Fall 2022

Greetings from the Chair

Tom Shields headshot Happy Autumn! As I write this, the leaves on the trees are alive with color. Our campus is vibrant with students walking under the brightly colored canopy and crisp leaves fill our walkways. It is hard to believe that the pandemic is now an endemic and the routines of the academic year have returned with ease and familiarity.

Unfortunately, what is playing out in our schools is not good for the future of our democracy or the hope to achieve a high standard of living as an industrialized country. Not a day goes by without a blaring headline about the state of our public schools. Here is a sampling: “‘A way of protest’: Unsatisfied Richmond-area teachers leaving in droves”; “Threats, Classroom Cameras & Politics: Why American Teachers Are Dropping Out”; and “The Teacher Shortage is Testing America’s Schools.”

More and more teachers are deciding that the profession is not satisfying. Feeling they are not valued or treated well, many teachers are opting to depart — some are leaving in the middle of the school year. Unfortunately, what is playing out in our schools is not good for the future of our democracy or the hope to achieve a high standard of living as industrialized country. Teachers are vital to creating future citizens and helping students become their best and productive selves. Teachers also provide young people a chance to form a relationship that is safe, secure, and trusting. Simply put, without sufficient numbers of quality teachers, our American ethos and republic will begin to fade and falter.

The faculty and staff in Graduate Education are fully aware of this trend and are deeply concerned about these troubling signs in K-12 education and in our society. We know former students who have exited the profession. We look out across our classrooms and see the worry on the faces of our current students. We are not sitting idly by, but are doing things to help with this crisis.

We are actively encouraging dialogue and creating programs to address this unsettling problem of why there is a lack of teachers and why teachers might be mistreated. Dr. Kate Cassada, authored an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch titled “Teacher Vacancy Crisis Demands More Than Piecemeal Fixes.” In that piece, Dr. Cassada argues that now is the time to act before it is too late: “the time for piecemeal correction is long past, requiring dramatic changes and commitments now.” With faculty from Virginia Commonwealth University, I convened a forum of advocates, lawyers, policy makers, and practitioners to discuss the educational civil rights of teachers who feel as if they are silenced and can’t speak openly or teach on the issues of diversity, inclusivity, and equity.

We are assisting those teachers in our local school divisions who have a provisional license move in the direction of completing coursework and receive quality advising that will lead to licensure. Through a generous grant from the REB Foundation, we have created a response to the documented need to support pre-service and in-service teachers who take nontraditional and provisional pathways toward teacher licensure. Our Provisional Licensure Support (PLuS) program offers the School-based Teacher Education Partnership (STEP) for current Master of Teaching students and the Teacher Licensure Completion (TLC) program for provisionally licensed teachers.

We acknowledge there is much more to be done — our children’s lives and our country’s future depends on finding and training the next generation of teachers.

Throughout this newsletter you will also note how active and engaged our faculty and staff are with local schools and our community. The opening up of classrooms, schools, and society has allowed us to bring groups of teachers and school leaders to campus and hold face-to-face meetings and large-scale events. We are pleased that President Kevin Hallock has made community engagement one of the priorities of his Guiding Lights. As you will see from the many pictures in this newsletter, we believe our work with educators — from schools in the local Richmond region to as far away as Germany and Switzerland — fits nicely with this priority.

Finally, as you have come to expect, there are many stories and links on the successes of the faculty, alumni and students. Faculty and staff are publishing, being quoted in local news articles, and even receiving Fulbright appointments. While our students are not only succeeding in pursuing their goals, but also giving back to our Spider community. As always, please be sure to check out (and follow) @URleaders on Twitter.

In closing, we need to be grateful for where we are now that the pandemic has receded, but we also have to mindful that the impact is still felt in our schools and society. If you see a teacher, make sure you thank them for all they are doing and give them the praise that they deserve. And, if you know anyone who wants to be a teacher — make sure you tell them about our wonderful Spider family!

Have a great Fall everyone!

Tom Shields signature
Tom J. Shields, Ph.D.
Graduate Education Chair