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Sep. 11, 2020

Student view: A force for change

Julia Alvarez reflects on her MSU experience and how she was able to impact teacher education on a higher level.

Julia Alvarez graduated with a degree in elementary education and was selected to be one of the student commencement speakers for the class of 2020. Alvarez is completing her student intern year for her teaching certification.

The following student view is edited and repurposed content. For the original story by Lauren Knapp, visit the College of Education website.

People are a lot like trees. A person who is finding their way in the world — say, a young student — might be a sapling just planted in the ground. 

As an educator, I see the tree that students can become. In the Teacher Preparation Program, we talk a lot about adapting to different learning styles and working with kids to make them comfortable with failing, or not always doing things right the first time. But, at some point, students need to learn to grow themselves.

In fall 2018, I was a very young tree…an education major sitting in ENG 302. I was feeling frustrated by the limitations I saw within the teacher education program. Specifically, how the program did — or did not — acknowledge topics such as race and equity. 

My professor Lamar Johnson, associate professor of language and literacy in the College of Arts and Letters, stepped in when he overheard a conversation between me and a classmate of mine — voicing our shared frustrations.

He asked us what we were going to do about it.

That was an important moment for me. It got me thinking about what I could actually do. If we have this power, why aren’t we using it?

We set up a meeting with the director of our program to discuss our thoughts and experiences.

The timing of this meeting worked well because in early 2018, faculty in the Department of Teacher Education established a list of Core Principles dedicating themselves, as scholars and as a department, to practices of equity and social justice; participating in public discourse and amplifying voices of others. Those principles laid the groundwork as faculty thought next about how to improve the renowned Teacher Preparation Program.

Then, the Michigan Department of Education announced statewide changes to teacher education standards in January 2019; what my classmate and friend Olivia Gundrum and I had talked about really began to take shape.

We participated in a redesign retreat with MSU faculty and mentor teachers from across the state where we shared our thoughts about the need for more conversations and action around race, whiteness, justice and equity — how discussions regarding these topics happened early in the program, but then didn’t connect to what we learned in later courses.

Because of our feedback, that’s now changed. What was once a single semester on these topics is now a required, yearlong course. Also new to the program: Four social justice seminars that will run in conjunction with methods courses. 

A recurring theme during my time here — and, one of my favorite things about this university — is our willingness to change. To me, what it means to be a Spartan is coming together to make change for a bigger purpose.

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