With the goal of training teachers truly equipped to teach in urban schools, the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at Rutgers University NJ has introduced the GSE Urban and Social Justice Teacher Education Program. Dr. Kedra N. Gamble, assistant professor of professional practice, brings her extensive experience in pre-K–12 education and a commitment to developing better-informed and more effective teachers.
Teacher and Supervisor
After earning a bachelor's degree in English and psychology at Rutgers and an Ed.M. in early childhood/elementary education with a literacy concentration at GSE, Gamble became a teacher in New Jersey in 1996. She knew from the start of her career that her focus would be urban education because she wanted to be where students needed her the most. The research around teacher preparation and quality showed disparity between urban and more affluent districts.
At the start of her career, she often stayed at school until the evening, washing school clothes and braiding hair so students would feel greater confidence. She wanted to create a space where kids felt cared for and safe, so they'd be more receptive to learning.
Efforts by the governor's office in the early 2000s to improve literacy piqued Gamble's interest. She saw that if she began working with teachers, her influence would multiply. After three-and-a-half years with the New Jersey Department of Education, she became a reading interventionist, literacy coach and professional learning facilitator at school districts around the state. Gamble worked in areas of teacher professional learning, trying to overcome preconceived notions of how kids in underserved areas should be taught.
Gamble says research shows teachers who go into urban settings often feel inadequately prepared. Her goal is to be part of the solution.
In response to a deeply felt need in the state of New Jersey, Rutgers GSE has designed the Urban and Social Justice Teacher Education Program to develop teachers committed to excellence, equity and social justice in their teaching. Principles include developing meaningful understanding of diversity, effectively teaching of a diverse student base that includes historically marginalized students, identifying and addressing discrimination and being a caring and competent practitioner.
Gamble says ongoing professional learning is crucial for teachers to be successful in the classroom and advance school improvement. Effective teacher education is the basis of positive change, particularly giving teachers a framework for how to understand and react to the often disparate needs of their students.
At the beginning of every course Gamble teaches, she lets the present and future teachers know that she respects them as individuals and she expects them to bring that attitude into the classroom with their students.
“I want them to develop a social justice–oriented mind, a mind to look at individual students and have empathy toward them,” she says.
Gamble also brings her skill set as a pre-K–12 educator and supervisor of instruction into the field as she oversees clinical interns practicing to be teachers. She's getting to know the districts where GSE's partnership schools are located and their particular challenges, so she can bring that insight to the university and inform the teacher ed program.
“We're trying to spread good practice and at the same time get a sense of what the needs are in our districts and figure out ways to address them through our programs and through other offerings we may have at the university,” Gamble says.
“We need to identify the structures that are systematically, continually marginalizing our students and not giving them access to the types of resources that will change their outcome and their trajectory,” Gamble says. “We have to have teachers who believe in the students they're serving, who are comfortable talking about culture, identity, race, challenges and nontraditional methods of reaching students.”
In addition, teacher education programs embracing an urban ed–focused, social justice–grounded approach, Gamble is developing a new course focused on social justice pedagogy for teachers so they are able to bring those ideas into the classroom and empower their students to become social justice–minded. Both students and teachers will become more comfortable and adept at speaking out when they see structures that promote inequity or injustice.
Another responsibility of Gamble's is overseeing a conference called Urban Teaching Matters. Teachers who are in the field present successful strategies and practices.
This would include discussion around how teachers can handle the pressure of standardized testing. Gamble says it doesn't help a child come up to grade level in reading by bombarding the child with text he or she cannot grasp. The goal is to promote growth by incremental progress and help students develop a desire for learning.
“Even if he or she hasn't made it to grade level, he or she will have grown and developed the motivation, persistence and resilience to continue to grow,” says Gamble.
“Every student who leaves Rutgers GSE with a degree will have experience in urban ed, teaching emergent bilinguals and community service in an area where there's high need,” she adds. “If you have the tools to be successful in urban ed and you're social justice–minded, you can make change anywhere.”