There are four main reasons behind our goal of having all SUNY Oswego education majors have at least one substantial experience in an urban school.
1. It will broaden your personal and professional horizons.
2. It will enhance your understanding of schooling
and your role as a teacher.
3. It will make a contribution to urban schools,
teachers, and children.
4. It will help you to understand why our
School of Education has made a commitment to
teaching for social justice.
Even if you are a Education major who comes from an urban community, your understanding will be expanded when you participate in our urban education field placements.
BROADENED HORIZONS. Most of our education majors come from suburban, small town, or rural communities. Most plan to return to those communities (or settings very much like them) when they teach. Of course, with these kinds of backgrounds and plans, it is easy to think that all schools are very much like the ones we came from. This is especially true if so many of your classmates have experienced schools in similar ways.
We are not satisfied having our students leave our programs with such a limited view of communities and schools. We have a 140 year history at SUNY Oswego, of preparing teachers to travel all over this country, and the world, learning more, and sharing the knowledge they have developed. With this legacy in mind, we want to prepare our students as completely as possible. This means arranging for you to experience many different schools and school communities, including urban schools.
Closely linked to these school experiences is a past in which you have done very little, if any travel, to urban areas. Most of our majors have not visited urban communities, like Syracuse, Rochester, or New York City. Even those who have gone to these cities, have usually only spent time shopping, going to one show, or attending a sports event. The only knowledge we have about urban communities (and schools) is what we have seen in movies, or the news. These media images are often distorted and focused on only the dangerous, troublesome examples (that's why they make it into the news, right?).
I had a student who was concerned about traveling from Oswego to Syracuse to participate in a field placement there. After listening to my encouraging comments, she said, "Ok, Dr. Russo, I'm willing to go to a Syracuse school. But could you give me directions so that I don't have to drive on any of those highways!" Fortunately, this student took the chance, experienced the highways, and had a wonderful experience in a Syracuse school. Her experiences we so good in fact that later that year, when she had the chance to try out a New York City school through our Summer in the City program, she jumped at it. Where ever this young woman decides to teach, we expect that she will be more likely to encourage her colleagues and her students to visit urban areas and learn about the richness they have to offer.
We expect that after traveling to the cities, working in them closely with teachers and students, our students will have a greater willingness to travel to urban areas, learn from them, and make a contribution. Urban communities have a much richer, more diverse offering of the arts, cultural events, sporting events, food, bookstores, and people than the typical mono-cultural regions that most of our students come from.
THE ROLE OF TEACHERS. The limited urban experiences of our students also result in limited views of the relationships between: specialists and classroom teachers, schools and communities, schools and parents, children and their communities, community resources and schools, different cultural groups within a school community, schools and teachers unions, and schools and community agencies. For example, our students visiting urban schools have been surprised to find very different assumptions about teachers' planning times, before and after school student events, communicating with parents, professional development opportunities, and many more other issues.
When you work in an urban school you develop a much broader and deeper understanding of how these relationships can or should operate, and how teachers' roles change with the community within which the school is located. Once our pre-teachers gain this awareness of how different schools can be, they are much more likely to quickly adjust to the roles they will be expected to play, and to take advantage of community resources where ever they find themselves teaching.
CONTRIBUTING TO URBAN SCHOOLS. We begin with the assumption that no relationship can be worthwhile if it is one-sided. Whether it is an interpersonal relationship between two people, a professional relationship between colleagues, a relationship between teacher and student, or a field placement experience between pre-teacher and a classroom (or school), it can not be valuable unless both parties are benefiting. Any relationship where only one party is benefiting is nothing more than exploitation. In the SUNY Oswego School of Education, we are interested in building meaningful collaborative relationships between our pre-teachers and the schools.
Like all schools, our urban school partners are filled with children who can use help learning and growing. Urban schools in New York State have a history of not having enough resources to meet the needs of communities with high levels of poverty, mobility, and immigrants whose first language is not English. Urban school students and teachers can benefit from the additional assistance that our pre-teachers can provide during their field placement experiences. In return, our pre-teachers can learn a tremendous amount about schooling and their roles as teachers.
TEACHING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. When our pre-teachers come from homogenous communities where it seems as though everyone has the same benefits, and everyone has the same opportunities, it may be hard to understand why our School of Education has made such a strong commitment to teaching for social justice. After all, my students ask, haven't we as a country improved tremendously in terms of fairness to women, people of color, people with disabilities, people in poverty, and people from different social-cultural groups like gays and lesbians?
In the isolation of rural communities, and the (apparent) wealth of the suburbs, differences in wealth, gender, or physical ability may be hidden or minimized. Most of these non-urban communities are predominately European, Christian, and relatively stable from year to year. In these circumstances our discussion about teaching for social justice retires politely to the background of our attention.
In contrast, life in urban communities is tremendously dynamic and diverse. The limited resources can not address or hide the needs that arise from such a dynamic and diverse setting. As a result, issues and inequities of race, class, gender, (dis)ability, religion, and sexuality are often much more apparent to the casual observer. The gaps between wealth and poverty, ability and disability, and people of different cultures confront us at every turn. Schools are nothing more than microcosims of the urban community, brimming with the diversity, the gaps in opportunity, the needs, and the tensions of the larger community. In schools these social equity gaps usually directly result in achievement equity gaps.
When our pre-teachers enter urban schools, the need to address social gaps in equity, and the need to address achievement gaps is quite apparent. Thus need to teach for social justice comes immediately to the forefront of their consciousness. Once again, whether our pre-teachers choose to stay and teach in an urban school, or return to the rural or suburban communities that they are more familiar with, their understanding of and attention to teaching for social justice will be enhanced by their urban experiences.
PRE-TEACHERS WHO COME FROM URBAN COMMUNITIES. Students who enter our programs from urban schools bring a wealth of information about life in urban communities. Yet, classroom discussions, textbook materials, curriculum plans, and pedagogical strategies tend to reflect rural or suburban school life, because so many educators and pre-teachers come from non-urban experiences. Often the voices of urban pre-teachers are unconsciously silenced in pre-teacher class discussions. When this happens, we all lose. However, when students return to their Education classrooms from urban field placements the discussions that follow are more likely to include all students. All members of the classroom benefit from the insider information and insight that urban classmates can provide.
What is the benefit of having students who come from urban communities re-visit urban schools during their field placements? Urban students, like their non-urban counterparts, often come to Education classes with many of the same misconceptions about urban schools. While they attended urban schools, they have not thought about the pedagogical practices that reflect our goals of teaching for social justice and authentic learning. Urban students may have limited perspectives on the roles of teachers, based on the teachers they experienced as youngsters. When our urban students return to urban classrooms during their field placements, they bring with them a deep understanding of urban life combined with some new ways of seeing the community, the schools, and the roles of teachers.