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Author Interview: ‘Teacher Agency For Equity’ (Raquel Ríos’ New Book)

By Larry Ferlazzo on September 13, 2017 11:48 PM

Raquel Ríos agreed to answer a few questions about her new book, Teacher Agency For Equity: A Framework For Conscientious Engagement.

Raquel Ríos is an Instructional Designer at New Teacher Center, a national resource on mentoring and coaching for teacher effectiveness located in Santa Cruz, CA. Her research focuses on language, literacy and critical mindfulness in education. She lives and works out of New York City.

LF: This is a three-part question.  The title of your book is “Teacher Agency For Equity.”   Can you first define “equity” and then give a definition of “teacher agency”?  And, given that many teachers might feel that they have their hands full just coping with the day-to-day job of preparing and delivering effective lessons, why should “equity” be on their “to do” list, as well?

Raquel Ríos:

Typically, when we talk about equity in education, we are talking about how we can make sure every student receives what he or she needs to succeed. We view education as a pathway to social mobility and improving educational equity is about identifying disparities and fixing them, based on performance. In my view, equity is about ensuring the fair and balanced distribution of resources so that each human being can reach his or her maximum potential. This definition does not contradict previous definitions; it aims to enhance it. For one, it sets forth a much more sophisticated goal. If we ask ourselves, what is the maximum potential of human beings, we consider Maslov’s hierarchy which leads us to think self-actualization. What do we mean by self-actualization and do we consider this as an expectation for students in schools that service the poor, for example? Self-actualization is something all human beings need and seek. It involves a creative life, a life with purpose, fulfillment and inner peace. It is a life free from suffering.

Teacher agency is based on the belief that we can make a difference in the lives of students that extends beyond the classroom. It is enacted when we channel our energy towards that aim and by activating the mind, body and spirit in everything we do. If we understand our capacity as teachers to draw out an awareness of the potential within us– we are authentic agents of change. Teacher agency requires considerable deliberation, critical mindfulness and attention to the socio-cultural, political and evolutionary context in which we live. It involves questioning our own authenticity, sense of purpose, level of fulfillment, inner peace because how can we pave the way for our students without self-awareness and a familiarity with such grace?

It is true that teachers are frequently trapped and busy preparing and delivering lessons and dealing with issues of compliance. They often function on automatic. Not to mention a concern for survival. Still, even teachers who check all the boxes are suffering and often feel powerless. They cannot escape the daily reminders that something is wrong and we are not healthy as a society. Regardless of race, class, religion, gender, education attainment, etc., we are suffering. Richard Wilkinson, the British social scientist, talks about our collective poor health which he argues is a result of vast inequality. Chronic stress and anxiety, mental illness, obesity, violence, militancy, fanaticism, fascism, excessive consumerism, low-trust, widespread drug abuse, escapism are all examples of this imbalance. When we prioritize equity we are fighting for personal and collective well-being.

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