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An Observer in the Classroom

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Student Profile (Feb)

Michelle Armstrong

As an anthropology major at Harvard, Michelle Armstrong came to appreciate the value of the one-on-one interview conducted out in the field. Now a Ph.D. candidate in TC's  Sociology and Education program, Armstrong's field is the landscape of the American classroom, and the questions she's asking are about the problems of teachers and students.

"I wanted to take what I had learned as an undergraduate and make an impact on people in communities, especially on young people," she says, explaining the switch. "I'm  very  interested in issues of educational access and  equity. I want to know why so many teachers leave their jobs, and what some of the barriers are to minority student achievement." 

Since leaving Harvard, Armstrong has served variously as a research assistant for the  National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools and Teaching (NCREST), and its offshoot, the New Teachers Academy, both located at TC. Now she's writing her dissertation on historically black boarding schools in America-work she'll be presenting in April at this year's annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association.

"So often we look at minority students in settings where they are one of only a few,"  she explains. "I thought it would be interesting to get a take on them in a setting where they are the majority."

What lessons are to be learned from findings in such a specialized setting? Ones that aren't showing up in the standardized test results of the federal No Child Left Behind program, Armstrong would argue. "For students to achieve high standards they have to be nurtured," she says, "but the classrooms have to be staffed by people willing to stay in the system."

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