An Interview with Jennifer Bado-Aleman, USDE Teaching Ambassador Fellow
When National Board Certified Teacher Jennifer Bado-Aleman heard about the U.S. Department of Education’s five-year-old Teaching Ambassador Fellows program, she researched the program, saw the unique experience it offered, and decided to apply. She was one of six teachers chosen from 625 applications from teachers and instructional specialists.
It seems like a natural adjunct to a career focused on student achievement and leadership in professional improvement. The daughter of Hispanic immigrants, Bado-Aleman’s research and practice have centered on closing the achievement gaps by helping students achieve academic success and college and career readiness. She currently is the English department resource teacher at Montgomery County’s Gaithersburg High School for a team of more than 20 teachers and support staff.
The fellowships were created to give outstanding teachers like Bado-Aleman an opportunity to learn about national policies in education and to contribute their expertise to those discussions.
ActionLine spoke with Bado-Aleman to find out more about her career and year-long assignment at the Department of Education (ED). Read her responses below.
How did you learn about the fellowship?
I learned about the fellowship through Lesley Johnson, the Montgomery County Public Schools instructional specialist for National Board Certified Teachers. She regularly sends out information about various supports and opportunities and the fellowship was one of those opportunities. I hadn't heard about the program before that email, so I looked on the Department of Education website to learn more. It seemed like a unique opportunity, so I applied.
The application process was competitive, with initial written components followed by a phone interview and a full-day in-person interview at the Department of Education in Washington, D.C. The content of those questions and interviews focused on my work with students in my role as an educator, and also on my leadership experience with colleagues in my work as a resource teacher and staff development content specialist.
In the interviews, I was also able to hear about the dynamic experiences of fellow teachers from other states and contexts, as well as from policy staff at ED, which helped me realize the significance of the larger conversations about effective teaching and the vision for the profession that are happening across the country and at the ED.
How can the input of front line educators like you make a difference at the ED?
Being a Teaching Ambassador Fellow provides a unique opportunity for both the fellow and the policy staff in ED. While I do get a chance to immerse myself in policy for the year that I am on leave from my teaching assignment so that I can learn about the different initiatives and better understand the larger context of policy and reform, I am also able to contribute my perspective as a classroom teacher to that larger discussion.
As Fellows, we each take that role seriously, by understanding the responsibility that we have to our colleagues and to our students in being honest about our experiences in the classroom and with diverse students, and with what both the successes and the challenges of reforms look like in the classroom.
Because we come from different counties and states, each colleague brings different experiences and perspectives. The fact that so many of the ED staff have sought out Teaching Ambassador Fellows for our feedback and given us opportunities to work on projects like RESPECT, where we meet with other classroom teachers across the nation and engage in roundtable discussions about the profession and how to move it forward. This speaks to the importance of this program and the commitment that ED has made to include teacher voices in the decision.
You are a successful educator— you are National Board Certified, you have been a classroom teacher, a staff development content specialist, and you are now department resource teacher. What do you think most often stands in the way of teachers reaching their potential in the classroom?
I have been fortunate to work in contexts that have allowed me opportunities to grow as a professional and to work with diverse students. These are experiences that have informed and changed my practice.
Being able to advocate for the students that I teach is a major reason that I applied for this fellowship. Experiences such as being a classroom teacher of on-level courses, co-teaching special education classes, AP and honors classes, and teaching diverse students like ELLs, has given me a range of experiences, as has being a resource teacher to my colleagues at Gaithersburg High School and a staff development content specialist to my fellow English teachers in Montgomery County.
Taking those experiences and keeping these students and teachers in mind when discussing how to shape education as a profession is an important contribution my colleagues and I can make as fellows.
But I want teachers to know, too, that such contributions are ones that every teacher can make at various levels, whether it's at the school, district, state, or national level.
I think that the most important work in education is the work that happens every day by teachers and students in the classrooms, because that's where relationships are built and student achievements are made.
I want my colleagues to know that in being teachers, we are leaders, and we can improve those things that we feel are barriers to our students' success. We have to embrace that role and lead in the ways and in the contexts that are best suited to each of us.
For one teacher, that might mean leading a workgroup or professional learning community at a school to look at student achievement or how to better engage students. For another, that might mean joining a committee at the county or state level to look at curriculum, assessment, or teacher evaluation models. For a group of teachers, that might mean holding their own RESPECT roundtables and send the feedback to ED to join the national conversation about teaching.
The key is for teachers to realize their own potential in their leadership abilities and to recognize how we can help each other succeed in being more effective educators for our students.
You are assigned to work on middle school reform in the office of Education Secretary Arne Duncan. What is your professional interest in middle school reform? What are the biggest issues? What are the road blocks to student learning and teacher success?
As a high school teacher, I know that the transition for students between middle school and high school is a difficult and critical one in seeing them succeed academically and become college- and career-ready.
Many of the skills they need in high school and college have their foundations in the earlier grades and, there has been a lot of attention focused on early childhood and elementary education in terms of helping students get on the right track early, as well as discussions about making high school students college- and career-ready. But it seems that the middle grades don't always get that same attention even though we know that this time is also one in which many of our students become disconnected with school, often with consequences that follow them through high school and beyond.
I was fortunate to be in the Montgomery County central offices when there was a push for middle school reform. There were discussions about ensuring that curriculum was aligned from elementary through secondary school and teachers were sharing strategies as to how to meet the unique needs of these young adolescent learners. It's important to keep these factors in mind across school systems and school buildings so that we can fully support students from pre-k through high school and beyond.
How has your National Board Certification influenced your teaching? Why did you seek NBC?
I sought to become an NBCT because I believe that teaching is a profession and that to be effective, we must be reflective of our practice and seek opportunities for professional development.
The certification process helped me reflect on my areas of strength as a practitioner and to also realize my areas for improvement so that I could target those aspects and work to develop my skills. Though the process was a difficult one, it was essential in helping me become more acutely aware of the daily decisions I was making in my work as an educator and how I could be both a better teacher for my students and a better teacher-leader for myself and my colleagues.
Making the time to watch myself teach and to watch my students' reactions to my teaching via the videotaped lessons, and then analyzing and reflecting on what worked and what could have been done differently, was invaluable to my professional growth. It helped remind me of the importance of self-reflection and self-assessment throughout one's teaching career.
What are some of the strategies for teacher success that you have found most successful in your roles as a classroom teacher and an educator committed to professional growth?
I think being collaborative and reflective is central to a teacher's success. The most successful teacher is the one who is able to recognize his or her strengths and areas for improvement, and who seeks to share those strengths with other colleagues while overcoming those areas for improvement by learning from other teachers and from the current research.
The best teachers I've seen are the ones who are open to collaboration and who are always researching effective strategies. They engage in critical discussions and peer observations with their colleagues to enhance their own skills and share their expertise with others, and they also know that teaching is a craft that requires continual learning and research to find the best practices and the most effective ways to meet the needs of changing populations of students.
Teachers need to know that they are leaders in their classrooms and among their colleagues. We should each embrace that responsibility, because it is what will help our students to achieve.
Click here to read Jennifer's post in Homeroom, the official blog of the USDE.