Posted by Venus Evans-Winters on January 26, 2011
In reviewing commentary on the state of U.S. education taking place around the world, one might not immediately notice that one very important group is being left out of public conversations and debates on educational change. Ironically, the same group that is being left out is a group that policy decisions will directly effect for at least most of their working adult years. When tuning into television programs, reading newspapers, and listening to radio commentary on the poor state of education, we very rarely hear from this particular group of stakeholders. Thus far, we catch quick glimpses of veteran teachers, novice teachers, school administrators, politicians, parents, corporate leaders, and even popular culture icons (i.e. Oprah and John Legend).
However, the one group missing from the conversation are soon-to-be teachers. We need to hold them responsible for the future of their profession and the nation. We must ask them their views on what they believe to be the best method(s), policies, and curriculum that will guarantee every American child a free and appropriate education. Publicly, we haven’t asked or heard soon-to-be teachers (individual or collective) perspectives on what should be done to solve the growing challenges of educational failure, under achievement, school push-out, school violence, and low teacher quality. We also have not systematically challenged teachers to question their own assumptions about race and class in America.
Because it is widely known that novice teachers have a major influence on students’ development, especially in the early years and for those attending high poverty schools, teacher educators and others must make a concerted effort of mobilizing pre-service teachers to enact their voice in educational politics. Too many pre-service teachers (and others outside of education) believe that education is value free; however, those of us who teach future educators know all to well that new teachers are the most likely to bring their own values and philosophical beliefs into the classroom context.
Everyday their deeply held beliefs drive practice and decision-making in the classroom. So, why should there be more focus on giving attention to soon-to-be teachers: 1) Research shows that most new teachers fall back on teaching methods in the classroom that they are most comfortable with, and 2) that they learned as a K-12 student; and, 3) most new teachers enter the classroom with pre-conceived notions of students different from themselves (e.g., non-Whites, lower income, and students with IEPs). Sadly, the commonly held belief is these certain groups of students are not capable of learning or do not value education. Yet, these will be the majority of students in classrooms.
According to recent demographic statistics, African American, Latino/a, and English Language Learners will make up the majority of U.S. classrooms in less than a decade. In many central cities, racial/ethnic minority students already make up the majority of students enrolled in public schools. However, the majority of students entering the teaching profession are White female students from middle class two parent families. On the surface, it appears that these White female teachers will have little in common with the student populations they serve. On the other hand, I fundamentally believe that there is hope not only in our nation’s students, but also in the next generation of teachers. But, this hope begins with the necessity to engage incoming teachers in critical and uncomfortable conversations about race, class, gender, and language equity at this moment in their professional development.
The nation cannot afford to wait to promote teacher activism and critical consciousness in the next generation of teachers; social justice and humanitarianism should begin before soon-to-be teachers leave the confines and safety of college classrooms. Those of us in higher education and teacher preparation programs must figure out how to better prepare teachers to view themselves as community activist and change agents. Our children and nation’s future depends on all stakeholders taking part in important democratic conversations, such as the possibilities of public education for all, including educators themselves.
Delpit, L. (2006). Teaching other people’s children: Cultural conflict in the classroom. New York: Norton.
Giroux, H. (2005). Border crossings: Cultural workers and the politics of education. New York: Routledge.