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Embracing the ‘tough conversation’: Teacher of the Year finalists speak out on ‘divisive’ history, students’ mental health and why educators are not superheroes

Linda Jacobson

Several Oberlin Senior High School students won’t be taking courses on Black history, race and gender oppression this fall; they're waiting for Kurt Russell, Ohio’s Teacher of the Year, to return from his year-long sabbatical. “Students are really wanting to talk about these subjects,” said Russell, one of four candidates for 2022 National Teacher of the Year. Whether the topic is discrimination or the mental well-being of students and teachers, this year’s finalists aren’t avoiding touchy subjects. Both Russell and Joseph Welch, the nominee from Pennsylvania, teach history, threading through lessons at the center of national debates. Whitney Aragaki of Hawaii warns students competing for spots at elite colleges that they’re putting their mental health at risk when they don’t rest. And Autumn Rivera of Colorado says it’s time to drop the “toxic positivity” behind the notion that teachers are only in the profession “for the kids.” The Council of Chief State School Officers will soon name one of the four this year’s national winner.

Linda Jacobson reports.


As Nation’s Report Card resumes for first time since pandemic, federal testing chief admits she’s ‘a little nervous’ about results

Linda Jacobson

Almost 600,000 fourth and eighth graders are taking national reading and math tests for the first time since the pandemic began — which makes the official in charge of measuring student progress a bit anxious. “The likelihood that the scores would be anything but down is pretty small,” Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told reporter Linda Jacobson. Performance among the lowest-scoring students in those groups on the National Assessment of Educational Progress was falling well before the pandemic, and Carr predicted that the bottom will drop even more. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, NAEP is the only assessment with results that can be compared across all 50 states, making it a major gauge of achievement gaps. 

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To close pandemic academic gaps, experts point to a ‘cascade’ of skills young kids will need to work on

Bekah McNeel

It’s no secret that early academics took a hit during the pandemic: Closures, masks and remote classes changed the way students learned to read, and it often wasn’t as good as what they had in person. But experts say full recovery will take more than drilling phonics and poring over books. So teachers are working with early elementary students to develop the focus and self-regulation they would have had after years in classrooms. Just like reading and writing, those things take practice. Teachers and parents can expect to see academics like reading develop hand in hand with social and emotional maturity, said Catherine Tamis-LeMonda of New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. “Any given skill is the outcome of many many things coming together.”

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