Tytianna N.M. Wells Smith
California Community Center
We are in a small classroom with 16 African-American students (two females and 14 males) who live in and around the California Neighborhood. The main facilitator Tytianna Wells Smith encouraged the young men to reflect on how they felt about their neighborhood and what they’d like to change.
A young man named Yusef and a friend of his attended the workshop. Yusuf shared his story about his the choices that he made as a teenager that has identified him as a convicted felon. In complete silence, these young Black men listened to the wise words of a reformed man. He is now interested in supporting our workshops at the California Community Center by helping to mentor the young men.
Two additional Roots & Wings facilitators, Lance and Antonio joined shortly after the conversation to speak with the group about their personal experience and the harsh reality of being a Black man in America. Many of the students spoke honestly and transparently about their experiences in their neighborhood and schools.
Not only was the neighborhood a trending topic, but the role of the school was just as profound. The students and facilitators discussed the realities that exist between the student and teacher relationships in the school system. One student explained
Research proves that prior to entering a classroom, teachers must enter a high quality teacher education program that will help them to develop into confident and competent classroom teachers. In order to develop into a high quality educator, teachers need to be exposed to diverse groups of students, differentiated curriculum, and different types of school settings. A teacher education program integrates theoretical research with practical and clinical experiences in diverse classroom settings. These programs focus on multimodal and differentiated teaching and learning techniques to benefit the developmental needs of each student.
Research shows that schools that serve predominately low-income students in urban settings are more likely to receive underprepared teachers who have never been exposed to or interacted with students of color from marginalized backgrounds, authentic models of education, or attended a teacher education program with a quality infrastructure. Many of these teachers quickly leave urban schools to teach at schools that are more traditional and serve White middle class students that are often similar to the schools they attended. This high turn-over rate of ill-prepared teachers who view minority and low-income students through a deficit lens has detrimental effects on the academic and behavior trajectory of students. A lack of relationship, relevance, and responsiveness between the student and teacher creates a strained relationship that manifests feelings of alienation, isolation, and invisibility in the classroom. As a result, the students are pushed out of the classroom because their funds of knowledge was never welcomed or valued as beneficial to the learning experience.
Teacher education programs should provide a variety of opportunities for preservice students to engage with students from multiethnic and multilingual backgrounds on a clinical classroom level that offers multiple teaching and learning perspectives rather than a prescribed view to curriculum and instruction.
The fact that many classroom teachers do not have teacher education certification or degrees, and if they do have these credentials, they are from poorly reviewed teacher education programs which further heightens problems between student and teacher relationships that directly impacts students’ academic and behavior success rates. According to this article, more than 15% of teachers enter the classroom through nontraditional pathways such as alternative certification programs. Many alternative programs lack rigor, skills, experiences to transform their knowledge and theoretical standing into actual teaching practice in the classroom. These programs are fragmented and incoherent.
Essentially, there needs to be a radical shift in teacher education preparation programs, and school infrastructure to promote diversity and equity that is built on cultural and linguistic respect and understanding between the student and teacher relationship. If the students personal experiences, background knowledge, and strengths are not acknowledged in the learning space, these relationships will remain broken, the racial academic achievement gap and it’s benefactor will continue to thrive.