Preparing teachers to make classrooms safe and inclusive
As a social studies teacher in Philadelphia, Kristen Jackson saw firsthand the consequences of students of color disproportionately represented in special ed classes. “I had many students of color diagnosed with emotional disturbance, which seemed to be the school’s attempt to segregate students without providing true support – and many ended up in prison and youth facilities,” she says. It was clear to her that teacher training had a role in perpetuating that inequity. “Black behavior is coded as pathological, and it’s often the result of teachers misunderstanding cultural norms.”
A first-year PhD student at Stanford Graduate School of Education, Jackson is one of four students participating in Leadership for Systemwide Inclusive Education (LSIE), a new doctoral program funded by the U.S. Department of Education. LSIE scholars receive five years of funding and participate in joint learning with a doctoral cohort at the University of Kansas, home to one of the most highly ranked special ed departments in the country.
Jackson, whose focus is curriculum studies and teacher education, is investigating how race and inequality are substantively addressed – or not – in teacher preparation. “I’m not a formally trained special education teacher, and I’ve often struggled with accommodations,” she says. But all teachers, she says, need to be accountable for making classrooms safe for all students, rather than deflecting responsibility to special ed teachers or other liaisons. “Why aren’t we more equipped to consider equity in our instruction?” she asks. “How do we move from ‘It’s not my job’ to ‘It’s everyone’s job’ – and we have the skills to do it well?”