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A Tale of Two Teacher Voices ~ Charles Richards and Monica Lewis

Charles Richards is currently educating ELA high school learners in the South Haven Public School District. Charles believes that the students of today need to be educated in an individualized manner that focuses on their interests when teaching ELA standards. In order to create this focus, it is paramount that he builds relationships with his students to cater to their interests. Charles is the most nosy and personable of teachers. Charles enjoys running, fishing, kayaking, and reading–not simultaneously of course.

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Monica Lewis teaches in Michigan. She has been a Chicago Foundation for Education Inaugural Teacher of the Year, a
Fulbright Hays Fellow, and a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, and featured teacher on the America Achieves Common Core website. Monica’s most recent success in the classroom was her students’ conceptual knowledge of fractions. For the first time, students were speaking about their knowledge of fractions and applying it to different situations on their own. Her most creative endeavor outside of school involves dancing and a secret passion to write a book.

This two-voice reflection piece describes the experiences and insights of two Michigan teachers as they participated in the launch of the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship, which convened for the first time in Lansing, Michigan, on November 22-23, 2014. Charles Richards, an inaugural America Achieves Michigan Fellow, is a high school English teacher in South Haven. Monica Lewis, an America Achieves Lead Fellow in Michigan, lives and works in Detroit.

I. A Common Interest

<span “font-size:11.0pt;font-family:”cambria”,”serif”;mso-ascii-theme-font:=”” minor-latin;mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>Charles Richards: In any profession, it is paramount that opportunities are offered to the workforce in order to help them learn, grow in their roles, and foster innovation. Teachers nationwide are constantly looking for innovative things to incorporate in their classroom, often using the internet to learn from and share with others, but never actually meeting their peers face to face.

Monica Lewis: Anyone who has ever moved away can relate to the daunting feeling of starting over again. In 2013 I became the new kid at a big school I knew nothing about!  The name of that school was the state of Michigan. As a former Chicago Public School teacher of nearly 10 years, I thought that I would be able to have a smooth transition  to the same teacher advocacy work I entrenched myself in while in Chicago, but that was not the case. In Chicago, I wore multiple hats – from union delegate to mayoral education transition team member, but in Michigan I was scrambling around trying to find a network of teachers that I could form new bonds with.

<span “font-size:11.0pt;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>CR: As a 3rd year teacher, the America Achieves Fellowship is my first professional experience with teachers outside my district. The Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship is a great avenue for me to build relationships with peers and to see how some teaching strategies in other buildings, cultures, and geographical regions can and will impact my best practices within my own room. <span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>

<span “font-size:11.0pt;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””> ML: All the teacher leadership opportunities I had besides National Board Certification were local to Chicago.  After searching around, I was bewildered to find that the teacher networks I was accustomed to do not exist in Detroit. I began to wonder; how do teachers become leaders here? How do teachers join together about issues that impact their classrooms?

II. A SHARED SOLUTION

<span “font-size:11.0pt;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>CR: The America Achieves Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship offers teachers and administrators from across the state the opportunity to collaborate and on how to better educate Michigan’s students. Learning about Common Core State Standards and how to implement them in the classroom was one way we accomplished this.  My main focus at the Fellowship’s launch convening in Lansing was to try and listen to as many people as possible and take as many notes as possible on ideas I could implement into my classroom.

ML: This past August I learned that America Achieves, a national organization that I was a Fellow of, was creating an educator voice fellowship here in the state of Michigan!  Upon learning this news, my feelings of isolation slowly started to dissipate because I knew that I would soon join a team of Michigan educators that shared the same drive and passion for pushing students and colleagues toward a higher bar.  As a teacher fellow with the America Achieves national fellowship, I knew about the variety of experiences and exposure that would soon be awarded to the teachers of Michigan.  The America Achieves experience allowed me to grow and flourish in so many ways.  As a fellow, I engaged in various opportunities from advising Secretary Arne Duncan in Washington D.C., to leading panels at NBC’s Education Nation.  One of my most inspiring experiences with America Achieves was the ability to learn about Common Core from the actual authors. This experience propelled me to have my teaching become a part of a virtual library of Common Core lessons on the America Achieves website. I was thrilled to know that these same experiences would now become available to Michigan educators.

III. DIVING INTO THE WORK<span “font-size:=”” 11.0pt;line-height:107%;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” arial;color:#222222″=””>

<span “font-size:11.0pt;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>CR: <span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>Over the course of the two-day convening in Lansing<span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>, many of the sessions focused on training the members of the Fellowship<span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””> <span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>to make their voices heard regarding the future of education in Michigan. We unpacked what the Common Core State Standards mean for educators, parents, and students.<span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””> We also learned how to<span “font-size:11.0pt;=”” mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””> properly teach the skills demanded by the Common Core and communicate these skills to outside-school audiences.<span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””> <span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>With the Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship, I am sure that the people impacted most by the Common Core – educators, parents, and students – will gain a seat at the table.<span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>

ML: Having an opportunity to form bonds with educators who came together from all over the state was so exciting!  The Fellowship fills a void in the spectrum of educator voice in the state of Michigan.  I learned so much from my new-found Michigan colleagues and truly see us as partners in this education arena. It is exciting to know that some of the best educators in the state can now join forces and work together towards impacting change. I am eager to witness the movement this Fellowship will have on the state and more importantly the impact we will have on students!<span “font-size:=”” 11.0pt;line-height:107%;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” arial;color:#222222″=””>

<span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;=”” mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>CR: The Michigan Educator Voice Fellowship is the kind of opportunity and network that I hope all my peers get to experience. It affords me as an educator the opportunity to listen to a diverse range of people in order to learn how to educate my students for the future. With<span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:=”” arial;color:black”=””>in<span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””> this network, there isn’t a question or situation that I know one of my <span “mso-fareast-font-family:”times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;=”” color:black”=””>colleagues<span “font-size:11.0pt;mso-fareast-font-family:=”” “times=”” roman”;mso-bidi-font-family:arial;color:black”=””>hasn’t gone through themselves. It is reassuring to sit amongst educators and know that their sole goal is the same as my own: to educate the students of our state to make them college and career ready. Any group that can rest on that is sure to be a successful one.