Education In Their Own Words

The Stories That Stuck With Us, 2023 Edition

Here are the stories we found particularly meaningful in 2023
By Stephen Sawchuk — December 21, 2023 4 min read
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Education Week publishes thousands of news articles, opinion essays, videos, and other media formats annually.

Every year, some of the stories that we write, edit, or read make a lasting impression on us: They make us think in a new way about a topic. They’re particularly incisive. Or they tug at the heartstrings.

I asked our staff to share the stories that stuck with them in 2023. Here’s what they came up with.

Story #1:

‘I Literally Cried’: Teachers Describe Their Transition to Science-Based Reading Instruction

reading timeline letter pair sounds timeline

Imagine you’ve been in your job for 20 years. Imagine, after all that experience, discovering that the way you’d been going about one of the most critical pieces was likely flawed. That was the experience of teachers who spoke to Elizabeth Heubeck for this story about changing how they teach reading to children.

Briana Pulliam, a literacy coach in Kentucky who’d taught primary grades for more than two decades, took in-depth training in the “science of reading” at the behest of a new superintendent. The training immersed her in learning about the literacy skills that must be taught, why they matter, and how to teach them. It also focused on the research base behind the science of reading.

“I literally cried [after the training],” Pulliam told Heubeck. “I knew I had let some kids slip through my fingers. Now I realized the holes, and what they were.”

Pulliam’s quote became the headline and gave our readers a visceral invitation to click on that story. And hundreds of thousands of them did.

Lesli A. Maxwell, managing editor | Read the Story

Story #2:

Student Board Members Want a Seat at the Table, Not Just a Pat on the Back

Mat-Su school board student representative Ben Kolendo listens to public testimony during the school board meeting in Palmer on Sept. 6, 2023.

Everyone says they want student’s voice, but when push comes to shove, the results often feel hackneyed or performative.

So, I loved speaking with these spirited student leaders about their efforts to make student voices more meaningful. After serving as student school board members, they have created a national organization to help equip their peers for the role.

The effort started with impromptu cram sessions about issues like district finance and federal education policy, and it has grown into a network that helps student representatives support each other in their work. Whether or not they have a legal vote, students who serve on school boards want adults to respect their voices and insights.

Evie Blad, senior staff writer | Read the Story

Story #3:

Public Schools Rely on Underpaid Female Labor. It’s Not Sustainable.

Illustration of contemporary teacher looking at a line-up of mostly female teachers through the history of public education in the United States.

Alyson Klein’s think piece on how growing opportunities for women in other fields spells trouble for schools is a fascinating examination of how the American education system has benefited from sexism.

But the times are changing and as other higher paying careers become less white and male, schools don’t appear to be prepared to compete for the female talent they’ve come to rely on.

As Alyson writes: “What’s more, educators believe the profession’s heavily female tilt is a big part of the reason for teachers’ low salaries and little public regard. Seventy percent of educators surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center say teachers get paid poorly in part because they are in a female-dominated profession, while 58 percent say that the perception of teaching as women’s work translates to a lack of public respect. ... Does any other sector expect workers to shell $750 out of their own pockets a year to get students $5 Starbucks gift cards as a reward for arriving to class on time?”

Other changes to the U.S. workforce are further complicating the issue for schools. For a long time, K-12 education was one of the only careers women could balance with the demands of motherhood. But increasingly that is no longer the case, as the pandemic and the growth of remote work are making it easier for mothers to find other jobs they can balance with family obligations. And schools don’t have much time to figure this out: The teacher pipeline is fast drying up.

Arianna Prothero, assistant editor | Read the Story

Story #4

Teachers With Guns: District by District, a Push to Arm Educators Is Growing

Educators with the Benjamin Logan Local School District receive training from the Logan County Sheriff's office to join the district's armed response team in Bellefontaine, Ohio, on June 26, 2023.

Why would anyone want to arm teachers? I hadn’t put much thought into answering that question before reading my colleague Caitlynn Peetz’s profile of a superintendent who launched a program to arm school staff members.

Caitlynn spent weeks talking to people with varied viewpoints on the issue and surfaced compelling details about how such programs work in practice. Her reporting widened my perspective and tackled a sensitive topic with empathy and clarity. It’s a reminder that the best journalism is the product of careful, deliberate, and patient labor.

Mark Lieberman, staff writer | Read the Story

Story #5:

This Teacher Won a Grammy and Saved a Life

One story that stuck with me in 2023 was Pamela Dawson’s. Dawson has been the choir teacher at DeSoto High School outside Dallas for 17 years. She’s also a Grammy winner, having won this year’s Grammy Music Educator Award.

In a compelling video from Video Producer Lauren Santucci, Dawson describes her experience and shares her passion for music education.

In a time when teachers are feeling burnt out and stressed, the video provides a dose of inspiration. It can remind educators just how their support and encouragement is for students. The reward they get might not be a Grammy, of course; it might simply be knowing that their influence made a difference.

“I wanted to share that Grammy with my students first. They are the reason why I got it,” said Dawson.

Stacey Decker, deputy managing editor, digital | Watch the video

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