Standing shoulder to shoulder in 2018

With a tumultuous 2017 now a few days in the past, I want to share an experience that underscores why Deans for Impact, alongside so many others, is working hard to ensure that every student in this country receives a high-quality education from well-prepared teachers.

Earlier this year, two of my coworkers and I were visiting an economically and racially diverse high school to observe teacher-candidates who were starting their student teaching. We do this often at Deans for Impact, and it’s my favorite part of my job. In part, that’s because these school visits highlight how choices we make about the structures and support we provide to our public education system play out for the students that system is supposed serve.

This particular visit left me pondering what I’ve come to think of as the “two sides of the hallway” challenge. We first observed a class comprised almost entirely of students of color, who were ostensibly learning about applying for college. In reality, very few were receiving any sort of meaningful instruction; most were gossiping or texting, and one was even shopping for jeans online. The teacher-candidate in this classroom helped one student draft an email.

We walked to the other side of the hallway for our second observation, this time of an Advanced Placement class that appeared to be almost entirely comprised of white students. These students were listening to a lecture that was rich with historical content – but delivered through a dry lecture format, with the teacher pausing only briefly to ask questions (and calling on the same eager student to answer). The rest of the class sat silently, including the teacher-candidate exiled to the back corner of the room.

We can and must do better on both sides of the hallway. In fact, we need to do more to ensure there aren’t two sides to begin with.

Part of that lies in improving the experiences of those teacher-candidates so they are prepared to teach when they start their careers. We know this can be done, because we’ve seen it firsthand. In fact, earlier that same day, I watched a masterful teacher-educator explore with her teacher-candidates how to use powerful topics to anchor units of instruction. The example she highlighted?

“Difference in culture can produce conflict in the form of discrimination which, if actively protested, can lead to reform.”

The events of this past year have magnified differences in our culture, and produced conflict – but active efforts, including protest, can lead to reform. In many ways, this idea animates all of the activities we undertake at Deans for Impact. We believe in the power of helping existing and future educators practice better pedagogy with all students, so that over time, our work – and the work of so many others – will join together such that the stark racial segregation we witnessed that day will seem an unconscionable aberration, rather than an accepted norm.

I hope you’ll share in my belief that our public education system remains central to delivering on the as-yet unfulfilled American promise that every child in this country may live a meaningful life, possessing genuine liberty, with the potential for finding true happiness. And I hope you’ll continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with us as we continue our active efforts together in 2018 – and beyond.

Editor’s Note: Read the rest of our year-end newsletter for highlights from our work over the last year.

Benjamin Riley

Founder and Executive Director

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