The Teachers LA Needs: From the Los Angeles Normal School to the UCLA Teacher Education Program at Center X, a Commitment to Teaching

It may not have been made of Ivory, but it was a tower just the same.

Moore Hall, the on campus home of the then UCLA Graduate School of Education was being refurbished and faculty and staff had been temporarily relocated to a tall office building at the corner of Westwood and Wilshire Boulevards.

It was there, up on the 10th floor, in a conference room with windows on all sides providing a sweeping view of the city, that a number of faculty members of the UCLA Graduate School of Education found themselves one fine spring day in 1992. And sitting there, squabbling over some now long forgotten issue or project, they began to notice the first wisps of black smoke that would become the fires fueled by the rage of the Rodney King Riots.

“A group of us were sitting there and we could see the fires and smoke erupt – you could see all the fires, says UCLA Professor Jeanie Oakes.  It was tragic and frightening.”

After a while the decision was made for everyone to leave.

“With all the traffic it took me a long while to get home,” says Oakes. “And sitting there, stuck in my car in the gridlock, it struck me that something was very wrong.  Here we were, this group of extraordinary scholars, working and known across the world, and almost none of us was doing anything meaningful about Los Angeles.  And we needed to be doing something.”

It was in those moments looking out over the fires spreading across the city, that the seeds of a new vision for the preparation and training of teachers in Los Angeles were planted.  And out of that vision grew Center X and a UCLA teacher education program focused on teaching quality and social justice, an effort to produce the teachers Los Angeles needs.

Southern Branch of the University of California, 1919.
The School of Education is founded in 1939.
Teaching and UCLA

The development of teachers is hard baked into the DNA of UCLA.  The very existence of the University can be directly traced back to the establishment of the State Normal School in Los Angeles in August of 1882.  Located in what was referred to as Bellevue Terrace, on a tract of land between Flower and Charity Streets, the purpose of the school was the education of teachers.  The first director was Charles H. Allen, the principal of the first State Normal School in San Jose, California. Olivia E.  Gibson was the principal. There were 61 students, 13 men and 48 women. The first class of 22 new teachers, from Elma Ball to Fannie Wright, graduated in 1884. From the very beginning, a key feature was a training school on the ground floor of the Normal School encompassing students from six grades of the city school system.

The early years of the normal school would set a high bar for the preparation of teachers for Los Angeles and a tone for teacher education at UCLA education that would echo through the years.

"The Teachers College exists for the purpose of training teachers for the public schools of the State.  We of its faculty believe that out work is second in purpose to none."

A History of the Normal School, Los Angles State Normal School  - A quarter Centennial History 1882-1907 describes the faculty as “uniting a broad experience with common purpose and endeavor…always putting forth every effort to give the students breadth of outlook as well as specialized training.”

They were “characterized by an enthusiasm that has permeated every department of the schools work, its instruction, its social life and its larger service in behalf of public education. A prominent characteristic, “that of liberality and independence.”

The students, the History notes, including “a considerable and increasing number of teachers of more or less experience seeking additional preparation for their work,” promoted an “earnestness of spirit and high ideals of character and scholarship.”

According to the History, many became teachers in Los Angeles.  “With few exceptions, the graduates enter the profession for which they have prepared themselves and a large portion remains in it either permanently or for a number of years. That their work is highly regarded is evidenced by the demand upon the school for teachers.”  From 1884 to 1908, the Normal School would graduate 1,911 teachers for a growing Los Angeles

The History notes that, “in its first six or 7 years, the school, because of its reputation as a training school for teachers, became thoroughly established largely through the professional success of its graduates.”

As Los Angles grew, so did the Normal School and by 1914 the school had outgrown its original home and moved to a new location on Vermont Avenue.

In 1917, Earnest Carrol Moore, an educator and philosopher who had been a superintendent of schools in Los Angeles and also a professor at Berkeley as well as at both Yale and Harvard, became the director of the Normal School.  In the schools’ yearbook, students refer to him as “a man of vision, and wisdom is his inheritance.”

