An Urban Educator's Responsibilities

 "An alignment between education and the full range of life experiences congruent with the human condition"

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PORTRAIT OF A TEACHER

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At the N.E.P., we strongly believe that a loving and compassionate facilitator is a key factor in providing urban students the education they need. Within and beyond school walls, quality teachers should exhibit the following characteristics, drawn from Montclair State University's Portrait of a Teacher:
  • “Expert knowledge in disciplines they will teach”
We here at the N.E.P. take this statement to mean that whoever is designated as the “teacher” will be proficient in and be practiced in their content area. They will be familiar with virtually all facets of their specific subject. Because content areas are always changing…new art forms are created, history is constantly being made, science is always advancing…teachers will need to stay apprised of their field and be able to explain the changes that are occurring.
Examples in the school system we have visited include such programs as Photoshop or Iphoto or design programs when teaching art courses. These programs are an extremely important area in relation to teaching art. Although it is not the traditional hand to paper, it is necessary for an artist to be aware of these “advancements.”
  • “Make subject matter accessible and meaningful to all students”
In this portion of the Portrait of a Teacher, this seems to mean that the teacher should make the subject or concepts being taught personalized to the students. The students need to see the value in what they are learning, how it can be applied or used in any way, shape or form. The concepts should be planned so that material presented can be understood by every student – not just a select few. It needs that quality of being available to a general audience, rather than a specialized one.
An example where this is practiced in schools is shown in mathematics. When teaching algebra the problems can be related to problems that the students will encounter. If you need to get to New Hampshire , nearly 400 miles away, and you have a speed limit of 65 miles an hour; how long will it take to get to your destination?
  • “Understand how children and adolescents learn”
The N.E.P. takes this statement to mean, examining the various ways in which children take in and process information. Some students learn visually, some are audio learners, some need to see the written words and read it themselves, some see spatial relationships, and some learn from a tactile response by touching and feeling. This is basically Gardner ’s intelligences, outlining the various ways in which children process information. Teachers need to be aware of these factors because not all students learn in the same fashion and at the same rate. Consequently, lessons need to utilize these various methods in order to reach the general audience as described above in making subject matter accessible to all students.
An example of this ideal in practice is in using graphs and charts or Powerpoint in conjunction with readings and text, followed by group discussions.
  • “Practice of culturally responsive teaching”
Culturally Responsive Teaching recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning. Now, we are not entirely certain if this means the culture of the community at large or the culture of each individual student. We assume it implies each individual student’s culture. By incorporating the students’ various cultural backgrounds into teaching, we are able to broaden our students’ horizons and make them more globally conscious students. In addition to this, students are then able to have their learning personalized and meaningful to them. Because it is related to their own culture, they can more easily see and practice the concepts taught.
Teachers who use culturally responsive instruction recognize students' cultural strengths and experiences and use them as tools to achieve mastery of new knowledge and skills.
An example of culturally responsive teaching includes such programs as Women’s History Month or Black History Month, etc.
  • “…taking into account issues of class, gender, race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, age, and special needs in designing instruction”
We here at the N.E.P. take this statement to mean that the teacher must be aware of the various lifestyles and differences between each student – the various differences are those listed above. Each lesson should be sensitive to those criteria in order to provide an appropriate learning environment.
An example of this in practice in art is where the teacher exposes the students to art works that are from a variety of cultures and backgrounds.
  • “Promote the development of students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills and dispositions”
This appears to mean that the teacher should help the students to look at a problem, understand the situation or problem, analyze it and come up with several viable strategies to go about solving the problem.
An example may be in such projects as science fairs. The students take a genuine problem in the society and set up an experiment that responds to the problem. In doing this the student has to understand what the problem is – for example, how mold forms and ways to eradicate it. They analyze the situation by researching mold and understanding its functions and its various components and then come up with strategies to help eliminate unwanted mold.
  • “Carry out instruction that promotes democratic values and communication in the classroom”
The teacher is to create an environment that values respect for the opinions of others. The teacher is to encourage students and give them an opportunity to express their opinions, thoughts, and ideas in a safe environment.
An example would be a “fishbowl” type of exercise which members of the N.E.P. have been part of a number of times. If there were a discussion of a philosophical nature for example, half of the students would sit in the middle of the class and discuss their viewpoints. Each has to wait their turn and be courteous to their classmates. Those in the fishbowl listen, analyze, restate, and respond to the statements given while being respectful to each other. The students on the outside of the fishbowl sit quietly and take notes as they listen intently on the discussions taking place. Then, the two groups switch and the roles are then reversed so that the other group of students gets to discuss their views or respond to those given before them.
  • “…continually inquire into the nature of teaching and learning”
We believe that this is refers to professional development and learning to modify and adjust to or try out new methods. Teachers should always be asking themselves what the role of the teacher should be and what the best way that students can learn is.
An example of this is when teachers take courses in new trends and strategies for professional development – such as innovations in teaching.
  • “…promote social justice”
This means that the teacher should have some sort of guidelines or rules in the class which everyone is responsible and accountable for following. Each person must follow the same set of guidelines as well as the consequences that go along with breaking these guidelines.
To promote social justice, a teacher in elementary school might post a list of classroom rules and consequences that the children must abide by. Such as, listening and respecting others.
  • “…serving as agents of change”
The N.E.P. takes this statement to mean that the teacher must be aware of the current happenings in the world – both locally and globally. To take in issues and concepts that are relevant and looking out for the best interest of the students and the community at large.
An example might be starting a recycling program in a school where there was none previously. This is promoting a positive change within the school and the community as a whole.
  • “…stewards of best practice”
Best practice is an interesting term because who decides what is best practice? We believe this statement to mean that teachers must try a variety of methods and gauge how they work with their students. If it is effective, keep it and apply it to the lessons – but if it is not effective, reject it and look for other alternatives. Constantly try to find new methods and ways of teaching that are innovative and fresh.
An example in schools is when the teacher lectures and realizes that students do not understand concepts, but then opens up a discussion and allows students to discuss topics. As a result of the change from lecture to discussion, the students acquire more information and are engaged more in the lesson.