Thursday, April 25, 2013

A Lens for Social Justice – How Community Schools Guide New Teachers Through the Inequities Their Students Face

JoAnne Ferrara is the Associate Dean for Undergraduate Advising at Manhattanville College in Purchase, NY  and the co-author of two books: Whole Child, Whole School: Applying Theory to Practice in a Community School and Changing Suburbs, Changing Schools. 

The preparation of teachers coupled with the challenges schools face recruiting and retaining them are among the many issues confronting education leaders. Each year as teacher and educators prepare the new crop of professionals to enter high-needs schools, they are often concerned with the overwhelming obstacles they will encounter. Research on teacher retention in high poverty schools indicates that many leave during the first 3-5 years (Darling-Hammond, 2006, Ingersoll, 2001). New teachers often cite poor working conditions, lack of professionalism, and isolation among the reasons for their dissatisfaction. Furthermore, most new teachers feel inadequately prepared to meet the intensity of student needs in high poverty schools.

Unless new teachers have pre-service clinical training in successful schools serving poor children, many novices will experience a sense of disillusionment. Their disillusionment further escalates once they realize that access to quality educational opportunities are often lacking for children in these schools. Our most vulnerable students soon realize that access to successful teaching and instruction practices are frequently determined by socio economic status. 

Imagine the dilemma new teachers face as they try to reconcile their ideology with the real-life challenges of the classroom. Upon leaving their teacher preparation program many novices are filled with wide-eyed wonder determined to impact the lives of students in their charge. After spending years on college campuses learning about the socio-politico context of education new teachers believe that schools should place students’ well-being at the forefront of all educational policies. Given the moral imperative by college faculty to become agents of change, these neophytes are frequently discouraged once they are employed by a school system with a different set of expectations. In many cases their enthusiasm to “make a difference” quickly diminishes when working in schools where veteran teachers have either forgotten or ignored the broader social aspect of education.

Luckily some new teachers are prepared in community schools, steeped in a tradition of civic responsibility, equity, and leadership. In community schools new teachers build a rich context for viewing education through a social justice lens. During these early years when teachers are beginning to create their professional identities and sense of purpose, the awareness of socio-political inequalities impacting students often spur them to take action. When teachers view themselves as agents of change, a sense of social responsibility begins to emerge.  In doing so they seek to transform the ways in which schools and teachers address educational inequities. Implementing the kinds of equity minded practices found in community schools requires a school-wide commitment to providing the supports which foster responsive practices. Simply put, with a shared set of beliefs about the role of education, community schools help new teachers develop a responsive pedagogy which in essence is the moral and ethical work of teachers. 

Darling-Hammond, L. (2006).  Powerful teacher education: Lessons from exemplary programs.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Ingersoll, R. (2001). Teacher turnover and teacher shortages: An organizational analysis. American Educational Research Journal, 38(3), 499-534.

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