily cheating, or at least can be somehow justified. The 2009 Common Sense Media survey included some revealing findings on this question. For example, while 41 percent of teens said that storing notes on a cell phone to access during a test is a serious cheating offense, 23 percent didn’t see it as cheating at all. And 20 percent of respondents, believe it or not, had the same attitude regarding texting friends about answers during tests.

Karlee Cysewski, an English teacher at Ririe High School in Idaho, believes some of her students seem more than willing to “help” their friends with these and similar practices. The notion that it is cheating may not enter into the equation.

“On social media especially, I think some just see it as ‘sharing,’ Cysewski says. “And they think it is something good and worthwhile – especially if they see themselves as helping a classmate who is stressed out. They’re being a ‘good friend.’

In Cysewski’s classes, the biggest challenge has been plagiarism, one of the first and enduring forms of cheating spurred on by careless Internet use by students. While there are various online tools educators use to detect plagiarism, Cysewski finds that getting to know her students and their abilities not only helps root out the offense but also opens up the necessary communication to correct the issue and move forward.

“I consider my classroom a safe place for students to fail,” she explains. “So it’s not really about reprimanding them as it is about figuring out a way to help them understand what they did. If I have a conversation with them, I can usually get to the bottom of the situation and be able to make a plan. They have to be accountable but I don’t approach the conversation as a ‘I gotcha’ moment.”

What Cheating May Reveal

Looking at the “whys” of students cheating was a goal of three researchers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) in 2016. In an article titled “Nurturing Ethical Collaboration,” Alexis Brooke Redding, Carrie James, and Howard Gardner identified three primary drivers: peer pressure, careless use of digital tools, and  “a community-wide ethos of cheating” – a potential pitfall of a more collaborative learning environment.

In such a climate, they write, “unethical collaboration — students sharing test answers, for example — can flourish, and it can be hard for individual students to resist going along, especially when the cheating is framed by the community as altruistic, to help others.”

To gauge reaction to the concept of “ethical collaboration,” Gretchen Brion-Meisels and graduate student Zachary Goldman interviewed high school students in Massachusetts and Texas about their experiences with cheating. While students did cite individual misjudgment on the part of themselves or their peers, they also pointed to external factors and the climate and structure of the school, namely the pressure they felt from adults and their peers. Again, some students suggested that cheating in some “high-stakes moments”  was justified.

And while pressure from peers and adults is a major factor, Brion-Meisels’ own conversations with students suggests many are less likely to cheat if their schoolwork is engaging and relevant to their lives, as opposed to an overemphasis on rote memorization or standardized tests.

“We want schools to be interactive in a way that forces students to think and grapple with real problems in real ways. The more we standardize the strategies and formats we’re using to engage young people in learning, the more likely we are to lose them.”

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The Next Generation of Educators is Prepared to Make a Difference

Two million. That’s how many educators are expected to begin their careers in the next 10 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Sure, the landscape they’re crossing will include some roadblocks, but early career educators are just as committed to their students, peers, and the profession as our beloved veteran educators. These young educators are building networks of support, growing their skillset, and raising their voices as leaders in their profession and their union. Who are these educators? Well, let’s just say, this next generation of educators comes with a lot of heart, spirit, and determination. Here’s a glimpse at 30 young educators who—early into their professions—are already creating change.

Courtenay Alexander, Fourth-Grade Teacher
Courtenay Alexander has been on the go since realizing the many opportunities offered by her local, state, and national Associations. A member of the Georgia Association of Millennial Educators—an arm of the Georgia Association of Educators— Alexander says her proudest moment came when, through an initiative called Early Leaders Institute (ELI), she and her counterparts started an action plan to protect planning time from being misused. The next ELI cohort will see the plan to completion.

Lydia Bustos, Kindergarten Teacher
Rigorous academic demands have pushed many kindergartners to read and write by June, leaving behind their building blocks and pretend food items. But not in Lydia Bustos’ class. “My philosophy of education is a ‘play-to-scholar’ approach,” she says. While academics is a focus, this kindergarten teacher sees the value in letting “kids be kids.”

Bailey Danielson, Fourth-Grade Teacher
Bailey Danielson says, “I realized … the amount of students I could reach could greatly increase by becoming involved in my local,” which is why, as vice president of the Provo Education Association, she works to introduce the student program to universities in her area and travels to Salt Lake City to help legislators create education-friendly policies.

