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Teaching Ambassador Fellowship

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Ask A Fellow

Thinking about applying for a Fellowship? 
Ask a Washington Fellow or a Classroom Fellow about their experiences!

Washington Fellows talk about the Washington Fellowship:

Washington Fellows are “placed to work on specific programs and do outreach with teachers” – what does that mean?

Each Washington Fellow is placed to work in a specific office within ED to work on different programs or policy matters. Typically, you are matched to a specific office based on your interests, skills, and passion. Given my experience in Early Childhood, I was placed in the Office of Early Learning, and this year I have worked on a number of early learning initiatives, including the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. Other Fellows work on Teacher Quality issues, Education Technology and matters related to the Middle Grades. When working on these programs, you may be asked to research information, attend policy meetings, analyze data, and provide your perspective as a teacher.  No matter which program you work on, each one really expands your knowledge about policy and how it connects to practice and affords you the opportunity to speak from your experience as a classroom teacher when bridging the gap between the two.

In addition, we facilitate outreach with teachers. As Teaching Ambassador Fellows, part of our work is learning more about the policies and programs at the federal level and then sharing that important information with other teachers in our networks and across the country. Often we do this through roundtables with groups of teachers from across the country to get their best ideas about some of ED’s thinking on certain policy matters. Over the last several months, for example, we have done tons of outreach with teachers to gather feedback on transforming the teaching profession. This work is awesome because it gives us a chance to share, listen and learn from our peers! Additionally, our outreach involves bringing more teacher voice to ED. And so, this year we hosted a screening of American Teacher and led discussions about how to attract, prepare, support and retain effective teachers, and one Fellow organized a Teacher Voices on Stage Project that brought 14 local educators to ED to share their experiences, learn about ED’s initiatives and reflect on their profession through a staged production.  These are just a few of the many ways we reach out to teachers and stay connected to the work happening in the field.
– Shakera Walker, 2011

What is it like to be a Washington Fellow? What is a “typical” day like?
Every day as a Fellow is different. Unlike the predictable schedule of teaching, each day at ED brings a different meeting, convening, or event. You may start your day at a senior staff communications meeting where you learn about the events and initiatives the Secretary and other staff are participating in. Then, it’s off to a team meeting where you work in a smaller group with your advisor and colleagues around a particular issue like Early Learning or Education Technology. Hopefully you have some time to return to your desk to answer emails, return phone calls, or do some required reading. Then it’s off to a local school to hold a roundtable with a group of teachers around elevating the teaching profession. Every day at ED brings new opportunities and lots to do.
-Geneviève DeBose, 2011

Can you choose what you focus on?
The Department of Education provides many opportunities to work on a variety of projects in different offices throughout your Fellowship year.  Even during the interview process the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship Director works to match us with the needs of the Department, ultimately cultivating a placement that best “fits” with our expertise. At the beginning of the Fellowship, and then quarterly, we also sit down to discuss our passions and interests and adjust our placements or add opportunities as need be. I have found that even when I have been presented with the possibility of working on an issue with which I have no experience (just when I begin to doubt my ability to contribute substantively), I end up learning about an entirely new aspect of education!
-Claire Jellinek, 2011

How much do you get to involve your students in your work?
As a veteran teacher of more than 30 years, I am proud to have thousands of former students, many of whom are teachers. Watching them become exemplary leaders in schools and districts fills me with special joy. Just the other day, the Fellows were showing the film American Teacher and one of my former students, whom I hadn’t seen since her high school Spanish class, turned out to be a teacher in D.C. public schools! What a surprise to see her! I plan on visiting Michelle’s school, visiting with her students and learning about the challenges that a new teacher faces, through her eyes!

On a very different note, I am part of a Corrections Education Reentry Strategy committee, where we look at how education might help prisoners succeed, once out of prison or better yet, to prevent incarceration in the first place. Because of this work, I was inspired to reach out to Randy, a bright young man from my neighborhood, who has sadly spent all of his twenties in prison for stealing cell phones. What might Randy teach me, from his perspective that could help others like him?

