The Toolbox and the Mirror: Reflection and Practice in "Progressive" Teacher Education

By Attwood, Polly; Seale-Collazo, Jimmy | Radical Teacher, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Toolbox and the Mirror: Reflection and Practice in "Progressive" Teacher Education


Attwood, Polly, Seale-Collazo, Jimmy, Radical Teacher


Teacher education programs in the United States send thousands of bright, committed--and mostly young and white--people into the country's public schools each year. In urban schools, the endemic challenges of poverty, immigration, racial discrimination, and/or limited facility with English contribute to new teachers' diminishing expectations and increasing hopelessness about the young people with whom they work: they either leave the classroom, or radically downgrade their initial expectations of contributing to social change. As "progressive" teacher educators, we hope all teachers--and especially those who will teach the poor and working-class students, many of them students of color, to whom the euphemism "urban" so typically refers -- will enter the teaching profession with understandings and habits of mind and spirit that will allow them to resist those pressures. However, the structure of teacher education seems to leave student teachers especially vulnerable to them, and all the more so when interns fi nd themselves in "urban" schools: student teachers are typically isolated, often misled into believing that curricular or pedagogical reforms will make dramatic improvements in the U.S. educational system, and almost never helped to examine the ways in which their own selves are headed for a collision with the oppressive reality of public schooling.

In this article, we want to share some of the puzzles we have encountered in trying to be "progressive" teacher educators in an urban teacher education program; our argument is that although beginning teachers understandably clamor for a "toolkit" of teaching techniques to help them survive one of the most difficult professions in (post)modern society, what they most need is a mirror: to begin to see, and understand, the social location of their selves as teachers, in relation to the challenges they are beginning to face, and the young people they hope to teach. Our hope is that this article, and this issue, may open new spaces and possible paths for these questions to become part of a wider dialogue between universities and schools, and among the people--"progressive" or otherwise--who have chosen to make these institutions the place where our vocations are made concrete.

WHO ARE WE: OUR BACKGROUNDS, EXPERIENCES AND INTELLECTUAL FAMILIES

We have been involved with the teacher education program at one elite U.S. university for two years. Each of us taught high school social studies for twelve years: Polly in Massachusetts, Jimmy in Puerto Rico and California. We are now colleagues in our third year of a doctoral program in education. During 200 1-02, the university where we are doctoral students hired us as "advisors," replacing the traditional, relatively detached "university supervisor" role with a much closer relationship, based on weekly meetings with the student teachers in small groups, called "advisories," and biweekly observations and individual conferences.' One of our primary responsibilities is to promote "reflective practice" among our advisees, who are all doing their student teaching at the site that is widely acknowledged to be the "most urban" of the ones available to this year's cohort.

Our understandings have developed out of work with two mentors whom we want to recognize: Professors Eileen de los Reyes and Margo Okazawa-Rey, whose pedagogical and theoretical frameworks have informed our practice as section leaders and advisors to beginning teachers over the past two years. As students of critical theory studying with Eileen de los Reyes, we each deepened our understandings of critical theory and the ways it informs our teaching practice with high school students and beginning teachers. We both draw on the work of Marx, Freire, Gramsci, Foucault and the Frankfurt School, as well as more recent intellectuals such as Cornel West, bell hooks, Myles Horton, Maxine Greene, Henry Giroux, Sharon Welch. These thinkers and activists offer important insights into the need for critiquing dominant ideologies and oppressive practices present in schools as well as for envisioning and enacting possibilities for social and political change. …

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