Keion Dorsey, Technology Support Technician
Keion Dorsey does more than technology support. He mentors, creates clubs, and finds funding sources to increase student participation in after-school organizations. He’s the vice president of the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County, too, where he works with early career members, identifies new leaders, and focuses on the local’s legislative and lobbying agendas.

Tammy Marie Eitner, Special Education Paraeducator
Advocating for education support professionals is what Tammy Marie Eitner does best. The secretary of the Cape Henlopen Support Staff works with a team to help increase union membership by 65 percent in the next two years and lobbies state legislators to pass a house bill that would give school professionals who are named Delaware Support Staff Employee of the Year the same recognition now garnered by those named teachers of the year, including a monetary stipend.

Jenisha “Jay” Fair, Physical Education Teacher
“I am involved because I want to use my voice—as a young educator—to advocate for my students [and] raise awareness about the importance of social justice in every classroom at every school,” says Jenisha “Jay” Fair of her involvement with the union. To help her voice become stronger, Fair became involved with the Early Career Leadership Fellows, an effort between NEA and the Consortium for Educational Change, which provided the tools she needed to be a successful leader in her local and state Associations.

Kayla Gleason, Math Teacher and Math Department Chair
From athletics to academics to work for the union and her community, Kayla Gleason’s influence has a far reach. As vice president of the Val Verde Teachers Association, Gleason coached the 2016 Early Career Leadership Fellows through NEA, working with 10 early career educators to build and foster their leadership skills and abilities. Gleason also collaborates with the Moreno Valley College to help seniors make a smooth transition into college.

Henoch Hailu, Special Education Teacher
“Working closely with our union allows us the opportunity to fight for what we believe in. Sitting around and complaining about the state of education doesn’t get us anywhere,” said Henoch Hailu to Action Line, a publication of the Maryland State Education Association. And Hailu is certainly busy: He’s a building representative at his school; member of his local’s contract negotiations team; promoter of education-friendly candidates; and an advocate for affordable family housing.

Morgan Harms, Music Teacher
Three years ago, Morgan Harms was a first year teacher for Creek Valley Public Schools. At the end of that year, she was elected president of her local. “I kind of felt thrown to the sharks,” she says, “but it turns out that it fueled a passion I didn’t know I had.” The early career educator says she gets excited learning about school law, legislative processes, and professional engagement. Today, Harms is applying that same passion to a new school district in Broken Bow, Neb.

Sara Holley, Eighth-Grade English Teacher
FILER SCHOOL DISTRICT, IDAHO “I went into teaching because I want to make a difference in the lives of children,” says Sara Holley, who once thought of becoming a veterinarian. “I want [my students] to learn life lessons from me. I want them to feel safe in my classroom and know they can trust me if they need a shoulder to lean on.” Last year, Holley received a letter from a student, who thanked her teacher for helping her make better decisions, find better friends, and for believing in her.

Amy Hull, Early Childhood Special Education Teacher
At one time in the Byron Union School District, preschool-aged students with identified disabilities who were on an Individualized Education Program were bused to non-public schools outside of their own neighborhoods. Then along came Amy Hull. She helped the district open their own Specialized Academic Instruction preschool program and brought “our kiddos back to their neighborhood [public] school,” she says.

Josh Jackson, Fifth-Grade Teacher
At the local level, Josh Jackson strives to make the lives of Milwaukee students the best they can be. He does this by pushing back against bad policies. A member of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association, he’s fought a state-sponsored takeover plan, and helped to raise the voices of early career educators.

Tanner Jesso, Fifth-Grade Teacher
“I quickly became active within my teacher’s union because of its purpose as a crucial vehicle for education rights,” says Tanner Jesso, a third-year teacher and member of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association, where he was recently named chair of Florida’s Young Remarkable Educators (FYRE), a branch the local Association. FYRE empowers and engages young educators to get involved in the union with the ultimate goal of ensuring teacher rights to lead to student success.

Larry Joynt, Fifth-Grade Teacher
“Building strong school, family, and community relationships is a building block for all the work I do,” says Larry Joynt. His statement is supported by his non-stop Association involvement. Joynt is an active member of Region 43 Council; a participant on the SCORE Grant Advisory Committee and the Bylaws Committee for the Illinois Education Association (IEA); a volunteer for the IEA Student Program’s Outreach to Teach events; and a builder of a community garden where families meet and bond.

Jesse Martinez, Seventh-Grade Science and Social Studies, Spanish Immersion Teacher
Last year, Jesse Martinez was a first-year teacher. On Day One, he jumped into Association work by becoming a building representative, where he helped organize walk-ins throughout the district and improve member communication.

Andre Leon Mathis Student, Records Specialist
Outside of his everyday duties (registering new students into the district and maintaining the records of nearly 4,000 students) you’ll find Andre Leon Mathis at Union-Endicott High school, serving as an advisor for the Mock State Senate, an after-school club that simulates the legislative process for students. They learn to introduce their own legislation, meet in committees, and debate and vote on bills. Afterward, students travel to Albany to share the bills with state legislators.

Julia Morrison, Paraeducator
Julia Morrison graduated from Swanson Elementary School in Jefferson County, Colo. Now she works there—supporting students with autism and advocating for their social needs. Morrison is the building representative for the Jeffco Education Support Professionals Association, where she promotes union values and educators’ rights.

Roosevelt McClary III, Education Support Professional
Roosevelt McClary III is the first education support professional (ESP) and the youngest to be elected as secretary of the Broward Teachers Union, where he’s the co-chief negotiator for the ESP unit contract. McClary also coaches girls’ track for a local middle school. Within his community, he helps feed and clothe the homeless, and conducts seminars on how to start a business.

Michael McGowan, High School Math Teacher
“I love my job, it is the best job in the world,” says Michael McGowan, who is considered a master teacher in his district. And loving his job also means being involved. McGowan serves as a site leader for his school and is the communications chair for his local. He’s also held positions within the PAC fund council and has organized political action rallies and events.

Jeanene P. McGraw, Instructional Assistant
Supporting students is what Jeanene P. McGraw does best. The instructional assistant helps teachers with classroom management and general support during academic lessons. This may include one-on-one assistance, behavior management, and small-group instruction.

Elyse Cannon McRae, Social Studies Teacher
For Elyse Cannon McRae, one too many teachers have left North Carolina to work in other states. To stop the exodus, McRae helps her school’s new teachers with instruction, classroom management, and mentoring. County-wide, she provides classroom management instruction for all the new hires and beginning teachers. For her local and state Associations, McRae helps educators in the first five years of their career via social avenues, professional development, and opportunities so they can grow roots in their county and state.

Allison O’very, Fifth-Grade Teacher
As an active student member, Allison O’very wanted to remain connected to the Association after graduation so she joined Pattonville NEA and Missouri NEA, where she collaborated to help establish eMERGE, a support network that provides opportunities for educators in the first 10 years of their careers. Her work has not gone unnoticed. In 2016, she was appointed to the Missouri Advisory Council for Certification of Educators, where she’ll work on Missouri’s Educator Quality and State Standards.

Jessica Evan Page, Arts and Humanities Teacher
For Jessica Evan Page, unionism runs deep. Her parents were educators and union members. In 2004, they took her to a march, organized by the Carroll County Education Association to protest a proposal by the governor to strip public school teachers of several health insurance benefits and double their premiums. That day, a new education activist was born. Today, Page is president of the Henry County Education Association and represents the Fifth District on the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) Board of Directors. She recently completed a two-year term as chair of the KEA Membership, Organizing, Visibility and Engagement Committee, and has been tapped to identify and nurture future KEA leaders.

Samir Paul, Computer Science Teacher
“Teaching turned me on to politics,” says Samir Paul. When he became a teacher, he started to understand the persistence and virulence of American inequality. So he jumped into activism as an organizer, and now urges the county’s 13,000 public school educators to make their own leap, and become educator activists.

Matthew Cory Powell, Custodial Supervisor and Bus Driver
Matthew Cory Powell is dedicated to the students at his school, and here’s how he shows it: in addition to being a custodial supervisor and special events bus driver, Powell is a night watchman and campus resident—meaning he lives on school grounds.

Emily Sibilski, High School English Teacher
As the former state president of the Aspiring Educators of Wisconsin, Emily Sibilski continues to stay involved in the Wisconsin Education Association Council. Sibilski is a member of the Early Career Educator Task Force, a new initiative that works to increase membership and leadership of early educators in the union.

Cody Sigmon, English Teacher
Meet Cody Sigmon, who has led statewide efforts to tackle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) issues in education policy and practice within school districts and local governments. He’s also co-designed and co-facilitated professional development on supporting LGBTQ students and educators for members of the Virginia Education Association. This year, Sigmon was accepted to his district’s National Board Certified Teachers cohort and was elected vice president of Chesterfield Education Association.

