February 19, 2019
dallas teachers speak

Across America, public school teachers tell stories of being stressed-out, burned-out and getting out of the profession.

Time magazine recently devoted a series of magazine covers and articles revealing the despair of teachers in too many school districts: Overburdened, underfunded, under-supported and exhausted of hope.

Locally, the Dallas Independent School District is in the midst of a celebrated turnaround, and now 158 resilient Dallas ISD teachers have risen up to provide an essential, hope-filled reaffirmation of one of the planet's most curicial professions: A unique photographic art exhibit called Dallas Teachers Speak. As gripping and powerful as it is uplifting and inspirational, Dallas Teachers Speak will present the city’s teachers to the public in a light like never before – as superheroes, as rock stars, as changemakers.

Dallas Teachers Speak comes from the innovative mind of Dr. John Gasko, the UNT Dallas School of Education dean, a maverick in higher education for his inclusion of well-being training in the teaching curriculum. In collaboration with nonprofit organization 29 Pieces founder and Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Karen Blessen, Dallas Teachers Speak is a fascinating and penetrating exhibit of poster-size, magazine-cover-style portraits set on a black background and accompanied by the words of each teacher in red type as they speak out on two questions required for participation in the project: “Why do I Teach?” and “What do I need?”

This one-of-a-kind exhibit opens March 16 at the American Airlines Center, beginning a two-month run. With some 3,000 posters being produced, exhibits will pop up at numerous locales throughout Dallas during April and May.

"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," 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, also partnering with Ashoka, an international network of social entrepreneurs that seeks transformative social progress, could even serve as a promotional boon for DISD, which faces challenging teacher shortages each year, and particularly among bilingual educators, a specialty at UNT Dallas’ Emerging Teacher Institute.

The process to transform Dallas Teachers Speak from conceptualization to reality was intense, meticulous and ultimately rewarding. First came buy-in from the Dallas ISD, which provided the names of its 2017 teachers of the year winners, and finalists, from its trustee districts. Those 27 teachers were treated to an elegant dinner at Times Ten Cellars in October, asked to participate and then tasked with inviting five to 10 of their colleagues to join the project.

A total of 175 teachers were photographed at Dallas ISD schools between October 30 and December 11. The photography was done using iPhones by members of the 29 Pieces Team -- Blessen, a former Dallas Morning News graphic artist, retired Dallas ISD art teacher Joe Stokes and four recent graduates of Dallas ISD high schools.

“The teachers we talk to are blown away and uplifted by the process,” Blessen said. “It’s nothing like anything anyone else is doing with teachers. Our goal is to capture the highest essence of each person.”