I was once again thrilled to attend the AERA conference this past week. It is such a remarkable opportunity- so many knowledgeable and committed educators from around the world. Quite inspiring. At the conference this year, one consistent theme emerged in the sessions I attended: Know your students. One particular study in a session entitled Preparing Preservice Teachers to Teach for Social Justice, resonated with me quite profoundly. The study was called Candidate Change in a Community -Engaged Teacher Education Program and was led by Patricia Clarke from Ball State University. Patricia maintained, ” a good teacher must understand the context in which a child lives grows and learns.”
Her team conducted a study which examined: preservice teacher candidates’ attitudes towards diversity and community, and how they changed over the course of a semester-long community-engaged experience. As teacher candidates came to know the community in which they were working, their expressed attitudes and beliefs changed from explicit statements of bias and stereotype to ones that sought community involvement and social action.
This teacher education program at Ball University emphasized community involvement by holding classes in local community centers (as opposed to the university). Student teachers also attended the local church on Sundays to be part of the community gatherings. The teacher educators arranged for “community ambassadors” to welcome the student teachers to their neighborhood and guide the student teachers throughout their weeks in the school. The results were remarkable. The student teachers moved from “being nervous” and “afraid” in the neighborhood to feeling like a community member.
Patricia closed her session with a sweet anecdote shared by one of her student teachers, which I will share with you here. The student teacher was working in a class of grade two students and asked the children to share the markers. She handed the basket of markers to the child beside her who seemed a bit confused. Remembering what she had experienced the previous Sunday when she attended the community church with the children, she said, “pass the basket like you do at church.” The child nodded, and said “Hallelujah!” all the of the children immediately responded with “Praise be the Lord!” and they promptly passed the basket of markers around the circle. The student teacher was somewhat surprised by the response, but because of her inclusion in the community completely understood why the children responded they way they did. She smiled, nodded, and continued on with the lesson.
The commitment of the teacher educators in this program was outstanding and quite inspirational. I sincerely hope teacher education programs worldwide can learn from not only this study, but the model of teacher education Ball University has implemented.