In my new role as summer adjunct faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University I had the privilege of teaching an extremely small class. I had five students who ran the full gamut of experience and interest in education. I had, in no particular order, an African American woman in her 60s whose father had been involved in the civil rights movement, an apprentice mechanic seeking a psych degree, a history major thinking about being a teacher, an English Language Learner teacher who only needed the course to complete her certification, and a young African American woman who is joining the Navy.
The course, Foundations of Education, is one of the few opportunities in many teacher preparation degrees to critically examine education. I took this as an opportunity to introduce these folks to many of the issues in education we deal with here in the Collaboratory with an eye towards solutions thinking. In order to help connect the rich history of education in America to our current situation I asked several of our Collaboratory colleagues to join us through Google Video chat. We were visited by Megan Allen, Renee Moore, Marsha Ratzel, and Jennifer Barnett.
This experience was extremely rewarding and thought provoking for the students. They learned that across our nation there is still a wide variety of experiences for students and teachers. For example Renee Moore talked about how inequality is still a huge problem in her community where most all middle class students attend private schools leaving the already poorly funded public schools without community support as well. In their final assignments I asked my students to reflect on their learning during the 7 week course.
It seemed like one student spoke directly about our conversation with Renee when she wrote:
Personally this class has made me a lot more unbiased and I definitely think about things a lot more. I always knew that education was a value but I have never valued it so much until now. I’ve met some great leaders in the education world. I’ve seen all aspects of education and though we are in a new generation, there are still many old habits.
The class also engaged with 2010 Florida Teacher of the Year, Megan Allen, who had spent eight weeks testing students from late April into May. This excessive testing left Megan struggling to maintain her and her students’ motivation. The class realized that all of this testing is in the name of equity if not in the service of it. It left my students wondering what they could do. That is where the solutions focus became important. Jacob, a student who described struggling through school with some excellent and some horrible teachers seemed to arrive at a new respect for the process of teaching and the challenges teachers face. He wrote:
I realized that it (education) can require much more finesse than people often give it credit for. Proper education needs much more than a book plopped in a student’s lap and a teacher standing in front reciting some dry material and hoping it sticks. You tend to spend more time as an educator these days sorting through government testing and requirements, social differences and conflicts, and finally in the end try to work in a good lesson to the students.
This enhanced level of awareness of the processes and functions of school will help these students proactively engage with education in the future, even if they are not going into teaching. The process of teacher leaders spreading their expertise made a difference in the lives of these college students in a meaningful way. My history major entered the class with a vagee notion of going into teaching, maybe. During the course he decided he was definitely going to become a third grade teacher and when he left the class he left with a strong sense that education is ripe for a dramatic change and that he wanted to be a part of it. This personal transformation was a direct result of engaging with the history and cultural background of education in meaningful ways and speaking directly with powerful teacher leaders like Megan Allen, Renee Moore, Masha Ratzel, and Jennifer Barnett.
This continual spreading of teacher voice beyond the classroom is the key to transforming our nation’s schooling.
This fall I hope to continue this blending of the lines between teacher preparation and accomplished teaching as the course reads and engages with teacher exemplars from the book: Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. I know we will have some great conversations that will change lives and education for the better.