Mental Illness Among College Students: Would a Gap Year Help?

Today’s blogger is William Beaver (Robert Morris University–Pittsburgh), author of the article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?”, which appears in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of August.

I first became interested in mental illness among college students a few years ago when a dorm counselor at the college where I taught told me that the number of students on Prozac was higher than anyone would suspect. I then thought back to my years as an undergraduate. Depression, often referred to as the common cold of mental illness, obviously existed. Yet, I don’t recall anyone talking much about it, and no one ever told me they were depressed. Most likely, that was because my peer group was mostly male, where admitting any weakness rarely occurred. I do remember one time sitting around a table in the student union when someone said that a male student, whom we all knew, had tried to commit suicide. No one at the table said anything, and the subject was quickly changed.

That said, my generation certainly had things to be stressed about. A couple of days before classes started in our freshman year, the president of the school informed us that one-third of our class would not be returning for their sophomore year because they had less than the coveted 2.0, which, as I recall, turned out to be fairly accurate. For males, there was a serious penalty for getting poor grades: Vietnam. If students didn’t have a C average after two semesters, they had to sit out a semester, which also made them eligible for the draft. (I knew of two students who did end up in Vietnam.) No one talked much about that either, perhaps because the consequences could be so dire.

From my own experience, I concluded that my generation was under a lot of pressure, and depression and anxiety were probably common, but we just chose to suffer in silence. Hence, the higher rate of mental illness among today’s students was simply tied to the fact that people were more open about it. Some of the research literature agreed with my conclusion. However, other studies were finding that although people were more open about mental illness, other factors were involved, and the increase in mental illness among college students was real.

What could these factors be? Fear of school shootings, concerns about finding a good job to help pay off school loans, snowplow parents, grades, and the increased use of social media are commonly cited. In recent years, social media has garnered the most attention and has raised some intriguing questions. For instance, does the use of social media cause depression, or do students who are already depressed turn to it? One can certainly understand how cyberbullying could be harmful. On the other hand, a study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found that students who agreed to limit their smartphone use reported lower levels of depression, suggesting that use alone is associated with depression.

Doing something about student mental health has proved to be difficult. Schools have increased the size of their counseling departments, but we appear to need other strategies to ensure better mental health for new students. That’s where the idea of a gap year comes in—taking the year following high school graduation and engaging in some meaningful activity before starting college.

I soon discovered that, in the United States, taking a gap year is rare. Only about 3% of students do so. But in some countries, like Norway and Turkey, up to 50% of high school graduates take gap years. There hasn’t been a lot of research on the impacts of a gap year in the United States. However, the research that does exist is encouraging. For instance, in one survey, more than 90% of students taking a gap year reported they had developed as a person and were more mature and self-confident.

The question then becomes how to increase these numbers. Certainly, teachers and counselors can help get the word out and engage students who they feel would benefit from a gap year. Schools could provide information about gap year fairs held in various parts of the country. Parents also need to be informed about the potential benefits involved and that taking a gap year can help ensure an eventually successful college experience. Gap years can be international, where students experience a different culture, or can take place close to home, perhaps simply gaining experience in working and independent living. Unfortunately, no one is predicting a decline in mental illness among college students, so it’s time to try different strategies like gap years to help lessen the problem. For a closer look at these issues, see my article “Would a ‘Gap Year’ Reduce Mental Illness Among College Students?” in the July 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.

Faculty Benefit from Playing and Letting Go of Certainty

By Anastasia P. Samaras and Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan

The authors wrote the article “Nourishing Wholehearted Faculty Professional Living Through Co-creative Play” in KDP’s current Educational Forum. You can find the article online for free during the month of July.

Anastasia P.  Samaras is a Professor of Education in the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University, Virginia, USA. She is a teacher educator, pedagogical scholar, and self-study research methodologist. Anastasia’s research centers on designing, co-facilitating, and researching neo-Vygotskian-based applications in curriculum and in faculty transdisciplinary polyvocal self-study professional learning communities with a focus on collective creative activity.

Kathleen Pithouse-Morgan is a Professor in the School of Education, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Her scholarship is in professional learning, with a specific focus on better understanding and supporting teachers and other professionals as self-directed and self-developing learners. Using creative and transdisciplinary approaches, she has collaborated across contexts and continents to study methodological inventiveness in professional learning research.

