The Berkeley School of Education’s teacher education program is rising to the challenges of this unprecedented period for public education with a new name and, more importantly, a new vision for teacher preparation.
The program formerly known by a shifting constellation of acronyms—most recently, Berkeley Educators for Equity or BE3—is now the Berkeley Teacher Education Program (BTEP), a program title that the BSE hopes will provide a clear sense of mission and align with peer institutions.
As the pandemic has laid bare vast inequities in our education systems, BTEP will take on the challenges with a new commitment by “centering issues of equity and justice,” said Prof. Thomas Philip, faculty director of BTEP.
Philip said the program has been reorganized to provide a more “coherent experience” for students that more directly links theory and practice, connects field experiences to university courses, and deepens relationships with school and community partners.
“The beauty of teaching is that educators are always making profound judgments in the moment that are rooted in knowing and caring for each student and the classroom community; these pedagogical judgments are simultaneously situated in a larger understanding of the historical, social, political, and economic contexts of schooling and a vision for a more just and equitable world,” said Philip.
What do these changes mean in practice? For one, BTEP has done away with a standalone course on equity. Perhaps that seems contrary to the refreshed mission, but an equity lens is now authentically integrated into the full set of curricular and field experiences, explained Philip. He said that a stance of equity and justice is woven into every course, whether focused on teaching elementary social studies, middle school math, or high-school English.
BTEP offers four pathways: Elementary/Multiple Subjects, Secondary Math and Science, Secondary English, and Secondary Social Studies. The pathway structure supports new teachers in developing subject area and grade level expertise and creates opportunities for them to learn about cross-cutting concerns and possibilities in K-12 education.
Building on the strengths of an integrated teacher education program, BTEP is doing more to connect universities and local schools in reciprocal ways. Historically, university teaching programs have relied on “cooperating teachers,” to host and mentor student teachers—often with little reward for the teachers or schools. Berkeley’s program takes a new approach, establishing “site-based” models for student teaching that place multiple students at a single school and devote more resources to supporting the teachers at those sites.
These sites—primarily in West Contra Costa, Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, San Rafael, and Alameda districts this year—will better support cooperating teachers who work with student teachers and provide time for communities of practice, reflection, collaboration, and professional learning.
Kyle Beckham, MA program lead and core lecturer, said that the new direction for BTEP will position Berkeley to have stronger and more sustainable relationships with partner schools—”and ideally, as things get going, create a virtuous cycle of cooperative teachers for future generations of candidates—driving school change.”
Beckham leads students on community mapping projects that ask them to examine assets and challenges at the classroom, school site and community levels. The intention, he said, is for teachers to be knowledgeable about where their students live—accessibility of transportation and grocery stores, for example—and what can be leveraged in the school or community to support them.
Beckham said mapping questions include things like, “Where do the kids go after school? How do they get to school? What are the places near the school that could be deeply connected to students, but are not because the teachers don’t know the community?”
The master’s students may not end up student-teaching in the schools or districts where they complete the mapping exercise, but the project gives them the tools, know-how, and sensibility to conduct mapping wherever they land as teachers.
“My general approach is that schools are both sites of oppression and liberation,” said Beckham. “One of my big goals for my time with the candidates is for them to really understand the complexity and nuance of schooling.”
The BTEP approach comes at a time when teachers—especially in districts stretched to breaking by the pandemic—are in need of greater support across the board. The intention is that BTEP alumni will stay in these districts, working with predominantly students from historically marginalized groups, serving as cooperating teachers, and ultimately contributing to transformation.
“If we can commit to producing 80 to 100 teachers each year in select Bay Area schools, over 10 years we can make a profound impact,” said Philip.
In addition to Philip and Beckham, the BTEP lead team spearheading these efforts include Chela Delgado, humanities faculty advisor; Elisa Salasin, director of teacher education; Geetha Lakshminarayanan, STEM faculty advisor; Manny Herrera, Elementary/Multiple Subject Faculty Advisor; nives wetzel de cediel, director of field placement and supervision. BTEP also plans to bring on an adjunct faculty member this year to strengthen the research to practice threads and to further support the research contribution that Berkeley teacher education makes to the larger field.