It’s shortly after dawn when Edward Lawson, one of America’s 3.2 million public school teachers, pulls his car into the parking lot of Julian Thomas Elementary in Racine, Wisconsin. He cuts the engine, pulls out his cell phone and calls his principal. They begin to pray.
Lawson is a full-time substitute based at a school with full-time problems: only one in 10 students are proficient in reading and math.
That may be explained by the fact that 87 percent of the students are poor and one in five have a diagnosed disability. Blame for test scores, however, often settles on the people who are any school’s single-most-important influence on academic achievement – teachers.
Lawson says a prayer for the coming school day. He says a prayer for the district, the students, the upcoming state tests. He says a prayer for the second-grade teacher who had emergency back surgery and for the sub taking her class.
He says a prayer for all teachers – a fitting petition for a profession in crisis.
The crisis became manifest this spring when teachers in six states, sometimes even without the direction or encouragement of any union, walked off the job to protest their own compensation and school spending in general.
We think we know teachers; we’ve all had them. But the suddenness and vehemence of the Teacher Spring suggest we don’t understand their pressures and frustrations.
To try to understand, 15 teams of USA TODAY NETWORK journalists spent Monday, Sept. 17, with teachers around the nation.
We found that teachers are worried about more than money. They feel misunderstood, unheard and, above all, disrespected.
That disrespect comes from many sources: parents who are uninvolved or too involved; government mandates that dictate how, and to what measures, teachers must teach; state school budgets that have never recovered from Great Recession cuts, leading to inadequately prepared teachers and inadequately supplied classrooms.
It all may be exacting a toll. This year, for the first time since pollsters started asking a half-century ago, a majority of Americans said they would not want their child to become a teacher.
Yet teachers everywhere say that if only the American people – the parent, the voter, the politician, the philanthropist – really understood schools and teachers, they’d join their cause.
Some people mistakenly think teachers “sit around all summer, collecting a paycheck,’’ complains Lawson, the full-time substitute. Not him. In addition to working in both the before- and after-school programs, he teaches summer school and last summer took on extra hours at an Amazon warehouse.
Lawson is a jack of all trades. A walkie-talkie on his hip, he moves from room to room — teaching a class or organizing a lesson plan for a short-term sub or giving students special help with math. He visits homes with the school social worker. He directs traffic in the parking lot. He once used the washing machine in his office to clean the coats of an entire class so he wouldn’t embarrass the one kid whose coat was filthy.
Despite it all – or maybe because of it – he voices a claim made by virtually every teacher with whom a USA TODAY NETWORK team spent the day: He loves his job. “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. When you help a kid that really wants to learn, when they say, ‘I got it,’ that’s something you take with you the rest of your life.”
Americas teachers under tremendous pressure
Their passion for teaching and children may be the only thing keeping them invested in the profession. Spent a day with teachers across America.
Jarrad Henderson, USA Today
A crisis in perspective
Public school teachers’ economic prospects have worsened dramatically since the beginning of the Great Recession, especially in poorer states.
The average national salary has decreased by more than 4 percent since 2009, adjusted for inflation. Yet nine in 10 teachers buy some of their own teaching supplies, spending an average of almost $500 a year.
About 18 percent have a second job, making teachers about five times more likely than the average full-time worker to have a part-time job.
No surprise, then, that 8 percent of teachers leave the profession each year, compared with 5 percent a few decades ago; that 20 to 30 percent of all beginning teachers leave within five years, the Learning Policy Institute says, and two-thirds of teachers quit before retirement; that enrollment in college teacher education programs dropped 35 percent between 2009 and 2014.
The result, in some areas and in some specialties, is a teacher shortage. Last year, according to a Learning Policy Institute study, more than 100,000 classrooms were staffed by instructors “not fully qualified to teach’’ because they lacked proper licenses or degrees. The percentage of teachers working without bachelor’s degrees, although small (2.4 percent in 2016), has more than doubled since 2004.
