Round tables of engaged alumni and participants at the TeacherPrep anniversary conference

Teacher Prep celebrates 50 years of service through teaching

Alumni of Princeton’s Teacher Prep program traveled from across the country to campus for “Honoring the Past, Preparing the Future: Celebrating 50 Years of Preparing Teachers for the Nation’s Service,” a 50th anniversary conference held April 12 and 13. Pictured: Attendees reconnect with friends and former professors in Chancellor Green Rotunda.

“The cherry blossoms are out, we might be seeing a few April showers. It’s a great day to celebrate!” said Todd Kent, director of Princeton’s Program in Teacher Preparation, in kicking off the commemoration of the program’s 50th anniversary.

“Honoring the Past, Preparing the Future: Celebrating 50 Years of Preparing Teachers for the Nation’s Service,” was held on campus April 12 and 13. “Teaching is all about people, and nowhere is that more evident than between teachers and their students. …The faces might change, but the relationships last a lifetime,” said Kent in his welcoming remarks.

Sabine Kastnerspeaks to a group of visitors to her lab

Sabine Kastner (left), professor of psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, gives a tour of her lab.

Throughout the weekend, attendees chatted excitedly, shared hugs and took selfies as they recognized friends and former professors. Alumni ranging from the Class of 2018 to the early ’70s came from across the country — representing 41 of the 50 years of the program. The 150 participants, including current students in the Teacher Prep certificate program, and current and former faculty and staff, enjoyed panels, keynote addresses, roundtable discussions and campus tours — and had plenty of time to socialize. Much of the programming was open to the public.

Since Teacher Prep received state approval in 1969, more than 1,100 Princeton students have completed the program and gone on to careers in teaching and administration. The program is nationally accredited, formerly with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council which has now been merged into the Council  for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Graduates are eligible for certification to teach at the middle and high school levels in New Jersey, which has reciprocity agreements with 45 other states.

Kent speaks on a panel with 3 others

Todd Kent (left), director of Teacher Prep, participates in the panel “50 Years: The Program Perspective” with two former program directors, John Webb and Marue Walizer, and moderator Peter Horn, a 1997 alumnus.

“The 50th anniversary is an important milestone and provides the opportunity to honor our current and past students who make the choice to use their Princeton education to improve the lives of others through teaching,” said Kent, a 1983 alumnus who joined Teacher Prep in 1997 as an instructor and became director in 2017. He also thanked the schools and districts that partner with the program. “We could not do our work without the generosity of our local school districts in opening their classrooms to our students.”

In his welcoming remarks, President Christopher L. Eisgruber said he often hears people express their concern that education has become “all about information transmission” and that online learning is going to “take over” education.

“I don't think teaching is about information transmission,” he said. “I think it's about human relationships. That's why all of us… can think back and remember some teacher who made a difference in our lives. I want to thank you for bringing that from Princeton to the schools in which you participate.”

Rebecca Graves-Bayazitoglu, director of the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning and associate dean of the college, moderated the opening panel on April 12, “Access and Equity Initiatives at Princeton,” in McCormick Hall, Room 101.

Khristina Gonzales and Miguel Centeno speak on a panel

Khristina Gonzalez (left), associate dean of the college, director of the Freshman Scholars Institute, and director of programs for access and inclusion, responds to an audience member during the Q&A session following the panel “Access and Equity Initiatives at Princeton,” as Miguel Centeno, the Musgrave Professor of Sociology, looks on.

Panelists included Jason Klugman, director of the Princeton University Preparatory Program (PUPP), a tuition-free program for high-achieving, low-income students from six partner high schools in Mercer County, New Jersey; Khristina Gonzalez, associate dean of the college, director of the Freshman Scholars Institute and director of programs for access and inclusion; Miguel Centeno, the Musgrave Professor of Sociology and co-founder of PUPP; and senior Ana Patricia Esqueda, who is concentrating in psychology and pursuing certificates in Latino studies and linguistics.

Graves-Bayazitoglu opened the discussion: “What are the aspects of your experience that the broader educational community should be aware of?”

