A William & Mary senior was recently honored by the Association for Teacher Educators – Virginia for research she conducted on preparing science and math teachers to reach diverse student populations.
Kate Ottolini ’11 received the association’s award for excellence in pre-service teacher education in the category of research excellence for research she did last summer as part of her internship with the Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow program and her Monroe Scholars work. A biology major in the School of Education’s undergraduate teacher education program, Ottolini recently published an article on her research in the Journal of Virginia Science Education.
Ottolini, who is currently serving as a student teacher in New Kent, said she piggybacked her research on work being conducted by Juanita Jo Matkins, Wakefield Term Distinguished Associate Professor, on teacher preparation for high-needs schools.
“What she wanted me to do was do a self-study, looking at my own assumptions and biases about diverse student populations based on my background, and she wanted me to compare that with that current literature about pre-service teachers and how to best prepare them for high-needs learning environments,” Ottolini said.
She also visited other William & Mary students who also had Teacher for a Competitive Tomorrow internships, which are teaching or research internships that seek to prepare students for teaching in high-needs schools.
“I found that there are several categories of assumptions that come out through the literature and through my discussions with the TCT interns,” said Ottolini.
She discovered that people from her cultural background – white and middle-class -- tend not to associate themselves with a certain cultural identity.
“I also found that they hold certain assumptions about diverse students, like students in high-needs areas might be less motivated, or, they would have less family support at home,” she said. “As a corollary of that, these teachers often hold lowers expectations of their students and basically put up a barrier to them before they even start.”
Based on the literature, Ottolini found that there are several ways that teachers can be better prepared to work in high-needs environments.
“One of them was to facilitate reflection about their own cultural identity and the cultural identity of their students,” she said. “And the other one was to integrate practicum work in high-needs schools.”
Ottolini said that conducting this research has taught her to hold the bar high for all of her students and made her feel better prepared to have “meaningful reflections” about her teaching.
“And I realize that I need to look at things from different perspectives and really do my research when it comes to each individual student and their background because learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said. “Every student comes to the table with different home situations, with different prior learning experiences, and you’ve got to access all of that in order to get them to learn in your classroom.”