Chair, AACTE Board of Directors, and Dean, College of Education and Social Services, University of Vermont
On December 5, the world lost one of the more important leaders of all time, Nelson Mandela.
Mandela epitomized what many in U.S. educator preparation programs hope to instill in our education leaders and teachers—a strong understanding of and commitment to social justice. Unfortunately, although we believe that all children and youth should receive a high-quality education and be treated with dignity and respect in the classroom, this ideal is in sharp contrast to reality.
Far too many of our children and youth, especially those in urban communities, are in classrooms with teachers who are underprepared or simply not equipped to teach those they perceive as different. Even as many of our preparation programs are implementing practices that limit “admission” to the field of teaching to those most ready to enter the classroom after rigorous study and strong clinical practice, the different pathways to the profession that some states have put into place may lead to an increase rather than a decrease in the achievement gap that currently exists between children and youth of different classes and races.
Note: This op-ed was submitted to The New York Times but was not published.
A recent column by Bill Keller in The New York Times, “An Industry of Mediocrity,” highlighted a 2005 report by the well-respected Arthur Levine that concluded that the programs that prepare our nation’s educators “range from inadequate to appalling” and set the premise that the profession is a “contended cartel” of low-quality programs that should “feel threatened.” As leaders of AACTE, we view Mr. Keller’s column not as a threat but as an opportunity to do what we do best: educate.
As I witnessed this summer’s commemorative 50th anniversary celebrations of major U.S. civil rights events, I was reminded of my personal experiences from those times—and thought in particular of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ruby Archie.
My city, Danville (VA), was one of the last in the country to fully desegregate its elementary and secondary schools. Before its desegregation, Danville had one high school for White students and another one for Black students. My first day at the consolidated high school is one that I will never forget. My Black classmates and I were met at the entrance of the school by police officers, belts off and buckles down and at the ready, holding dogs tethered to a leash. As our first day progressed and tension remained high, all Black students were sent to the gym and the doors closed behind us. Mrs. Archie forced her way into the gym and made it clear that none of us would remain in that gym without her, our teacher, present. She cared and was willing to risk her employment to protect us.