From Teacher of the Year to NEA president

Twenty-five years after she was named Utah’s Teacher of the Year, Lily Eskelsen García is president-in-waiting of the National Education Association (NEA), reports Richard Lee Colvin. Eskelsen García, 58, left full-time teaching a year after winning the honor to fight for higher salaries and smaller class sizes. (Utah ranks 50th in both categories.)
ednext_XIV_3_colvin_img01

Now an NEA vice president, she’s running unopposed to replace Dennis Van Roekel.

Born Lilia Laura Pace in Texas in 1955, Eskelsen García did not plan to go to college. Her father worked for the U.S. Army. Her Panamanian mother had left school after 8th grade. 

She married Ruel Eskelsen right after graduating from high school. He enlisted in the Army.  She got a job in a school cafeteria. A kindergarten teacher “noticed how well she connected with the students and urged her to go to college to become a teacher,” writes Colvin.

“After her husband got out of the Army, they both enrolled at the University of Utah, supporting themselves with help from the GI Bill, loans, financial aid, and money they earned singing, accompanied by Eskelsen García on the guitar.”

She was graduated magna cum laude with a degree in elementary education and later earned a master’s degree in instructional technology. She began teaching at Orchard Elementary School outside of Salt Lake City in 1980.

Teachers worked as a team, sharing ideas and taking on additional duties to allow a colleague to spend more time with a group of kids producing a play or exploring a topic such as the civil rights movement in greater depth. Her love of music found its way into many of her lessons— she taught her students to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution by singing it, for example.

Eskelsen García supports Common Core standards, saying the authors heeded input from expert teachers.

“Every time I turned the page I thought, my God, this is how I teach, it really was,” she says. “Critical thinking skills, collaborate on problem solving, create, design, give me evidence of, give me your opinion and tell me why I should believe you, and organize a project.”

But she fears that standardized tests will not include those skills and that they’ll be eliminated from the curriculum.

. . . “If you see that there is no change in high-stakes testing; no change in obsessive test prep; no change in labeling students, teachers, and schools by that standardized test score, you’ll know that they don’t really care about higher-level, critical thinking skills, and that it was all just a PR ploy.”

Tests should be used to guide instruction rather than to judge performance, she tells Colvin.

She’s campaigned against “GERM,” which she says stands for “global education reform movement.”

Appreciate a teacher today

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day, the 2011 teachers of the year were invited to a reception in the White House Rose Garden. President thanked them for their service and remembered his fifth-grade teacher, Mabel Hefty, who helped him adjust to school in Hawaii after several years in Indonesia.

Michelle Shearer, an AP chemistry teacher at Urbana High in Maryland, is the 2011 national teacher of the year.  A teacher for 14 years, she previously taught chemistry and math at the Maryland School for the Deaf. Shearer earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at Princeton.

On her application, she writes that “chemistry is for everyone,” not just college-bound students or high school students.

The teaching of chemistry can begin in a preschool classroom with household materials, as young students marvel at the bubbles, color changes, and visual “magic” inherent to chemistry. High school students demand to know, “What does this have to do with me?” I display a collection of random household items (sunscreen, laundry detergent, motor oil, shampoo, etc.) across the tops of cabinets as a constant reminder to my students of the practical role chemistry plays in their lives.

My favorite teacher was Mr. Parker in fourth grade, but I also remember Miss Anderson, who taught Great Books in high school. Come to think of it, my chemistry teacher, Mr. Carmichael was excellent too.

From cop to teacher

The Teacher of the Year for 2009, Anthony Mullen, spent 21 years as a New York City police officer before starting a second career as a special education teacher working with the kind of would-be tough kids he once arrested. He hopes to focus on lowering the dropout rate by encouraging options. Teacher Magazine has a great interview with Mullen, who’s focusing on dropout prevention.


It’s important that every student gets an academic background, but we’ve lost vocational education. Most of our high schools are geared towards getting students into college. And yet we have this population of students—millions of students, literally—who want to do what our ancestors have done for thousands of years: They want to work with their hands. They don’t want to sit in a desk all day. They want to build, they want to create, they want to design. And we’re losing that because we’re so concerned that they take the extra science, the extra math, the extra history and all these things to go to college when all these vocational opportunities are passing them by.

Speaking of cops in the classroom, Los Angeles is seeing high graduation rates at its police-affiliated magnet schools, reports City Journal. Most students come from low-income Hispanic families.


Discipline is strict, a communal priority. Reseda organizes cadets into squads of five to eight, each supervised by a student leader. The leaders make sure that their cadets get their work done, keep their grades up, behave in class, and dress neatly.

So far, few graduates have gone on to become police officers, perhaps because there’s a three- to four-year gap between high school and eligibility to join the force.

Teacher of Year nominee laid off

Nominated for New Hampshire’s Teacher of the Year, Hampton Academy teacher Christina Hamilton received a layoff notice — by cell phone — the same week.  Kevin Fleming, grievance chairman of the teachers union, tells the Portsmouth Herald, “Even though she is recognized as a candidate for Teacher of the Year, they have to go on seniority.” Hampton has taught eighth-grade social studies.

Via EIA Online.