By Heather Sinclair Wood, CNN
Editor’s note: Heather Sinclair Wood is a writer-producer for the CNN Newsroom. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge, and a master’s degree in education from Mercer University in Georgia.
(CNN) - I’m a newswoman, tried and true. Journalist, news junkie, news hound, call me what you like. So when I decided three years ago to pursue a master’s degree in education, family and friends thought I was crazy. Having an advanced degree was something I had always wanted, so I figured why not earn a degree in a profession that I could possibly see myself doing one day? Two years of night classes and a few months as a student teacher seemed easy enough, and then I would have another career option under my belt. I thought of teacher and journalist as practically the same job - just a different audience.
So I embarked on the amazing journey, and a journey it was. But what I didn’t realize were the things I learned during my time as a student teacher in a suburban Atlanta middle school were eye-opening, humbling, and little did I know, would truly change my life and my job as a journalist forever. The way I see the world has changed dramatically, and I have a whole new appreciation for the profession that many take for granted.
Here are six lessons I learned when I jumped from one career to the classroom:
No matter how prepared you think you are, you’re not prepared
I was raised in the classroom of Mrs. Sinclair; my mother, a career educator, taught me everything I needed to know about life right from the realms of her school. My aunt is a teacher, my cousins and my sister. The love of teaching practically runs through my veins. So when graduate school required me to complete a four-month stint as a student teacher, I thought I was so ready. Years of papers, classroom observations and some of the best professors and peers a student could ask for equipped me for life in the classroom. But in reality, I’m not sure anyone can truly be prepared for what an actual classroom is like. I would have never considered myself a novice, but walking into that seventh-grade classroom in January was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life.
Befriend the people who (really) matter
After nearly a decade in the news business, my first day at school came with all the nervous feelings any new job would have. Only this time, I actually had the petrifying power to alter a child’s life permanently. As I stuck my yellow visitor badge to my freshly ironed blouse, I was greeted with smiling faces and inquisitive looks. I know running through their minds were questions about why the “CNN lady” would want to be a teacher. They would soon find out that my passion for news carried over to my time as a teacher, too. I discovered almost instantly that the lunch ladies, custodians, secretaries, resource officers and librarians are the ones who keep a school running. Unlike CNN, where oftentimes you must look up the corporate ladder for help, schools operate as families in which every member, no matter his or her job status, plays a pivotal role in the operation of the school.
Middle schools can be war zones, as I found out, and you’re going to need some people in the trenches with you. Within my first two weeks, there was a broken nose incident, a chocolate pudding explosion and an index-card shortage that had me knocking on doors. I probably talked to the school principal only two or three times while I was there, but the men and women on staff became my heroes.
By Van Jones, CNN Contributor
Editor's note: Van Jones, a CNN contributor, is president and founder of Rebuild the Dream, an online platform focusing on policy, economics and media. He was President Barack Obama's green jobs adviser in 2009. He is also founder of Green for All, a national organization working to build a green economy. Follow him on Twitter: @VanJones68.
(CNN) - The student debt fight is back - with a vengeance.
Once again, current students are facing the possibility of interest rates on Stafford Federal student loans doubling.
Once again, we are asking what our leaders are doing about a crisis that gets worse every year.
Once again, the answer is: Not much.
It is the only form of household debt that has continued to rise during the Great Recession. It is also the only form of debt that cannot be discharged under bankruptcy or even death, as parents who have lost children have discovered to their horror. It is preventing young people from buying homes and starting businesses.
In short, student debt is a $1.1 trillion anvil dragging down the entire U.S. economy.
Unfortunately, the conversation in Washington is not about big fixes, but simply how to avoid making matters worse by letting interest rates rise.
By Robert Balfanz and John Gomperts, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Graduation season is in full swing, bringing with it a lot of discussion about life and opportunity. Inevitably there will be news stories about graduation ceremonies or a new YouTube video sensation focusing on commencement words of wisdom. While inspiring, those stories never give a full portrait of this rite of passage in America.
High school graduation—once the end of educational achievement for many—is now really just the starting line. The changing economy means that people who don't receive any post-secondary education will have access to only 40% of jobs in the next decade.
The beginning of this year's commencement season coincided with the 30th anniversary of one of the most important education reports the nation ever produced. "A Nation at Risk" warned that a mediocre education system put America's future in such serious jeopardy that had a foreign power imposed this poor performance on us, "we might well have viewed it as an act of war."
Yet three decades later, the reading and math skills of America's 15-year-olds still rank, respectively, as "average" and "below average" among developed nations. So, as you attend your next graduation ceremony, here are five things you won't hear but need to know.
Not everyone eventually gets a diploma.
In reality, fewer than 80% of students receive a regular high school diploma (not simply a GED) within four years. That number drops to less than 70% for African-American students and lower yet for students with disabilities and English language learners.
