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Professor Gary Griffin: 'I've Always Been Fascinated with the Act of Teaching'

At this year's convocation ceremonies, President Levine paid tribute to Professor Gary Griffin, who retired at the end of the academic year. Levine said, "More than anything, he has shared with us his knowledge of teaching and his commitment to making a difference in education."

Recently, Griffin sat down with our reporter to talk about his career and what stands out in his mind as meaningful guideposts to his life's work. Though uncomfortable about reflecting on what he believes are his achievements, Griffin's remarks reveal a man who has dedicated his entire being to teacher education.

Griffin said, "I am proud that a long time ago I got fascinated with something that is very unfashionable, and that is the act of teaching and the education of teachers." He added, "For a long time those pre-occupations were seen as not necessarily scholarly." He discounts that notion and calls teaching a complex, important and socially relevant activity. "And so, I ran away from being a curriculum theorist, which was high status," said Griffin, "and started working in teacher education and teaching."

Raised in Watts, California by a family that could never even be called middle class, Griffin considers himself lucky. "I had wonderful teachers in school. I was lucky enough to go to UCLA on $47 a semester. I was lucky enough to come out of UCLA in a time in the mid-50s when people needed teachers. I had a whole series of fortunate things happen that dignified teachers as people who did important things."

Griffin spent nine years as a teacher and elementary school administrator in the Santa Monica Unified School District from 1956-65. It was there that he began to believe in child-centered education. "I started teaching in a school system that was heavily invested in progressive education as a model for teaching," said Griffin. "After 44 years of that notion of involving children in meaningful activities that have relevance to their lives, it is still part of who I am."

When he first came to TC in 1970 after receiving his Ed.D. from UCLA, he was more than pleased because his ideas of progressive education and those of the College "intercepted." Griffin remarked: "I came to TC with a background and understanding, both theoretically as well as practically, of what progressive education can be. And I came to a place that was receptive to that. I felt nurtured, supported, and helped along in thinking in those ways."

In the early '80s, at the University of Texas at Austin, Griffin was the Director of Research in Teacher Education. He calls his work there "probably some of the largest scale research on teacher education that's ever been done." Griffin continued, "It was a federally sponsored research agenda, and we discovered very important things about what effective teaching is-how teachers are prepared well or ill-and we began to understand that phenomenon a great deal better than we did before."

After spending five years as the Dean of the College of Education at the University of Illinois and another six as Chair of the Department of Teaching and Teaching Education at the University of Arizona, he returned to TC in 1996 as Professor of Education and Director of NCREST (the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching).

He speaks humbly about what he considers are his contributions to the College after a hiatus of more than 16 years. "My return to TC has been marked by two things I'm really quite proud of," said Griffin. "One is the work in teacher education across the College. That is helping others to come together around what it is to prepare teachers for urban schools. It's not finished but I think there has been a fair amount of progress in re-thinking how we conceptualize teacher education here."

The second accomplishment, building a "good" research agenda for NCREST, was especially daunting after the departure of Professors Lieberman and Darling-Hammond. On the future years of NCREST, he said, "One of the issues I think TC has been facing is its relationship to the world of practice and NCREST is one of the few research and development units in the nation that is seriously paying attention to how schools go about their business."

What will Griffin be doing in retirement? Well, he seems to be as busy as ever and looks forward to a number of opportunities. He will be consulting for the government of Hong Kong on matters concerning teacher preparation, working with the University of California system on projects having to do with linking schools and universities as well as continuing with an ongoing NCREST teacher education project called "The Leading Edge." And he has a dozen doctoral students he will continue to work with.

Besides the numerous books and monographs that Griffin has written over the years, he says he is most proud of his latest edited work, The Education of Teachers, which was published in April and is the 98th yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education. The book examines issues relating to the education of teachers-issues that have become major concerns in recent movements for school reform.

Griffin wrote in his preface: "This volume is an attempt to gather a set of emerging views about education of teachers, in part to attend to recommendations for reform and in part to suggest promising practices that may not yet be strongly rooted in the national consciousness."

While Griffin is obviously looking forward to another important and exciting turn in his life, he looked back fondly and said, "My career has been very much about understanding the complex intellectual task of teaching and bringing dignity to that activity."

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