Dallas Teachers Speak

Too many of our finest teachers are leaving the profession, resulting in a void for young people who need table adults in their lives, especially those who love and care for them. We want to do something about this.

The Dallas Teachers Speak Project is a city-wide art exhibit that strives to change the narrative about teachers. 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.

Project Information

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 160 Dallas ISD teachers for a poster series that asks, “Why do you teach?” and “What do you need?” An estimated 3,000 posters of the teacher’s images will be on display all over the city – at sites including the American Airlines Center, downtown Dallas, the Dallas Library, individual schools and many other locations. But these photos won’t depict these leaders as stressed, frus- trated and struggling to make ends meet. While there is no question that these challenges are real and must be ad- dressed, 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 teach- ers were selected through this process: 1st), the project team asked Dallas ISD for the names and contact info for Teachers of the Year from all trustee districts in 2017; 2nd) those teachers were invited to a kick-off dinner where they were asked to participate; 3rd), the teachers who agreed to participate were asked to invite 5 – 10 of their colleagues to also participate. There are now 165 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 Dal- las 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 and the Dean of the School of Education at the University of North Texas at Dallas. The two formed a dream team: Gasko, whose expertise on teacher education is coveted across the globe, is passionate about meeting the needs of Dallas’ urban public schools. Blessen shares his passion for igniting positive change in Dallas.

“Dr. Gasko and I had this dream that we work together on something about teachers,” she says. “We both wanted to change the narrative.” Thus, 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 half-hour 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. The photography team used iPhones and iPads for the photos.

“The teachers we talk to are blown away and uplifted by the process,” Blessen says. “It’s nothing like anything anyone else is 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 fu- ture rock stars?” she asks.

For more information about Dallas Teachers Speak, and where to see the poster exhibits, please contact Karen Blessen at 214-770-1219, or Karen@29Pieces.org, and watch for news of exhibit sites at www.29Pieces.org.

To volunteer with curating, installation and take down of the exhibits, please contact Mauricio Navarro at 214-600-1533, or navarro@raizpr.com.

How to Get Involved

To volunteer with curating, installation and take down of the exhibits, please contact:

Karen Blessen

Mauricio Navarro