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New Educator Conference Focuses on Hope in Challenging Times
By Richard Kagan

Teachers, school administrators, and students gathered for a stimulating day-long conference at The City College of New York’s School of Education held recently. The conference, entitled: The New Educator: Building and Sustaining Learning Communities in Challenging Times, drew between 400-500 people, from across-the-board in the education community in the New York City metropolitan area. The conference was presented by CCNY’s School of Education in Honor of its 85th anniversary of the oldest public school of education in New York City and The New Educator Journal. Opening remarks and keynote addresses were held in The Great Hall in Shepard Hall, 138th St. and Convent Ave., in Manhattan.

Dr. Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy & Culture, School of Education gave the conference’s opening Keynote address on “Teaching, Activism, And Caring: New Roles for New Educators.” Pedro Antonio Noguera, Ph.D., Professor in the School of Education at New York University, gave the closing address.

Dr. Jean Maude Anyon, Professor of Education and Social Policy, Doctoral Program in Urban Education at the Graduate Center of CUNY was the featured speaker. Numerous panels were presented throughout the day ranging from Interactive Workshop: How to Support and Retain New Teachers to Examining Teacher Preparation: Does the Pathway Make a Difference?

Beverly Falk, editor of The New Educator hoped the conference would be a source of support especially for young teachers. “I hope that young teachers feel a sense of community, feel a sense of professionalism, get ideas and strategies for how to sustain themselves through the long haul of what it means to be a teacher,” said Falk.

Dean Alfred S. Posamentier, School of Education, CCNY thought the conference was a timely opportunity “when we need to reflect upon our mission, which is urban education—preparing teachers for the urban environment, urban setting.”

Dr. Nieto based her talk on findings from her 2004 study, “Why We Teach: The Project.” She interviewed 21 teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools to learn about their experiences of what it means to be teacher. Dr. Nieto presented some sobering facts and statistics about the challenges facing new educators today. She noted that 20 percent of new teachers leave during the first few years of teaching. Nearly half of new teachers in urban school leave the profession within five years. She stated that a 40 percent turnover of new teachers is expected within the next five years, the highest rate since at least 1990. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2050, people of color will be over 50 percent of the total U.S. population. Now, teachers of color comprise about 11 percent of the teacher population. And, the percentages of African-American teachers have gone down in the last several decades, according to Dr. Nieto. “Most troubling of all,” states Dr. Nieto, that many new teachers report that they’re not prepared to teach children of a different color from themselves.

In a day when students are “taught to the test” in overcrowded classrooms, in run-down schools, the challenges facing new educators are daunting. What can teachers do?  They can and do make a difference reports Dr. Nieto. She cites a widely noted study that students assigned to several highly effective teachers had significantly greater gains in achievement than those assigned to less effective teachers. What qualities do good teachers have? According to Dr. Nieto, they possess a deep knowledge of the subject matter, a familiarity with a pedagogical approach, strong communication skills, and effective organization skills.

Dr. Noguera’s stirring final keynote address was drawn from his personal experiences as an educator. He spoke of letting students fall by the wayside and of the importance of providing a caring, focused, and considered approach to each student which gives them hope.  Dr. Noguera reminisced about being in his 20’s and visiting an alternative school in Berkeley, California where he was an assistant to the Mayor of Berkeley.

He went into the school one day and found most of the kids in the parking lot—only two or three were in the classroom. He asked the teachers at the school how everything was going. “Fine, it’s all right,” they replied. “You don’t bother them (the students) they don’t bother us.” Dr. Noguera was so concerned about the state of affairs at the school that he quit his job with the city of Berkeley and went to work at the school. He helped turn the school into a genuine alternative for kids who had been written off.

Dr. Noguera clearly stated that “the problem is not the children.” “The problem is the way we treat the children.” Dr. Noguera said that educators need to go the extra mile in finding out about their students, what matters to them, what they like to do “after school. You can break certain patterns if you want to, it takes a lot of effort, it doesn’t just happen,” said Dr. Noguera.#



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