By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
Editor's note: Elizabeth Landau is a health and science writer and producer for CNN.com. She is a 2006 graduate of Princeton University. Here she offers a personal take on the terror that can accompany such a happy milestone.
(CNN) - On paper, I was ready to graduate. In my head, though, I never wanted that moment to arrive.
Sure, I was academically qualified. I had already been through the festivities that Princeton lavishes upon its graduating seniors in the week prior to The Day: The Reunions parade, a hilarious talk by David Sedaris, an outdoor sing-along, an inspirational speech by Bill Clinton, the bestowing of honors and awards, and a prom-like gala where soon-to-be-graduates and parents danced awkwardly. Princeton really likes to celebrate things.
The final ceremonial act would, superficially, be the easiest and least meaningful: Commencement – put on the cap and gown, sit through a few speeches, receive my diploma.
But in those last hours as a student, the perky, optimistic, ready-for-anything face I’d worn for four years melted away. I completely fell apart.
“Boludita, don’t cry,” my college sweetheart told me that morning, using a Spanish word meaning something like “little stupid one” that we had adapted into an affectionate nickname.
There was much to look forward to – an overseas trip! Graduate school! This all felt remote and less appealing because of graduation.
“I can’t help it,” I told him. “I don’t want to leave. I don’t want this year to be over. Nothing will ever be this good again.”
We bid farewell so he could catch a flight and I could get to graduation procession.When I was standing alone on the sidewalk with tears streaming down my cheeks, a single thought would not go away: “I will never be happy again.”
I wish that I had known Marina Keegan, the Yale graduate whose beautiful essay about graduating has been widely cherished since her untimely death in a car accident at age 22 last year. Marina’s incredible insight and wisdom led her to write, “The notion that it's too late to do anything is comical. It's hilarious. We're graduating college. We're so young. We can't, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it's all we have.”
It’s clear from Marina’s essay that she loved her time at Yale. I still get teary-eyed reading her words because it sounds as though she is directly addressing 22-year-old me - I who believed on graduation day that nothing was possible anymore.
By Kat Kinsman, CNN
Editor's note: In 1990, Eatocracy's Kat Kinsman didn't have a date to her senior prom. Only opposite-sex couples were allowed to buy tickets, so she couldn't just pair up with a friend. She was terrified to go without a date, but decided she'd take a leap of faith. Here's the pep talk she wishes she could have given herself more than 20 years ago.
(CNN) - Dear 17-year-old self considering staying home on prom night because you don't have a date,
Oh, you poor, stressed-out, self-hating misfit girl, just suck it up and go.
It won't be the night of your life, as all those '80s movies and special TV episodes would lead you to believe. The boy you've had a crush on since junior high won't suddenly declare his hidden love for you as he twirls you across the dance floor (as it turns out, he'd rather ask someone in a tux to dance).
There won't have been a secret addendum to the ballot electing you prom queen. No one is packing pig's blood. Your "virtue" will remain thoroughly intact.
You'll dance badly and happily to "Funky Cold Medina" while listening to your girlfriends whine about how their dates are ignoring them in favor of the lively card tournament at the corner table. You'll drink terrible schnapps in someone's cousin's hot tub afterward and comfort your tipsy pals as teenage romantic drama unfolds around you.
You'll also learn something pretty fundamental about yourself that night: You don't need anyone's permission to experience life or like yourself.
Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette
(CNN) - Last year, at Wellesley High School in Massachusetts, David McCullough Jr., an English teacher at the school and the son of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough, gave the commencement address. He knocked it out of the park, and his words traveled far. What he had to say, America was desperate to hear.
McCullough believes that much of today's youth is "pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped" and shielded from reality. He told the graduates: "Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you."
I've had the privilege of delivering a commencement address, at a university in central California, and I hope someday to deliver another. In fact, I already know what I want to say.
So let me try it out on the class of 2013. Talk to college professors or human resource managers or employers. Read the research done on the so-called Millennial generation, and you'll find lots of evidence that McCullough was on the right track. The young people of today have often spent their lives being coddled, catered to and spared the stress of living up to expectations. People usually tell them only what they want to hear.
Not me. I'd rather tell our future leaders what they need to hear. Here are 10 provocative pieces of advice that this year's class of college and university graduates would be wise to take to heart:
1) Have your parents introduce themselves to you. Interview them, and record it. Ask them about their lives, and what stories or lessons they'd like to share with their grandchildren. They gave you life, so the least you can do is try to understand theirs. When they're gone, you'll be glad you did.
2) Follow your passion but be open to the idea that your passion might change and evolve over the years as you do. Don't be afraid to change course and go in a different direction. You're allowed to have second thoughts, about what you want to do and how you intend to spend your life.
By LZ Granderson, CNN contributor
Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.
(CNN) - Each day more than 55 million students attend the country's 130,000 schools.
Each day, parents and guardians entrust some 7 million teachers with the education of our children.
And on a normal day, that is all we expect teachers to do - teach.
But on those not-so normal days we are reminded that for six hours a day and more, five days a week, teaching is not the only thing teachers are charged with doing. On those not-so-normal days, we are reminded that teachers are also asked to be surrogate parents, protectors, heroes.
Monday was one of those not-so-normal days.
The nation watched in horror as a 2-mile-wide tornado with winds up to 200 mph tore through Moore, Oklahoma. As sirens blared and the ground shook, the full force of the twister hit Plaza Towers Elementary School around 3 p.m. It was full of students, young scared children who had nowhere to hide as the tornado ripped off the roof, sending debris everywhere.
"We had to pull a car out of the front hall off a teacher and I don't know what her name is, but she had three little kids underneath her," a rescuer said. "Good job teach."
Editor's note: Freeman Hrabowski has been president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County for 20 years. He was named one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2012 by TIME. He spoke at TED2013 in February. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading," which it makes available through talks posted on its website.
By Freeman Hrabowski, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Fifty years ago this month, I chanced to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. I was a mild-mannered kid with a speech impediment and a love of math. That day, I was focused on solving math problems, not issues of justice and equal rights. But King broke through to me when he said this: If the children of Birmingham march, Americans will see that what they are asking for is a better education. They will see that even the very young know the difference between right and wrong.
I chose to march, and found myself among hundreds of children jailed for five terrifying days. Mind you, I was not a brave child. But even at 12 years old, I believed and hoped that my participation could make a difference.
Twenty-five years later, I had made my way to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. My colleagues and I had an outrageous dream: Perhaps a young research university - just 20 years old - could alter the course of minority performance in higher education, particularly in the sciences. Baltimore philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff shared our vision.
And now people ask: What magic have we hit upon that has enabled us to become a national model for educating students of all races in a wide range of disciplines? How did we - as a predominantly white university with a strong liberal arts curriculum - become one of the top producers of minority scientists in the country?
By David M. Hall, Special to CNN
Editor’s Note: David M. Hall, Ph.D., is the author of the book “Allies at Work: Creating a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Inclusive Work Environment.” Hall teaches high school students and runs a graduate program in bullying prevention and diversity at bullyingpreventionstudies.com. He is on twitter @drdavidmhall.
(CNN) - Times are changing for being openly gay or lesbian. The president has endorsed same-sex marriage, as are a growing number of politicians. The Boy Scouts are considering allowing Scouts to be out.
Even in the world of sports, Jason Collins, an NBA veteran, has come out of the closet.
But things don’t seem to have changed that much in some high school gymnasiums as it has on the NBA basketball court.
Carla Hale worked as a physical education teacher at a Catholic school in Ohio, but lost her job after being “outed” in her mother’s obituary, when she listed her female partner as her spouse. According to reports, an anonymous letter was sent to the Catholic Diocese of Columbus by a parent.
The next week, Hale was fired.
Sporting events and schools are the very places where people from every corner of our society come together. But in some ways, schools bring a different set of complications than the macho world of professional male athletes.
By Rita F. Pierson, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Rita F. Pierson, has been an educator for more than 40 years, serving as a teacher in elementary school, junior high and special education and has been a counselor and administrator. She has led development workshops for thousands of teachers. She spoke in May in New York at a TED Talks Education event that will be the basis for a show premiering Tuesday, May 7, on PBS stations. TED is a nonprofit dedicated to "Ideas worth spreading" which it makes available through talks published on its website.
(CNN) - I have been a professional educator for 40 years. I have worked at every level of the public school spectrum—elementary through high school. Having been in education for such a long time, I have witnessed many changes, all aimed at school improvement. Needless to say, not all the suggestions have been sensible.
What may appear to be a good idea on paper, or when sitting around a table in discussion of it, does not always make for good reality, especially at the schoolhouse.
It is important to note that most of the dictates for schools are proposed by people who have never taught. Regardless of the studies and research aimed at school improvement, I believe good educators have always known what makes schools work more efficiently. However, we get bogged down in rhetoric and what is "hot" at the moment. I believe that sustained school improvement will take guts (good old fashioned courage), focus and stamina. Here are a few tenets that make sense to me:
If a child is not present at school, he or she cannot possibly learn. Schools that consistently report high student achievement consistently have students with great attendance. Yet one of our greatest school problems is student attendance. Why do we have to beg parents to get their children to school, to convince them that we need their children present and as stress free as possible? A parent asked me once why her child needed to come to school every day. She was actually upset that the school district had a policy that addressed absent and tardy children. She said it was not the school's business to tell her how to raise her children.