Moore studied with John Dewey at the University of Chicago.  Dewey, a philosopher and educator who would become one of the most influential voices in education of the 20th Century, believed that,” education was life itself.” His was a philosophy of pragmatism that would fuel the progressive movement in education. He placed a priority on learning by doing. In what is perhaps his most recognized work Democracy and Education he would write, “Education is not an affair of telling and being told, but an active and constructive process.” He believed that the learners’ past experience should be taken into account and that curriculum should be relevant to students’ lives. Most importantly, he believed that democracy was a central tenet of education, and that education was essential to Democracy. Like Dewey, Moore believed deeply in the importance of education and the critical role of teaching, writing “we who teach are fabricating the future.” Moore believed that teachers needed to understand the lives of their individual students and to teach them not by rote or by what he called ‘mechanical education’, but by engaging them in their own active learning.   In What is Education Moore would write. “Let us go back to the child and ask him how he builds his world.” Moore believed that schools should offer a carefully constructed environment in which the learner will “use his own mind in socially profitable ways.  Moore saw teachers as the “chief factor” in this social environment.

It was Moore, together with UC Regent Edward A. Dixon, who pushed for the Normal School to become part of the University of California.  And in May of 1919, their wish was granted with the Vermont Campus established as the Southern Branch of the University of California. Despite opposition from then University of California president William Wallace Campbell, teaching would remain at the forefront of the new University with 1,250 students in the Teachers College, joined by some 250 students in letters and science.

In 1929, the University moved to what the UC Regents referred to as “the Beverly Site” just west of Beverly Hills and the Teachers College set up shop on what would grow into the UCLA campus in what is now known as Westwood. Earnest Carrol Moore would be the first University Provost. John Dewey spoke at the dedication of the new campus telling those assembled “the ultimate aim of education is nothing other than the creation of human beings in the fullness of their capacities.

In the subsequent years the University and its teaching college would take on Dewey’s challenge, preparing teachers who would further education in Los Angeles and beyond.

Corinne Seeds

One of the influential leaders in those early years was a graduate of the Los Angeles Normal School, Corrine A. Seeds. Growing up in a working class family in Pasadena, Seeds attended the Los Angeles Normal School graduating in the fall of 1909.  Her first teaching job was at Mira Monte School south of Watts.  After two years she moved to Avenue 21 School in Los Angeles.  They were schools, as she would note that were “typical of Central and South Los Angeles.  They served the children of immigrants, African Americans and Mexicans.”

Like the original training school at the Los Angeles Normal School, the Teaching College would have its own elementary school for training purposes. In 1925, Seeds became its principal and when the new campus opened in Westwood, Seeds opened the new University Elementary School on Warner Avenue. The school would eventually move to the UCLA campus, and Seeds would remain principal until 1957.

Like Moore, Seeds was a disciple of Dewey.  And as principal, she pushed hard to bring the ideas of Dewey to life in schools and classrooms. In her book, Democracy and Schooling in California: The Legacy of Helen Heffernan and Corinne Seeds, author Kathleen Weiler, says that Seeds and Heffernan were “key figures in the most concerted attempt to put the ideals of Deweyan progressive education into practice in public schools.”   Along with Heffernan, Seeds held summer institutes for teachers and spoke often at conferences and meetings. “Seeds encouraged teachers to envision themselves and their work as both challenging and socially meaningful,” writes Weiler.  Seeds work would influence thousands of teachers and generate support for progressive education, but also eventually spark political resistance from conservatives in California and beyond.  One might also argue she helped to set the stage for a future emphasis on teaching for social justice.

In 1939, the Teaching College became the Graduate School of Education and Marvin L. Darnie became the first Dean. Darnie had been an instructor at the old Los Angeles Normal School and the Dean of the Teaching College of the Southern Branch. Of his experience he would write, “The Teachers College exists for the purpose of training teachers for the public schools of the State.  We of its faculty believe that our work is second in purpose to none.”

While the scope of its research and work would broaden as the Graduate School of Education, that sentiment would live on.  Future education leaders at UCLA such as Dean John Goodlad would shape the future of teaching.

Like his predecessors, Goodlad too was a follower of the progressive philosophies of John Dewey.  At UCLA, he served first as principal of the University Elementary School where he encouraged team teaching and multi-age grouping in classrooms.  As Dean for 16 years, he was credited for shaping the graduate school into one of the top teacher training schools in the country.  Goodlad would also go on to author A Place Called School where among other things he examined the preparation of teachers and challenged the practice of removing the best teachers from the classroom and making them administrators.  In later research he would criticize education schools for their weak faculties and what he believed were misplaced priorities.  In his 1990 report, Teachers for Our Nation's Schools, Goodlad wrote critically," rewards for faculty members interested in teacher education are for studying teachers, not for preparing them."

