This interview features insights from the JTE article, “Change Happens Beyond the Comfort Zone,” by Kathleen Riley and Kathryn Solic. The article is featured in the March/April issue of JTE; you can read the article by going to this link.
Q. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?
We were motivated to pursue this particular research topic by several factors in our context. First, we recognized that Philadelphia has a rich and vibrant history of grassroots educator and youth activism that continues to be active today, and we wanted to explore how our teacher-candidates would interact with and learn from their participation with these communities. Second, we had encountered a critical mass of teacher-candidates in our courses who had shared a strong desire to prepare for teaching careers in the city, and expressed a passionate interest in opportunities to pursue that desire during their preparation program. Third, we recognized the need for more programming that would support preparation for urban contexts and social justice teaching and decided to act beyond our course structures to offer that programming.
Q. Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?
Yes. The School District of Philadelphia offers an interesting juxtaposition for our pre-service teachers and our research. On one hand, the district has begun hiring again, (after a series of deep funding cuts, layoffs, and a hiring freeze) and is a viable career option for our graduates given our proximity. On the other hand, teachers have been working without a contract in Philadelphia for four years and the district has been under control of a non-local, non-elected board since 2001. In addition, the privatization movement and charter school sector are active in this particular educational landscape as well. We wanted to provide pre-service teachers with a chance to better understand the structural inequality in which the School District of Philadelphia was situated and engage with educators and organizers who were addressing these issues head-on.
Q. What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?
We weren’t able to observe our fellows directly in all of our fellowship spaces. For example, fellows selected and attended teacher inquiry community meetings on their own, and we weren’t always there in those moments to see what was happening. We learned a great deal from how they unpacked those experiences during on-campus group meetings, but we continue to negotiate tensions about how to collect rich data within spaces beyond those meetings.
Q.Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?
We weren’t able to address the themes that were beginning to emerge from the specific types of inquiries our fellows were pursuing during the fellowship. For example, many of our fellows raised questions related to issues of race and racism, and the tensions inherent with being a white teacher working in non-white communities and schools. We hope to share more on this topic in future articles.
Q.What current areas of research are you pursuing?
We are continuing to research the work of the Urban Education Fellowship, and are currently following fellowship graduates as they begin their teaching careers in urban classrooms. We are excited to learn how the spaces of the fellowship might have impacted their teaching lives. We are also interested in further inquiry into a concept that we are calling “collective mentorship.” We believe that these teacher organizations are serving as a type of mentor to our teacher-candidates, just as when they work with individual mentor teachers in classroom placements.
Q.What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?
One new challenge we encountered is how to best prepare teachers for roles beyond the classroom. For example, our university teacher preparation programs have a strong focus on technical aspects of pedagogy, assessment, and instruction. Our fellows named that learning about what teachers can do as members of larger communities and organizations was new for them as a result of this specific experience. This has us thinking a lot about what it means to prepare teachers to be political actors, community agents, and social activists.
Q.What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?
Be flexible and persistent. This project was borne out of a funding opportunity that we had originally pursued for an entirely different purpose. Also, partnership is such a valuable scholarly tool. We’re both incredibly grateful and excited for the opportunity to be research partners.
You can reach the authors at:
Kathleen Riley – KRiley@wcupa.edu
Kathryn Solic – KSolic@wcupa.edu