Those are the numbers, based on federal education data. Here are scenes from the lives of teachers, before, during and after school.
ARRIVALS: Hope and heartbreak
The sun is rising, and teachers are arriving. “Ordinary men and women,” as educational reformer John Dewey put it, of whom we expect the extraordinary.
In a remote valley in central Montana, on a cool, clear morning with the promise of autumn and a hint of the hard winter to come, there’s a scene from teaching’s past: A solitary woman approaches a gray clapboard, one-classroom schoolhouse and unlocks the door.
Instead of lighting the stove, like her 19th-century predecessors, Traci Manseau makes sure the internet is up.
The public school has 17 students from prekindergarten to eighth grade, up from a total of three when Manseau came here 19 years ago. Montana has less than 80 such schools; about 20 closed in the past decade. Most young teachers don’t want to live in such remote areas.
And it’s hard work, Manseau says, to wrap your brain around first- and eighth-grade math at the same time.
Each of her students comes from one of five families, all surnamed Stahl. They’re Hutterites, a religious sect that speaks a German dialect and shuns modern ways. The students wear a sort of 19th-century uniform: the girls in black headscarves with subtle polka dots and modest dresses, their hair parted in the middle and twisted behind their ears. The boys wear Western shirts, black pants and suspenders.
To work on the small Hutterite colony’s communal farm, students leave school when they turn 16.
Even in this idyllic setting, teaching comes with its own little heartbreak.
A half-continent away, another teacher approaches another school. This one is a vision of neoclassical elegance modeled on the University of Virginia’s Rotunda.
Walnut Hills High School, which sits on a 14-acre campus, is the top-rated public high school in Ohio. Its trademark subject is Latin, required in grades seven through nine. Its motto is “Sursum ad summum” – “Rise to the Highest.”
The classical college preparatory school is another American educational archetype. But here, time has not stood still. Just ask the teacher at the door.
Laura Wasem, 43, has taught Latin here for 17 years. She makes an annual salary of $77,000, a third more than the average American teacher. Yet she is as nostalgic for the past as any Hutterite.
Today, for example, she’s distressed that there will be no classes because of a daylong professional development program to improve standardized test scores.
Such a program is fine in principle, Wasem says, but a waste of time for the Latin Department. She and her colleagues must sit through what she calls a “long, poorly-run meeting” that focuses on English test scores, even though her department does its own analysis to improve Latin test scores.
“All these mandates from the administration and the state are just an extension of what’s going on nationally,” she says. She blames “people without a background in education … who have no idea what to expect walking into a class of eighth-graders. They are used to walking into business meetings … It’s completely different when you have to keep an eye out for kids using phones or redirecting a child with a special-education plan or registering if what you are saying is actually being understood.”
She’s just getting started: “I used to be able to teach Latin and not have to worry about all the testing and extra work centering around our evaluations.” That was long ago.
Felecia Branch, 51, arrives at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School an hour before classes begin. She’s a product of Detroit city schools and has taught in them for 25 years.
Branch pops the trunk of her gray Jeep Compass and pulls out a big, gray-blue rolling crate with materials for the day’s classes.
Her self-sufficiency is a reminder of the district’s troubles, including the near-decade it was under state control. Teachers went for years without a raise; their base pay was cut, and many dipped into their own pockets for basic supplies.
Three years ago, Branch says, “I didn’t have any sixth-grade materials. None.” She says she bought them herself – and did a lot of photocopying.
A new superintendent is trying to reverse course. Last year, teachers finally got a raise: 7 percent over two years, plus bonuses for those near or at top scale. This year, for the first time in years, Branch has almost all the materials she needs.
After a two-minute drive from home, Christine McFarland pulls up at Sinton Elementary School, where today teachers are wearing the paraphernalia of their alma mater.
The 45-year-old English and social studies teacher sports a jacket from Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, of which she’s a proud 2001 graduate.
