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Courage, Advocacy and Being a TC Teacher

Courage and Advocacy are what separate the teachers who merely know and do from our teachers, who know and do the right thing.

By A. Lin Goodwin

At a Harlem charter elementary school, students must keep silent during recess and lunch. Test prep consumes the day, and children burst into tears when they make even one mistake. A new teacher, taught to believe that the school is a family whose members should speak up, voices his concern. He’s told he is not a team player, and he is fired.

At another school, a child is consistently tardy, behavior her teacher attributes to the mother’s disregard for education. A student teacher talks to the mother and learns of her daily juggle getting two children to school and day care. The day care center is across town, and school does not open before the mother needs to leave to deliver her toddler. The mother has no choice but to take both children to the center and then backtrack to the school—late. The student teacher arranges to pick up the older daughter on her way to school.

The teaching profession today is a dramatically altered landscape that poses daunting challenges, which include: complex educational policies; the increasing diversity of all students; a world reshaped by globalization; and the imperative to ensure that all students succeed. Clearly we need academically strong teachers who possess content knowledge, are ready to focus on learning and student achievement, and are prepared to meet the needs of all learners, including many with multiple vulnerabilities. These qualities are givens at Teachers College, which consistently attracts top candidates both in terms of academic rankings and professional accomplishments. It is a privilege to teach such passionate, focused, creative, goal-oriented individuals. But, as the vignettes I have offered reveal, teaching today also demands that we speak out against practices that are harmful to children and hinder learning. We all need to step up, take responsibility and make ethical choices for students and their families. Courage and Advocacy are the extra qualities we look for at TC; they are what separate the teachers who merely know and do from our teachers, who know and do the right thing.

A. Lin Goodwin (Ed.D., ’87) is Associate Dean for Teacher Education, and Professor of Education

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