We are two teacher educators and self-study research methodologists who have been playing with methods and data collectively since 2012. Living an ocean apart in our respective home countries of the United States of America (USA) and South Africa, we have been enriched professionally by our collective creativity and particularly by what we have come to recognize as playfulness in self-study research.

During a recent conference presentation, we were asked if our work became easier over time. We replied, “No, we wouldn’t want it to. It grew more uncertain and yet exciting because of our willingness to take risks in our creative and collaborative endeavors.”

We have found that our playful collaborative work in higher education has returned us to places and spaces to progress and grow professionally and collaboratively. Similar to what Parten (1932) identified as collaborative play, an advanced stage of play for young children, collaborative play as academics makes us fuller because of each other. We have experienced what John-Steiner (2000), a Vygotskian scholar (1978), calls “complementarity” (p. 7), whereby we support and trust each other’s disposition to take risks by moving beyond our comfort zones – which is fundamental to creativity. When we share the risk, we are encouraged to take more risks, and we enter into a developmental space of mutual support and challenge.

We are drawn towards the work of Brené Brown (2010) and her guideposts for wholehearted living. We see vital points of connections between those guideposts and what we each have come to understand and practice through collaborating with others. In particular, we see resonances between what has emerged from our repeated explorations of polyvocal self-study and Brown’s emphasis on Cultivating Creativity, Cultivating Play, and Letting Go of the Need for Certainty.

We look at the impact of what happens when we get out of our familiar element. We examine what it can do for others, for students, and colleagues. It’s because we know that going into those spaces gives us the freedom to think in ways that we don’t think of in our usual pencil and paper performance.


Opening to uncertainty

Vulnerability and not knowing

No one is in charge


Creating a new composition

Pushing against the status quo

Changing what’s normal

What has that playing with research ideas entailed for us, and why might it matter for others? We invite you to read about our pluralist methodological route and analysis results in design elements for professional learning captured through rich pictures, poetry, and dialogue.

Supporting Effective Teaching: “You’re not an island.”

By Reva Jaffe-Walter and Cheri Fancsali

This month’s authors from the current Educational Forum wrote the article, “Complicating the Conversation on Teacher Quality: A Comparative Examination of Contextual Supports for Effective Teaching.It is available free for the month of June here.

Reva Jaffe-Walter is an Assistant Professor in the Department Educational Leadership at Montclair State University. She is an anthropologist of education exploring questions related to nationalism, the education of immigrant students, educational policy and school leadership. Her current research funded by the WT Grant Foundation examines key practices and relationships of effective schools serving recently arrived immigrant students.

Cheri Fancsali is Deputy Director at the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (New York University), where she provides leadership for strategic planning and organizational development. She has over two decades of experience in research and evaluations of school- and community-based educational programs, with a strong focus on teacher capacity building, school reform initiatives, STEM, computer science education, afterschool programs, and socio-emotional learning.

I just need support, and I don’t care where it comes from. From anyone. It feels like the support here doesn’t go to the teachers. No one asks me what I need for my classrooms. This week they gave me an overhead projector. A projector isn’t going to help my kids. I feel like it’s the showy stuff—’let’s have smart boards for when the suits come’—but it’s not about the teaching.” 

Too often, teachers struggle in isolation without the support that they deserve. But it doesn’t have to be this way. New research highlights how schools can better respond to teachers’ needs, so that they in turn can respond more effectively to the needs of their students.  In our article, “Complicating the Conversation on Teacher Quality: A Comparative Examination of Contextual Supports for Effective Teaching,” we found that when schools supported teacher collaboration, gave teachers an active voice in school decisions, and offered professional development that was aligned with teachers’ needs, they were more likely to use instructional practices that are shown to be effective. Further, these key dimensions of school context gave teachers more resources to engage in the complex work of addressing the needs of marginalized students. Reorienting schools around these kinds of humanizing practices will be particularly important as we work to fully reopen school buildings and help students and communities recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our research illuminates critical questions to ask when assessing a school’s professional context: How are teachers positioned within the school’s culture? Are they seen as embodying important local knowledge about practice and students, or as requiring top-down direction? Is time dedicated to teacher collaboration intermittent and sporadic, or a consistent part of community practice? What happens during common planning times? Who is determining the agendas of meetings and professional development? 