The jacket is also a reminder that, despite her $50,000 annual teacher’s salary and a second job as a supermarket cashier, she long has been delinquent on the $300-a-month payments on her 30-year student loan, leaving a debt in the high five digits.
“We’re not making a living wage. Teachers, especially single teachers trying to live off our salary, are going paycheck to paycheck,” she says. “I make enough for basics – bills, groceries – and that’s it. No extra money for anything else, like getting my nails done or buying new clothes.”
She’s a single mother. Three years ago, one of her two kids qualified for reduced-price school lunches. “I’m a teacher. And I qualified for reduced lunch. What does that say?”
It says she’s thinking about leaving her calling.
As Rebecca Garelli drives up to Sevilla Elementary School-West, her Nissan sedan’s stickers make the car look like a political billboard: “#StillInvested … #RedForEd …. #EdWave2018 … #RememberInNovember”
In March, this 37-year-old middle school science teacher started a Facebook page that helped spark the teachers’ uprising in the state. Today, her tank top is bright red – the movement’s signature color. At home she has a drawer of red shirts, a couple of red blouses and a red dress.
She’s driven an hour from her home at the other corner of the metropolitan area. Her long commute helps explain her activism.
Her family moved here from Chicago two years ago for the Southwestern lifestyle. When she interviewed for teaching jobs, she was startled: “On average, I was going to take a $35,000 pay cut.”
So she took a relatively well-paying job a relatively long way from home in a school with relatively large class sizes.
And it’s exhausting her.
ABSENT: Teachers who aren’t teaching
Some teachers are not teaching on this day, for reasons that underlie the profession’s crisis.
Halston Drennan, 32, is in class at the University of Wyoming, where he’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering. He resigned at the end of the past school year as a high school math teacher in Fort Collins, Colorado, where after three years, he was making $39,000. He loved teaching but realized he’d never be able to afford to buy a home. Unless, his mother told him, “you marry up.”
Amber Ball, 26, is driving back to Columbia, a tiny town (pop. 390) in northeast Louisiana where she teaches junior high language arts. No school today – her financially strapped district is on a four-day week to save money. That’s good, because she gets a three-day weekend. And it’s bad, because she takes home just $2,300 a month, even though she has a master’s degree.
Luis Martinez, 35, is not teaching his two Spanish classes today at West Shores High in Salton City, California. He arrived at the remote desert school to find that a security officer was out and that he had to take his place. He’s frustrated. In such cases, “We’re supposed to have a plan.” Now he has to arrange a sub for his own classes.
FIRST PERIOD: Constant adjustments
Traci Manseau has only 12 students (albeit in eight different grades). Several of the older boys are late because they’re needed on the colony’s dairy farm. “That’s just kind of how it is,’’ she shrugs.
She uses a standard public school curriculum, even though it’s designed to prepare pupils for a life much different from the one hers will lead.
The girls will grow up to cook, sew, clean and garden. The boys will farm and ranch and work in the dairy. Some of these kids are so smart that, especially at first, it bothered their teacher that none would go to college or even graduate from high school.
“I’ve just learned to accept it,” she says. “That’s their way of life.”
At a planning meeting with other teachers, Christine McFarland promises to work on adding some questions to a worksheet.
But her schedule is already packed. She goes, she says, “from one thing to the next to the next to the next, with few breaks in between.” And today, she has a four-hour shift after school at the supermarket.
The supermarket offered MacFarland a full-time management job. It has her thinking about quitting what she loves – again.
Ten years ago, she says, when her ex-husband fell behind on child support because he was laid off, she left teaching for three years to sell insurance. She tells a story about what triggered her return.
She was grocery shopping when the father of a former student came up and asked, ‘‘Are you still doing insurance?’ … He goes, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself.’ And I said, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Because you have a gift. You’re a teacher. … You’re wasting your gift that God gave you.’ “
She knew what he meant. She’d helped his son, who was a troubled student. She’d even gone to all the boy’s baseball games. And she knew she could teach reading, opening the world to her students in small-town southeast Texas.
