Preparing urban teachers: What matters to you?
Dr. Rebecca Jacobsen, assistant professor, Teacher Education and UECP faculty coordinator
Theda Gibbs, doctoral student, Teacher Education
Lorena Gutierrez, doctoral student, Teacher Education
John Walcott, doctoral student, Teacher Education
The current focus on the achievement gap and poor graduation rates has highlighted the challenges facing urban schools and their teachers in our nation. In response to these challenges, many universities have established programs designed specifically to prepare teachers for work in urban schools. These programs seek to address concerns about the large number of unqualified teachers in urban schools (Zeichner, 2003) and to prepare teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners (Delpit, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Hilliard, 2002; Tidwell & Thompson, 2009; Zygmunt-Fillwalk & Leitze, 2006), to understand the social context of urban education (Hilliard, 2002; Kincheloe, 2004; Giroux & McLaren, 1996; Liston & Zeichner, ; Weiner, 1993), and to help bridge the cultural divide between many teachers and their students (Sleeter, 2001; Zeichner, 2003).
Michigan State University has joined these efforts through the creation of its Urban Educators Cohort Program (UECP). Incoming students who are interested in urban education may apply to this special program which seeks to prepare prospective urban teachers through a variety of unique experiences. Participants are placed in cohort sections of standard teacher education coursework, are provided with additional coursework with a special focus on urban education (TE291A), participate in extra-curricular activities (workshops, social events, and lectures), and visit a variety of urban schools. Our hope is that students will draw on these experiences to solidify their commitment to urban education and to gain a deeper understanding of the issues and opportunities surrounding teaching and learning in urban communities.
While grounded in practices of good teaching, the relative value of these opportunities is not known. After students complete the two year program, they move into the regular teacher education program. They encounter new knowledge and challenges in their university coursework and as they begin their fieldwork in K-12 classrooms. As they seek to make sense of their coursework and their classroom experiences, we expect that they will draw on the experiences of their two years as members of the UECP cohort. What is unclear, however, is how they draw on these experiences and what experiences prove to be most meaningful to them.
Purpose and Research Question
The purpose of this study, therefore, is to determine what experiences matter most to UECP participants after they complete the initial two years of the program and in what ways they draw on these experiences. Investigating this primary research question will involve also exploring the following questions:
- How do students connect different parts of their UECP experience to their current understanding of urban education issues?
- When confronting uncertainty or challenges in their teacher preparation, what do they most talk about? What is least talked about?
- Which experiences are discussed in greater detail? Which experiences are mentioned in passing?
To study these questions, we will first administer a survey to all third year UECP cohort members. (See attached survey instrument) We are choosing to focus on the FS09 cohort (mostly juniors) for two reasons. First, this group offers a significantly larger sample population than do the previous cohorts (currently in their senior or intern year). Secondly, as the third group to participate in the program, students in this cohort benefitted from changes and refinements based on the first two years of the program. Their experience more closely resembles the current UECP program, and therefore their responses about their participation will be more helpful to us as we seek to understand and improve the experience of future UECP cohorts. The survey will be designed to gather general information about the types of experiences in which the cohort members participated including workshops and social activities offered during their 1st and 2nd years. It will also provide information about participants’ continued commitment to fostering the goals of UECP.
Second, from students who respond to the survey, the research team will choose a stratified random sample of 12 cohort members who will be invited to participate in a 6 week project in which they will respond, via a blog, to specific prompts (see attached prompts) about various scenarios and questions about urban education. The prompts have been aligned with the UECP themes to ensure that we are asking students to respond to ideas that reflect the goals of the program. This alignment is noted in italics on the blog prompt document, which is attached. The sample will be stratified to ensure that the project participants reflect the racial and gender make-up of the entire cohort. Students who are selected will be invited to participate in this project, and additional invitations will be made as necessary to replace those who decline to participate.
In an effort to avoid selection bias, every student in the third year cohort will have the opportunity to complete the survey. Students who complete the survey and participate in the follow-up blog project will be offered a pizza party and a $5 gift card to Sparty’s once their participation is complete. Participants may choose to withdraw at any time without penalization and do not have to answer any questions that pose any discomfort.
Significance and Potential Impact on UECP Program
Our research is intended to contribute to a broader understanding of effective, urban-focused teacher preparation. As teacher education programs throughout the nation seek to meet the challenge of preparing effective teachers for work in urban schools, education scholars need to continually seek new knowledge and practices that will aid this effort. Our study of this specific teacher education program is designed to be a part of this endeavor. In addition, our report will benefit the Teacher Education department and the UECP team at MSU. This project will contribute to our understanding of UECP and the way it is received by the cohort members. Furthermore, this study will help us as we continually seek ways to improve the program and strengthen the experiences of our students.
In early August, all three graduate students and Dr. Rebecca Jacobsen were encouraged to investigate some aspect of the UECP program as part of their coordination and leadership in the program. After discussions with faculty and administrators involved in UECP, we developed a research proposal, which was previewed by the directors of UECP, Dr. Sonya Gunnings-Moton and Dr. Cassandra Book. During the preparation of the proposal, we have been in contact with Dr. Book and Dr. Gunnings-Moton in order to share with them our research ideas, to solicit input regarding the project, and to discuss the potential impact of this study on UECP. We have received favorable feedback concerning the project and encouragement to move ahead with the study.
Timeline of Research Activities:
The proposed timeline of our research activities is as follows:
- Administer survey – February 10-20, 2011
- Identify and recruit blog participants – February 21-28, 2011
- Blog Project with 12 participants – March and April, 2011
- Analyze data – May, 2011
- Prepare report – June, 2011
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