Gabriel Tanglao, Social Studies Teacher
The son of a union nurse and the product of public schools, Gabriel Tanglao’s educator-activist roots run deep. He has created networks, organized members, and facilitated leadership development. Within his local community, Tanglao has also built coalitions around the intersecting issues of racial, economic, and environmental justice.

Mattie Walton, Seventh-Grade English Teacher
Mattie Walton uses technology to connect with her peers to help improve their practice. She started the #observeme movement in her district. It’s a call-to-action for educators to invite their counterparts into their classrooms to observe and offer feedback. “I see relationships, humor, and passion for teaching as a positive way to influence my students, colleagues, and community,” Walton says.

Shaniqua Denise Williams, School Counselor
As a school counselor, Shaniqua Denise Williams manages academic grades and works with teachers and students at the Northwestern Regional Educational Program, a preK-12 regional-based school. Her main task is to help students transition back to their home schools by helping them manage their behaviors.

Meet More Young Educators Who Are Already Creating Change

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Are New Educators Exposed to a ‘Burnout Contagion’ in School?

If a new teacher is vulnerable to burnout after only one or two years in the classroom, you can bet lack of administrative support, mentorship, professional development and planning time top the list of culprits. And researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) believe that teacher burnout may, to some degree, be contagious.

Analyzing survey data on burnout of 171 early career educators (less than four years in the classroom) and 289 experienced educators who had relationships with their younger counterparts either as mentors or as colleagues. They found a substantial link between burnout levels in new educators and burnout among their more experienced colleagues.

“When you talked with someone who had a high level of burnout, you were more likely to be burned out,” explains Jihyun Kim, an MSU doctoral student and co-author of the study, along with Kenneth Frank, professor of measurement and quantitative methods in MSU’s College of Education and Peter Youngs, a former MSU scholar now at the University of Virginia.

So the positive impact of mentorship, for example, can be diminished if the mentor is vulnerable to burnout.

“If you are surrounded by people who are downcast or walking around under a pall of burnout, then it has a high chance of spilling over, even if you don’t have direct contact with these folks,” says Frank. The researchers did conclude, however, that the burnout levels of close colleagues may be more consequential for early career educators.

The MSU study compliments other recent research that also reveal the virus-like effects of a stressful school climate.  A 2016 study out of Canada found that students’ cortisol levels (the hormone used as the biological indicator of stress) were much higher in those classrooms led by a teacher who had reported feeling overwhelmed or exhausted. It was unclear, however, what emerged first – the higher cortisol level in students or teacher burnout.

But does it really matter? Researchers who have studied teacher burnout don’t blame educators or students for not adequately grappling with the daily challenges of school life. The more pressing issue is that, while there may be adjustments individual educators can make to curtail exhaustion, too many schools and policymakers have cultivated what Frank calls a “culture of burnout.”

“If school administrators and policymakers are serious about promoting retention and reducing burnout among novice teachers, they should be aware not just of the curriculum they are advocating, or their rules and policies for teachers,” he explans. “They should also attend to how the organizational culture in their schools can have direct effects on burnout levels of their faculty.”

The MSU study, Frank says, “is one of the first to provide evidence that the organizational culture in schools can make a notable difference for early-career teachers’ burnout levels.”

Many schools fall far short in providing early-career educators with effective professional development, resources and preparation time. In addition, says Frank, “is It is also clear that the introduction of new reforms in K-12 education on a frequent basis adds to the pressures they experience.”

If school administrators and policymakers are serious about promoting retention and reducing burnout among novice teachers… they should attend to how the organizational culture in their schools can have direct effects on burnout levels of their faculty” – Kenneth Frank, Michigan State University

“Resources” to a new teacher aren’t limited to books, instructional materials and school supplies. “They also include human resources, collaborative culture, enough time, and strong leadership, which can compensate the lack of tangible resources,” says Kim.

This undeniable systemic failure, says Doris Santoro, associate professor of Education at Bowdoin College, is why “demoralization” is a more useful and accurate term than “burnout,” which she believes assigns blame to individual teachers. “Demoralization occurs when the job changes to such a degree that what teachers previously found “good” about their work is no longer available,” she says.

However it is specifically labelled, the impact of an overly-demanding, high-stakes, high-stress environment is getting more attention.  Research, plentiful in the 1980s and 1990s, practically ground to a halt with the era of overtesting and punitive accountability measures ushered in by No Child Left Behind in 2002.

