School of Education dean and founder of the Emerging Teacher Institute, Dr. John Gasko, continues to push conventional boundaries by creating innovative projects such as the one he launched Tuesday night, dubbed Dallas Teachers Speak.
Gasko is committed to changing how communities view their teachers, which too often is as Time magazine's recent cover photos and profiles depict -- frustrated, burned-out, stressed-out and struggling to make ends meet. While these issues are real and concerning, Gasko believes a different side to teaching deserves more light, one that showcases teachers as noble and powerful agents of change in a profession worthy of being celebrated.
So that's what he's set out to do, and on a fairly grand scale. In conjunction with 29 Pieces, a Dallas nonprofit that uses art to teach nonviolence and other social values, and Ashoka, an international organization that promotes social entrepreneurship, Gasko will ask up to 300 teachers from the Dallas ISD to be featured in elegant photographs that will portray teachers, he said, as their communities aren't used to seeing them -- more like a glamorous cover for Vogue than PTA Today -- or certainly the somber Time covers. The portraits will be be produced as posters and put on exhibit in spaces throughout Dallas next spring.
"There’s a dimension of teaching that’s elegant and beautiful that sometimes gets lost in these larger grand narratives around pay and around performance," Dr. Gasko said. "Dallas Teachers Speak is a campaign that is going to transform, we hope, how the community sees teachers. I want them to see them as beautiful, as elegant, as powerful, as change-agents in their classrooms and their communities."
The project officially launched Tuesday night at Ten Times Cellar in Dallas. Attendees, which included 25 DISD teachers, plus representatives from 29 Pieces and Ashoka, were treated to a five-course dinner as a show of appreciation for their service. On the walls hung posters created by 29 Pieces, prototypes for what the Dallas Teachers Speak project plans to create with the DISD teachers.
Each teacher who agrees to be photographed will also be asked to think deeply to provide answers to two questions: Why do you teach? and What do you need?
"We want them to answer that question at a deep-heart, kind of gut, existential level," Dr. Gasko said of the initial question. "We’re going to ask another question: What do you need? Because we are losing too many teachers in our communities and we need our best to stay. So we want to honor why they teach, we want to depict them in ways the community is not used to seeing their teachers."
Reasons abound for why teachers are leaving the profession, particularly in underfunded inner-city districts. This project wants to delve into why teachers stay. Their answers will be shared with DISD officials.
"I hope they feel honored. I hope they feel enthusiastic about this project and want to work with us to get a new narrative out about teachers, particularly teachers and teaching in Dallas," said 29 Pieces founder Karen Blessen, who became the first artist to win a Pulitzer Prize when she worked as an illustrator at the Dallas Morning News. "I hope that we come out of here as partners on a really unique partnership that’s going to change the narrative about how we think about the profession and how we talk about teachers."