What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning

I graduated from high school in 1994 and that same year the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) was founded. Two years ago I became a NCTAF commissioner and joined former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Linda Darling-Hammond, Jeff Duncan-Andrade and other education leaders in an effort “to engage policy makers and practitioners to address the entrenched national challenge of recruiting, developing, and retaining great teachers in order to ensure that all students have access to quality teaching in schools organized for success.”

In 1996 NCTAF released the report “What Matters Most: Teaching for America’s Future,” where they provided a “blueprint for recruiting, preparing, and supporting excellent teachers all across America in an effort to ensure that all children can learn.” Tomorrow – 20 years later and 17 years into my teaching career - we release “What Matters Now: A New Compact for Teaching and Learning” that looks at our country and schools today and provides a series of recommendations for how we can support all teacher to support all students.

If you’re not in Washington, D.C. tomorrow you can definitely be part of the event through a live stream. I’ll be giving the keynote entitled "Leading from the Classroom" and we’ll have a panel of teachers and other stakeholders share their perspectives on what needs to happen in schools today to ensure that all of our students are able to learn and thrive.

Check out the live stream here on Wednesday, August 10th from 10-12 noon ET and let us know what you think in the comments section below!

Seventh Grade Reflections on Stereotypes and Assumptions

People assume that I’m going to steal something because of my race.

People assume that I am Mexican when I am Ecuadorean.

People assume that I speak Spanish because I am Puerto Rican.

People assume that I’m older than I am because of the way that I look.

People assume that I don’t exercise or work out because I’m bigger.

People assume that because I look like a girl and have a high-pitched voice, I am a girl.

People assume that I am heterosexual when in fact I am gay. 

People assume that because I have pit bulls I am a vicious person. 

People assume that I am Latina because of my skin tone. 

People assume that I am Puerto Rican, when in fact I am Dominican.

Today I experienced the most insightful dialogue I’ve had with my advisory students all year. We are starting a multi-week series on identity and what makes us who we are. Our opening activity asked students to reflect on and answer the question: What is something that people assume about you but isn’t necessarily true?

One student asked, “How can I know what people assume about me?” Great question. I responded with a personal example. In New York City where there is a large Afro-Latino/a community because of my appearance many people often assume that I am Latina and speak Spanish. I know this because they come up to me on the street and ask me questions in Spanish. I do actually speak Spanish but my ethnic roots are African American and Irish American.

I wasn’t sure how my advisees would respond to the prompt but we took 20 seconds of silence to think about our experiences and when that time was up one student raised his hand to share that because he looks like a girl and has a high-pitched voice, people assume that he’s a girl, when he’s not. That started the dialogue and each student who chose to share had something insightful to say.

When K said that most people assume he’s Mexican when in fact his parents emigrated from Ecuador, another student asked what it means to be Ecuadorian. He had never heard of Ecuador and was curious to learn more. When a paraprofessional shared that he is gay but many people assume he is heterosexual because of the way he speaks and because he doesn’t “act gay” a student asked, “How can someone even act gay?” That opened a conversation about stereotypes that we hold about each other.

Before sharing, one of my advisees prefaced his comment with, “Don’t laugh. Don’t laugh.” He then proceeded to share that people assume he’s going to steal because of his race. He is African American. This sparked a dialogue about skin tone and how we have different expectations for people based on their skin tone.

I was blown away by what my students shared and their respectful and genuine curiosity to learn more about each other. I was also reminded of how important it is for us as educators to not only know our students but also create regular spaces and structures for them to know each other – and themselves.

As testing season approaches the pressure my colleagues, students, and I experience every day is real. In this hyper raise-your-test-scores-or-your-school-may-be-closed culture it’s easy to forget our roots and why we come to school every day. Today’s advisory conversation was a needed reminder for me. I’m grateful for these gems that remind me how important, critical, and precious our work is.