The type of authentic teacher collaboration that supports effective teaching might look differently in different contexts. For example, in our study, we observed one interdisciplinary team collaborating to devise strategies to support students who were struggling academically. They took turns sharing insights about the challenges facing each student and offering suggestions for different support strategies aimed at encouraging the students to persist in their education. Another team described weekly collaboration with their colleagues to support the development of the lessons and instructional practices: “As a team, we visit each other’s classes and do observations. In our team meetings we discuss what we saw in each other’s classrooms and make suggestions.”

When teachers engage in true collaboration and are empowered to contribute meaningfully to school decisions, they have more opportunities for professional growth. As one teacher said while reflecting on her involvement in school-wide committees, “It makes you grow, because you’re connected to your community. You’re not an island who doesn’t know what others are doing.”

Other studies have shown that teachers working in schools with strong professional supports for collaboration and learning, as well as opportunities to play a role in decision making, tend to be more satisfied and committed to their schools and students. Satisfied and committed teachers are more likely to stay in their position, and the field, reducing teacher turnover and its negative effects on students. Our study adds to this evidence, highlighting how school support for collaboration, high-quality professional development, and teacher leadership are in fact linked to the use of effective instructional practices such as hands-on instruction, frequent assessment and feedback, and peer collaboration.   Given student learning loss and trauma due to COVID, as well as the longstanding legacy of racism and inequality in this country and recent racist attacks against communities of color—now more than ever—teachers need time and space to reflect on how to engage in discussions of these events with their students. Schools can facilitate this by building in frequent, structured opportunities for teacher collaboration with a culture of reflection and inquiry. As school districts around the country engage in recovery efforts and work toward re-opening, it will be important to address teachers’ needs by attending to the professional structures, practices, and cultures that support their work. 

Critical Race Theory in the Classroom

By Christine E. Sleeter

Dr. Sleeter is professor emerita at California State University, where she was a founding faculty member. A prolific author, her work centers on multicultural education, ethnic studies, and teacher education. She is a member of Kappa Delta Pi’s Laureate Chapter.

I have watched in amazement as state legislatures have rushed to ban the teaching of critical race theory, or any curriculum that is based on it. To date, bills have been advanced in seven states banning the teaching of critical race theory in schools, and in one of these states—Idaho—the bill has been signed into law. Although such bills have not been advanced in my state of California, attacks on ethnic studies increasingly call out critical race theory. Critics claim that it is a divisive ideology that teaches hate, indoctrinates students with hate toward white people, and injects race into what should be a colorblind curriculum.

I come to this controversy as a white scholar of race and curriculum who has used critical race theory as an analytical tool in some of my academic work, and spent decades teaching predominantly white audiences about race and racism. I view attempts to censor critical race theory as an uninformed reaction to fear, a reaction that over the long run will be more harmful than helpful to the nation’s ability to grapple with its legacy of racism.

Critics of critical race theory (as well as critics of various forms of anti-racist education) often base their concern on the belief that talking about race is what produces racism, and that if we all try to be colorblind, racism will go away. This belief contradicts findings of the numerous research studies I have reviewed for the National Education Association on the impact of ethnic studies courses on students (including white students). Studies find fairly consistently that students (especially white students) begin with shallow conceptions of what racism is and how racism works, but by the end of a course that focuses on structural racism, have generally more positive racial attitudes than they began with. In other words, rather than fomenting racial hatred, coursework that examines structural racism generally improves cross-racial understanding.

The words “critical” and “race,” especially when put together, seem to operate as red flags that scare people. So let us briefly examine what critical race theory actually is. It is a stretch to call it an ideology. Merriam and Webster define ideology as “the integrated assertions, theories, and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program” and “a systematic body of concepts especially about human life or culture.” Critical race theory can be understood more accurately as a body of analytical tools for examining how race and racism work, premised on the assumptions that race is a social construct rather than a biological fact, and that racism is deeply ingrained in U.S. society. Critical race theory emerged from legal scholars of color who wanted to understand why civil rights legislation and litigation that purported to eradicate racism did not achieve these goals. In other words, following the Civil Rights movement, people of color have still experienced ongoing racial discrimination. Why? That is the central question the analytical tools of critical race theory seek to understand.

For example, one analytical tool is taking seriously people of color’s experiences with racism, based on the assumption that white people experience race differently from people of color, but that most public theorizing about race has been done by white people. (The unfounded theory that talking about race produces racism is one such theory.) Another analytical tool, interest convergence, holds that people act on their own self-interest. Interest convergence asks how racial remedies that seem fair to white people actually advance white self-interests.

