When I first became an educator, I taught secondary Mathematics and Physics to high school students in the largest district in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and in a much smaller school system in the suburbs. I first worked with low-performing and economically disadvantaged students and later in an environment with all talented and gifted students. Once I decided to move beyond the classroom and into a role as instructional coach, I began mentoring teachers and delivering professional development training. With this background as both an urban educator and teacher leader, I had a close-up opportunity to see the problems that are pervasive in K-12 education. Having served as a District administrator for 9 years, I now have a bird’s eye perspective of those problems as well as potential strategies for success, particularly, in an urban setting.
I am concerned about the fact that, in the 15 years that I’ve been in this field, we have not witnessed more dramatic changes in urban school systems in addressing issues such as the culture of poverty, achievement gaps, dropout rates, and the scarcity of funding and resources. The problem that is most salient to me is the lack of effective educator preparedness. I have made several observations regarding teachers’ general areas of weakness. Some difficulties include: recognizing and addressing student’s social and emotional needs in the context of their content area; developing learning experiences designed to expose student thinking in a culturally diverse classroom; using culturally responsive teaching methods; and recognizing and addressing the needs of students of poverty.
Relatively few teacher education programs concentrate on urban teacher preparation. Moreover, high-quality educators are more likely to work in affluent, suburban school systems than other places, leaving a deficit number of highly skilled educators to serve high-need, urban students. A natural consequence of this produces a significant number of urban school students with learning gaps and low standardized test scores. This leads me to wonder how school leaders can facilitate best practices that meet the needs of their students. From an administrator’s view, I clearly see the need for systemic investment in different models of teacher development. Specifically, I am interested in how models of educational coaching could be utilized to scale up urban teachers’ expertise and, thereby, increase the achievement of students in high-need urban schools and close educational divides.
How Preparation Programs Can Prepare New Teachers for Success in Urban Schools
In addition to including more and specific training about how to work effectively in urban settings, programs should be sure to include certain components in the curriculum. In particular, programs should place a heavy emphasis on social and emotional learning methods, seamlessly connecting social teaching strategies with instructional teaching strategies. Training programs should clarify for teachers how to develop culturally rich learning experiences that, rather than alienate students, create an inclusive environment that takes into account the diverse perspectives of urban students. Teacher preparation programs need to elucidate brain-based research regarding the impact of poverty on learning and shed light on how teachers can address the learning differences of students of poverty with effective lesson design.
One example of a program that is on the right track is Urban Teachers in the Baltimore/D.C. area. It uses an evidence-based approach to guide the structure of their program, requiring that students engage in methods-related coursework (e.g., writing lesson plans, reviewing actual district curricula), participate in a variety of quality and time-intensive practical experiences in school settings like ones in which they want to work, and instructional coaching that involves self-reflection and data collection. Their ideas look promising, and I would love to see more programs take similar approaches to address teacher preparation.
Feel free to comment below about programs you believe are innovative about preparing teachers for work in urban education.