Teacher Academy students seek equity in the classroom

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Last week I had the opportunity to visit Rebecca Wenrich, English teacher at Gig Harbor High, who teaches a fascinating class called Teacher Academy, for students interested in becoming teachers.

Wenrich explained that Teacher Academy is a dual credit course focused on exploring education from a social justice perspective. It is for the elderly who are interested in education or child development as a career. “Double credit” means they also earn credits that they can apply to college.

“We research and study the elements that create healthy learning environments, culture and identity, equity in education, curriculum and discipline approaches, and program and course design,” a explained Wenrich.

Students in the classroom learn to recognize the ways in which race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other factors may disadvantage some students, and how they, as teachers, can use classroom strategies to change. that.

“We know there are children ready to learn, ”said Wenrich. “We also have children who come to class who have suffered significant trauma or who are minority students in a homogeneous predominantly white community, like Gig Harbor, and who find themselves marginalized.”

Prospective teachers need to find ways to manage group work, for example, so that “it is not just the loudest voice that is heard,” she said. Students learn to recognize their own implicit biases and minimize the type of microaggression all too common in classrooms today, Wenrich explained.

Students research, write and present problems in education. This work prepares students for a productive six-week internship in the spring. “During this internship,” said Wenrich, “students work with a teacher mentor from the district to engage with students through equitable lessons that benefit all students. This course prepares students to enter programs leading to a degree in education at the university level.

Wenrich has been teaching English for 22 years and is an advisor to the College Board on curriculum teacher education. She arrived at Gig Harbor High School in 2006 and has been with the Teacher Academy since its inception.

Erin Jeffries, one of the Teacher Academy students, said the class taught her “not only professional skills, but also how to advocate for change and work with others in a group setting.”

“There are changes to come in the world of education, whether in teaching strategies or in the treatment of students,” she added, and she wants to be aware of it.

As part of their studies, the class researched some changes they would like to see in their own Peninsula school district, made a presentation to an assistant superintendent and two school board members.

Among other things, the student suggested that the district explore the equity issues that arise when the school population is predominantly white and high performing. They also asked the district to investigate whether there are disparities in discipline and expulsion that fuel the “school-to-prison pipeline” for some minority students.

“All students are valued and should be able to feel not only like their education, but their personal well-being is a priority,” said Landree Tullus, another student in the class, who told the district presentation to me. helped “transform me into a confident student who advocates for positive change in the school system.”

During their sessions, the Teacher Academy students talked about strategies they can use to overcome well-known problems in the classroom, such as the tendency of boys to talk rather than girls.

“It can be as simple as saying to students, ‘Before you share your opinion, tell us what the person who spoke before you just said,’” Wenrich explained. “It means they have to listen to someone else, not just the sound of their own voice.”

During discussions, Wenrich assigns his students “elbow partners” or “eyeball partners”, who stop repeating the opinions of others.

“Because there is a strong sense of community within the classroom, we can all help each other improve and improve on each other,” said student Caroline Park. “Whether it’s strengthening our educational future or our life skills. “

“As a class, we meditate, talk about what concerns us as individuals and have daily conversations about how our day has been,” said Audrey Willson. “What I take away from this course is the constant support from my classmates and the joy of welcoming whenever someone comes into the classroom.”

Ashley Ryan wants “to be able to help children not only academically but also emotionally.” I feel like a lot of teachers don’t focus on the mental health aspect of student life. I have had a few teachers who have helped me through difficult times and I want to do it for others.

“It’s not just about teaching students subjects,” said Wolfe Blash-Wood. “We learn interpersonal skills and how to improve ourselves and better understand these relationships, how to communicate better in a professional environment and much more. Even if you don’t end up embarking on a career as a teacher, there are so many crucial skills you can learn in this course. Teacher Academy has influenced me outside of the classroom before. I’m so much more aware of how I affect others, how I treat others, and how I relate to others.

For more information, contact Rebecca Wenrich [email protected]

This story was originally published October 16, 2019 12:00 a.m.


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