If this brief explanation doesn’t sound like critical race theory as you have heard it discussed publicly, you’ve probably heard it discussed by people who do not understand it and extrapolate what they think combining the words “critical” and “race” must mean. If I don’t recognize critical race theory as I hear it characterized in the news and on the floor of state legislatures, that is because the bogey man people have invented out of fear doesn’t bear much resemblance to the academic theory I have studied and used.

I think the deeper question legislators are wrestling with is this: Should elementary and secondary age young people study race and racism in U.S. society, particularly as framed through the intellectual work of scholars of color? Does such curriculum teach hate?

It is important to realize that there is a huge difference between understanding, critiquing, and working to change white supremacy, versus hating white people. White supremacy is an institutionalized system that uses power to prioritize the needs and well-being of white people over of people of color, based on the assumption that white people are superior. White individuals do not have to uphold white supremacy, and many do not. In fact, challenging white supremacy and building inclusive institutions requires the involvement of white people! If we want to eradicate this nation’s legacy of racism, we must learn to confront racism directly, and to see it as a systemic issue and not only an issue of individual prejudice. Teaching young people about racism is not indoctrination, but rather means teaching viewpoints and providing factual data related to racism that they otherwise are not likely exposed to. Young people need to make up their own minds about how to think about race, and the better informed they are, the more thoughtfully they will do so. Rather than banning the analytical and pedagogical tools that enable this work, we would get much farther if we supported the preparation of teachers to teach race in the classroom.

Image to Image: The Evolution of a Teacher

By Sandy S. Lish

Mrs. Lish recently retired as a Family & Consumer Sciences educator at Billerica Memorial High School in Billerica, Massachusetts. She currently serves as the Extended Learning Opportunity and Internship Coordinator, where she mentors high school future educators throughout the school district.

The sounds of my squeaky sandals echoed throughout the dimly lit, empty hallway. The school year had finally ended, but not like any other. Instead of the norm, this particular day ushered in a new significance: the first seconds of my retirement. After cramming the last box of classroom keepsakes into my car’s backseat, I pulled away—but not without glancing twice at the school building in my rearview mirror.   

My mind journeyed back to a time when my childhood, like that of countless other educators, was filled with imagination and role-play. My small bedroom was magically transformed into a pretend classroom with strategically placed dolls and stuffed animals. My tiny fingers curled around an entire piece of white chalk as I scribbled unrecognizable letters on the little black chalkboard. On that day, I morphed into my preschool teacher.

My real preschool classroom was just as exciting as the one I created at home. The whiff of Play-Doh, molding clay, and crayons filled my nostrils the second I walked through its giant door. The room was large and somewhat intimidating, but my shyness melted with the teacher’s smile. Without knowing it, she planted the first seeds in my quest to become a teacher.

Over the ensuing years, I subconsciously formed a “Classroom Hall of Fame.” Among those top teachers, my superstar was Mrs. Carver, my sewing instructor. In her class, I fell in love with the craft of methodically turning fabric pieces into wearable art. By the time her class ended, I had envisioned a future filled with multi-colored threads, boxes of patterns, and shelves of textured fabrics.

Teaching, meanwhile, took a back seat when I located a design school out of state. Although my parents always supported my career ideas, I thought, This should be an easy sell.

Unfortunately, this time, they didn’t see it my way and quickly kiboshed the idea. They feared for my safety away from home—something my 17-year-old brain didn’t wish to acknowledge. I sulked for what seemed like days, not hours.

I partly accepted my parents’ verdict, but not without confronting the overwhelming and consequential waves of uncertainty. Mrs. Carver noticed my sadness and moved her chair beside me. “Are you okay?” she simply asked. Then, with a resurgence of hope, I listened to her words of comfort as she provided her empathetic and practical advice.

Mrs. Carver provided more than just guidance. On that day, she opened a window into the soul of a teacher and joined an ensemble of role models who represented the standard I decided to emulate as I pursued my education into adulthood.

Eventually, the day arrived when I, too, stood before a classroom filled with young, malleable minds. Sleepless nights and long days filled my usually empty calendar. Often, I questioned how I would survive through the first vacation break. I always did, though, with the help of mentors.

After that first challenging year, I realized the importance of support, not only for those seeking to join the teaching field but for the apprehensive newbies who lacked the confidence and courage to get through that first year on their own. For those individuals, I wanted to provide a life preserver through their most tumultuous waters.

By the twilight of my career, I had shared my classroom with student teachers, championed new hires into the district, and coordinated internship placements for hundreds of high school students. Along their roads toward discovery, I often asked, “Are you okay?” Before leaving on that last day of my career, when the last bell stopped ringing, I reached for a piece of chalk near the dusty chalkboard. Time moved in slow motion as I scanned the empty classroom before carefully scribing a farewell note. I wiped the dust from my fingers, walked to the door, and turned off the lights.

Reflecting on Our Classrooms, Yesterday and Today

By Adele Phyllis Unterberg

How many of us realize the impact we project on our students?

I can clearly reflect on my own childhood memories—the smell of my teacher’s perfume, the beautiful brooch worn on a suit jacket, the tone of one’s voice, the excitement in sharing ideas, the visits to the back of the classroom where our teacher displayed interesting objects brough back from a summer vacation with maps and artifacts. Those memories are deeply set in our minds and are often influences on future career choices.

I was walking along the avenue near our local hospital when I heard a voice call out, “Oh, Ms. Unterberg, how are you?”

I turned to see a woman in a spring coat and recognized her immediately—“Donita, how are you?”

We chatted and she shared that her husband had a heart attack and was in the hospital.

I last taught her in the early ‘70s, but I remembered her name—it flowed through my voice—as she remembered me.

During these challenging times of online performance, teaching has become more than demonstrations and a sharing of ideas. The teacher has become a full-time actor, keeping the attention flowing as the audience, the subject matter, and the hands-on devices meet the needs of varying age groups and home situations.

Having to devise creative lessons is always a challenge, but so much harder on a Zoom connection. The classroom, a haven of inspiration, sharing, and nurturing for so many children, is not available, and it has become an incredible challenge to keep the attention of distanced audiences focused.

Reflecting my own childhood experiences, my classroom was a haven and a comfort. Being with one’s peers, talking, playing, eating together, and sharing ideas was joyous and spiritual.

It has been a great loss for so many today, yet it is undeniable that during this crisis, much credit is due to our classroom leaders, wherever their classrooms are.

I have been with KDP since the ‘60s at NYU. It was such an honor to be chosen by my professors, and the candlelight ceremony was deeply touching. It is an honor to write for you.—Adele P. Unterberg

Telling Stories: The Need for Strong Leadership and Qualified Teachers

By Carlos J. Minor

Dr. Minor is currently an educator with the Clayton County School System in Metro Atlanta. He has served as an elementary, middle, and high school educator. Additionally, he has served as both an adjunct and full-time professor of education.

I am currently ending my 20th year in education and will be back next year for my 21st. I am a career educator, highly qualified, and have served at every level of the P-20 continuum in more than one state. The studies always tout what is wrong with K-12, but this educator thinks he has at least a partial solution: Highly qualified (and dedicated) teachers and strong, school-based leadership.

At one point I was a K-12 educator in Middle America. The pay for teachers was very low compared to other jobs in the area. One could become a firefighter, a police officer, or literally a manager at a convenience store and make 10-15K more than a beginning teacher. Thus, the urban district I worked in struggled to staff, and they literally took anyone off the street with a degree and plugged them into a classroom. There was no training, no regard for GPA or work history, and some people bounced from school to school and district to district after being repeatedly fired. For most of them, teaching was not a calling or a sense of duty; it was merely a job.

The elementary school where I worked (since closed) was one of the worst in the state. Of the 16 classroom teachers, only four were actually certified educators. Three of those were Pre-K and Kindergarten teachers, so it was entirely possible for a student to go through that school and never have an actual teacher. Adding to this, the school served a high-poverty area, where the need for highly qualified teachers is the greatest.

To say that the school administration was weak would be an understatement. The “teachers” were allowed to come and go as they pleased with no repercussions. The “teachers” were allowed to stand in front of a classroom dressed in wrinkled t-shirts and sweatpants, jeans full of holes, hoodies and leggings—you get the point. Additionally, one “teacher” would come in 45-60 minutes late daily while his students sat idle in the hallway…and this was never addressed. Another “teacher” was allowed to spend the day walking the halls talking on her cell phone while her students sat idle with a paraprofessional…and this was never addressed. A third “teacher” went off on an administrator in front of students because he did not feel that he should have to come to work on time. In fact, this third “teacher” went around the building telling all who would listen that the administration was “tripping” by expecting folks to come to work on time…and he kept his job.

These behaviors (and others) would not have been tolerated from teenagers working at the mall or at a big box store, but this went on with the full sanction of both the building administration and the Central Office. As the student body was overwhelmingly Black, Brown, and indigent, the message was clear: The Powers That Be could care less if poor minority students learned.

This school was for years an F school and eventually the Central Office made the decision to close it and lease the building to KIPP. However, most of the “teachers” at the school, many of whom could not pass the Basic Skills Test for Teacher Certification and who did nothing but give worksheets, were given good teaching evaluations and positive recommendations to move on to other schools.

This stands in stark contrast to the school district where I am currently employed. I am at a middle school in Metro Atlanta that also serves a high-poverty area, and the student body is also overwhelmingly Black and Brown. However, the educational outcomes are completely different, for several reasons.

First, the pay in this district far exceeds that of the district I worked for in Middle America. A first-year teacher here starts off making about 20K more than a first-year teacher in the other district, and this is not the highest paid district in the area. This means that this district is able to both attract and retain actual, trained teachers, and not have a staff of what can best be described as long-term subs.

Second, there are multiple Instructional Coaches working full time in the building. They are there to help that new teacher improve, to help that good teacher become great, and help that great teacher become excellent. This is reflected in the educational outcomes, as our students perform well academically given their circumstances. At the school I wrote about earlier, the administration refused to allow the hiring of an Instructional Coach, likely because they knew that the school was a veritable zoo and did not want those aforementioned staff behaviors to come to light.

Third, four strong administrators work in the building: Three Grade Level Administrators and a Building Principal. These administrators have a presence in the building, coming into classrooms and offices. They keep constant tabs on their grade levels and the other personnel in the building they are tasked to supervise. The teachers and staff under their purview are held accountable: The standards must be taught. Teachers and staff must adhere to district policy in terms of attendance, dress, conduct, and phone usage. This stands in stark contrast to the situation at the school in Middle America, as previously stated. If one were to walk into 10 classrooms at the Middle America school, 8 teachers would be seated, on their phones, while the students had busywork. Additionally, the principal was caught sleeping in the teacher’s lounge and spent a good bit of time every day playing games on her phone. Departing teachers would state in their Exit Surveys how the administration never came into their classrooms.

Fourth, my school places a premium on educational attainment. Diplomas are up on walls. College alumni status is displayed both in attire and material placed in classrooms. Teachers come to work in professional attire and present themselves in a professional manner. Instruction incorporates minority achievement and students are taught that education is The Great Equalizer.

Educational attainment was maligned in the previous district. I was considered “uppity” (among other things) for wanting to be addressed by my proper honorific of Doctor. I actually had a human resources official tell me that I (an Afro-Latino) should have hidden the fact that I have an earned doctorate. I was criticized throughout the district for having my degrees on the wall in my office. I became a target, and the message was clear: They did not want a highly educated, experienced, certified male educator of color, ostensibly because the presence of such might inspire students of color to want to be the same. Instead, the district sought to employ those who would miseducate indigent, minority students, likely to create and perpetuate a permanent underclass comprised solely of people of color.

Studies show that we educators cannot control the neighborhoods our students come from or what goes on in their homes. We can, however, control what goes on at school. When students have a highly qualified and highly dedicated teacher who comes in prepared, can relate to the students, and holds the academic bar high, the result is improved academic outcomes. When students have a well-dressed, erudite professional in front them, holding them to high standards, the students tend to reach higher. No profession is possible without a teacher. Speak with anyone who is doing something positive, and they will tell you that, at some point in their educational career, a teacher inspired them. I myself was greatly influenced by the Dean of Students at my undergraduate institution. This gentleman was always nattily attired, spoke and carried himself well, and was the consummate professional. I wanted to be like him: A nice home, a nice office, and being a positive influence the same way he was. Again: Not one professional can honestly say that they were not influenced by at least one strong teacher.

This is why we need highly qualified, dedicated teachers supervised by strong educational leaders, particularly in the urban setting. With this we will produce more people of color doing positive things who will hopefully reach a hand back. Without a doubt, teaching is the foundation of all professional work. We have a duty to prepare our students not only academically but socially as well.

Transition to Adulthood for Students With Specific Learning Disabilities

By Mariya T. Davis

Mariya Davis (Texas A&M University–San Antonio) is the lead author on the article “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” (coauthored by Theresa A. Garfield), which appears in the April 2021 issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Get free access to the article through the month of May.

“Oh, the places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

Throughout their lives, individuals experience many transitions: going to college, starting a new job, changing careers, relocating to a different city or state. The list goes on and on. Transition to a new chapter of a young person’s life can be a very exciting and fun adventure, but it can be scary at the same time. What would you do if you knew you were going to Italy, not just for a vacation, but to start a new chapter of your life? What would you do if you had only 1 year to get ready? And you knew no Italian!

The most significant change in my life was moving to the United State as a young adult. In preparation, I learned English (only British English was available at that time), evaluated my college diplomas and teaching credentials, had all legal documents translated and notarized, and studied American customs and traditions. I wanted to immerse myself into the society without spending too much time on adjustments. Now, more than two decades later, I look back and wish I had more people in my network to help me. I wish I had more time to prepare.

For young people, one of the most important changes is transitioning to independent living after high school. It is a challenging time for all students—especially for students with disabilities. Effective transition from high school to post-secondary education and training, employment, and independent living takes time and preparation. One fundamental and legally mandated requirement to facilitate successful movement from high school to adulthood for students with disabilities is the provision of effective transition services. Transition services encompass coordinated activities focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of a student to facilitate successful movement from school to post-school education, employment, and independent living (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 2004).

Despite federal regulations, students with specific learning disabilities (SLD) leave high school unprepared to face challenging post-school environments. Their adult outcomes remain uncertain and pose concerns for families, educators, researchers, and policymakers. Considering that post-school outcomes for students with SLD remain a critical area in need of improvement, it is essential for teachers to have the necessary knowledge and skills to support their students’ transition to adult life. However, teachers indicate that they feel underprepared and less than confident when it comes to teaching transition-related skills and implementing transition practices (Benitez et al., 2009; Cho et al., 2011; Morningstar & Benitez, 2013).

In writing “Transition to Adulthood: Preparing Students With Specific Learning Disabilities” for the Kappa Delta Pi Record, I was fortunate to collaborate with my colleague and friend Theresa Garfield, a strong advocate for individuals with disabilities, not only in the local community, but in the nation. In the article, we review federal regulations related to transition planning, examine the significant disparity in post-school outcomes that exist between students with SLD and their peers without disabilities, and discuss key elements of effective transition planning. Specifically, we address elements such as student-centered transition, early transition, and interagency collaboration. We also offer a case study to illustrate how these elements could be implemented when preparing students with SLD for life after school.

One should not assume that students with SLD have a mild disability primarily affecting their academic achievement; that assumption results in the insufficient attention given to their transition planning. Transition for students with SLD must be strengthened to assist them with finding and maintaining employment, obtaining post-secondary education, and navigating the challenging world of adulthood. I hope that teachers and other education professionals will find this article helpful to better facilitate successful movement from school to college and careers for students with SLD. With early student-centered transition planning and interagency collaboration efforts, schools can be better equipped to prepare students with SLD for effective transition to post-school environments and help them achieve their goals and aspirations for adult life.


Benitez, D. T., Morningstar, M. E., & Frey, B. B. (2009). A multistate survey of special education teachers’ perceptions of their transition competencies. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 32(1), 6–16.

Cho, H.-J., Wehmeyer, M., & Kingston, N. (2011). Elementary teachers’ knowledge and use of interventions and barriers to promoting student self-determination. Journal of Special Education, 45(3), 149–156.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq. (2004). Morningstar, M. E., & Benitez, D. T. (2013). Teacher training matters: The results of a multistate survey of secondary special educators regarding transition from school to adulthood. Teacher Education and Special Education, 36(1), 51–64.

Growing Teachers for Today’s Schools

By Rebecca R. Garte and Cara Kronen

Dr. Garte is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education. Her grant-funded research uses observational and mixed methods to understand the factors that contribute to cognitive and social–emotional outcomes for young children through late adolescence. She has also partnered with NYC public schools to create professional development interventions designed to investigate teachers’ professional identities and practice from pre-service to in-service.

