The COVID-19 pandemic shed a harsh light on the systemic inequities in schools and communities. If we believe schools are the epicenter to dismantle racism and inequities, then we must examine our role as teacher educators to address these issues of inequality. How can we use this inflection point to positively and substantively change educator preparation?
Both at the system level and on individual campuses, colleges of education must ensure that programs prepare graduates to enter the teaching profession ready to advocate for and implement racial and social justice and advance the transformation of inequitable structures in schools. The pandemic has opened a window into the complexities of the teaching and learning process, which has resulted in greater collaboration among educators and families. As we move forward, we must ensure that candidates’ dispositions reflect and respect the importance of collaboration with students, families, and educational colleagues.
To prepare all our candidates to be culturally responsive educators and change agents, we must deeply examine the content and clinical experiences our programs provide. At California State University (CSU), our recent work with the New Generators of Educators Initiative has provided many valuable lessons regarding the importance of Educator preparation programs (EPPs) and districts mutually developing and supporting high quality clinical placements. The pandemic also has caused us to reexamine clinical placements to ensure they are supportive environments where our candidates, especially candidates of color, can learn and thrive.
EPPs must persist in advancing work at the system level to support the development of programs to recruit, prepare, and retain teachers of color, with a specific focus on Black men. Research shows the substantial and unique impact that teachers of color have upon both students of color and other students. For Black students, having just one Black teacher in the primary grades reduces their probability of dropping out of school later in life. CSU’s faculty and administrators have developed innovative approaches to recruit teachers of color, including supporting high school students in accessing dual-enrollment classes, helping paraprofessionals work towards their teaching certificate, and collaborating with our community college partners to recruit and prepare teachers.
Innovation is often accelerated during times of crisis, and a sharp focus on the inequities that exist in our schools and communities provides an opportunity for colleges of education to intensify the work related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In support of this premise, a recent report by the Learning Policy Institute (2021) recommends several policy considerations. Of the six recommendations, three may be opportunities for teacher education in particular: Sustaining and deepening investments in high-retention preparation pathways, including teacher residencies; providing support to teacher candidates through financial aid including scholarships; and streamlining licensure requirements, with a particular focus on alternative methods to assess basic skills and subject matter competence.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been written about learning loss for PK-12 students. While a complete picture of the impact is still emerging, what is clear is that the pandemic has differentially impacted students of color. These students have not always had access to adequate computing devices and stable internet connectivity. Nor have they experienced consistent high-quality distance and blended learning models. As students return to schools, another concern is to ensure that social and emotional learning (SEL) is integrated into the school culture to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on students social, emotional, and academic well-being.
As we begin to see the light at the end of this very dark tunnel, I am mindful that we cannot, we must not, return to normal, as normal was not working for far too many students. There are many lessons learned this past year and perhaps even a few “silver linings.” As a field, we must re-think how we assess candidates for admission to programs; recruit, prepare, and retain teachers of color; structure supportive clinical placements; expand learning time including summer and afterschool opportunities; collaborate closer with family members; and attend to the social emotional needs of all children and youth. My hope is that we can use these lessons and others to ensure equity and excellence for all students.
Dr. Marquita Grenot-Scheyer is the assistant vice chancellor for educator preparation and public school programs at California State University, and a member of the board of directors at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE).