GSE’s Urban Social Justice Teacher Preparation Program Prepares Candidates to Address Systemic Issues in Education

Maqueda Randall-Weeks

Reading is not only a building block for a student’s education but also Dr. Maqueda Randall-Weeks’ career. Her first job in education taught her to think broadly about literacy, and then education overall, propelling her from the classroom to the statehouse to Rutgers.

“I knew I could move my kids, but how can I make others feel the same way?” Dr. Randall-Weeks said, assistant professor of professional practice, about participating in a New York City program for reading specialists early in her career. Dr. Randall-Weeks is also the faculty director of clinical experiences in the Department of Learning and Teaching at the GSE.

As an undergrad at Vanderbilt University, Dr. Randall-Weeks took every “ology” course she could. Then she took a course at the education school. “I was hooked. All the things I was interested in were there. All those ‘ologies’ converged,” she said.

Dr. Randall-Weeks earned master’s degrees in both Early Childhood Education and Education Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University. At Harvard Graduate School of Education, she earned a master’s degree in Education Policy and Management and a doctorate in Urban Superintendency.

Dr. Randall-Weeks started her career as a reading specialist in New York City then in New Jersey urban districts. With a love for literacy, she took a full-time job in the New Jersey Department of Education, supervising reading coaches throughout the Garden State. Returning to the district level, Dr. Randall-Weeks focused on special education literacy.

Heading to Harvard for her doctorate was a chance to concentrate on systems-level change. All her work striving for turnaround and change in large urban school systems sparked Dr. Randall-Weeks’ desire to teach at a school of education and pull together her varied experience at the classroom, district, and state levels.

“The research is all telling us that you need to be in education schools to catch people at the very beginning, to plant that seed, to have those conversations, to get them thinking about how do we look at a system that we know is broken, and how do we change it?” she said. “What does it look like when we get into the education schools and really start to think about change?”

Dr. Randall-Weeks started working at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education in August 2017, enticed by a new master’s program on urban social justice. “I thought, okay, they’re being committed, they’re going to walk the walk. They know how important it is to look at a system and figure out how to focus on justice, equality, and equity,” Dr. Randall-Weeks said. “They were really starting to make those conversations happen.”

It is part of the GSE’s legacy and an area where Dr. Randall-Weeks thinks the GSE can inspire other schools nationally by focusing on large issues at a systemic level while also merging research and impactful clinical practice.

“It is this idea of constantly thinking about ways to support our candidates, to support our students, to support them moving in the direction that we know makes the most sense, to think about research in a thoughtful manner, and to think about how we focus ourselves and the work that we do to really encapsulate everybody–schools, communities, leaders,” she said. “The GSE is always improving in that direction and thinking about how we can make this happen.”

Dr. Randall-Weeks is now working with five-year and postbaccalaureate students on the clinical practice side, focusing on equity and social justice. The four-pronged approach begins with helping students understand themselves, their implicit biases, and their roles as change agents.

Next, during their part-time student teaching, students delve into the historical context and present-day realities of the American education system and how it is impacted by society at large. Students then think of how to initiate change in their own contexts and what that means for their practice.

As full-time student teachers, students continue to apply this knowledge in their work with students, parents, and the school community. Finally, students utilize the lessons learned in their classroom practice to support the work of the larger community around issues of social justice and equity.

“It shows them that it’s a whole continuum, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our clinical work,” Dr. Randall-Weeks said. “This is a master’s in urban education and social justice, right? We have to actually do that. That’s what I’ve been focused on. We’re saying this is what it looks like when it’s in action in a clinical setting.”

Read more success stories in the 2023 Rutgers Graduate School of Education Impact Report.