Pugach PhotoMarleen C. Pugach is a Professor of Teacher Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she has been responsible for the preparation of teachers for urban elementary and middle schools since 1986.  Her areas of expertise include teacher education reform, collaboration in the preparation of special and general education teachers, and urban school-university partnerships. She is currently exploring how programs of dual certification in general and special education address diversity and the degree to which they represent substantial, transformative changes in teacher education.

This week I meet my first classes of the semester, one of which is a seminar for prospective teachers. These students are reaching the halfway mark in their teacher education programs and one of my most important goals is to create a sense of energy and motivation as they—for the first time—take on the responsibility of working with small groups and organizing instruction for whole classrooms of students in Milwaukee’s high needs urban schools. My seminar ties together courses students will be taking in the academic curriculum, assessment, and disability with their experiences in the field and places this all within a strong equity and urban-oriented focus that is the hallmark of our programs.

But it has been a particularly trying year for teachers in the state of Wisconsin, where I live and work, and I am worried about how my new class of teacher education students will be affected. The assault on teachers, part of a larger assault on public sector workers throughout Wisconsin that began late last winter, has had devastating consequences for education. Predictably, the numbers of veteran, highly-skilled teachers retiring has skyrocketed, leading principals all over the state to lament the loss of teacher leadership in their districts; they know the value of veteran teacher expertise. The loss of education funding, which was just reported to be the largest in the country this year, is most acutely felt in the state’s most diverse districts—all the way from Green Bay to Milwaukee.  With the budget for public education eviscerated, there are unprecedented increases in class sizes, and, with the loss of skilled veterans, far fewer experienced colleagues for novices to turn to for advice, support, and professional knowledge in these more challenging circumstances. Every teacher will be taking home lower pay; for beginning teachers in Wisconsin, whose salaries average among the lowest of the 50 states compared to other beginning teachers, it is hard to imagine how they will cope financially. This comes alongside the loss of collective bargaining rights. Districts are, often unilaterally, developing teacher “handbooks” regarding the conditions of work. Some of these new conditions include significant reductions in teachers’ sick days, imposing teacher dress codes, lengthening school days, and shutting teachers out of decisions that affect the very classroom conditions in which their high-needs students will learn. In urban and low-income districts, the conditions are made worse by the loss of social safety net supports in the community.

So it is in this troubled setting that I am preparing to meet my class.  For weeks I have been asking myself this simple question: How do I talk productively and enthusiastically about their chosen career? What do I say when they ask if they should change their major or when they tell me that their parents are encouraging them to do so? What about career changers, who have recently made the decision to pursue teaching because of a lifelong desire to do so? As I struggle to figure this out, I keep telling myself that today, more than any time before, is the time to talk about advocacy—not just for the children and youth they will teach, who need good teachers more than ever, but for the teachers themselves. Such advocacy as long been a focus of our teacher education program, but the sense of urgency is at its greatest today. We will need every stakeholder to keep our most promising young and novice teachers motivated in these difficult circumstances—their cooperating teachers/mentors, principals, teacher leaders who remain, parents, community members, business leaders, and every one of us at postsecondary institutions who meet prospective teachers. We will have to do this alone and in partnership. As fragile as the social contract is today, the path forward to equity in education in large part still lies with the next generation of teachers, and we will have to find every way possible to help those who are willing to make this commitment in such hard times.

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9 Responses to “Recommitting Ourselves to Teacher Education for Equity in Troubled Times by Marleen C. Pugach”

  1. Royond on 9/16/11 11:02 AM US/Eastern

    Much of my recommittment to education is beginning with self-reflection. What can I do to empower teachers to become their best? How can I improve my leadership skills that will benefit teaching and learning? I have found that I must consider the individuals that are a part of the organization and become a more culturally proficient leader. It is the expectation that teachers provide culturally responsive and relevant instruction in classrooms. As I have reflected on my practice, I have found that I need to become more in tune with the individuals with whom I work and make the neccessary leadership adjustments that support the mission and vision of the campus. This leadership will illustrate and model the expectations that teachers need to become the excellent practioners that will increase student achievement…in every domain.

  2. Christian Faltis on 9/16/11 11:08 AM US/Eastern

    These are challenging times, and you are so right. We can’t push back alone. I share your deep concern over the onslaught of misinformation about and dismantling of teacher education and education in general. Thanks for your blog.

  3. Marcelino Garcia on 9/22/11 1:27 PM US/Eastern

    Political agendas seem to be guiding the educational future of our nation. It seems that we are so far from even considering the the most important people in this situation- the students. It is surreal to me when thinking about where we are at with testing, scores, funding, etc.

  4. Shirley Stewart on 9/24/11 1:28 PM US/Eastern

    I’ve been a teacher for six months in CA and have considered those very questions myself. I work for a school district with union and budget issues as well.

    First, I feel I must say that I love my class and teaching them. For the last four months, I have taught a special day class with 19 moderately cognitively impaired students. I have one student with a dedicated behaviorist and another with a one-on-one aide. I do not have a baseline classroom aide, as my district’s present stance is that special education teachers should be able to handle 20 students without an aide. As far as I know, I am the first special education teacher in this position. Might I say that this is pretty tough for a brand new teacher?