The Fellowship motivates me to connect to other teachers, students, parents and community members who have so much to contribute to my understanding of education and the direction it must take, in order to serve them. I am here for them and with them, always.
– Maryann Woods-Murphy, 2011

Why do the Washington Fellowship? What is the value to you?
As full time employees of ED, Washington Fellows gain more in-depth policy knowledge and have greater opportunity to contribute their ideas and classroom and school experience to ED staff on a regular basis. As teachers, we are often engrossed and consumed with our everyday, important work on the ground. The Washington Fellowship allowed me to gain a view from 10,000 feet above and really get an inside look at how federal policy is made and what this means for my work in my district, school and classroom. It has given me the unique opportunity to see how things work on the federal level translates to the local/state level. Prior to coming here, I was very actively involved with local and statewide reform efforts, so the Washington Fellowship has given me the opportunity to ramp up my knowledge of federal policy and gain a clearer perspective about how all the pieces work together.  
Shakera Walker, 2011

What’s been the biggest challenge of the Fellowship?
I have encountered three major challenges as a Fellow. First, learning the culture of the Department took me longer than I had expected. ED is not a school and does not operate like one so transitioning into an office culture was harder for me than I imagined. Second, it’s been challenging for me to balance all of the responsibilities that come with this job. As a teacher, I knew when grades were due or when a school function was approaching. Those things were on the calendar and I could plan accordingly. Here at ED special projects and opportunities may arise and require a great deal of intense and immediate work. Balancing these opportunities with my regular responsibilities has been difficult at times. Lastly, this year is one of immense learning and exposure. You will want to be involved in almost everything that’s happening in this building. Knowing your limits and focusing on two to three major areas is best, but it’s challenging not to dive into it all.  
-Geneviève DeBose, 2011

Do you speak for ED or for teachers or both?
I am a federal employee this year, representing the Department of Education as a teacher. I have the opportunity to learn policy and deepen my learning about education, with access to studies and people who are working intensely to create equity and opportunity for all students.  I listen to my colleagues in the field and do my best to bring their voices back to the meetings I attend here at ED, while sharing with my Fellow teachers the fact that ED is a reasonable partner that exists to serve the needs of students and educators. Communicating that ED is a helpful, thoughtful place open to teachers’ thinking and field experiences is a powerful experience.
-Maryann Woods-Murphy, 2011

Do you feel that you are making an impact? Do they really listen to you?
Applying for the Fellowship interested me because I wanted to work for change, with the emphasis on "work." I am as valued a voice as the others I work with at ED. I have been asked to take the lead on several projects and have even been allowed to design some of my own. Of course, it took some time to learn the policies and learn the way that the federal government works in order to be able to do this. My initial concerns that ED is an out of touch bureaucracy have quickly been washed away. The conversations happening between cubicles and over lunch at ED are similar to those happening in staff meetings and in the lounge at school. It has not proven to be an "us" versus "them.” They value the voice of the teacher and have made it a point to involve us and our viewpoints in these conversations. Have I made a difference? I believe so. I can leave at the end of my Fellowship and know that I played a part in some of the great reforms that are shaping a better education landscape for my students and my colleagues. I feel that I came with them in mind and worked alongside ED to make meaningful change on their behalf.
– Greg Mullenholz, 2011

What tips do you have for the application process?
One of the best pieces of advice I received from a former Fellow when I was applying was to highlight what makes me unique in my application. Now that may seem like simple advice but I had a perception of what the federal Department of Education may want in an applicant and I wasn’t sure if it was me. His advice helped me remember that my diversity of experiences in and out of the classroom bring a unique perspective to ED. I would advise potential applicants to think about the following questions while preparing the application: What programs do you participate in or lead at your school, in your community, or your district? What opportunities have you created for your students that others have not? How have you combined your outside interests with your teaching experience? What have you done to demonstrate leadership in your community? As you are working on your application, think about what makes you stand out and make sure it is highlighted in your application.
-Geneviève DeBose, 2011

How will your Fellowship affect what you do in the future?
The Fellowship has changed my life. Seeing education from a federal perspective is a fascinating and important opportunity which will forever affect how I see local contexts. I’m planning to return to the classroom. The way I’m thinking about professional collaboration, teacher evaluation and connection to the community is very different from the way I came to the Department of Education six months ago. I now realize that my work happens in one of 14,000 districts nationally and that what we do as teachers is connected to our colleagues all across the nation.  I realize that teachers aren’t solo operators, but are part of a large linked network of American teachers.
-Maryann Woods-Murphy, 2011

Classroom Fellows talk about the Classroom Fellowship:

What do Classroom Fellows do?
My role as a Classroom Fellow is to serve as a channel for educators at all levels to connect to ED.…I have presented to my own district and state on current issues, held round table discussions and interviews with educators and educational leaders, travelled to places around the U.S. to assist the Secretary and other Senior ED Officials during their visits, and written blogs about educational issues and my own experiences, as some examples.
 - Sharla Steever, 2011

How much initiative can you take to design your own activities or are you assigned tasks?
This has been a very pleasant surprise to me.  As a teacher leader, I often do take initiative in my teaching job.  I am thrilled that in my role as an ambassador, I am also highly encouraged to take initiative.  I am trusted as an expert to recognize a need and to act on it.
 – Kareen Borders, 2011