She started crying, disappointed with herself for quitting.
The encounter, and others like it, she says, “made me feel like what I needed to do was go back. So I took the pay cut” – about $30,000 – “and I jumped back into teaching.”
She also took the part-time job, even though a survey of Texas teachers’ union members indicates that those who work a second job are more likely to say they’re considering leaving the profession and that working an extra job hurts their teaching.
She says she wonders if she made the right choice.
Felecia Branch greets the sixth-graders filing into her classroom like – her words – “my babies.”
To watch her is to realize how much some teachers love their students, how some teachers are able to function without much interference and how some have actually seen their prospects improve.
She gives hugs, high-fives, fist bumps. One student gets a kiss on the cheek. “Hello, gorgeous,” she greets another. “Good morning, Mr. Chambers,” she tells a third. “How are you? Did you have a good weekend?”
Her effusiveness has a purpose. She says that without a personal connection with a student, and preferably with parents, she cannot teach effectively.
“Ooh, you have a lot of hair,” she tells one boy, who’s removed the rubber band that tamed his Afro. “You have more hair than me. That is wrong on so many levels.” She laughs.
Her hair is short, cropped and adorned with her signature bow, which today is green with flower petals to match her long, African-style shirt. She calls the bows “my way of bringing a little bit of sunshine with me every single day.”
Second-grader Clint Stahl flies off a swing, lands hard on the ground and, after a second in shock, starts to wail.
Traci Manseau runs over, picks him up and carries him inside the school. When it looks like his arm is broken – for the second time this year – she loads the sobbing Clint into her car and drives him up the gravel road to the colony. She’ll look for a parent to drive the child to a hospital 30 minutes away.
“Everyone go in and work on your math,” she tells the other students before leaving them for a few minutes with her aide.
She moves quickly and, somehow, calmly. In an age of specialization, she is the school’s janitor, nurse and mother. “I wear a lot of hats every day,” she says later, “all day long.”
Rebecca Garelli has an English Language Learners (ELL) class with 21 students, including native Spanish speakers and two girls from Rwanda. Some have never taken science before.
In theory, ELL students are taught English in addition to the academic subject; first, the teacher is supposed to get them speaking and listening, then teach some science.
Back in Illinois, such students usually were taught by specialists and learned in English and their native tongue; under Arizona law, they must be instructed primarily in English.
Arizona no longer requires teachers to be trained or certified to teach ELL, and Garelli doesn’t really know how to do it, especially with no language skills beyond her high school Spanish.
She gives the students a worksheet she downloaded off the internet. The top of the sheet says, “Let me introduce myself.” The students pick partners and begin reading answers, memorizing what their partner said and repeating it back.
“I didn’t have fun,” a boy tells her when they’re finished, “but I wasn’t bored.” The teacher laughs. “I’ll take it.”
LUNCHTIME: The teachers’ room
For those without cafeteria or playground duty, lunchtime is a break in a day of breakfast eaten standing or sometimes walking, of undrunk coffee, of always feeling like you have to pee. There are nonacademic tasks, such as wiping down desks and handing out tampons; countless intercom announcements, many unintelligible; school assemblies and department meetings, some also unintelligible. It’s constant motion: desk to desk, student to student. A deadline every minute.
But now teachers can talk about what makes them fume – such as disrespectful parents.
“Kids tell their parents they have a problem with the teacher, and the parents throw a fit,’’ says Laura Wasem of Walnut Hills High. “Instead of convincing their child that the hard work is good for them, they try to have Latin removed from the curriculum. … I have parents who say that the course is too hard: ‘How dare you give my child a 30 percent on that assignment?’ ”
When a parent demanded to sit in her classroom and observe her teach, Wasem said she’d agree – if she could come to the student’s home and see how the parent helped with the homework.
Another topic at lunchtime is unions, which were dealt a blow by the Supreme Court this year when it barred public employee unions from assessing nonmembers a fee for representing them.
