Instruction & Curriculum

Teachers Matter: Attributes of an Effective Secretary of Education

Recently, Elizabeth Warren made headlines with what seems to be a surprising announcement to many. Warren, who is among many other contenders for the 2020 presidential election, announced that if elected president, she will ensure her Education Secretary is “a former public school teacher who is committed to education.” This comment comes after her (one of many) criticisms of Betsy Devos, current U.S Department of Education Secretary.
As I scrolled through #edutwitter, I noticed the approval of many educators. Curious about the magnitude of Warren’s promise, I researched a few of the past secretaries of education:
Arne Duncan:
June 2001-January 2015.
Career before Secretary appointment- CEO of Chicago Public Schools.
I don’t think I would consider him a ‘former public school teacher.’

John B. King, Jr:
January 2015- January 2017.
King took over for Duncan after his exit.
Career before Secretary appointment- New York Commissioner of Education. King also taught for three years and co-founded a charter school, eventually becoming managing director for Uncommon Schools.

Betsy DeVos:
February 2017- present. Appointed by President Donald Trump.
Career before Secretary appointment: Businesswoman- cofounder align with her husband of the Windquest Group as well as a major investor in Neurocore.

As I went down a rabbit hole of researching these former secretaries, I became more intrigued by Senator Warren’s commitment.
Here at The Educator’s Room, we believe teachers are the experts in education. Here are some attributes we think the next Secretary of Education should have:
A variety of teaching experiences in K-12 public schools
This attribute cannot be emphasized enough. Many teachers consider it insulting when people are appointed to leadership positions without true knowledge of the classroom. I’m not just talking about three years of teaching. A successful candidate has knowledge of K-12 curriculum, student and teacher needs, and even administrative experience. Let’s not forget some type of expertise in special education, which is often on the back burner.
High recommendations from students and parents
I think we underestimate the importance of references from our students and parents. THEY are our bosses in a way. Personally, I’ve received high letters of recommendation from the parents of my students. I didn’t know how much it mattered until that moment.
Community involvement
As the Secretary of Education, you are a representative of education as a whole. Being a critical part of your community is essential. The community members should know you and be able to attest to your commitment.
Social justice advocate
According to the 2017 census, there are about 77 million people enrolled in U.S. schools. One can imagine the diverse backgrounds, religions, cultures, etc. The problem with the status quo is that the current administration does not encourage acceptance of the various backgrounds that make up our nation. The Secretary of Education should be absolutely committed to making decisions that support every student in the nation.
True understanding of poverty
There are a plethora of students who live in poverty in our nation. It is unfortunate this is one of the richest countries in the world, yet there are still students whose basic needs are not met. According to the Washington Post, the majority of U.S. school students live in poverty. One size does not fit all. Students do NOT learn the same way. There needs to be a task force charged with understanding and meeting the specific needs of students on poverty.
Commitment to the wellness of teachers
We cannot forget the importance of teachers. As of 2019, teachers who have committed their lives to the public education system are dealing with many health issues, including PTSD. Teachers are constantly pushed into the corner. It has been evident time and time again that our voices don’t matter, our needs are irrelevant, and we should be grateful to have jobs. There is a new movement of teachers taking their lives back through self-care. The Secretary of Education should be committed to listening to the stories of the backbone of public education and making changes that support us.
I don’t underestimate the job requirements of the Secretary of Education, nor do I pretend to understand their overall role. However, as an educator committed to the education of our students, I do believe I should have a voice in who the next Secretary is and his or her areas of focus.
What do you think should be attributes of the Secretary of Education?

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