Each day, students of different races, genders, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds enter the nation’s classrooms. Unfortunately, for some, these factors may work against them – especially in urban areas.
According to TCU’s Center for Urban Education, urban schools – those schools with low socioeconomic and/or predominantly minority students – have the most critical shortages of qualified teachers and, therefore, the most openings for college graduates.
The center is designed to help meet this need by training future teachers to help them succeed in urban schools.
“Urban communities are in the state of making sure that all children are successful,” said Jennifer Brooks, director of TCU’s Center for Urban Education. “We must work and make sure they have teachers who are qualified and have experiences to make them successful.”
A study by The Education Trust, an advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., found that in the nation’s high-poverty schools, 34 percent of secondary classes in core academic subjects are assigned to teachers who lack a college minor in the subject.
To ensure that TCU students are prepared to teach in their subject areas, the College of Education requires them to take a substantial number of courses within those areas.
For example, a middle-school math education major is required to take 32-33 hours of math classes and receive a C or better in these courses, according to the TCU catalog. A secondary science education major is required to take 56-57 hours of science classes.
Even with these academic standards in place, TCU educators say, it is also important for students to become aware of cultural and other differences between them and their future students.
“The first thing is to make sure that they have the opportunity to work in schools in urban settings,” Brooks said. “They are doing observation and internships. It is unfair to place a teacher in an environment and expect them to be successful if they have never seen a child on free or reduced lunch or if they have not had that type of experience and exposure.”
According to federal guidelines, students can qualify for free- or reduced-meal programs if they are in a household of four that earns less than $38,203 a year.
“If you are in a home where the lights are not on or in a home where you do not have food to eat for dinner, oftentimes your thought will be on ‘I am hungry’ rather than ‘I need to do this math homework,'” Brooks said.
To provide diverse experiences for its TCU students, the Center for Urban Education has established relationships and connections at different schools in the Fort Worth Independent School District. One of these schools is Stripling Middle School, where a math class gives the TCU students an opportunity to not only teach but also to learn about the community, said Cecilia Silva, an associate professor of education.
“We target different schools for different experiences,” Silva said.
Education students begin their placement in urban schools starting their sophomore year, said Chelsea Edge, a graduate student who is in the College of Education’s 3-2 program, which enables students to graduate with both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in five years.
“That is what helps the most – actually being there,” Edge said. “We can talk about it all we want to, but actually seeing and doing it makes a difference.”
Yvonne Garcia, another graduate student in the 3-2 program, said her training makes her feel she will enter the classroom after graduation with more experience than a typical first-year teacher.
“The program has given me a lot of insight and education on diversity because education is not the same anymore,” Garcia said.
Because there is no such thing as an “average” student, the TCU program teaches its students how to teach in different ways and modify lessons to reach every possible child, Garcia said.
It is only through the practicum experience that TCU students come to more clearly understand the lives of their future students, Edge said.
The experience gained through the program produces students who are sought after because of their educational training, Silva said.
“The Center for Urban Education wants effective teachers working in the classroom and teachers who are prepared to work in the Metroplex,” Silva said. “Part of it is helping our students view diversity not as a deficit.”
Said Garcia: “The United States has every culture, every nationality and every language. Though I may not speak the languages, with what I have learned, I can attempt to reach them and teach them without making them feel uncomfortable in the classroom.”