“Between high school and college, if you’re FLI [first-generation, low-income], you lose your network — your family. You might be afraid to reach out to professors, when it doesn’t feel like the most natural step to take,” said Esqueda, a first-generation student who moved with her family from Venezuela in fifth grade, went through PUPP in high school and attended FSI the summer before starting at Princeton. She will begin graduate studies at the University of Michigan in the fall.

President Christopher L. Eisgruber speaks on a stage

In his welcoming remarks, President Christopher L. Eisgruber tells alumni, “I think [teaching]’s about human relationships. … I want to thank you for bringing that from Princeton to the schools in which you participate.”

Klugman noted how the diversity and inclusion landscape has evolved. When PUPP was founded, few other selective schools had similar access programs, he said.

Commenting on the role of faculty in initiatives in access and inclusion, Centeno said: “There is the assumption that a student who is really smart has been told they’re really smart. Or that they write well. Faculty shouldn’t make those assumptions but rather look for opportunities to recognize students’ strengths and tell them. Whether it’s a woman in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], or a Latino or someone else. Just being told you’re good at something can make a big difference.”

Esqueda attributed part of her success at Princeton to professors who copied her on emails, connecting her with professors in other departments. She also suggested faculty include on their syllabi readings that reflect the demographic make-up of students in the classroom. “Students want to see themselves in the syllabi,” she said.

During the Q&A, an audience member asked Gonzalez how Princeton identifies students for programs such as FSI.

“Students are telling us in admission essays, ‘I’m nervous about coming to Princeton,’ they’re saying on their applications they’re first-gen,” Gonzalez said, explaining that Princeton sends information about its full range of FLI resources. Last year, 220 incoming students signed up for the program that supports students through their entire time at Princeton, she said.

Jennifer Jennings speaks at a podium

Jennifer Jennings, a Teacher Prep alumna who joined the Princeton faculty in 2017 as a professor of sociology and public affairs, delivers her keynote speech, “Be the Early Worm: Reasons for Educational Optimism in Uncertain Times.”

Cecilia Rouse, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Lawrence and Shirley Katzman and Lewis and Anna Ernst Professor in the Economics of Education, introduced keynote speaker Jennifer Jennings, a 2000 Princeton alumna who began her career as a high school social studies teacher before transitioning into academia. She joined the Princeton faculty in 2017 as a professor of sociology and public affairs.

“It’s an honor to be with my ‘teacher people’ and celebrate this program that shaped my own pathway and those of our students,” Jennings said in her talk, “Be the Early Worm: Reasons for Educational Optimism in Uncertain Times.”

Jennings cited alarming but all too real statistics about events of violence and hate in schools across the country.

“Beyond these incidents, there are many other reasons to be distressed,” Jennings said, including active shooter drills taking place in classrooms as early as kindergarten; “huge spikes of kids in crisis” grappling with social, academic and mental health issues; and “too many shootings to count.”

But, Jennings assured, “This talk is going to be positive,” eliciting a release of laughter from the audience.

Enumerating a list of reforms that have consumed educators and policymakers in the past 20 years — from No Child Left Behind to teacher evaluation reform — Jennings emphasized the importance of creating systems that support teachers’ ability to build meaningful relationships with students.

“The ‘early worm’ is essentially looking a suboptimal situation in the eye and going for it anyway,” Jennings said. “Teacher Prep is the early worm. … The reasons for optimism are sitting in this room.”

The April 13 keynote given by Pedro Noguera, the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, was titled “Bringing an Equity Lens to the Classroom: Strategies and Practices That Meet the Needs of Diverse Learners” in McCosh Hall, Room 10.

Before introducing Noguera, Stanley Katz, a lecturer with rank of professor of public and international affairs and a member of the Teacher Prep advisory board for 20 years, expressed his gratitude to the alumni in the audience. When he added, “I think this my 57th year of teaching,” the audience applauded loudly and long.

Noguera, a first-gen college student, recalled the reaction of his friends at Brown University when he told them he wanted to go into teaching.

