On Wednesday, February 9, 2011, urban sociologist and author Pedro Noguera joined University of Chicago Urban Teacher Education Program (UChicago UTEP) students, past and present, to discuss the work of teaching in urban classrooms.
Noguera was invited by UChicago UTEP to be the speaker at its annual book club where current students and alumni join together to discuss the featured author’s work. As both the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University and a respected writer on education issues, Noguera’s visit was highly anticipated. So much so that he was asked to not only accept the UChicago UTEP invitation, but also to give an earlier talk for Urban Education Institute staff.
In his addresses to both groups, Noguera highlighted the importance of understanding students’ context and environment.
“The better we know who we teach, the better we can teach them,” said Noguera. He continued, “If we don’t understand the environment in which we work, we are simply triaging students.”
Noguera stressed that adults need to have the courage to listen to kids about their classroom experiences. “Students know who they learn from and who they don’t, and why,” he said, adding, “many adults are delusional about what is going on in their building. What they believe is happening isn’t happening as a reality for students. We need to listen to what our kids have to say.”
Another point Noguera emphasized was the necessity of a strong school culture for urban student success. He said, “A strong culture is what sets a school apart: the attitudes, values, norms and relationships, supported by an environment of collaboration. The fact is that the culture of the school can be more powerful than the culture of the streets.”
When speaking to the audience of UChicago UTEP teachers and teacher candidates, Noguera recognized the awe-inspiring work of teachers, while pushing for more collaboration, student understanding and continued development.
“I know that teaching is hard work, but it’s less hard if all of you work together. We cannot continue the massive problem of teacher isolation. We need to learn from one another,” Noguera said.
After his address to the UChicago UTEP cohorts, Noguera moved throughout the room, pausing at multiple round tables to discuss the book of his that the table had selected. The students had the opportunity to question the author and probe deeper into the issues raised during his talk.
Marv Hoffman, UChicago UTEP’s Associate Director, said of Noguera’s visit, “This is the first time we have invited an author from outside of Chicago to our book group. It is important for our students to know that their commitment to social justice resonates nationally. They heard that confirmed in the voice of one of our country’s greatest advocates for children who have been deprived of their right to the education they deserve.”
Noguera’s final words to the group will continue to resonate because they already guide UChicago UTEP's commitment to educational equity: “Teaching is the most important profession available to truly solve the problems of inequality.”