April 27th, 2015
P. Cohen, Education 266
Strategies for Change
Throughout the semester in our Schools in American Cities course, we’ve examined diverse pedagogy and learning methods in urban school environments. As a class, we have analyzed, discussed, and explored different components that contribute to an urban school’s unique pedagogy, as well as acknowledging the challenges urban schools endure. It’s important to recognize and become aware of the issues, but it’s also significant to address and attempt to strive for change. Focusing on educational leadership and support for educators is fundamental to pave the way for innovative thinking in and outside the classroom of urban education. It all comes within, it stems from our educators. The better trained they are as teachers, as well as supported, the more well rounded they can be in the classroom, which leads to higher teaching quality and effectiveness.
Teach for America’s mission, as stated in their website, is to generate “promising leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity.” They believe in the importance of students having equal access to a quality education, as do I and other authors in our readings have expressed, such as Katherine Crawford- Garrett and various authors in City Kids, City Schools. It seems as if we have the same goal in mind, however have disparate ideas and different perceptions on how to efficiently prepare and generate promising leaders, educators.
The challenge is identifying and acknowledging particularly how teachers can be better prepared, professionally ready, thus teaching effectively in urban classrooms. While also understanding through what agency can schools, districts, and states greatly support novice teachers. TFA’s intensive and content heavy training is not appropriate training for teachers who have little to no experience in urban classrooms. Six to eight weeks is not enough time to prepare and transform individuals interested in education into well-prepared educators, “corps members were overwhelmed by their circumstances, confounded by their lack of formal experience and preparation and concerned about student behavior” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 94).
Teachers begin to feel ineffective in classrooms and greatly affected by student’s academic and behavioral performance. They’re not able to connect and perform in the classroom as they envisioned, thus developing that crashing and burning feeling of anguish and defeat:
“corps members entered TFA with a strong desire to teach in a culturally relevant manner or cultivate deep connections with students, families, and communities […] ended up abandoning these desires in light of institutional constraints” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 121).
As novice teachers begin to lose hope in themselves and in the classroom, so does their interest in the profession. How then does TFA generate the next generation of promising leaders in education, if interest is lost?
As novice teachers begin to feel overwhelmed and ineffective, they seek someone or a community to share their grievances as well as seek support for collaboration in curriculum and/or encouragement to persevere. However, in most case scenarios, novice teachers aren’t given proper cultural training on what an urban classroom is like. The summer isn’t enough time for individuals to learn and prepare to be teachers as well as know what it means to be teaching a culturally diverse urban classroom. There needs to be a push for extensive training and awareness on how and where to look for support, “educational change requires collaboration […] shared inquiry was important to their emotional, social, and intellectual development as teachers” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 102 and 121).
It’s important to understand, that yes, there should be support focused for teaching skills, but there also needs to be a push for storytelling opportunities, inviting collaboration and dialogue with other teachers and school adminstrators:
“ I argue that only by fostering an atmosphere of shared inquiry within teacher education courses can we collectively prepare new teachers to name, contend with and resist dehumanizing policy mandates that comprise their potential as long-term educators as well as the life chances of their students” (Crawford-Garrett, pg. 92).
By inviting and encouraging new teachers to engage in dialogue, supporters are providing a safe space for them to engage. They participate in critical dialogue concerning pedagogy and learning strategies in the classroom as well as voicing out their concerns in regards to teaching and their students’ academic performance and behavior. “Corps members repeatedly noted that the collaborative nature of the course was unique and could not be found either within their schools or within TFA […] [they] taught in isolation and thus were hesitant about sharing their work with one another” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 100)
As Marge Scherer mentions in The Challenges of Supporting New Teachers, there must be a push for coaching, because ultimately the goal is to survive and become effective. Students will learn by example and teachers will forever be students. Just as we encourage students to ask for help for better understanding and/or advocate them to search for different ways in which they can learn new material by either using online resources, etc., we must do the same and follow our own advice. We must use our community as resources, whether that is our students, families, school districts, or state resources and get connected. Platforms such as, NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development), are a couple of the many programs educators can join to connect to other educators and seek advise/ help.
In moving forward, we must encourage novice teachers to speak up, authentically engage in the communities their students are a part of, and serve as advocates for the profession, as necessary changes. When teachers voice their concerns and/or ideas in regards to teaching they are able to express what is working and what isn’t as well as grow as stronger, better educators. It can be challenging, but by authentically engaging, teachers “consider the economic and political forces which influence the everyday operations of schooling and to contend with a discourse of structural and systematic inequality” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 126). They are able to discuss the issues and relate it to the communities their students are a part of. Novice teachers are then able to search for curriculum ideas focused on encompassing culture while also learning new content:
“readings focused on the experiences of minority students as literacy learners and aimed to illustrate how efforts to build curriculum and pedagogy from student experience proved promising in increasing student engagement and achievement” (Crawford- Garrett, pg. 96).
Not only does it enrich student’s learning and deepens it, but it also encourages students to fully engage in lessons and activities, which demonstrates how resilient and versatile teachers can be in their curriculum/lesson plans.