Early on, I accepted tasks that were proposed to me. More recently, I have been looking to work on activities connected to my real interests. It takes a while to really understand all the offices in the Department and to connect with people there.  Take time to poke around on the website. Think about what you would like to take away from this experience and try to connect with people who can make that happen. Communication is the key.
– Leah Lechleiter-Luke, 2011

Why do the Classroom Fellowship? What is the value to you?
The thing I love most about the Classroom Fellowship is that I am able to serve and learn in this capacity without having to take a year away from my students.  I love that this opportunity allows strong teachers to continue to do what they do best - teach - while making room for learning and experiences that will be life-changing for them.
 – Sharla Steever, 2011

The value is immeasurable---I am involved in and seeing a new systems-level organization.  The Classroom Fellowship allows teachers to remain in the classroom, which is so important.  It also recognizes that teachers are experts and crucial to educational policy decision-making.
– Kareen Borders, 2011

The Classroom Fellowship is valuable because it fosters classroom-based teacher leadership.  This is good for students because they see their teachers as life-long learners.  Although Fellows may not have a career in policy, it is a wonderful opportunity to see how curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy are linked to federal, state and local initiatives.  Teacher voice, in part through the Classroom Fellowship, can influence policy, and that's inspiring.
– Gamal Sherif, 2011

Any tips for the application process?
Be authentic.  Answer questions with your own voice and imagine that you are directly speaking with or writing top caring and thoughtful colleagues.  Use your voice.
– Gamal Sherif, 2011

Be specific and use compelling details that develop your point with power. A 500 hundred word limit can be much harder than writing 5000 words!
 – Robert Baroz, 2011

After your own self-reflection, ask your colleagues and bosses to speak with you about your strengths and goals.  As teachers, we are often so humble about our expertise.  Others may see things that you don't.
 – Kareen Borders, 2011

What has been the biggest surprise to you as a Fellow?
My biggest surprise is how many teachers I meet that are thinking along the same lines about policy.  We may not all agree on specifics, but there is a groundswell of agreement on the importance of sustaining and enriching public education for the good of children and society.
 – Gamal Sherif, 2011

By far, the biggest surprise has been the awareness that teachers really ARE listened to at the federal level.  And by this, I don't just mean the teacher ambassadors.  The feedback taken to the Department from our various roundtables and meetings is taken quite seriously.  Sometimes, people wonder if individuals are really heard at the federal level.  I am convinced that they are not only heard, but their voices are desired and help mold our educational vision.
– Kareen Borders, 2011

Truthfully, I am surprised by the level of respect I receive from people in the Department. They make me feel as though my opinions really do matter.  That's pretty powerful for a teacher from a small, rural town.
 – Leah Lechleiter-Luke, 2011
What is the biggest challenge for you about being a Fellow?
The biggest challenge has been balancing a very demanding school day (or week) and the lure of delving into policy, networking and program development.  With a bit of patience and perseverance, it gradually comes together.
 – Gamal Sherif, 2011

Do you feel that you are making a difference at the Department and for teachers?
Absolutely!  I think that if you decide on a focus area and then put your time and energy and the resources from ED into it, you can't help but make a difference.  I feel very good about my work to bring the voices of the people I have been working with straight to ED, and the best thing about that is knowing that ED listens and values this important feedback.
 - Sharla Steever, 2011

Yes. I have been responsive to ED requests and provided the viewpoint of a teacher to policymakers. One of my earliest examples would be the keynote I gave on the Common Core; I spoke to nearly one thousand teachers from about ten different districts. Most recently, I attended the Race to the Top (RTT) conference during which I was assigned to a state; I sat at the table with superintendents and people from the State Board of Education and Governor's Office and suggested - from a teacher’s perspective - what they can do to better implement their action plans.  The assessment and analysis of the state's efforts to-date, I was told, was "spot on." I hope it can make a difference for what happens around the implementation for RTT within that entire state and the millions of dollars ED invested in the reform initiatives.
– Robert Baroz, 2011

What do you think you will do after the Fellowship?
I know I'll be a much more effective teacher because of all of my professional development, and that's what matters most.  I'm also looking forward to participating in the extensive and very engaging national (and local) network of really interesting and passionate colleagues.
 – Gamal Sherif, 2011

I envision taking on an increased leadership role either within my school or beyond. One thing for sure: I want to live out my career with the mindset “once a Fellow, always a Fellow.”
– Robert Baroz, 2011



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Last Modified: 02/02/2012