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Educators and Social Responsibility: What This Means to Informed Citizenry

Dr. Lynn M. GagnoneEducators and students are facing unprecedented times. The challenges both students and their teachers confront today vastly affects the efficacy of even the best educator’s efforts to create and foster students’ zeal for learning and to contribute to the society they will one day shape. Yet, educators must stay committed to fulfilling their social responsibility now more than ever before.

What Should Social Responsibility Look Like in the Teaching Profession?

This varies from educator to educator, so the answer to this question is complicated and multi-faceted.

Education is about opening minds, creating new knowledge. It is an expansive endeavor. In theory, education should provide us with the understanding and capacity of what it means to be a citizen of this nation and the world. Our nation’s founders understood the importance of an educated citizenry. Today, I believe that we need educators to support both a students’ academic development and citizen development.

Citizen development includes social responsibility. We as educators need to develop and establish a climate of social responsibility not only for our students, but for our teachers and the educator preparation field.

Today’s teachers face unique hurdles. From race related issues, to socio-economic challenges, to  differences in linguistic and cultural backgrounds, all of these student variables present an unambiguous trial for teachers and educators at every level. The question presents itself: “How can we successfully teach and reach all students, from all backgrounds, while fostering a desire for increased social responsibility and awareness within them?”

Each generation produces very different students. Students today are complex and reflect the complexity of our society. They have different needs, they have different backgrounds, and they require different approaches to teaching and learning.

That said, the challenge we now face is how to create expansive curiosity about who we are teaching and what brings them to education, while taking into account their academics and development as citizens. It starts in the classroom. How they care for one another in the classroom can dictate how they function in and care for their respective communities.

This forces me to reflect upon how many children were tragically killed in the most recent mass shooting in El Paso, TX. It seems we are taking our inability to be a great nation out on our children. They are our greatest accomplishment, and we need to protect them. We achieve that through caring and education, not through arming teachers. Our social responsibility to our children starts in the classroom, but goes well beyond those walls. We have an obligation to them and the communities they will one day serve.

Promoting Social Responsibility for Educators

AACTE was founded to support the education of teachers for our public schools. Our roots are in social responsibility, and we continue to prepare our teachers to serve the public good. Our schools are challenged daily by any number of circumstances due to the complexity of the children we instruct and the society in which we exist. Social responsibility is how we prepare our teacher candidates to understand and work effectively with the students entering the academic ecosystem. As AACTE begins its quest of disrupting inequities and fostering social responsibility, I can say that we are intensely devoted to outreach and advocacy. We strive to teach democracy and to transform it. We are not only preparing teachers; we are educating the educators.

More Engaged Students and Teachers = More Engaged Citizens

An educated citizenry is an engaged citizenry. This country was founded on the importance of education and the contributions of many. Our roots in democracy should be engrained and built into the walls and foundation of the educational system.

We have a climate that is changing rapidly—countries engaged in civil war abroad while we face the harsh reality of divisiveness and polarization in our country. Educators have the power to design and create the capacity in individuals to see the world more broadly. In doing so, we foster and promote social responsibility. From my perspective, what we do as we prepare educators or teach candidates is emphasize learning and the impact on the individual; never forgetting about that individual’s impact on the society.

It is crucial for educators to implement thorough practices that create safe, thoughtful, and equitable classrooms to ensure young people succeed in school and life. From there, they can use the tools we equip them with to help shape a more democratic, just, and inclusive world.

Practical Applications for Fostering Social Responsibility

As educators, we need to offer the chance at a well-rounded life for all students. It is our job to motivate with confidence. Teaching life skills is as essential as instructing students about their responsibility to citizenry.

AACTE prides itself as a leader within the education ecosystem. For years, we have brought a voice to issues that matter. We have advocated for voting and taking advantage of that right as a U.S. citizen. We encourage people to speak with understanding and compassion about what they would like to see changed in the world for the better. AACTE is a staunch supporter of individuals’ rights to protest and to be part of social action. We have seen teachers strike for better compensation, demonstrating their commitment to activism and social responsibility. AACTE calls upon its members to engage with and inform federal, state, and local legislators about the important role education plays in our society and how it should be considered as such. Our educators strive to support teacher preparation through the policy work we do while working to encourage the recruitment and retention of students of color.  

The bottom line? We will continue to strive for equity, fairness, and inclusion so that all students and educators can carry out a lifelong legacy of community awareness and acceptance.

 Lynn M. Gangone is the president and chief executive officer at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).

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Lynn M. Gangone

President and CEO, AACTE