Preparing Our New Teachers: A Social Justice Perspective

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UntitledAs we head into the beginning of a new school year, many universities and colleges are welcoming new students into their teacher preparation programs. Here at the University of San Diego (USD), we are doing the same. As we prepare to support new and aspiring teachers to successfully enter the teaching profession, I can’t help but reflect on my own teacher preparation experience 10 years ago and some of the critical experiences and insights I gained that still resonate with me today.

I graduated from UCLA’s Urban TeachLA Credential Program and was supported to be a social justice educator. We embraced the belief that our students and families come with 9780791443224_lmany assets and cultural knowledge. We were encouraged and pushed to think critically about our role in the classroom, bridge relationships with students and families, and organize our curriculum around our students. It was during this time I read a book called Subtractive Schooling by Dr. Angela Valenzuela. This book was instrumental in shaping my understanding of school culture, the importance of student-teacher relationships, and the way in which we teach students.

You see, the whole notion of subtractive schooling is that our schools take away or subtract from our students’ cultures, identities, languages, and communities, particularly our students from non-dominant communities. By teaching in ways that strip students of their culture and language and devalue the importance of education in their communities, we take away from their identities and create inauthentic school experiences. For teachers who are unfamiliar with their students’ communities and cultures, this can further create a boundary that challenges the development of  positive, healthy, and caring relationships. When schools are organized around deep, authentic relationships and caring dispositions, regardless of what students may be encountering or expressing, students will respond and feel cared for.

Ten years later, I still rely on this book to guide the way I think about education. I love that students in our Master’s and credentialing program (both in person and online) at the USD are still asked to read it in their Multicultural and Philosophical Foundations in Education course, which I have been fortunate to teach since 2013.

Lately, I’ve been re-energized to reflect on teacher preparation, subtractive schooling, and social justice because of a new book called Growing Critically Conscious Teachers: A Growing Critically Conscious TsSocial Justice Curriculum for Educators of Latino/a Youth which focuses on approaches to teacher preparation that are culturally responsive, critical, and support teachers of Latino/a youth specifically, but also addresses the needs of all our youth. The newly-released book is edited by Dr. Valenzuela and written by the National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Report. I love that the book offers concrete, practical, and thought-provoking examples of activities, projects, and assignments that educators can use for teachers in their courses.

Without books such as Subtractive Schooling and Growing Critically Conscious Teachers to support my thinking, reflection, and social justice philosophy, I would not be able to continue my efforts even today to support new teachers and other educators working in this field. Thus, I continue to ask those of us in teacher preparation the following:

  1. How do we facilitate learning experiences in which new teachers explore their beliefs and values about students and families?
  2. How do we create opportunities for new teachers to understand the significance of social justice and equity-minded teaching practices as they prepare to work with students from diverse cultures, race, languages, and economic backgrounds?
  3. How do we support new teachers to develop positive and asset-minded perspectives of students and communities, particularly our students from non-dominant communities?
  4. How do we help our new teachers learn how to create authentic, caring relationships with students?

My prior teaching experiences with youth in Los Angeles and Boston still remain the most significant and best experiences I’ve ever had. It is for this reason that I am motivated to work with teachers who are just starting out in their careers in education. Best of luck to all of us preparing to be the best we can for our youth. They depend on us.

Veronica new
Veronica Garza, PhD
Assistant Director of Research, MTLC
Follow me on Twitter: @veronica_mtlc

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