The following paper was created to respond to and resist the prevailing narrative about urban teachers, urban teacher preparation, and urban schools, families, and communities. The Teacher Education Program is a signatory of this document.
UTEC Position Paper
The Urban Teacher Education Consortium (UTEC) is a group of teacher educators representing institutions and programs around the country who are committed to preparing teachers capable of providing the quality of education students in cities across the U.S. deserve and to which they are consistently denied access. For the past seven years, representatives from these programs, listed below, have been meeting regularly to share successes and to pose problems of practice in an ongoing effort to improve the quality of what our teacher candidates can enable their students to learn. Although our programs vary in design and structure, we share common beliefs in the strengths and potentials of urban students, their families and communities, about preparing their students to be active citizens in a democratic society and about the nature of teaching and learning which we will delineate briefly in this document.
Why do we feel compelled to make a statement at this moment in the country’s educational history? These are trying times for everyone involved in education, and this is particularly the case for those who work in urban schools and communities. Systems of accountability based on questionable testing measures have become the primary basis for judging both teachers and students, and in the process have drained from the work of teaching and learning both the sheer complexity and the joy of the enterprise of education, so dependent on the cumulative development of knowledge, skills and practices, not the least of which is the building of trusting relationships between teacher and student. It is time to push back against the prevailing narrative which links success with test score improvement and replace it with a vision of growing empathetic, whole human beings, true to their cultural identities and capable of speaking truth to power.
And we must push back against the misguided and dangerous belief that a new generation of teachers can emerge spontaneously, fully formed without the long-term guidance and support of experienced professionals whose skills have been forged in the crucible of day to day classroom trials and triumphs. In our field of teacher education, this lack of recognition of the complexity of the work has spawned quick fix programs that run from online teacher certification to 5-6 week crash-course introductions to teaching for those who hold a bachelor’s degree in any field. These programs threaten to produce what we might call “classroom mechanics,” rather than reflective, committed professional practitioners whose work is grounded in deep understanding of pedagogy, human development and urban communities and who are therefore capable of adapting constructively to the kinds of challenges which teachers face daily in urban schools. We must promote the recognition of teachers as respected professionals, as they are honored in countries that are universally admired for the quality of education they offer their children.
We, the participants in the Urban Teacher Education Consortium, believe that becoming an urban teacher is an ongoing process which begins when students enter our program and continues throughout the length of their teaching careers. This journey involves an exploration of their identity as teachers, the development of a repertoire of understandings and practice aimed at providing students with powerful and engaging instruction, and a growing awareness of the capacities, strengths, and “funds of knowledge,” students bring to the classroom from their communities and families.
We do not expect our students to be fully formed practitioners when they first enter their own classrooms, but we do expect them to be highly competent new teachers who:
- Create a safe learning environment
- Build a sense of community in their classrooms and among their colleagues
- Foster engaged and meaningful student thinking
- Create an environment of inquiry and questioning
- Demonstrate profound respect for and willingness to learn from their students, families and communities
- Draw on their students’ experiences as a source of the content from which they teach
- Operate out of a clear understanding of the context in which their work is situated
- Reflect deeply on their work as teachers and use that reflection as a basis for modifying and improving their practice
- Possess a well-developed sense of personal and professional identity
- Demonstrate deep content knowledge in their subject areas and the ability to turn that knowledge into exciting and engaging learning opportunities for their students
- Address issues of power, privilege and empowerment and the ways in which these issues affect the lives of their students
- Question mandates they are expected to follow that are counter to the interests and needs of their students
- Assess students’ strengths and needs in multiple and non-reductive ways
- Offer students’ choices which help position themselves as active learners.
Serve as advocates for their students within and outside the schoolhouse walls, including challenging the poverty and racism which threaten to undo much of their courageous work.
It should be apparent to anyone who reads this list that these characteristics, understandings, and practices can only develop with considerable time and deep preparation --including substantive opportunities to develop and become familiar with the research underlying them. This kind of learning of the profession of teaching cannot happen in a matter of weeks or even a few months. We believe that programs based on the premise that teaching is a profession informed by these research-based practices and a well-developed knowledge base are the best contexts for preparing teachers for urban settings. In addition, these programs provide a range of closely mentored classroom experiences that provide novice teachers with the time and support they need to learn this complex profession.
What should be evident to anyone reading this list is that they represent the qualities that teachers in any context or community should aspire to. We see them as particularly salient for urban teachers precisely because they are so conspicuous in their absence in most urban schools. Students, by their own testimony, find so much of what happens devoid of any meaning or relevance in their lives; all too often it disrespects and devalues them and their communities. This focus on deficits engenders a kind of internalized oppression which undermines students’ sense of their own capabilities and agency.
It is the responsibility of urban teacher educators and their students to interrupt this narrative of failure and inadequacy and substitute in its place a counter narrative of hope and capacity. This is the work that we and our programs are committed to as we seek ways to stand against the encroaching dehumanization and disempowerment of both teachers and their students and to prepare a new generation of teachers committed to creating classrooms for an engaged and active democracy.