In Hollywood, teachers are always either saviors or clowns: the actual work they do almost never gets screen time. At Chalkbeat, we have been humbled to have teachers take us inside the real work and craftsmanship their profession requires. Now we want to showcase their masterwork on a broader stage, one that sheds the Hollywood myths but gives teaching a more responsible, careful, and honest depiction.

Meet The Great American Teach-Off, a live event we’re holding at SXSW EDU this March.

The Teach-Off will build on live-format shows that celebrate the hidden craftsmanship in other professions — think Top Chef, Project Runway, and The Voice — minus the competition.

Want to participate?

This year the Teach-Off will be in the area of elementary math. The application period closed January 21, 2018. Stay tuned for our voting round to launch later this week so you can help us decide which teams will make it to the finals. In March, the two finalist teams will execute the challenge onstage at SXSW EDU, with an onstage “class” of 7-10 adult volunteers serving as the students. A host, plus a panel of teacher judges, will serve as our discussion panel, pointing out all the cool, daring teaching moves the teams made and awarding prizes to each team.


Want more details?

Check out our FAQ below for more details about the teaching challenge. And here’s an article with background on how we came up with this crazy idea.

The two participating teams will get:

  • Participation in the Great American Teach-Off, to be held at SXSW EDU March 7, 2018
  • Registration for the SXSW EDU 2018 conference, March 5-8, 2018
  • Flight to and from Austin, Texas, plus ground transportation costs
  • Up to three nights’ accommodation
  • Meals and incidentals during their stay in Austin


Thank you to our amazing teacher design team who worked with us to create the Teach-Off: Julie Sloan of the Boston Teacher Residency, David Wees of New Visions for Public Schools, and Amy Lucenta of Fostering Math Practices.



What is the teaching challenge?

In February, the participating teams will receive a learning goal and a suggested instructional routine, to be taught in a 20-minute period; everything else is up to each team. (For an explanation of instructional routines, check this out.) During the month of February, they’ll plan their approach with the help of a teacher coach who has experience in the instructional routine. On the day of the Teach-Off, we’ll reveal an unplanned obstacle they’ll face, and the team and their coach will have 10 minutes to adjust their plan on the fly. (The Boston Teacher Residency calls these obstacles “Teacher Life Cards”: surprise changes to the teaching context that force a teacher to re-work their plan, as often happens in real life.)

What is Chalkbeat trying to accomplish here?

We want the broader public to understand how complex and challenging teaching is, and we want to honor the teachers who are masters at this work. At the Teach-Off, the goal for participating teachers (plus their coaches, judge panel, and host) is to overcome common and challenging obstacles that teachers face — and in doing so, to teach the audience and the wider public about the challenge of teaching. Our panel of judges will be friendly, kind, and supportive. They will award prizes based on how each team attacks their obstacles. The Teach-Off is NOT a teacher evaluation or an assessment of who is the best teacher.

Who is eligible?

Each participating team will include two teachers. All team members must be actively teaching or in a teacher coaching role this school year. Math should be one of the subjects you teach. Any grade level is welcome; for the sake of accessibility, the challenge will not require subject matter knowledge above elementary school math.

What’s in the video?

We’re looking for a video of one team member reflecting on a recent lesson. You can record the video yourself, or your teammate or another colleague can record you. A smart phone video is totally fine! No need to get fancy. In the video, please answer these three questions:

  1. What was the most surprising moment of the lesson? What were you thinking about during that surprising moment?
  2. What decision did you have to make during the lesson? What did you ask yourself as you evaluated your options?
  3. How else have you taught this lesson in the past? What made you change your approach?

How long should the video be?

No more than 3 minutes.

Why just three minutes?

We aren’t trying to create a new teacher evaluation rubric here! Plus we didn’t want to set the bar too high for entry — we know how busy teachers are. We’re using the videos to learn a bit about how well you can communicate and describe your practice to others. Your answers should be complete and concise, not exhaustive.

Why do we apply as a team?

We know that teaching often requires teamwork, and we think the Teach-Off will be more fun if teachers participate as teams of two. You don’t have to pick someone you currently teach with. But do try to prioritize someone you work well with. You don’t have to teach at the same school.

How do I submit my video to Chalkbeat?

We’re asking you to upload your video to the internet and then submit a link to the video through our one-stop entry form (see here). It’s pretty easy to post videos on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook — and feel free to use any other video-sharing site or your own personal site. (Tip: If you choose YouTube, you can choose to keep the video “unlisted” if you don’t want to make it super-public just yet.)

Who should be in the video?

Just keep it to one teammate on screen, and please don’t include any children under 18.

How will Chalkbeat pick semifinalists?

Semifinalists will be chosen based on:

  • Thoughtfulness of responses
  • Ability to reflect on teaching practice and decision-making

How will you choose participants?

The two teams with the most votes from readers will go to the Great American Teach-Off.


See the official contest terms and conditions here.