09/13/2013 05:54 pm ET Updated Nov 12, 2013

Back-to-School: Teachers Speak Out

As a seventh grade teacher, a trick I often used with my students to break their burgeoning teenage negativity was to ask them to greet me with a simple sentence-starter: "Today I'm excited to..." The responses I got ranged from, "Finish reading our book!" to, "Eat tacos at lunch!"

Regardless of the response, the exercise was a great reminder for me and for them that each new day brings both new opportunities and reasons to be hopeful.

In my role at Educators 4 Excellence, I've had the opportunity to work with two Teacher Policy Teams, interested in creating recommendations to improve the district's often ineffective hiring and retention policies. These teacher-led teams delved into the research and brought over 200 collective years of classroom experience collectively in order to figure out how to keep teachers like them in the profession. These teachers are role models of the ongoing learning, relentless optimism and courageous drive we push for in our students. (Their recommendations can be found here.)

To get the school year started, I went to those same teachers of them and asked that simple question: "What are you excited for this year?"

Here are a few of their responses.

"I'm excited to find new ways that we can all learn together."

"My school has always been good at collaboration, but this year we're improving it even more through a structure called 'Instructional Rounds.' Just like medical rounds, one colleague presents the problem, and then the whole group works together to come up with next steps. It's an opportunity to not only improve our own practice and learn from one another, but to model for our students what it means to be lifelong learners."
- Phylis Hoffman, 21 year teacher, 2nd grade, Harry Bridges K-8 Span School

"I'm excited to empower our best teachers to do even better."

"The federal Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) grant to LAUSD brings $49.2 million over 5 years to our deserving teachers and students. This is a tremendous opportunity for discovering, developing and sharing the talents of our most effective educators. We teachers must be aware of how this money is being spent, and we cannot be afraid to speak up about it. "
- Lisa Alva Wood, 16 year teacher, Title I Coordinator, Roosevelt High School

"I'm excited to talk about growing great teachers, not scrambling to find them."

"I'm at an LAUSD Pilot School, which means we get more autonomy over our staffing. This year, we were able to fill three open positions in a way that made sense for us as a staff and for our students. We started early, we got people who were aligned to our mission and culture, and now we get to focus on taking our instruction to the next level."
- Jeff Austin, 13 year teacher, Lead Teacher, Social Justice Humanitas at Cesar Chavez

"I'm excited that our funds will reflect our kids."

"As a special education teacher in South Los Angeles who works mostly with English Language Learners, I find a huge part of my job is chasing down the resources my kids truly need. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, I'm really hopeful that every child will have access to the opportunities they need to succeed."
- Lindsey Patin, 2 year teacher, special education, August Hawkins High School

"I'm excited to take the lead on Common Core!"

"In my network of schools, they're empowering teacher-leaders to become 'Common Core Pioneers." I've taken on this role, and am really excited to help my colleagues connect with the resources they need and figure out how best to deliver professional development."
- Sadaf Ashraf, 6 year teacher, history, PUC Community Charter Middle School

"I'm excited to inspire new teachers at my school."

"This year, I'm going to be a mentor for new teachers. Research says a strong mentor who is a good fit can be instrumental in keeping newer teachers in the profession. I know I am going to learn just as much from my mentees as they will learn from me, so I can't wait to get started."
- Omar Araiza, 8 year teacher, 4th grade, New Open World Academy

"I'm excited to improve administrator-teacher collaboration."

"When great teachers and great administrators come together, students will always be the winners. Improving relationships through simple strategies like the Smart Retention Strategies highlighted in the Teacher Policy Team recommendations can help make better working and learning environments for everyone."
- Edward Kusell-Zigelman, 4 year teacher, math and dance, Dorsey High School

"I'm excited to make technology work for my school and my students."

"My school is one of the first to receive iPads, and it's a huge opportunity. If teachers are given the chance to customize their professional development around this technology in a school-specific way, it's going to be a game-changer."
- Laura Schafenacker, 3 year teacher, science, Muir Middle School

"I'm excited to bring my community into my classroom, and vice versa."

"On E4E's Teacher Policy Team, we recommended ways our district, charter and community leaders can systemically bring the public into our public schools. But I'm excited to get that started for my students as soon as possible. I want to learn from my colleagues about how I can bring both the community of South LA and our global community into my classroom to show the kids how our projects can impact the world around them."
- Jennifer Ramirez, 5 year teacher, kindergarten, Barack Obama Charter School