Rebecca Garelli‘s movement had supported a November ballot initiative, #InvestInEd, to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund public education. Since it was tossed out last month by the Arizona Supreme Court, Garelli has been trying to recruit volunteers and voters to support pro-teacher candidates in November.
But the messages that flood constantly into her social media accounts, email and voice mail must wait until late at night, after she’s put her three kids – two of whom are still in highchairs – to bed. Wake-up is 5:30 a.m.
Christine MacFarland is not a union member and doesn’t want to strike. But she says a strike is the only way to change things: “Teachers need to do something to defend themselves.’’
Amber Ball sees it differently. While she concedes that strikes may be effective, as a teacher she worries that they set a bad example for students: Complain, and you’ll get what you want.
AFTERNOON: ‘Aha’ and ‘Oh no’
Halston Drennan does some informal teaching in his college physics discussion group. He asks one obviously stumped classmate, “You get that?’’ and then uses his pencil to illustrate paths to the right answer.
He still feels he left part of himself back at his former high school. Helping these students, most of them younger than he is, helps feed his teaching jones.
But he’s comfortable with his decision to quit. He’s also glad he didn’t pursue a master’s degree at the University of Colorado, which would have cost more than $30,000 a year for two years and not boost his salary all that much. Now, he makes about as much as part-time bartender as he did teaching 70 hours a week. He asked himself, “Can I afford being an adult?’’ As a teacher, he concluded, he couldn’t.
“A student asked me if I cried when I made that decision,’’ he recalls. “I told her: ‘Yes, I absolutely cried when I made that decision.’ “
As fifth period ends, Rebecca Garelli escorts her class to another building for “specials” – art, music or band. She stands for a moment in the shade outside and lowers her sunglasses. She’s drained.
It’s the repetition. In the Sonoran Desert, using a 2004 climate science textbook that lists “Katrina” as a name for a future storm, she’ll teach the same lesson about Hurricane Florence and hurricane preparation four times.
She explains that, despite her boredom, she can’t mix up the lessons because she has only this one free period in which to plan.
Then there are the standardized tests, where she is measured by her students’ performance. She fights to keep her passion for the job.
“I am overwhelmed,’’ she says. “Overwhelmed quite a bit.’’
For Felicia Branch, the day’s last class includes an “aha” moment and an “oh no” moment.
The class is discussing “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief,” a fantasy adventure novel it’s been reading. Branch points out the lead character’s comment about not feeling normal.
One student says Percy is “kind of disowning himself.” She says, “I don’t disown myself because I’m not normal, and I don’t fit in with a lot of other people. I actually like who I am.”
“I really love that you said that,” Branch replies. “Sometimes, it’s kind of cool to be the oddball. I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an odd bird. … So how many of you felt that when Percy said, ‘I’m not normal,’ that he was dissing and putting himself down – not really owning who he is?” Several hands go up.
Moments such as this are why you teach. “That goes beyond reading a complex text,” she observes later. “That’s synthesizing, that’s analyzing it, that’s relating it to herself.”
About 40 minutes later, Branch notices a dispute developing between a boy and a girl over a note. She walks over, kneels down and asks what’s up. The girl says the boy took the paper, so she took it back. When Branch tells the girl to give her the paper, she refuses – three times.
Branch tells the girl to step out into the hall to calm down. The girl refuses. She sits rigidly and stares straight ahead. “This is what I mean about making a mountain out of a molehill,” Branch tells her.
Branch sends a student to get the girl’s homeroom teacher. When the man arrives, the girl gives him the silent treatment. Branch calls the principal’s office and finally the girl’s home. Her stepfather says he’ll come in.
After class, Branch rues how, even with her experience, she was unable to defuse the confrontation. “When did it get to be so serious that a teacher could ask you very nicely to do x, y and z, and your first response is still to be defiant?”
