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Voices of the Next Generation: Preparing Teacher Candidates to Become Advocates for Social Justicee

 

Advancing Social Justice from Classroom to Community
A National Symposium
November 20-21, 2015
New York University
Washington, D.C.

 

Rita Mitchell, Huston-Tillotson University

Each generation has the responsibility and obligation to ensure that society continues to provide equal access to all citizens, as well as to acknowledge, accept, and respect the unique cultural characteristics and significant contributions of the diverse cultures that have shaped and strengthened the nation. Our educational system provides school students (young citizens) the initial environment for social interactions with others from early childhood through elementary school, middle school, and high school. Students encounter classmates from numerous and varied economic levels, family structures, and cultural backgrounds in the classroom, school, and school district and community. As a microcosm of society, the school is an excellent environment to begin preparing students to interact appropriately while participating in a multicultural society.

Teachers, the individuals ultimately responsible for establishing and maintaining an educational environment that provides each student the opportunity to develop their potential to the fullest extent possible, have a unique vantage point to observe how students develop and display attitudes toward others that can continue into adulthood. Appropriate attitudes are encouraged. This vantage point also makes teachers the best candidates to become advocates for social justice. When the voices of teachers unite, they are a powerful and influential force. They are professional, organized, articulate, and determined. Their advocacy efforts impact decisions that are made at the local, state, regional, and national level.

As we prepare the next generation of educators and administrators, each Department of Education at our colleges and universities must incorporate aspects of advocacy in program and course requirements. Just as teacher candidates are guided in their training to become effective, productive practitioners, teacher candidates can be guided in the process of becoming advocates for the issues of equity and cultural awareness. The education program field experience allows teacher candidates to become familiar with community issues. School board meetings serve as a source for information about the community and provide opportunities to express concerns. Professional organizations often have conference sessions that focus on advocacy. Some sessions address involvement in the legislative process for community change. Once teacher candidates have an awareness of societal expectations, we can begin to outline a process for engagement and participation, both on the university campus and in the community. Our future classroom teachers are also our future advocates. We must acknowledge and encourage the voices of the next generation by preparing teacher candidates to become advocates for social justice.