Educational equality for all

Education professor works to make sure all students have an equal chance to succeed

Education professor Gloria Boutte has a simple goal: ensuring that all students are able to succeed in school, particularly those who are culturally and linguistically diverse.

Boutte founded the Center of Excellence for the Education and Equity of African-American Students and has made that goal her life’s work. She has spent more than three decades training, encouraging and inspiring teachers to try to reverse the data that shows students of color not performing as well academically.

She believes a renaissance is in order, a change that will start with teachers who understand the needs of culturally diverse students and the enthusiasm to work with students in the classroom.

“In the field, historically, there’s a high turnover among people who work with these students,” says Boutte, a professor in the College of Education. “There’s some trepidation among new and veteran teachers about doing this work.”

Part of her time is spent with educators of students of color — from pre-school through college level — learning why some excel and sharing examples of teachers doing exemplary work. She records their lessons and documents what happens in their classrooms. By capturing the voices of the teachers and then interviewing and reviewing the work of the students, she can tell how well the students are grasping the content.

“I try to get them excited and exhilarated about doing this work. The way I do that is to share cases of teachers from different grade levels and different content areas who are excited and want to work in these settings,” she says. “We don’t see enough models of successful classrooms and teachers and strategies.”

Her research strives to show that there are general strategies for culturally relevant teaching that can work across grade levels and subject areas.  She’s found that successful teachers focus on academic achievement, making sure students learn the same content, but often by teaching in different ways. Successful teachers also focus on cultural competency, making sure students see themselves in the content but also learn about the world beyond. They also teach critical consciousness, making sure students are taught how to question, analyze and think critically.

Boutte’s work is not just theoretical; her research translates theory on culturally relevant teaching into practice so people can see how it looks. She spreads the word through publishing case studies and presenting at national and international conferences. She also holds monthly roundtables where teachers, professors and community members are invited to discuss how culturally relevant teaching can be shared in classrooms.

“In a lot of schools with children of color or children of the poor, it can become laborious for teachers,” Boutte says. “They lose joy because teaching is coupled with all the demands that schools and policy makers have put on them. 

“My work tries to regenerate that joy, to build this renaissance of renewal for wanting to do this work. I see it as noble work. I see it as a challenge, and I see it as something that is mutually beneficial to society and the children we serve in South Carolina and the nation.”

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