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Alumni profile: Fostering social justice in the classroom

Kristen B. Morales

May 29, 2019

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Mariana Souto-Manning wants us to rethink how we've structured teacher education.

Mariana Souto-Manning In her most recent research study, the Teachers College, Columbia University, professor is looking at ways we can commit to preparing teachers who can build on the promise and brilliance of children of color. While these students have been historically marginalized, Souto-Manning (B.S.Ed. '01, M.Ed. '02, Ph.D. '05) wants us to question how teacher education is organized—for example, student-teaching placements or school-university partnerships—and instead work toward fostering equity and justice.

"Teachers need to recognize that too many knowledges have been marginalized in the curriculum and too many ways of communicating have been silenced in the classrooms," she says. "And these contribute to how children of color and other minoritized children are failed by schools and schooling."

After receiving her degrees from the University of Georgia, Souto-Manning taught at the University of South Carolina and at UGA before moving to Columbia University, where she is the first Latinx person to be promoted to full professor in the 80-year history of Columbia's Department of Curriculum and Teaching. She is also the founding co-director of the Center for Innovation in Teacher Education and Development, a collaboration between Teachers College and King's College in London.

A former preschool and primary grades teacher, Souto-Manning continues to collaborate with classroom teachers to find solutions to issues of equity and access. Often, this involves bringing students' families into the classroom conversation and using their experiences and stories to drive the discussion and learning. For example, while working with New York City public school teacher Jessica Martell, she created one example of how teacher education can benefit both children and university students by allowing families to be the focus of classroom interviews.

"When a student's blind grandmother was interviewed, young children and future teachers were able to learn more about blind culture," says Souto-Manning. "At the same time, young children learned how to come up with insightful questions while future teachers learned how to position families centrally into the curriculum and teaching."

She credits the variety of disciplines she experienced as an undergraduate and graduate student at UGA for giving her a strong foothold in her field. Coursework and experiences in early childhood education, language and literacy education, and special education, she says, allowed her to think about preparing teachers to support the brilliance of every child—especially those who have traditionally been left behind. "Because of the faculty experience at UGA and because of the faculty's commitment to justice, I learned to question injustices in education from different angles," she says. "It was here that my research questions were first developed and where my research journey started."