The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Dr. Aimee Barber believes elementary school teachers can impact students’ lives in ways other than teaching – by identifying educational inequities and influencing policy changes.
The assistant professor in the Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction in UL Lafayette’s College of Education also believes it is incumbent on college educators to teach them how.
“It’s our responsibility to provide opportunities for future teachers to recognize that they have an informed say about issues that matter to them. By equipping teacher candidates with student-centered change processes we can potentially reach thousands of kids,” she said.
At the heart of the issue is closing achievement gaps created by opportunity gaps – access to resources such as capable teachers, challenging curriculums and quality education materials.
“It’s especially important now, because many schools and school districts are placing a focus on educational inequity, which is a variation in learning opportunities based on where a child lives and goes to school,” Barber explained.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 45% of the nation’s schools with high rates of poverty receive less funding than other schools in their districts.
Barber is doing her part to ensure that such disparities are recognized and addressed.
She examined the topic in her dissertation, “Teacher Candidates’ Engagement in Equity-Focused Practitioner Inquiry: Navigating Complexities of Learning to Teach.” It recently won the Distinguished Dissertation in Teacher Education Award. The Association of Teacher Educators recognizes one dissertation each year.
Barber earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum, Teaching, and Teacher Education last December from the University of Florida as part of a program geared toward professional educators. She has taught at UL Lafayette since 2013.
In Spring 2019, Barber implemented an equity-focused “practitioner inquiry cycle” into classroom internships among five education majors she supervised during their last semesters of study. Practitioner inquiry is a systematic, intentional study by educators of their own practice.
Dr. Nathan Roberts, dean of the College of Education, said Barber’s study is “especially valuable because it enables students to conduct research that they will be able to use in their own classrooms.”
As part of their internships, students identified and researched educational inequity. They then collected field notes in classrooms, and met regularly to discuss their observations, Barber explained.
“There were no set guidelines or parameters about what information to seek. That was done intentionally. The goal of the study wasn’t necessarily to solve issues, but to show teacher candidates how to embed research into their practice, empower them to challenge norms, and foster critical thinking,” she said.
As much as her students, the study will help guide Barber’s own teaching methods.
During meetings with the teacher candidates, she took notes on their conversations and written observations, listened to their concerns and ideas, and interviewed them about their experiences.
“Some interns recognized inequities at their schools, and others didn’t. Some felt it was important for them to become change agents; others didn’t buy in to the idea that addressing educational inequity is an expected component of teaching,” Barber explained.
She will incorporate some of the study results into instruction, and new course components across the college’s teacher preparation program.
Barber will also share her research with other educators during the annual meeting of the Association of Teacher Educators. It will be held virtually from Feb. 14-17.
Graphic credit: Association of Teacher Educators