Teacher Adviser Provides 'Reality Check' in ED
When Terry K. Dozier started her new job at the Department of Education, speaking her mind in meetings so unnerved her that the veteran teacher returned to her hotel room sick to her stomach.
That was nearly four years--and scores of meetings and speeches--ago. But Ms. Dozier has not forgotten the difficulty teachers have stepping out of their classrooms to talk and debate publicly about education.
As a special adviser on teaching to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley--the first person ever to hold such a position--she often exhorts teachers to fight their nerves and take the risk.
A world history teacher from Columbia, S.C., Ms. Dozier provides a "reality check" here by keeping in close touch with teachers and trying to weave their insight and experiences into federal programs and policymaking. She also heads the department's efforts to rally teachers in support of school improvement.
"My goal is that exemplary teachers should not just continue to do a wonderful job with students, but should speak out publicly," she said in an interview. "I know what I'm saying is difficult, especially to a profession that has been socialized to be passive."
Ms. Dozier, the 1985 National Teacher of the Year, uprooted her family in 1993. Mr. Riley, a former governor of South Carolina, made an offer she couldn't refuse.
'Rags to Riches'
During her tenure at the Education Department's headquarters a few short blocks from the Capitol, Ms. Dozier has made a mark.
"Any time we have major things to deal with here in terms of policy, I can't tell you how important it is for me to have Terry Dozier sitting there," Mr. Riley said. "She has this connection with teachers throughout the country that is very valuable."
Her efforts have won kudos from Vice President Al Gore, who heads a project to "reinvent government," and recognition from the Ford Foundation and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Ms. Dozier, 44, was born in Vietnam. Her mother was Vietnamese, her father a German with the French Foreign Legion. She was adopted by Americans--her adoptive father was an adviser to the French leaders of Vietnam during the 1950s--and raised in Germany and Florida.
After she was named National Teacher of the Year, Ms. Dozier and her husband, Mark, who had switched careers to become a teacher, moved to Singapore. She taught Chinese history and culture at the Singapore American School and traveled widely.
Now, she commutes from her home in Washington's Virginia suburbs to the Education Department and spends many nights away from her daughter, a 1st grader.
A trip later this month will take Ms. Dozier to Uniontown, Kan., where students at Uniontown High School have been researching her life for a social studies class. Their teacher, Norman Conard, met Ms. Dozier in Washington and was intrigued by her story.
After getting in touch with missionaries in Vietnam, Mr. Conard's students have gained new information about Ms. Dozier's family and collected pictures of relatives she had never seen.
"When you look at Terry, you see a rags-to-riches story of a child who was starving in Vietnam and becomes America's most famous teacher," Mr. Conard said. "She exemplifies what's best about this country."
Ms. Dozier attributes her success to persistence, a trait instilled by her mother. Last year, after switching research topics to accommodate her schedule, she earned a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of South Carolina at Columbia.
Listening to Teachers
For most teachers, the Education Department here is a distant bureaucracy with little relevance to their day-to-day lives. Ms. Dozier's initial task was figuring out how to connect teachers' expertise to federal policy discussions.
"One of the things I was determined to do was ensure that I was not the lone voice of teachers," she said. "A lot of this job has involved figuring out multiple ways for the department to listen to teachers."
Now the department hosts the Goals 2000 Teacher Forum each fall, where the department's staff and accomplished teachers get together and exchange ideas. Teachers who attend are encouraged to become more active in promoting local school reforms.
At Ms. Dozier's urging, some of the teachers who have attended the Washington meeting organized similar events in their own states.
Many of the forum participants, along with other award-winning teachers, correspond with Ms. Dozier on their computers. Department officials use those teachers as "field consultants" by soliciting their opinions. And the teachers hold spirited conversations among themselves about issues like student discipline, homework policies, parental involvement, and social promotion.
The department also now maintains a database of some 2,000 exemplary teachers who can be queried on specific topics, conducts focus groups with teachers, and runs an adopt-a-teacher program that pairs department employees with Teacher Forum participants.
During her first summer here, Ms. Dozier put together a "Teachers Guide to the U.S. Department of Education," now in its fourth printing. At first, some staff members argued that most of the department's programs and grants weren't aimed at teachers.
Ms. Dozier argued that teachers needed to know about them to make informed decisions for their schools.
"Part of my passion is that teachers should be part of the decisionmaking process," she explained. "Teachers don't know this stuff is out there."
Guide to Religion
Ms. Dozier's call for teachers to become more outspoken touched a nerve with Steven Levy, the 1993 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. Mr. Levy, a member of a conservative Christian church, wrote to her expressing his dismay at the way Goals 2000, President Clinton's school-improvement program, was being portrayed by critics.
In 1993, Mr. Levy and seven other religiously minded public school teachers met here with Ms. Dozier, Mr. Riley, and leaders of different faiths to discuss ways to overcome the pervasive distrust of public education. The result was a joint statement of common purpose, drafted by 33 religious leaders, issued in 1994.
The Education Department also prepared a brochure called "A Parent's Guide to Religion in Public Schools" that is credited with helping curb litigation over church-state issues.
"What I appreciated about Secretary Riley and Terry is they cared enough about it to be willing to do something," said Rita Wigfield, a 5th-grade teacher in Minnetonka, Minn.
Inspired by Ms. Dozier, Ms. Wigfield labored three years to organize a teacher forum finally held last month in Minnesota. The governor, the state legislature, and the state Goals 2000 panel declined to help with the teacher meeting, she said, but Ms. Dozier urged her not to give up.
Eventually, 65 teachers paid their own way to discuss the nation's education goals. Ms. Dozier was a featured speaker.
"To have a classroom teacher have the ear of people who make important policy is incredibly important," Ms. Wigfield said. "It just should be a given, shouldn't it?"