Along with the accolades and attention that came with being named National Teacher of the Year in a White House ceremony, Jason Kamras received something else when he was named to his post in 2005: business cards.
The card had his name, his newly minted title and a contact to book speaking engagements. It was the first time in his 10-year teaching career that Kamras had received what is a staple of the business world but nearly absent among classroom educators.
"It was almost a necessity," said Kamras, who took a one-year leave from teaching math at John Philip Sousa Middle School in the Fort Dupont section of Southeast Washington to lecture nationally about closing the achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their Asian and white counterparts. "If I gave a speech to 1,000 people, and 50 wanted to get in touch with me, it was very useful to have it."
Business cards may be a staple of the business world, but in education, with its strict, top-down pecking order, often only high-level administrators and central-office types receive them.
School principal? Here's my card. Science teacher? Let me write my information on a piece of paper. Guidance counselor? Depends.
"I didn't have a business card until I became a central-office administrator," said Gerald Tirozzi, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, who started his education career as a teacher in 1959. "No one had them. It just wasn't part of the culture."
Now some teachers are taking matters into their own hands by making cards. Others are receiving them from a new brand of school leader seeking to bring a touch of the business world into education.
In the District, teachers at Friendship-Woodridge charter school have cards. Charter schools in the Knowledge Is Power Program, known as KIPP, gave out business cards to their teaching staffs at first but went back to old-fashioned phone lists sent home for parents to hang on the fridge.
"We did it for a while, but we realized it was not that helpful," said Susan Schaeffler, KIPP executive director. "Kids lose them, and our students each have five teachers, so it's just easier to do phone lists."
Steve Barr, chief executive of Green Dot Public Schools, a nonprofit organization that manages 10 charter high schools in Los Angeles, said teachers there receive business cards listing their e-mail address and cellphone number and are encouraged to give the cards to parents and students.
"This is not about 'Hey, here's my name.' The purpose is for accountability and total information-giving to the people we serve," said Barr, whose management philosophy is based on his work experience in politics.
Traditional schools have also embraced the trend. Daniel Gohl, principal of McKinley Technology High School in Northeast Washington, encourages his staff to make up business cards and even designed a template for teachers to follow. The titles on the cards range from the lofty "educator" to the more exact "math teacher." McKinley, one of the more modern schools in the D.C. system, having reopened in 2004 after an extensive renovation, gives teachers individual phone extensions and access to shared office space.
Gone are the days of a school secretary leaving a note in a teacher's mailbox -- now parents can connect directly with a teacher. "I think it's a degree of professionalism from the school district and the school to the parents," Gohl said.
Babatunde Pyne, who teaches seventh-grade math at Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science, a charter school, said he has met teachers at other schools who have business cards. The need was pressed upon him a few years ago while he was on a summer fellowship to Japan. At every school or business he visited, he met someone with a business card. Tired of being empty-handed, Pyne found a Kinko's in Japan and hastily made up business cards.
"They're just the order of the day there," Pyne said. He tried to join the trend at beginning of the year and asked school officials for business cards. Each time he followed up on their status, he was told the cards were in the works.
Eventually, Pyne said, the request fell by the wayside, outweighed by more pressing education issues. And, he acknowledges, he has better resources than most teachers, with a classroom that's outfitted with the latest technology, such as a flat-screen electronic board, used in place of a blackboard.
Anna Kinsman, a journalism teacher at McKinley, has been teaching for nearly 20 years. She said she has always had business cards, usually ones she printed herself. She said she has given them to students who used the cards to line up speakers for her class, and they have become invaluable in networking situations such as professional dinners or community events.
"There has to be a paradigm shift," Kinsman said. "I think it's unusual that it's not more common. It's an indispensable tool to make contacts. I can't imagine not having one."
But Douglas LaBier, a business psychologist and psychotherapist, said it will take more than business cards to bring professionalism to teaching. The business world often ties compensation to importance, and in that respect, he said, teachers are still considered at the bottom.
"They should be among the highest-paid people in the country, but they're hardly that," LaBier said of teachers. "How do you have a sense of respect and professionalism when every time you go to work, you're up against obstacles, and the larger society doesn't show its appreciation and value? So having business cards -- that's not going to cut it."