Teaching Advocacy to Preservice Students More Important Now than Ever
AACTE Responds to COVID-19
Last May on Capitol Hill, a congressman sat in a corner of his office, while nine of my students, his congressional aide, and I sat in a circle around him. My students, all preservice teachers, shared story-after-story from their classrooms, trying to illustrate how tough it is to be a teacher. With grace and conviction, they explained how in the course of their student teaching, they realized there is still more they need to learn in order to be able to do their jobs well. They looked the Congressman in the eyes and told him that without funding for Title II and a federal commitment to developing them as professionals, they were not sure that they would be equipped to stay in the field, much less teach in the congressional representative’s state, since it’s a state that allocates almost nothing for teacher development.
As we left our meeting, I followed behind my students and listened to them debrief what they just experienced. They walked proudly down the hallway, heads held high, and recapped all of the best points they made, applauding each other for their answers to the congressman’s questions. They were convinced that he really heard them. In that moment, I was reminded of the time I first felt the thrill and power of collective action and appreciated the power of my voice to effect change. I wasn’t nearly as young as these educators. They have a head start. It was a beautiful sight.
Now here it is almost a year later, under incredibly trying circumstances in the world of education, and that memory of educator empowerment is feeding my soul. Don’t get me wrong, this coronavirus pandemic and its impacts are awful. However, I find refuge in that memory because it is symbolic of what is happening around the country. Educators are speaking up about the needs of their students, schools, and districts as legislators make rapid decisions about schooling and instruction and expect them to quickly adapt. In the wake of an international health crisis, families and especially legislators are realizing how much work teaching is, and just how many roles schools and educators serve. Educator preparation programs are being forced to consider new and creative modes of preparing teachers; I’ve witnessed virtual student teaching for the first time ever!
This is the time to double down on explicitly teaching our preservice teachers advocacy skills. While I am confident the nine students who spoke to their congressional representative last May have the skills to speak up during this crisis, I want to make sure all of my students have those skills as well. I am retooling all of my courses to include opportunities for advocacy, and my colleagues are doing the same. Even though advocacy is not often a skill included on the evaluations of student teachers, it is an essential one for teachers’ professionalization, especially as more teachers are banding together to demand better working conditions, resources, compensation, and in recent weeks, equitable online learning opportunities for their students.
We are witnessing just how much collective action matters in education. We must now rethink how we are preparing teachers. As this national crisis is demonstrating, preservice teachers should be empowered and prepared to effect change in their schools, districts, and states. So consider this a call to action for all educator preparation programs. If we want public education in this country to thrive, then we must teach future educators to be advocates.
Allison Blosser is assistant professor of education and program coordinator, education studies at Highpoint University.