Welcome and good morning! I’m Jill Dolan, Dean of the College, and I’d like to welcome you to the second day of the 50th Anniversary Celebration of our Teacher Preparation Program here at Princeton.
I want to begin by thanking Todd Kent, the director of the program, for all his work not only in putting this celebration together, but in directing the program for the last several years. Todd’s insights, grace, and commitments have made him a pleasure to work with. I’m quite proud of our program and all it’s accomplished over these last 50 years. The program has trained teachers and has asked students to engage with the most important questions in higher education in the context of their liberal arts environment.
I want to say just a few things in these brief remarks. Some are personal, and some are professional.
To start with the personal: I come from a family of teachers. My mother finished her education degree at the University of Pittsburgh when my sisters and I were old enough to be in school. She worked for nearly 40 years as a kindergarten teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School system. Her students came from what we now call low-income under-represented minority backgrounds—every day, she’d bring home stories about their needs, their growth, their desires, and their possibilities.
My sister, Ann, graduated with an education degree from Ohio State University and went to work in the Montgomery County School district in Maryland. She is now the principal of Gaithersburg Middle School. Most of her students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and many of them are DACA students and have parents who are threatened by deportation.
Since I’ve been Dean of the College here, every year, Ann brings 40 students to visit campus because she wants them to see what “college” looks like, so that when they leave her school for high school, they can prepare themselves to apply to places like Princeton. Other Gaithersburg students visit the University of Maryland and other colleges, but they all want to visit Princeton—I think because her students are most impressed with the food in the residential college dining halls . . . but whatever it takes!
Likewise, my sister, Randee, followed in my mom’s footsteps and became a kindergarten teacher in the Pittsburgh Public School system, where she’s now worked for nearly 35 years. Her students, too, come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds.
Seventeen years ago, she noticed a student in her kindergarten class who seemed exceptionally smart and perceptive. Randee mentored him throughout his K-12 career, making sure that he enrolled in the honors program in high school and took as many AP courses as he could. She also urged him to apply broadly to colleges and universities.
Well, he applied to Princeton. And although he was accepted to many other fine schools that gave him full financial aid, he’s now committed to joining the Princeton Class of 2023 as a first-generation, lower-income, Pell-eligible student. 26% of next year’s class, by the way, are Pell-eligible. We’re very proud of those statistics.
I share these stories as only several examples of the necessary interconnection between K-12 and higher education.
Yesterday, you heard about our access and inclusion programs from Miguel Centeno, and Jason Klugman, and Khristina Gonzalez, and the remarkable Ana Patricia Esqueda ‘19. The work that Jason and PUPP (Princeton University Preparatory Program) do locally desperately needs to be supported nationally. We need more and more universities to invest in local high school students.
If Operation Varsity Blues highlighted the corrupt ways in which the rich buy themselves a hand up, programs like PUPP exemplify the ethical methods with which we should ensure students across socioeconomic backgrounds can apply to college. And we should make sure they apply to schools in which they’ll be supported, in which they’ll thrive, and from which they won’t graduate with crushing debt.
At a historical moment in which, as Jen Jennings pointed out yesterday, our K-12 schools are crucibles of both hatred and hope, we need to form ever stronger bonds between the K-12 system and colleges and universities.
Universities need to encourage our students toward teaching careers, as so many of you chose to do through our Teacher Prep program. And we need to bring more K-12 students to campus not just to dazzle them with our architecture, not just to invite them to aspire to assimilate but, as Khristina noted yesterday, to persuade them to join us to transform our universities. We need to build a strong cycle of mentorship, care, and empowerment back and forth across the K-12 and college and university landscape.
One last word: President Chris Eisgruber emphasized yesterday that teaching is about human relationships. I wonder, can people be taught how to have good human relationships? Or even excellent relationships? How do teachers learn to teach well especially when, as Jason pointed out yesterday, many of their students suffer the trauma of living under social structures that profoundly disadvantage them?
In my other life, I’m a theatre and performance studies scholar. I think a lot about artistry and acting—can “good acting” be taught or is it a gift with which some people are just, well, endowed? Likewise, with teaching—some teachers are simply gifted; I’ve seen that spark and that charisma, that dedication and care.
But all teachers can be taught to be better, to improve their practices, to learn more about the social landscape that privileges or denies their students, and to engage with the whole student in context, rather than just prepare them for a test.
I hadn’t heard of the notion of the “iron triangle” of teacher-student-content until yesterday. But I’d make it a square and add “context,” because the context is where and with what means and resources students learn. Where and from whom they learn makes a huge difference to who they become. And teaching—like acting!—is nothing/ if not about encouraging students to become.
I look forward to learning more from you throughout the morning. I’m delighted that so many of you are Teacher Prep alums and proud Princeton Tigers. I’m grateful for the work all of you do—and that Teacher Prep does—to transform education in this country.
Thanks for being here and enjoy the rest of your day!