Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Research for High-Quality Urban Teaching: Defining It, Developing It, Assessing It

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Research for High-Quality Urban Teaching: Defining It, Developing It, Assessing It

Article excerpt

Policy makers and school district administrators have responded to the current teacher shortage with a characteristic focus on the short run. Popular responses include Peace Corps-like recruitment strategies to persuade college graduates to teach for a year or two on alternative or emergency certification. To compensate for the shortcomings of an underprepared teaching staff, policy makers have adopted highly prescriptive, "teacherproof" curricula. These "solutions" accomplish little in the short run and will diminish the capacity of the teaching force for decades to come.

Nowhere has the rush to boost supply and de-skill teaching been more acutely felt than in urban schools. The tight labor market for teachers places low-resourced, urban districts at a competitive disadvantage relative to better resourced suburban districts. Although periodic economic downturns may temporarily heighten interest in teaching jobs, historically, this easing of pressure has not had a lasting impact on the supply of qualified teachers in urban schools. Hence, urban students who face the challenges of poverty, immigration, limited facility with English, and/or racial discrimination have the least access to a qualified teaching force.

Often overlooked by short-term policy initiatives is that the shortage of qualified urban teachers is fueled at least as much by high rates of teacher turnover and attrition as it is by insufficient numbers of qualified people being attracted to teaching. Therefore, in addition to increasing the supply of new teachers, we must learn what makes teaching in urban schools a fulfilling career and offer policy solutions to enact that knowledge. We have early indications that a key to such career satisfaction and longevity lies in creating cadres of urban teachers who have the technical, collegial, and political support required to have an impact on the quality of students' lives in classrooms and communities. Data about our University of California, Los Angeles, graduates, for example, suggest that they are remaining in classrooms longer than most new teachers precisely because of such support (Quartz & TEP Research Group, under review).

Longer term solutions to the crisis in teaching require addressing a more broadly defined and intertwined program of research on urban teacher competency, teacher recruitment, and career longevity.


Through our experience crafting a program of teacher education that promotes social justice for urban schools, we have learned that urban teachers need more than the generic teaching competencies articulated by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). They need to understand local urban cultures, the urban political economy, the bureaucratic structure of urban schools, and the community and social service support networks serving urban centers. They need skills to draw on and develop urban youth literacies across the academic content areas, promote college access for first-generation college goers, build social capital across schools and community organizations, and create alliances and engage in joint work with other reform-minded teachers.

We have come to see competent urban teachers simultaneously as skilled classroom practitioners and as public intellectuals who work for educational equity and access through multiple forms of democratic participation. In urban schools, competence cannot be parsed into teacher skills and social action. An effective urban teacher cannot be skilled in the classroom but lack skills and commitment to equity, access, and democratic participation. Likewise, if one is to be a teacher, a deep caring and democratic commitment must be accompanied by highly developed subject matter and pedagogical skills. Such teachers are agents of fundamental change, helping to shape urban educational contexts--in and out of school--where being a good teacher means that people are accountable to each other, express themselves authentically, and negotiate common understandings that support collective action. …

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