Effective teacher preparation includes a curriculum that values and prioritizes community. The mantra, “it all starts with community,” undergirds the NYU Teacher Residency.
Teacher residents experience this approach immediately in their summer classes. The first modules examine two questions: “Who are we?” and “Where do we learn and teach?” This initial course work sets the stage for residents to teach from community-centered and culturally sustaining perspectives.
NYU Steinhardt faculty expanded upon what this commitment to community means in practice.
1. Why is it important that these modules are the first that teacher residents encounter in the program?
Diana Turk, Director of Teacher Education at NYU Steinhardt, Vice Chair, Department of Teaching and Learning; Co-Director, NYU Teacher Residency: Relationships are the foundation of all meaningful teaching and learning. Genuine learning happens only when teachers truly know and understand their students, including students’ strengths, assets, backgrounds, and previous knowledge, and then take the time to build upon these to make teaching powerful and connected.
Modules 1-2 address the questions, “Who are we?” and “Where do we learn and teach?” because only by answering these questions can we truly understand who we are in relation to the students we seek to teach and learn alongside.
Teacher residents ask themselves: “Who am I as a person? Who am I as a teacher? What are my identities and how do those intersect? What are my cultural norms and expectations? What communities do I belong to? And, how do these relate to the people, identities, communities, and cultures I’m engaging with in my residency space?”
Addressing these questions helps situate residents right from the start as members of their school communities and helps them see themselves as fully engaged and invested in the success of the school, students, and communities.
2. How do residents learn the skills, experiences, and knowledge that students bring to school?
Frank Pignatosi, Residency Director, New York, NY; Clinical Assistant Professor: These initial two modules introduce the importance of learner identities and learner communities.
An assigned reading by L.C. Moll, et al, Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms explores the concept that learners are not empty vessels and, instead, that they come to school with a rich body of knowledge gathered through personal, family, and community experiences. The text also challenges residents to think about parent-teacher and parent-school relationships beyond simple communication of events and student conferences.
This book connects with another assigned text, by Django Paris, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy: A Needed Change in Stance, Terminology, and Practice that goes beyond relating community culture to curriculum and emphasizes the importance of a pedagogy that builds upon community as curriculum. Using the lessons they learn, teacher residents then craft a family survey that they use as a model to access community culture and create a video where they introduce themselves to students and families.
3. What does it mean to “unpack teacher privilege,” and why is this essential as one of the first lessons?
Annaly Babb-Guerra, Residency Director, Upstate NY Capital Region (Albany); Visiting Assistant Professor: Unpacking teacher privilege means to be aware of the ways in which your multiple identities do or do not grant you privileges. Certain identities confer benefits. For teachers to understand and push back against inequities in education, they need to interrogate their privilege. This is an essential first step to being an anti-racist, culturally competent teacher.
During these initial classes, residents consider how their identities do or do not privilege them; how those privileges may lead to certain assumptions, views, and actions; and how they can use their privilege to challenge systems of oppression.
4. What activities do teacher residents participate in to learn about the local community?
Frank Pignatosi: There are a series of readings in Modules 1-2 that specifically target the importance of teachers to learn from, learn about, and engage with communities. The literature examines partnerships between teacher education programs and community organizations. It also introduces personal narratives of teachers that describe how spending time in local communities has provided them with a better understanding of culturally relevant pedagogy.
Residents also complete a Community Walk project where they walk the neighborhood surrounding the school, identify locations of aggregation, and interview locals. Residents then make connections from what they learn to teaching ideas in their content area.
5. What do residents learn about the historical contexts and policies that have shaped learning environments?
Beth McDonald, Clinical Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning: In week five, residents read excerpts from Jean Anyon’s book, Radical Possibilities: Public Policy, Urban Education, and a New Social Movement. In the selected text sections, residents learn how housing policies sustain segregation within the schools. Other policies referred to include the ways in which public transit decisions impact the nature of urban communities and how federal policies related to the recession of 2008 resulted in a significant loss of jobs.
Another major policy discussed during this course work is specific to New York: the Dignity for All Students Act (2012). This mandates professional development for all educators related to bullying. The state law lays out the rules regarding the rights and responsibilities of educators and students when it comes to incidents of bullying or other forms of intimidation or discrimination.
6. How are residents equipped from these early courses to identify positive learning contexts?
Frank Pignatosi: There is a strong focus on the learner identity and learner community. One of the components of the Community Walk project is to explore how residents can bring the knowledge acquired about the community into specific content-based teaching ideas. Residents begin to understand the theory and the policy expectations about building learning environments that are inclusive of emergent bilinguals and students with disabilities. And, even more so, how to purposefully use diverse abilities and learning modalities toward a Universal Design for Learning approach.
Residents begin to understand what it means to support and create high expectations for all students. This sets the stage for future course work on a range of topics, including assessment. If you have high expectations for your students and you believe that your students can rise to those, how do you assess them aligned to the high expectations? Even your assessments have to be equity-based and mindful.