Building Better Teachers

Indianapolis Public Schools names Teacher of the Year, a librarian dedicated to finding a story for every student

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Kathleen Rauth was named Indianapolis Public Schools Teacher of the Year.

Indianapolis Public Schools librarian Kathleen Rauth has a mission: Making sure that the students she works with can read books that reflect their lives and broaden their horizons.

Each day, she spends a few hours reading blogs and roving for titles online, said Rauth, who was named IPS Teacher of the Year at a surprise ceremony today in the gym of the Center for Inquiry at School 27, where she was joined by her family and hundreds of students.

Rauth is always looking for empowering stories that go beyond the traditional narrative of African American families in poverty or Hispanic families sneaking across the border. Those stories can be harder to find, she said, but they exist.

“If I’m going to ask children to value reading and value being engaged with me and inquiry,” she said, “then I have to value what they are bringing to the table.”

Recently, Rauth has been trying to build up the collection of books about children with same-sex parents, she said. A little girl ran up to tell Rauth that she had found a book with “two daddies,” she said.

“She said, ‘I have two daddies!’ and I said, ‘yeah, I know you do,’ ” Rauth said.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Kathleen Rauth has taught for more than three decades.

Rauth began her career as a creative drama teacher and taught in the classroom before becoming a librarian nine years ago. She spent most of her 30-year career teaching in Chicago before coming to Indianapolis three years ago.

Superintendent Lewis Ferebee presented Rauth with the Teacher of the Year award.

“I am the son of a retired media specialist,” Ferebee said. “I know personally what you do to advance literacy.”

As IPS teacher of the year, Rauth will represent educators across the district, sharing her approach to teaching with other educators. Rauth, who was one of 10 finalists for the award, will also have a chance to become Indiana Teacher of the Year in 2017.

Rauth splits her time between CFI at School 2 and at School 27 — making this the third year in a row that a teacher from CFI at School 2 won IPS teacher of the year.

For Rauth, the recognition was an unexpected honor.

“It’s crazy. I don’t feel like I do anything more than what a really good teacher does everywhere,” she said. “I’m speechless, which doesn’t happen that often.”

race in the classroom

‘Do you see me?’ Success Academy theater teacher gives fourth-graders a voice on police violence

Success Academy student Gregory Hannah, one of the performers

In the days and weeks after last July’s police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, teachers across New York grappled with how to talk about race and police violence. But for Sentell Harper, a theater teacher at Success Academy Bronx 2, those conversations had started long before.

CNN recently interviewed Harper about a spoken-word piece he created for his fourth-grade students to perform about what it means to be black and male in America. Harper, who just finished his fourth year teaching at Success, said that after the police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and the Black Lives Matter protests that followed, he wanted to check in with his students.

“I got my group of boys together, and I said, ‘Today, we’re going to talk about race,'” Harper told CNN. “And they had so much to say. They started telling me stories about their fathers and their brothers, and about dealing with racism — things that I never knew that these young boys went through.”

Inspired by their stories, he created a performance called “Alternative Names for Black Boys,” drawing on poems by Danez Smith, Tupac Shakur and Langston Hughes.

Wearing gray hoodies in honor of Trayvon Martin, who was killed while wearing one, the boys take turns naming black men and boys who have been killed: Freddie, Michael, Philando, Tamir. The list goes on.

Despite the sensitive nature of the subject matter, Harper says honesty is essential for him as a teacher. “Our kids are aware of race and want to talk about it,” he wrote in a post on Success Academy’s website. “As a black male myself, I knew I wanted to foster conversation between my students and within the school community.”

Click below to watch the performance.

Half-priced homes

Detroit teachers and school employees are about to get a major perk: Discount houses

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is announcing an educator discount that will allow employees of all Detroit schools to buy houses from the Land Bank at 50 percent off.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan is getting ready this morning to announce a major effort to lure teachers and other school employees to the city of Detroit: Offering them half-priced homes.

According to a press release that’s expected to be released at an event this morning, the mayor plans to announce that all Detroit school employees — whether they work for district, charter or parochial schools — will now get a 50 percent discount on houses auctioned through the Detroit Land Bank Authority.

That discount is already available to city employees, retirees and their families. Now it will be available to full-time employees of schools located in the city.

“Teachers and educators are vital to the city’s future,” Duggan is quoted as saying in the release. “It’s critical to give our school employees, from teachers to custodial staff, the opportunity to live in the communities they teach in.”

If the effort can convince teachers to live in the city rather than surrounding suburbs, it could help a stabilize the population decline that has led to blight and neighborhood deterioration in many parts of the city.

For city schools, the discounts give administrators another perk to offer prospective employees. District and charter schools in Detroit face severe teacher shortages that have created large class sizes and put many children in classrooms without fully qualified teachers.

Detroit’s new schools superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, has said he’s determined to make sure the hundreds of teacher vacancies that affected city schools last year are addressed by the start of classes in September.

In the press release, he’s quoted praising the discount program. “There is an opportunity and need to provide innovative solutions to recruit and retain teachers to work with our children in Detroit.”

The Detroit Land Bank Authority Educator Discount Program will be announced at an event scheduled for 10:45 this morning in front of a Land Bank house in Detroit’s Russell Woods neighborhood.

The Land Bank currently auctions three homes per day through its website, with bidding starting at $1,000.