NORTH SALT LAKE — During her trip to Washington D.C. as the representative of Utah teachers, Allison Riddle had a front-row seat for what is happening nationally regarding education.
And she wasn’t afraid to raise her hand.
A fifth-grade teacher at Foxboro, Riddle was named teacher of the year first in Davis School District and then for the state of Utah for 2014.
The title brought with it an invitation to the nation’s capital along with teachers representing all states, all three U.S. territories and the District of Columbia, courtesy of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year.
It also brought an invitation to visit the offices of Utah’s Rep. Chris Stewart and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the home of the vice president of the United States and later, to the White House.
At the home of the vice president, Riddle and her fellow teachers heard from another teacher, Dr. Jill Biden.
Riddle was impressed that though Biden could teach anywhere, she has chosen to be a professor at a “modest” community college.
Biden’s most memorable comment, according to Riddle, was: “Teaching is not what we do, it’s who we are.”
When at the White House, Riddle was able to meet President Barack Obama and share a few words and a laugh with him.
“He is a very approachable man,” she said of the president. “He is one of the few presidents who have taken time to meet each teacher personally. He values education.”
She said after teachers were instructed in the formal protocols for meeting the president, he made it easy to approach him.
Riddle is excited about what she learned in a tour of the Smithsonian and an introduction to its website for teachers.
She is anxious to share information about this June’s 200th anniversary of the Star Spangled Banner with her students, who are on a year-round schedule and will be in school at the time.
The teachers’ visit to the Department of Education was also rewarding, said Riddle.
They were greeted by the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, Deborah Delisle, and introduced to a rough draft of a new education policy proposed for President Obama’s second term, called “Teach to Lead.”
The concept, which promotes teachers leading other teachers, is one she has already embraced as she has worked as a mentor to teachers both in her school and around the country.
The program emphases “horizontal” leadership, where instead of teachers with more education becoming principals or administrators, they lead by helping other teachers and by modeling practice.
This is especially vital, she said, in immersion schools where teachers hired for their language skills may not have the pedagogy experience or classroom management skills without mentoring from another teacher.
“They measured teacher effectiveness across a career, and what did they have in common?” she asked, “The number one thing every excellent teacher has is mentoring or coaching.”
When a discussion on teacher evaluations was underway, Riddle invited national leaders to Utah – specifically to Davis County – to experience the new accountability program established for Davis teachers that includes observations by principals.
Roberto Rodriguez, special assistant to the president for education, with the White House Domestic Policy Council, said he was interested in seeing effective examples of teacher evaluations and took note, she said.
“It was almost a life-changing experience, to collaborate with teachers from across the country,” said Riddle of her trip, which will be followed by several more, one back to D.C. and another to Philadelphia.
“I am so happy and so blessed to teach in Utah” she said. “I may have the largest class size but we have a great, supportive school community.
“It was a thrilling experience and has made me more focused,” she said of the trip. “I feel like I will keep advocating for teachers and work to get support for them.”