Dr. Kronen is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education and Coordinator of Secondary Education Programs at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Her research areas include urban education, social foundations of education, and the art of teaching and learning. Her current projects focus on increasing the number of non-traditional pre-service teachers and supporting them through full certification attainment and early career. 

This month’s authors from the current Educational Forum wrote the article, “From the Margins of the Classroom to Mattering: How Community College Education Students Develop Future Teacher Identities.” It is available free for the month of May here.

Like the two of us, the overwhelming majority of teachers in the U.S. are middle-class, white women. As the demographics of the United States become increasingly diverse, children from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian racial groups must see themselves reflected in their classroom teachers. The key to increasing teachers of color with the cultural competence to relate to the growing majority of minority public-school students may begin with supporting community-college education students.

Community-college students majoring in education are more likely to be from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and from lower income families, than pre-service teachers enrolled in 4-year colleges and universities. Unfortunately, many of these students do not persist in the teacher career track all the way until certification. This may be due to inadequate preparation for college, but a more significant barrier may be a negative experience with early fieldwork. Most teacher-education faculty are white, and therefore often select practicum classrooms where the teachers, administrators, and even the children are predominantly white. Although these school settings may showcase model pedagogy, the lack of diversity often conveys to community college students that they do not belong in the field. When Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) feel out of place—or worse, experience biases and micro-aggressions during early fieldwork—they may be less likely to develop a sense of themselves as a future teacher.

Our article explores future-teacher identity development among 60 community-college, early childhood education majors during their last semester fieldwork course. This course was designed to support their transfer to 4-year schools of education. We conducted an experiment to see whether the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the classroom and the students’ role during fieldwork would impact their future-teacher identity. Half of our students (randomly assigned) interned in a Title 1 public school, where BIPOC children and teachers were predominate. In addition, these students created action research projects in consultation with their cooperating teachers and with support from us­: their professors. The other half of the students attended the schools typically used by our colleagues. These schools were located within the same affluent neighborhood as our community college, serving predominantly affluent white families, and staffed by predominantly white teachers and administrators. Instead of the action research projects, these students created the traditional activity plans for the course.

We found striking differences in indicators of future-teacher identity between the two groups of pre-service teachers. The experimental group showed much higher degrees of critical self-reflection regarding planning for teaching than the traditional students, and they were rated as much more integrated into the classroom by their cooperating teachers. In addition, the experimental students described themselves in terms of feeling connected and committed to the teaching profession. It seems that for students who are the first in their family to attend college, seeing themselves in the role of a professional requires a major shift in their identity. To cultivate the teacher force that the diverse children in America’s public schools need, we must necessarily look more deeply at how future-teacher identity is formed. We particularly need to consider the role of community-college teacher preparation programs and how they can better support non-traditional students entering the field. We recognize that the socio–cultural environments of classrooms impact children’s feelings of belonging. Teacher educators need to consider how the socio–cultural contexts of fieldwork classrooms impact pre-service teachers’ perception of whether they belong in the field of education.

The Smithsonian Science Education Center is here to help students understand how vaccines work!

By Alexa Mogck, Professional Services Program Assistant, Smithsonian Science Education Center

As people are making decisions about the COVID-19 vaccine, different situations and concerns are unique to each community. The Smithsonian’s Vaccines & US initiative is dedicated to supporting communities and individuals through these decisions. The Smithsonian Science Education Center is supporting educators and young people to engage in conversations about these concerns. Through the “Vaccines! How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines?” community response guide, young people learn about the concerns of their community in order to communicate accurate, helpful, and trusted information about vaccines. By engaging with this guide, young people support their communities to make informed and safe decisions.

Utilizing a transdisciplinary approach to learning, the Smithsonian Science for Global Goals project’s newest community response guide, “Vaccines!” features 8 tasks that incorporate investigations and hands-on science to help students discover, understand, and take action. Students learn about the science of vaccines throughout history; understand the science of how vaccines work; learn about how vaccines are developed; examine issues of equity, access, and misinformation; and develop an action plan for addressing vaccine concerns in their communities. 

“Vaccines! How can we use science to help our community make decisions about vaccines?” will be released to the public in English on May 1st, and in Spanish at the end of May. Please join us for webinars on May 5 and May 13 to support educators to use this content with their students.

To learn more and register for these webinars visit: