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Teachers want to be recognized as professionals. U.S. Education Secretary John King told NewsOne he’s championing that cause.

King, who earned confirmation as education secretary in March, understands the challenges and lack of respect teachers sometimes receive. His career began as a social studies teacher; he wants to use his new position to elevate the men and women standing in front of classrooms every day.

Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind, created an opportunity for the secretary. He explained to NewsOne that the new federal education law shifts more authority to states and local school districts. At the same time, it incorporates teachers as partners.

King’s department is collaborating with the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development to promote a key initiative: Teach to Lead. It gives educators a voice to fundamentally change the culture of schools and teaching.

“The idea is to empower teachers to lead from the classroom,” King stated. “Too often teachers feel that they have to leave the classroom to address policy issues. We wanted to create a pathway for teachers to develop initiatives while staying in the classroom.”

In addition to giving teachers a voice, King said it’s paramount to elevate the profession by supplying teachers the skills they need for the 21st century classroom. Public schools are now majority minority, which creates a need for educators who can adapt and excel in this new diverse classroom environment. King underscored the increasing number of English learners entering the education system and noted that many teachers he speaks with say they’re unprepared. As classrooms become filled with more students of color, the secretary said there’s a need for greater cultural awareness. He praised residency programs that bring teachers into the communities where their students live.

King recalled that when he served as New York Education Commissioner, school districts in the state required new teachers to work a 6 to 8-week internship in a community-based organization where they would teach.

“So, they were volunteering at domestic violence shelters or Big Brothers Big Sisters program, where they would get to know the issues and challenges in the community,” he said.

He also noted the need for a more diverse teacher workforce. King said only 18 percent of our teachers are people of color, and just 2 percent of them are Black men. “So, we’ve got a lot of work to do,” King emphasized.

Elevating the profession includes giving new teachers the practical experience they need to succeed in those first few years, when many decide to leave the profession. He points to some districts that have established effective residency programs, where inexperienced teachers get support from a strong mentor.

So far, the Education Department and its partners have held seven Teach to Lead summits, most recently in New Orleans at the end of April. The next summit is planned for July 23-24 in Minneapolis.

SOURCE: Teach to Lead | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty 


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