The problem has become harder to ignore as teacher shortages have emerged across the country. Richard Ingersoll of the University of Pennsylvania believes the focus should be less on teacher recruitment and more on retention. “Instead of working on keeping and supporting new teachers, the conversation is about very expensive and often ineffective recruitment initiatives,” he says.

A 2016 report by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) found that new teachers leave at rates somewhere between 19% and 30% over their first five years of teaching. These numbers increase when less-experienced educators don’t receive effective mentoring in those critical first years. In addition, schools in high-poverty and high-minority schools tend to have higher rates of attrition.

“The teaching profession continues to be a leaky bucket, losing more than 200,000 teachers each year,” says Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University and president of LPI. “Teaching conditions have hit a low point.”  Teaching conditions include professional learning opportunities, instructional leadership, support from the administration, collaboration time, collegial and constructive relationships, and having a voice in their school.

The National Education Association recently conducted a large-scale survey of educators in their first five years. The results were eye-opening. Most respondents said they didn’t feel empowered in the classroom and that they lacked a seat at the decision-making table. “They had to scream and push just to get their voices heard,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen-García said at a panel discussion on teacher retention last June.

Writing in Education Week, Ann Myers and Jill Berkowicz argue that giving educators more autonomy, particularly over instructional strategies, can provide a critical “booster shot.”

“Teachers will become facilitators of complex tasks instead of distributors of content. This tactic reduces the overload and provides an initial antidote for burnout. Student achievement will organically improve as teachers apply the strategies and techniques to implement this shift.”

But Myers and Berkowicz join other experts in calling for a institution-wide approach.

“With out newest teachers lacking support while working in a contagious environment, our treatment must be two-fold. New teachers should be treated with an immunization of support, and the whole school should receive an antidote.”

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Quality Professional Development Still Out of Reach for Teachers

While the majority of teachers believe that their school leadership regards professional learning as a top priority for all staff, they nonetheless feel excluded from decisions and don’t believe enough opportunities for effective professional development exist. These are some of the findings found in a new nationwide survey of 6,300 educators, conducted jointly by Corwin, Learning Forward and the National Education Association (NEA), that delved into their attitudes about professional development opportunities in their schools and district,

“Professional development is a fundamental part of any job, and the education profession is no exception,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia. “Quality and relevant professional learning provides educators with ongoing opportunities to keep up with the rapid pace of classroom advancements and ensure they have the appropriate skills to reach and teach diverse student populations.”

Effective and embedded professional development is one of the pillars of success of success of high-performing systems around the world, such as Finland, Shangai, and Singapore.  Professional development and support is freely available throughout a teacher’s career, and time is set aside during the work day for collaborative planning, action research, and peer coaching. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), U.S. teachers spend more time in the classroom than their counterparts in almost every other nation, so little time is set aside for PD, collaboration, etc. Teacher autonomy also declined over the past decade or so, according to survey data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Standards for Professional Learning (Click to Enlarge)

These and other factors help keep the teacher attrition rate of top-rate systems at around 3%, significantly below the 8% rate that hobbles the profession and student achievement in the United States.

The NEA/Corwin/Learning Forward survey pinpoints several weaknesses in how U.S. schools approach PD. Here are three major main findings:

  • Nearly 20 percent of teachers indicate that they have no input in their professional development, while just over half report that that they have “some say” in these decisions. Overwhelmingly, teachers (75 percent) identify their school and district leaders as the primary professional learning decision-makers. Only four percent of teachers say that teachers primarily made decisions regarding professional learning. 
  • Nearly half of teachers report that a majority of their professional learning experiences occur on in-service days or in the summer despite expressing a strong preference for face-to-face learning during the work day. Nearly 25 percent of teachers report spending less than one hour each week on professional learning.
  • Teachers report that their schools tend to use student achievement data to plan professional learning, but do not use a variety of data to assess its effectiveness or determine how they will assess the effectiveness of professional learning before the plan is implemented.

The report urges schools to embed continuous professional development throughout the school year, citing instructional coaching and professional learning communities as proven and effective models. Because the majority of educators surveyed believe their school leaders consider them capable of leadership roles, the report urges administrators to build on this trust and provide teachers with “more voice and choice” in professional development.

“Evidence from all corners tells us that the job-embedded professional learning that educators value is the professional learning that makes a difference for students,” said Stephanie Hirsh, executive director of Learning Forward. “Let’s use this chorus of teacher voices as an opportunity to take action in transforming professional learning systems.”

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