It’s a stinging defeat, given the importance she attaches to developing relationships. And it’s a reminder of how much is beyond a classroom teacher’s control, especially in a city with the nation’s highest rate of child poverty.
Some students, she says, “might not let you in, so you’re never going to get the true story of what’s going on – why they’re coming to school late every day, why they never have books or supplies, and a whole lot of other things.”
Postscript: The stepfather never arrives.
SECOND SHIFT: Side hustles
Christine MacFarland leaves school to drive to her job as a supermarket cashier, only to find that her 2013 Ford Explorer, which has more than 100,000 miles on it, has a flat tire. She slumps behind the wheel and puts her hands over her face. “I don’t have time or money for a flat tire,” she sighs. She calls her brother to take care of the flat while she gets a ride home to change for her 5 p.m. shift.
5:11 p.m. H-E-B Grocery, Register 5. One of MacFarland’s first customers is a former colleague, also a single mother, who left Sinton Elementary last year for a better-paying job in the oil and gas industry.
Teacher turnover is a problem in Texas, where the annual rate is 16 percent. The Sinton district’s rate last year was 20 percent.
“It’s sad, because she was a good teacher,” MacFarland says after the woman checks out. “She flat out just could not make ends meet. … It’s aggravating to go to college to be a teacher, take the classes, undergo staff development and then give it all up. We’re highly trained. When one of us quits, that’s man hours, money and experience out the door.”
The encounter revives her debate with herself: Stay or go?
While she’s waiting for another customer to pay, she steps away from the checkout area, leans her head back on a partition and takes a deep breath. She needs a rest.
Amber Ball is back in town and in her kitchen, cooking a week’s meals for herself and nine colleagues. Each teacher pays $5 a meal, which covers Ball’s grocery bill.
She needs the money. She’s in four weddings between now and April and will attend four others. Plus, she’s completing a teacher certification program. (She’s not yet certified in Louisiana but was hired provisionally to fill a need in a rural school.) The program cost $4,000 over the summer and $2,000 – nearly a month’s paycheck – this fall.
Despite her long work day and low pay, Amber Ball is a happy teacher.
That’s partly because she’s so relaxed. She calls herself “the hippie teacher,’’ and her classroom has a hippie vibe. The whiteboard is outlined by twinkling lights, and the overhead fluorescent lights are switched off. This year she got rid of desks and installed a giant foam mat, a large table, yoga balls and 20 big floor pillows in cases sewn by her and her grandmother.
And it’s partly because she’s so organized. For instance, she has binders and folders for everything – cooking, class plans, teacher training, even her early-morning workout.
Now, dressed in a T-shirt and grey sweatpants with a rainbow headband to keep her hair out of her face, she’s cooking for colleagues. Because several are on no-carb diets, one of the dishes she’s preparing is zucchini with garlic and parmesan, spiraled like noodles – “zoodles.’’
She tries some: “Not bad.’’
DAY’S END: After school, but still at work
Ed Lawson is one of the last teachers to leave the building. That’s how he likes it. He’s an ordained minister, and he takes a proprietary interest in the school; he considers it his pastorate.
Amber Ball gets ready for bed around 8:30. She’ll be out the door by 4:50 the next morning – the only way to get in a workout at the gym before the start of her 10-hour school day.
Christine MacFarland finishes her supermarket shift at 9. She still hasn’t written the questions she promised at the faculty meeting 12 hours earlier.
Rebecca Garelli has put her kids to bed and can finally turn to all those messages about #RedForEd. That can take until 2 a.m.
Felicia Branch retires for the night, not knowing that she will get through to the student who wouldn’t give up the note. In the days ahead, the girl will pay attention, follow instructions, even volunteer to be “laptop captain” when the class’s new computers arrive.
Traci Manseau is home, 30 miles from school. She has papers to correct and an online course to take. The alarm is set for 5:50 a.m. It’s a grind, but at 45, she has no plans to stop. Another Stahl, William, was born at the Hutterite colony in December. “If I can finish him through school until he’s 16,” she says, “then I can retire.”