It can be difficult to try and balance all of this while also serving as an advocate and becoming an ambassador for public education, perhaps novice teachers aren’t sure if they’d like to continue with teaching as a profession. But, advocacy is such an important part of the profession, “Passionate educators persevere, and serve students, colleagues and larger school communities, like helping and connecting by looking for how to give back to the community” (Cuthbertson).
There are different levels of involvement, from attending school district and city/state wide conferences to taking advantage of this generation’s biggest outlet for information, social media. You could advocate through tweeting about it, blogging about it, and/or sharing articles with friends and families. As educators, if we’re not reading or talking about the issues in education, we’re kind of part of the problem; the objective is to raise awareness. As part of advocating, it’s also important to know that personal mindset matters; if educators don’t see themselves fit for the part, then they most likely won’t. Educators should embrace their profession and realize that teachers are not perfect; we are always learning and growing and with that in mind, confidently go into their communities and classrooms and wander, ask questions, and learn.
As educators, whether novice or experienced, it’s significant to recognize your input and dedication and remember to appreciate/award yourself and other teachers in the profession. Teachers often loose interest and/or forget why they chose to teach as a profession and question their abilities and desire to support urban education reform. Change can be a slow process, but we must continue to support each other and appreciate teachers for their time and worth, for we tend to take teachers for granted and don’t quite understand the value of education until we’re a part of the profession.
Supporting teachers with their emotional and mental needs as well as curriculum development is critical, but proper training and certification of the teaching profession should be kept to the consistency of hallmark quality as in any other profession. (The Obama Administration's Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement.) For example, doctors must attend and graduate from medical school in order to practice medicine and be qualified and recognized as a doctor. The same concept and quality expectation is being pushed for teachers; in order to practice teaching in a classroom and be qualified and recognized as an educator, individuals must meet similar demanding requirements. This coalition for teaching quality is critical for it fully prepares teachers in the profession, but also validates credibility to the profession. It sets a strong statement that unlike how the saying goes, those who CAN, can choose, like any other profession, to teach, without having to feel like Crawford- Garrett states, “Recruited for their intelligence, creativity, and leadership capabilities, corps members often found themselves positioned as low-level workers” (pg. 119).
As for creating a map to implement teacher reform, The Coalition for Teaching Quality, has proposed four major steps to achieve being profession- ready educators, which I find set a good skeleton structure to what we should look in for a well-rounded teacher reform. One, degree and demonstrate in depth content: this step requires individuals to have at least completed a bachelor’s degree. Some limitations could include financial instability, not being able to afford to complete a bachelor’s degree. Even access to attending a well recognized undergraduate institution that will grant a bachelor’s degree. But from another standpoint, a bachelor’s might not be enough, but rather encourage people to complete a master’s degree in order to consider teaching as a profession. Two, program completion: this step requires a state approved preparation program that includes clinical experiences that incorporate models of accomplished practice. Through this step, individuals are also trained to culturally respond in classrooms and handle classroom management. They would practice teaching extensively as well as being supervised by a well-qualified teacher. Limitations to this could include issues with determining a general agreement and understanding of what qualifications classify a “good enough” teacher and what time of environment individuals interested in the teaching profession should be teaching in. As well as determining how involved and busy they should be in their teaching placements. Three, Residency and Mentoring: this step is similar to that of a medical residency, in which individuals’ skills and experiences become anchored in complete practice in the classrooms, but under very close supervision. They mention the importance of different and diverse classrooms, but how long should this step take? Is it a good idea to be switching from one school environment to another? I’d propose for this to be more grounded and set to one specific school to complete residency in order for the future educator to find stability and comfort in her transition. Four, performance based assessment: this final step requires extensive methods to test the quality and performance of teachers which includes documenting their teaching experience through various forms such as video recording, field notes, as well as criticizing and assessing their own teaching quality and effectiveness.
These steps are quite demanding, but if the goal is to provide urban classrooms, well-rounded teachers that can not only effectively teach but also respond well to cultural diversity and common issues in urban classrooms such as lack of access to resources, poverty, family issues, and racial discrimination within the school and outside like in student’s communities, then these steps are necessary for a map that will lead to education reform in urban classrooms. Because, change stems from within and we have to start with those who plant the seed of knowledge, our educators.
As Confucius once mentioned, “education breeds confidence, confidence breeds hope.” Students need confident and hopeful educators just as much as educators need confident and eager learners. Our teachers must receive the proper training and support, both emotionally and professionally in regards to curriculum and teaching approaches, in order to be effective educators. For it not only prepares better teachers, but also reforms pedagogy in urban classrooms, ensuring our students a better education.
Cuthbertson11, Jessica. "How to Become a Teacher Advocate." Education Week Teacher. N.p., 25 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Scherer, Marge. "Membership." Educational Leadership:Supporting Beginning Teachers:The Challenges of Supporting New Teachers. Educational Leadership, May 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
"Our Future, Our Teachers: The Obama Administration's Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement." Our Future, Our Teachers: The Obama Administration's Plan for Teacher Education Reform and Improvement. U.S. Department of Education, n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
"Profession-Ready Teachers and Principals." Coalition for Teaching Quality. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.
Crawford-Garrett, Katherine. Teach for America and the Struggle for Urban School Reform: Searching for Agency in an Era of Standardization. New York City: Peter Lang, 2013. Print.