Pedro Noguera speaks to an audience

Pedro Noguera focuses on strategies to address inequities in education in his keynote address, “Bringing an Equity Lens to the Classroom: Strategies and Practices That Meet the Needs of Diverse Learners.” Noguera is the Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California-Los Angeles.

“They frowned,” he said.

At college, he was overwhelmed by the privileged backgrounds of most of his classmates. He played on the rugby team alongside Brian Moynihan, who would go on to become CEO of Bank of America. John Kennedy Jr. was a wingman. “To come into that setting as the son of a police officer from New York City, an immigrant, was daunting. I knew I needed to use my education to make a difference in the lives of others,” he said.

“Education is one of the only fields where we put the least prepared people in front of the most challenging students,” he said. “I’m glad we don’t do that with pilots.” He pressed for novice teachers to get more mentorship and to be placed in schools early in their careers where they will experience success. “We are sending our [young] teachers into schools where they get eaten alive. It takes more than a year or two to get good at teaching.”

He said the imbalance of wealth in America continues to astound him. “We just went through an eight-day strike in LA. In a state that is home to Google and Apple and agribusiness and Hollywood, why do we allow our schools to languish in the way we do? … We spend a whole lot to incarcerate people. Who do we incarcerate most? Those we fail to educate. These are the questions that keep me up at night.”

Noguera is the author and co-author of several books on education and opportunity. 

The key to equity work, he said, “is eliminating barriers that prevent kids from being able to use education to improve their lives and their families and communities.”

In closing, Noguera said: “The future of this country depends on what happens in classrooms. Democracy in this country is in trouble. I encourage you to do all you can to see that all children receive the education that they deserve.”

Natalie Tung, a 2018 alumna who completed her student teaching this fall, said she took away lots of advice from Noguera’s talk for HomeWorks, the Trenton nonprofit she started while an undergraduate. Tung received a fellowship from ReachOut 56-81-06 her senior year to support HomeWorks, a community-based after-school, boarding program that provides academic and social-emotional enrichment activities for girls.

Tung, a native of Hong Kong, credits Teacher Prep with supporting her dream of becoming a teacher. “Teacher Prep has challenged [me] to think more deeply about race relations. I have learned more about empathy and am using it to navigate my relationships. I am beyond grateful for my students, teachers and mentors who challenged, supported and encouraged me throughout this amazing experience.”

Throughout the weekend, alumni connected the impact of Teacher Prep with their vision of service.

“This 50-year anniversary is an important reminder that preparing teachers — and future school leaders, policymakers, researchers and education advocates — is in the service of American democracy and educated citizenry around the world,” said Daniella Phillips, a 1989 alumna and member of the Teacher Prep steering committee who appeared on the panel “Equity and Opportunity in Schools.” She has served as District 1 superintendent for New York City’s public schools for 10 years.

Another steering committee member, John Yi, a 2003 alumnus and chemistry teacher at Millburn High School in Millburn, New Jersey, said, “Teacher Prep nourished within me a spirit of service through teaching.”

Regis Pecos speaks on a panel

Regis Pecos (left), a 1977 alumnus, co-diretor of the Leadership Institute at Santa Fe Indian School and chief of staff for New Mexico’s House Speaker, addresses a question from the audience in the panel “Beyond the Classroom: Promoting Innovation and Change.” Panelists included Laura Overdeck (center), a member of the Class of 1991, a University trustee and the founder and president of Bedtime Math; and Doug Knecht, a 1995 alumnus and vice president of the Bank Street Education Center.

With Kent, two former directors of Teacher Prep participated in the panel “50 Years: The Program Perspective.”

Marue Walizer, who served as director from 1989-2000 and is retired from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in West Windsor, New Jersey, called the conference “an exhilarating demonstration of the wonderful effectiveness of Princeton's Teacher Prep Program in developing creative and powerful educational leaders over the last decades.” Walizer previously taught English for 25 years in public high schools.

“These have been very challenging times for teacher preparation programs all over the country, with the many new requirements that state departments of education have put in place,” said John Webb, who served as director from 2000-10 and was previously chair of the foreign language department at Hunter College High School. “But our Teacher Prep Program has risen to all those challenges and is going strong.”