Teachers shown as noble agents of change

Photo courtesy of 29 Pieces

From Dallas Teachers Speak Staff Reports

Tuesday May 7 is National Teachers Day. Dallas Teachers Speak project is a city-wide art exhibit that strives to change the narrative about teachers and the profession of teaching. It is a joint initiative of 29 Pieces, a Dallas based arts organization, the University of North Texas at Dallas School of Education and the Washington D.C. based organization Ashoka. The project strives for people in Dallas and beyond to see teachers for who they are: noble change agents on the front lines of positive change and heroes worthy of being celebrated. The project team has captured photographic portraits of 159 Dallas ISD teachers for a poster series that asks, “Why do you teach?” and “What do you need?” 

One thousand five hundred ninety posters of the teachers’ images are on display all over the city — at sites including the American Airlines Center, Dallas City Hall, Comerica Bank Underground Walkways, Galleria Dallas, Dallas ISD Headquarters, Plaza of the Americas, the OakCliff Cultural Center, Center Cafe in the Dallas Arts District, many downtown locations and in participating Dallas ISD schools. But these photos won’t depict these leaders as stressed, frustrated and struggling to make ends meet. While there is no question that these challenges are real and must be addressed, the project wants Dallas Teachers Speak to cast classroom leaders in a new light — literally.

The project is geographically democratic. Teachers from all Dallas ISD trustee districts are represented. The teachers were selected through this process: first, the project team asked Dallas ISD for the names and contact info for Teachers of the Year from all trustee districts in 2017; second, those teachers were invited to a kick-off dinner where they were asked to participate; third, the teachers who agreed to participate were asked to invite five-10 of their colleagues to also participate. There are 159 participating teachers.

Karen Blessen, the founder and executive artistic director of 29 Pieces, and the first graphic artist to win a Pulitzer Prize, knows a thing or two about curating artwork that speaks to others. Blessen and the 29 Pieces team have spent the last 14 years bringing arts programs to the Dallas community. That includes the Dallas LOVE Project, a citywide art exhibit of 10,000 pieces of art commemorating the 50th anniversary of Kennedy assassination. That exhibit introduced her to Dr. John Gasko, founder of the Emerging Teacher Institute at the University of North Texas at Dallas. The two formed a dream team. Gasko, whose expertise on teacher education is known across the globe, is passionate about meeting the needs of Dallas’ urban public schools. Blessen shares his passion for igniting positive change.

 “Dr. Gasko and I wanted to work together on a project about teachers,” she said. “We both wanted to change the narrative.” Dallas Teachers Speak was born.

 Blessen is eager to promote a conversation about the profession of teaching, and so far, she believes the Dallas Teachers Speak team has been successful. 

In 25-minute photo sessions, Blessen, Joe Stokes, a veteran Dallas ISD teacher, along with a team of four Dallas ISD grads — Maria Patiño, Dolores Mendoza, Elmer Rivas and Hope Trevino, asked the selected teachers about their work, their profession and the challenges they face and overcome, then took a photographic portrait to capture the images for the portrait series. Teachers were asked to either wear or bring something that reveals who they are. All photos were taken with iPhones and iPads.

“The teachers we talk to are blown away and uplifted by the results,” Blessen says. “It’s unlike what others are doing with teachers. Our goal is to depict the best of each person.”

Ultimately, she hopes Dallas Teachers Speak can show Dallas how much we need talented teachers, and how the community can support them, and will encourage future talented young people to enter the profession.

“What can we learn from the rock stars, and how can we make and nurture future rock stars?” she asked.

For more information, call 214-770-1219, or email Karen@29Pieces.org.