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Doing What We Do, Better

Teachers College educates across a broad range of fields, from policymaking to research to health care education. Still, the College's name continues to reflect its core expertise -- which is why TC recently created a stronger, more centralized Office of Teacher Education. The  office now oversees programs as diverse as the Professional Development Schools Partnership and the TC Peace Corps Fellows, and its responsibilities range from ensuring that all student teachers have been screened for tuberculosis to gathering data for the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Heading this complex enterprise is TC alumna and Associate Professor of Elementary Pre-service Education A. Lin Goodwin, who was recently named TC's first Associate Dean for Teacher Education and School-Based Support.

"When you go into your first year of teaching and make mistakes, there are people who are under you when you fall, and those people are called children," says Goodwin, who as a faculty member strongly advocated for strengthening the office. "So kids deserve well-prepared, qualified teachers. That means teachers who not only have  content knowledge but pedagogical content knowledge as well." 

Goodwin comes to her new job at a time when university-based teacher education is under fire. "About half as many people today are prepared in university-based teacher ed programs as are not," she says. "This is a good opportunity to think about the unique characteristics and qualities of how we're educating teachers here at the College. We can continue to be beaten down by our critics -- or we can rise up and do something dramatically different."  

Change will take place in two phases, Goodwin says. The first phase has been administrative.

"Since we're less than three months in, most of the energy has been devoted to the nuts and bolts that have been neglected for a long time," she says. "The goal of centralizing administrative functions is to make the office a service unit where everyone -- heads of education programs, student teachers, cooperating teachers, supervisors and others -- can get the information they need to work effectively. That, in part, means creating effective database systems."

Associate Director Julia Yu echoes the notion of the office as a resource center. "This has been known as a paper-pushing office," she says. "We're trying to make it a source of information on teacher preparation, a referral service to different resources at the state and local levels, and a place where people can voice their concerns."

Last, but far from least, the office is charged with ensuring that Teachers College students receive certification in their fields. Associate Director Faride Suarez heads this part of the operation, which Goodwin says faces greater challenges than ever before.

"The state has become much more regulation-oriented," she says. "We're fortunate that Faride is someone who truly understands these changes. She is our lifeline to New York state."

Yu says the office has already scored some important internal successes, beginning with raising its internal profile through an open house gathering in November. "Close to 200 people came," she says. "People are excited that we're restructuring and looking to become an office that does more than passively taking information."

Now the office is looking to tackle the external side of its mission. "What I bring to the table is experience with teacher education practice, research and scholarship, and I'd like to use that experience to help give TC a stronger research voice as an institution" Goodwin says. "It would be great, for example, to get our faculty engaged in a study that looks at one single question from many different lenses -- urban, rural, many different educational settings. With the diversity of talent and expertise we have here, a study of that kind could make enormous contributions."

Goodwin and her team particularly hope to strengthen TC's role in urban education. Also reporting in to Goodwin is the TC Peace Corps Fellows program, directed by Reed Dickson, which fast-tracks returning Peace Corps volunteers to become teachers in New York City schools. The office also hopes to strengthen the College's work with the Teacher Opportunity Corps--a state grant program that gives money to underrepresented minorities who commit to working in urban schools. And there is talk of putting student teachers in Region 9 and 10 schools headed by the Cahn Fellows -- outstanding New York City principals who receive continuing education and mentorship through a TC-run initiative.

Yet ultimately, Goodwin sees herself as a facilitator rather than an advocate for specific research or policy goals. "I don't pretend that I will be the voice of teacher education," she says. "My role is to help galvanize folks, to provide support if I can, and to connect people to the resources they need."

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