On entering a teacher preparation program, one quickly acquires a new language: familiar terms and phrases like “my kids” and “planning” take on strange and special meanings, while once foreign acronyms—STAAR, ESL, LEP, ADHD—begin to trip effortlessly off one’s tongue. Beyond vocabulary, one also begins to understand the importance of tone and tenor when discussing teaching and learning—especially regarding urban schools.
As a pre-service English Language Arts teacher and a graduate student in language and literacy, I’ve spent quite a bit of time meditating on the beyond-the-surface meaning and sociocultural significance of the language we use to describe urban education. All too often it is a language of desperation and deficit. A language of “high stakes” and “low performance.” A language of “benchmarking,” “accountability,” and “AYP.” Not, in other words, a language that invites or elucidates.
And yet, there is a counter-language we can use to discuss urban education. It is a language of hope and anticipation, of expectation and diligence, of possibility. This is the language spoken by the faculty, program directors, and students in the UTeach Urban Teachers (UTUT) program. This language infiltrates every course, assignment, class discussion, and teaching placement, and it is this language that makes the UTeach Urban Teachers program unique.
I came to the program from a job in higher education, ready to make a difference at an earlier point in students’ educational lives. When I entered the program, I wasn’t focused on urban education per se, but instead on gaining a marketable teaching credential from a top program. One year in, I’m convinced that UTUT’s urban education focus has been absolutely critical in preparing me to become a frontline advocate for one of the most pressing issues in this country.
From the faculty and administrators to fellow students in my program cohort, everyone involved in the UTUT program is committed to the belief that all students deserve an excellent education and a fair chance in life. In seminar-style classes with nationally recognized scholars, we investigate issues spanning special education; language learning; race, class, culture, sexual orientation, and diversity; literacy; and technology in the classroom.. During these discussions we gain fluency in the language we will need to make our belief a reality.
There are certainly less time- and effort-intensive ways to become a teacher in Texas. But UTUT’s melding of scholarship with real-world teaching practice in Austin area schools makes it particularly effective at addressing the critical needs of today’s urban teachers and students. Every day I feel as though I’m not just part of a program but also of a movement that seeks to speak about urban education in a new language.
I’m excited to see the changes our words and actions will make as we progress through the program – and beyond it.