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At First Master's Ceremony, Nieto Urges Graduates to "Start Where Students Are At"

At the Monday ceremony for students receiving master’s degrees from the Departments of Arts & Humanities and Curriculum & Teaching, TC President Susan Fuhrman told the stories of two graduates: Jennifer K. Lopez, who was receiving a dual degree through TC’s program in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education, and Noor Sandhu, who was receiving her degree in Music and Music Education.

As a student-teacher at Manhattan’s PS 75, Lopez acted on her belief that non-English speaking children can add valuable perspective in any classroom, Fuhrman said. For Lopez, a small but significant moment of progress during that experience occurred when a Spanish-speaking student who had not raised his hand all year one day wrote out an English word with phonetically correct spelling – proof that he had been listening and absorbing and was on his way toward bilingualism.

“Congratulations, Jennifer, your students are so lucky to have you as a teacher,” Fuhrman said.

Sandhu, who was born in India and lived in Nepal, China and the United Arab Emirates before coming to the United States, found American education to be the best -- “not in the accumulation of knowledge but in its application,” Fuhrman said.

Sandhu herself elaborated on her experiences in her remarks as student speaker for the ceremony. As a five-year-old growing up in Nepal, she recalled, she wanted so badly to be a music teacher that she used to line up her dolls on her window sill to teach them songs from The Sound of Music. Her own schooling was “a struggle,” but thanks to “the endless support of patient teachers,” she developed a faith in her abilities that she expects to draw on once again after leaving TC.

“Stepping into teaching will be like stepping onto the Number One train – slowed, crowded and competitive,” she said. “But as TC scholars, I think we’ve acquired a remarkable set of skills that will help us get around that train and get where we want to go.”

Following Fuhrman’s remarks, Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy & Culture, the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts at Amerherst, received TC’s Medal for Distinguished Service.

“I see education as…the most consequential field and endeavor you can enter,” Nieto told the graduates. “What could be more democratic or worthy than a commitment to the education of young people, regardless of station, rank, race, religion, or gender? It’s an ideal worth fighting for and many, both in this country and around the world, have given their toil, sweat, and in some cases, even their lives, to advance and support it.”

She reminded the newly minted teachers in the audience to “start where students are at.”

“We’re all the result of our upbringing, experiences, and social context and, as a result, we’re all limited in our perspectives, sensibilities, and understandings. When I taught undergraduate students, for example, I needed to start where they were at. Rather than blame them for what I might see as narrow-mindedness or naivité, I needed to present them with other ideas, not to change their minds but to educate them to other possibilities. That’s the role of a teacher, a role I have always taken very seriously.”



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