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June 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 9

Snapshots: Teachers of the Year

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Jahana Hayes, 2016 National Teacher of the Year

Jahana Hayes teaches history at John F. Kennedy High School in Waterbury, Connecticut. We asked her about the importance of community service and why more minority teachers are needed in schools.
You grew up in a very low-income neighborhood in a family who didn't think college would be possible for you, yet your teachers showed you what education could do. How did they do this?
I was always a very good student, and I enjoyed school. I just didn't know how to map that out. I wasn't aware of the opportunities. When I'd go home and say, "I think I want to go to college," nobody in my family knew the process or how to help me do college searches. At a young age, I was in the talented and gifted program. A lot of my classmates had a college chart already mapped out; they knew their top three schools, and I wasn't having these conversations at home.
Several teachers took a personal interest in me. They would talk to me outside class and say, "Are you all set for college?" A guidance counselor came to my house to say, "You know, you need to mail these things." I was eager to have that conversation.
Now I have a lot of students whose parents care about them and are very supportive, but don't have the tools to advocate on their behalf. Teachers have the responsibility to put those supports in place and make students' educational experience the best it can be.
Why did you find it important to get your students involved in service learning?
A lot of my students don't experience high academic honors, and they feel like they don't have anything to give. A lot of them have been on the receiving end of aid for most of their lives. They don't see themselves as contributors.
We started a community service club because I wanted kids to see that no matter how bad their circumstances, they could always help someone, and there's still value in them as human beings, even if they're not getting As and Bs. We started off with a few small projects, and then it kind of exploded. I love taking students to do community service. Students who sit next to each other in class and have never acknowledged each other work together, getting to know one another.
A girl who wasn't even in our club, but who I'd see in the hall, had a really negative attitude. We were going to Florida to do a Habitat for Humanity trip. I told my co-advisor I wanted this girl to go. I thought it would help her. We asked her and got to know her. She'd never been on a plane, she'd never been out of Connecticut, she'd never been at a sit-down restaurant. She butted heads with our project manager every day, but over the days we saw the edge coming off.
When we got back to school, she told me, "I want to graduate. What do I have to do?" She was bright, but her attendance was poor, and she had to make up some credits. She redeemed herself, and she graduated.
Why is it important to get more teachers from minority backgrounds into schools?
About 70 percent of my school's population is minority. I have a connection with many students that cannot be duplicated, and I know it's because they feel like we're similarly situated. Kids say [to teachers] all the time, "You don't know what it's like," and I'll say, "Except that I do." Then we have a conversation, and it allows me to be their teacher.
How can we encourage more students from minority backgrounds to go into teaching?
A lot of students think, "I could never be a teacher." There's this very traditional view of who teachers are and what teachers look like. Students think the teacher has to know everything. I just had this conversation with a student who said, "I wanted to be a teacher, but I'm not smart enough." I told him, "Do you know how lucky a student would be to have you as a teacher? You understand what it's like to have a learning disability and to struggle for a long time and not get support."
We need to do better at marketing the idea that everyone has potential to become a teacher. We haven't done a good job of communicating that there's a place in this profession for everyone.
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Daniel Jocz, 2016 California Teacher of the Year

Daniel Jocz is a social studies and advanced placement (AP) U.S. history teacher at Downtown Magnets High School in Los Angeles, California. We asked him how he makes history relevant and accessible to his students.
Tell us about your YouTube channel of AP U.S. history videos.
I started it to change what we do in the classroom setting. We're trying to get students to engage in inquiry-based instruction where they're doing history. Rather than teach facts in class, we do part of the instruction outside of the classroom via video. In class, we engage in higher-level activities, answering questions such as, "What would you recommend that President Lyndon Johnson do in 1968 Vietnam?" Students are learning real-world skills like developing policy, presenting recommendations, and building coalitions. It's basically a flipped learning model.
Plus, many of my students are first-generation immigrants. They may not have learned the basics of U.S. history in 8th grade. They may not even have been in the United States in 8th grade, so there's a gap in their knowledge. The textbook is also very difficult for them. I started to create chapter tutorials—not to replace the reading, but to give them the basics to enter the reading process.
Students and teachers across the country have been watching the videos because they're struggling with the AP U.S. history curriculum. There are 500,000 minutes watched per week; that breaks down to 8,000 hours of instruction. Students are trying to find success. This gives them an option.
How do you make history relevant to your students?
History naturally can be relevant—if it's done right. There are so many links to today's world, and ultimately that's what we're trying to get kids ready for. I approach history with essential questions that transcend any one time period like, "When is it justified to go to war?" Even if students don't know a whole lot initially, they have opportunities to look at historical examples to see if the examples push their personal opinions about the role of government one way or another. That is key to making it interesting. If it's just a bunch of stuff that happened in the past, students are going to tune out and not see its relevance.
Describe your New Deal marketing project.
Franklin Roosevelt's administration marketed New Deal programs in several ways. He was the first president to use radio to speak directly to the American public. My students create speeches about New Deal programs and deliver fireside chats, which develops their writing and public speaking skills. They also use software like Photoshop to create well-designed posters to advertise New Deal programs. The third piece of the project is song parodies. Roosevelt's administration actually created songs about certain programs. My students work in teams to choose a popular song—whether it be by Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, or Jay Z—and create a parody about labor unions, the Wagner Act, or Social Security. Students share their songs, which helps them remember the variety of programs created during the New Deal.
Why do you include voices from marginalized groups in your history lessons?
There's no other way to teach history than to include all sides of the story. For example, I show my students a famous engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre. One of the first individuals to be gunned down at that moment was an African American man by the name of Crispus Attucks. He's not in that engraving. Was this intentional? Was this a mistake? Would this have been as provocative a propaganda piece if the death of an African American man were portrayed? We get into conversations about how we view and interpret the past. When I tell students the story of what happened and show them the engraving, they can clearly see it's not a complete portrayal of the event.
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Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, 2016 Washington Teacher of the Year

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling teaches AP government and human geography at Lincoln High, his neighborhood school in Tacoma, Washington. We talked to him about taking on issues of race and equity at the classroom level.
What can educators do to fight systemic racism and segregation in our schools?
All that individual educators can really do is be models of the values that we expect of our students. Many of the issues that we have with systemic racism are beyond fixing through classroom practice. And so fighting systemic racism involves challenging students to look through a critical lens at issues of race and justice and encouraging them to make the world a better place.
There are so many perceived incentives for people who benefit from segregation to continue living in segregated communities. There's not really a way to un-ring that bell and convince them to give back some of that advantage. So the number one thing we should do is advocate for policies that put our most effective educators in front of our neediest students.
You said that even if students are not AP students when they come to your class, they are by the time they leave. How do you effect that transformation?
At most schools, the gatekeeper to advanced coursework isn't an exam; it's a teacher's personal decision. I get really frustrated when I visit a school that's 70 percent students of color, and I walk past classrooms that I know are the AP or IB classes, and they're 100 percent white and Asian. That's an injustice that's being perpetrated by the adults in that building.
Within the profession of teaching, we undervalue the brilliance of children of color. I have students who would not be allowed in the AP classes at other schools in my community, students with IEPs and 504 accommodation plans, but who flourish at my school. They might not have a lot of background knowledge, but they do have a sense of curiosity that I try to foster. These students, regardless of income or past experience, are being asked to do college-level work and they rise to the occasion.
How does learning about the subjects you teach change your students' lives?
I'm not trying to mold little progressives, but I am trying to create thoughtful adults who are civically engaged. Understanding the mechanisms of government is absolutely essential for my students. If we want to improve this neighborhood, it's going to happen through the classroom.
For example, I have a student I'll call Jordan. He's an OK student, probably not ready for college right now, but if he can get into the local technical college, he will have changed the trajectory of his family forever. He'll have marketable skills that he can use to earn a middle class income, and his kids will go to college. So how do I endow Jordan with a sense of citizenship and civic duty so that he is not only an electrician, but a good member of the community? In my government class, essentially, I'm trying to train better neighbors.
For your kids who go away to college, you have an "alumni support tour." What is it, and why do you do it?
In the very recent past, my high school didn't have a strong college-going culture. As more of our students became the first generation going to college, we realized they felt culturally isolated on campus and were thinking about coming home. If our kids come home before completing college, their parents don't have the economic means to support them in going back to school. When they miss that opportunity, they come home to minimum-wage jobs.
So the alumni support tour became a necessity. Teachers on the senior team visit Washington-area colleges where we've sent several of our students, get together for pizza, and talk about how they're doing, and how to be there for each other. Our most recent alumni support tour was last week. We covered 650 miles in three days, and it was the best three days of my career.
As a student, if an adult has your back, then you're more likely to persist in college and in life. My obligation to my students doesn't end the day they walk across a stage. A lot of my alums follow my classroom Twitter feed and get involved in the conversations. I have an open door for my alums. I'll stop whatever I'm doing and give them the floor to talk about their experiences.
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Shawn Sheehan, 2016 Oklahoma Teacher of the Year