EPILOGUE: Respect and disrespect
Teachers hold our hands and wipe our noses, tell us we can be more than we are, maybe more than we think we can be.
In return, we tell pollsters that they’re underpaid, without being sure what they actually make; that we endorse collective bargaining, yet often resist higher taxes; that we even support their right to strike, preferably in someone else’s district.
A day with American public school teachers ends with this irony: These people, whom opinion polls show to be among the nation’s most respected, feel disrespected.
This year, that dichotomy led to revolt. Where it leads next is a matter for speculation or – in Edward Lawson’s case – for prayer.
ABOUT THIS STORY
USA TODAY NETWORK journalists spent Sept. 17 with the following teachers: Amber Ball, English, Spanish and reading, Caldwell Parish Junior High School, Columbia, Louisiana; Felecia Branch, sixth-grade language arts, Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School, Detroit; Mindy Demaris, teacher of the visually impaired, Wicomico County public schools, Maryland; Halston Drennan, former math teacher at Fossil Ridge High School, Fort Collins, Colorado; Maripat Franke, special education, Neenah High School, Wisconsin; Rebecca Garelli, sixth-grade science, Sevilla West Middle School, Phoenix; Sara Grady, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) curriculum specialist, Inglewood Elementary School, Nashville, Tennessee; Arturo Hernandez, second-grade special education, Ocean Academy Charter School, Lakewood, New Jersey; Edward Lawson, building substitute, Julian Thomas Elementary School, Racine, Wisconsin; Traci Manseau, Deerfield Hutterite Colony School, Montana, all grades; Luis Martinez, Spanish teacher and athletic director, West Shores High School, Salton City, California; Christine McFarland, fifth-grade English and social studies, Sinton Elementary School, Texas; Lori McLain, middle school science, Babcock Neighborhood School, Babcock Ranch, Florida; Kristy Thomas, fourth-grade language arts, William Dean Jr. Elementary School, Lexington, Mississippi; Laura Wasem, Latin, Walnut Hills High School, Cincinnati.
Written by Rick Hampson, USA TODAY
Reported by Beatriz Alvarado, The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times; Thyrie Bland, The News-Press, Fort Myers, Florida; Jason Gonzales, The Tennessean, Nashville; Leigh Guidry, The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette, Louisiana; Bracey Harris, Clarion Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi; Lori Higgins, Detroit Free Press; Joe Hong, The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, California; Austin Humphreys and Kelly Ragan, Fort Collins Coloradoan; Kristen Inbody, Great Falls (Montana) Tribune; Annysa Johnson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Byron McCauley, The Cincinnati Enquirer; Amanda Oglesby, Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press; Meg Ryan, The Daily Times, Salisbury, Maryland; Lindsay Schnell, USA TODAY; Devi Shastri, The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin; Alden Woods, The Arizona Republic
Photographers and videographers: Rachel Denny Clow, The Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times; Thomas P. Costello, Asbury Park (New Jersey) Press; Daniel Damiani, The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin; Phil Didion, The Cincinnati Enquirer; Nicolas Galindo, The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana; Thomas Hawthorne and Tom Tingle, The Arizona Republic; Austin Humphreys, Fort Collins Coloradoan; Larry McCormack, The Tennessean; Zoe Meyers, The Desert Sun, Palm Springs, California; Jenna Miller, The Daily Times, Salisbury, Maryland ; Mackenzie Salmon, Clarion Ledger, Jackson, Mississippi; Rion Sanders, Great Falls (Montana) Tribune; Bill Schulz, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel; Andrew West, The News-Press, Fort Myers, Florida; Mandi Wright, Detroit Free Press
Visual editors and video producers: Jarrad Henderson, David Hamlin and Christopher Powers, USA TODAY
Graphics and presentation: Frank Pompa, Ramon Padilla, Jim Sergent, USA TODAY
Editors: Lee Horwich, Chrissie Thompson, USA TODAY