    Further, my peers have made comments at the staff meeting about being “stuck” with a teacher the district sends (me). I started at another school for a short time and ended up at my present site because district shuffling of lay-offs and must place teachers. In May, other well-liked resource teachers with more time than me lost their jobs while I still retain mine. Thus, I have not been initially welcomed by the staff and have not received much support. I feel the attitudes of my peers are the unintended consequences of the present situation at large.

    Further, since I’ve become a teacher, my Wisconsin friend told me that that their teachers health insurance plans are somehow responsible for the demise of their state budget. Then, there was the release of the movie “Waiting for Superman” which raised more than a few eyebrows at teachers. Now, I’ve been told by a non-educator neighbor that I earn too much money. Really?!

    Nonetheless I persevere towards my clear credential and an M.A. I am attending the October Ed Therapy orientation as an option. I feel for you in your challenge to encourage your students and wish you much success. It seems just as much a hurdle for you as for your students. I think in the end, all this leaves me wondering what the ultimate consequence will be for our country.

  5. nicole zahab leader on 9/25/11 2:08 PM US/Eastern

    This blog brings up some good issues that affect teachers in all states. As a fairly new teacher who has just started my 5th year. I know that if I was just starting out in a teaching program, I would seriously reconsider my decision to pursue a career in teaching. With states in budget crisis’s and Charter schools popping up that decrease the bargaining power of teachers. A teacher would have to join this career for the love of teaching not for the financial rewards that they will receive. Teachers would feel more empowered to teach and stay in the field if they felt empowered by principals, parents and the community. Giving teachers support by providing positive feedback to teachers who are devoting their own time to enrich their teaching. If districts were to provide mentors that volunteer to work with new teachers. The experience of the retired teachers would provide great insight for a teacher new to the field. If parents took more responsibility for the education of their children and at least imparted to their kids that school is like their job and it is their responsibility to give it their all. If the community, recognized the value of a good teacher and made the salaries of teachers comparable to those of sport’s players then high quality educated professionals would want to become a teacher and it would lower teacher dropout rate. Society seems to forget that teachers are molding the young minds of future generations. Then there would be equity for teachers and teachers would stay in the field and feel empowered by the importance of their position

  6. Niel on 9/25/11 11:41 PM US/Eastern

    You have probably already started class by now, but I trust that you said the right thing. You will be surprised at how automatic it is once you are in class in front of your students, the right words will come right out. You just know it. I have been through this, on a smaller scale, with my high school students when a conflict arose I just knew what to say. The impromptu of selecting the right words just came naturally. I think this rings true to anyone who loves his or her line of work. Their hearts and minds just flows together and makes the conflict seem minimal in spite of the enormous problem they are facing. I think when you love what you do, it is contagious, and the students will feel it and absorb that energy and pass that along to their own students. It is not easy, but it will come to you, as you become a more experience teacher. It is an acquired skill, I think, that comes with the passion for teaching

  7. Jenna W. on 9/26/11 2:32 AM US/Eastern

    The first day of my student teaching assignment back in 2009, I attended a teacher meeting regarding the mass layoffs that were about to take place by the Los Angeles Unified School District. Layoff notices, or “pink slips,” were to be distributed to thousands of young teachers because there simply was not enough money to pay their salaries. My fellow student teachers and I walked into the room, and one veteran teacher turned to us and with a look of genuine concern, said,”It’s not too late for law school.”

    None of us heeded her ominous warning, and now here we are now, a group of educated and highly qualified young teachers who either cannot find jobs or are struggling to deliver effective instruction given very limited resources and assistance. Yet, we still show up for work everyday and we continue to search for jobs in the field of education for one reason: we know that we have the ability to shape the future, and our desire to make a difference burns deep inside of us. If we stopped showing up for work, if we gave up and changed careers, then we would also be giving up on the future generations of doctors and engineers and teachers that we will desperately need in the future. In other countries, education is a top priority, as the only way to ensure the success of a nation is to make sure its youth receive the highest quality education. We want to provide the youth of our nation with high quality education, even if it is at the cost of our sanity. If we don’t prepare the future generations, who will? People without that burning passion for teaching and learning that we have, that’s who…and that’s not what the youth of our nation deserve.

    We were warned that teaching is a thankless job. We were warned that there was more to teaching than apples and three-month summer vacations. We knew about the lack of money, lack of support, and lack of appreciation for teachers. Yet, we’re still here and we’re clinging to the notion that one day society will wake up and realize that the only way to ensure a prosperous future is to invest in education.

  8. Marleen Pugach on 9/26/11 3:50 PM US/Eastern

    And it’s precisely the passion and perseverance in these responses that our newest young teachers and teachers-to-be need to hear!

  9. Elizabeth Mihocka on 4/5/12 1:42 AM US/Eastern

    Thank you for an article that is very candid, however, for me, very thought-provoking. I have, as millions of other people, lost my job and haven’t been able to find another one. So, after 30 years I am returning to college to get my Masters in Special Education. I’m getting the knowledge, I have the desire and I have the heart, I hope by the time I graduate, there will be a need.

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