Shawn Sheehan teaches mathematics to students with special needs at Norman High School in Norman, Oklahoma. We asked him about his interest in advocating for the teaching profession.
Why did you start the Teach Like Me Campaign?
I overheard a colleague in the teacher's lounge discouraging her own child from becoming a teacher. She said, "Don't do this job. The pay is too low, you won't be respected, and you're smart enough to do something else." I was only in my second year of teaching, and I was thinking, What a horrible sales pitch!
I'm not naive about the challenges we face, but we need to remember why we love this job. If you log in to Twitter or Facebook, you'll quickly find a slew of reasons why teachers leave the profession—complaints about how teacher evaluations are crazy, how there are too many student assessments, and more.
I started Teach Like Me in 2013 to help redefine the teaching profession and give teachers a forum to share what they love about teaching. We produce short videos to distribute on social media—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Many of the videos feature excellent teachers, like state teachers of the year, telling why teaching is a profession worth pursuing.
As Oklahoma's teacher of year, I've spent the year traveling the state, talking about the Teach Like Me Campaign. I get lots of head nods and smiles and hugs. People say, "This is exactly what I needed. You know, I was really questioning whether or not I can keep doing this. But you're right, because if I don't show up on Monday for these kids, who's going to be there?"
We need to convey the same message to young people who are thinking about going into teaching. Kids who excel in math and science are often encouraged to become engineers or researchers or architects or biologists. And rightfully so; they can't all come back and be teachers. But there are students who would make good candidates.
I was one of them. I took AP calculus in high school, and was a total nerd. I wish that my AP calculus teacher had just briefly said, "Shawn listen, you're kind of a show-off, you talk a lot in class, your friends ask you for help—have you thought about maybe teaching this?" It would have saved me a lot of time and money.
Why is it important for individual teachers to advocate for education?
Gone are the days when you could just hole up in your classroom and ignore what's going on. There are too many issues that are affecting our kids for us to turn a blind eye to them.
So if you're an educator, I encourage you to find a way that's comfortable to you to get involved in those conversations. If you're the type who feels confident going to your state capitol and speaking with your representatives, please do so. If you're a blogger, or you're social media savvy, then advocate for change that way. If you're a member of your professional organization, there are so many different ways you can get involved. Find a way that makes sense to you.
I started as an advocate on social media, and now I've just announced that I'm running for Oklahoma Senate District 15. The state had a $1.3 billion dollar budget shortfall and over $110 million in cuts to education. Teachers finally are standing up saying, "Hey, this is not acceptable!" Education is political; I had no idea how political it is, but in the last year, I've learned a lot.
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Kim Greene is a former senior editor at Educational Leadership magazine.

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 Deborah Perkins-Gough is a former senior editor at Educational Leadership.

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