By 1990, the UCLA Graduate School of Education was firmly established as one of the nation’s top schools of education and recognized for the excellence of its teaching program.

“We were a highly acclaimed school of education, one with much demand for its graduates among elite public schools, “says Jeannie Oakes.  “There was so much demand to go to UCLA. It was huge.”

But then the King riots happened, bringing change to the teaching program at UCLA.

Shortly after the riots Oakes was asked to take charge of Teacher Education at UCLA and to bring the Subject Matter projects into the fold.  The faculty began a serious conversation about what it would take to develop teachers to serve urban schools in Los Angeles.

“It was very hard, here we had this great program training very good teachers, changing it was a big risk.  There were a lot of very hard conversations,” says Oakes. “But it just seemed like a good opportunity to act on our impulses.”

The decision was made that the only students UCLA would take into the teacher education program were those willing to work in urban schools.

There was some resistance, it was risky, we were worried students wouldn’t apply.  But even more did,” says Oakes.

“I remember very clearly being at the lab school when we got started and the programs came together,” says Jo Ann Isken, a former teacher and principal who would become the interim director of the Teacher Education Program.  “We shared a common vision that we would come together around a belief in social justice with a mission of really working to create transformational teachers.”

Seeking to avoid a battle over a new name for the program, a temporary moniker “Center X” was used as the work moved forward.  First thought of as safely anonymous, it also reflected a crossing point for theory and practice. The name stuck.

The new teacher program effort would focus on developing teachers for urban schools in Los Angeles. In doing so they began to aim at developing teachers who not only had strong pedagogical skills, but that understood themselves and understood and cared about the children in the communities they served.  They were looking to recruit and develop teachers, who were not separate from, but part of the community. They wanted to create teachers who were committed as public intellectuals and activists for social justice.

“The UCLA’s Teacher Education Program shares John Dewey’s conviction that education is about something more than economic competitiveness, says UCLA Education Professor and Center X Faculty Director John Rogers.   “Its goal, as Dewey noted in his lecture at the dedication of UCLA, should be the creation of human beings in the fullness of their capacity.”  Following Dewey, we aim to create teachers who envision the purpose of education as “human liberation.”  

Launched in 1994, the UCLA Teacher Education Program today is a key element of Center X.  The program recruits and prepares aspiring teachers to become social justice educators in urban settings.  There is an emphasis on recruiting teachers that look like the students in the urban schools of Los Angeles, and who understand and can empathize with the cultural and economic background of urban students.

“Our teacher candidates are culturally diverse, high achieving individuals who have decided to dedicate their lives to young people who’ve not had access to the range of opportunities they need to be successful,” says Annamarie Francois, the director of Center X.  “They are socially conscious critical thinkers who understand the cultural and political dimensions of teaching.”

The program seeks to develop caring teachers with a commitment and capacity to facilitate social justice, combat racism and promote equitable learning opportunities for student populations traditionally underserved by high quality educational programs, especially low-income, racially, culturally and linguistically diverse students.  Since its inception Center X’s Teacher Education Programs have prepared more than 1,500 teachers for placements in Los Angeles’ hardest to staff urban schools.

Teaching candidates are engaged in a collaborative, research-based, culturally responsive two-year process leading to state teacher certification and a Masters Degree.  The program serves about 250 teaching candidates each year, divided among first and second year students.

In their first or “novice” year, teacher candidates engage in coursework and student teaching designed to help them develop a strong, research-based understanding of the principles and methods of instruction and to connect theory with practice in the classroom. There is a special emphasis on understanding the complexities of urban schooling.   The work includes courses such as principles and methods of teaching reading and mathematics methods, but also challenges students with what are known as the “405” courses that examine teaching in urban schools. In these courses students learn about urban communities and examine their own identities and beliefs and how they shape teaching and learning. They also explore family and school connections in ways that help them develop strategies for working with families and develop a philosophy of education. Candidates also complete their student teaching in an urban school during their first year.

“This is not about teaching pedagogy and adding a layer of social justice on top,” says Francois. “It’s about framing everything you do as an educator through the lens of social justice. It’s about digging deeply into what you believe and value about urban schools and communities.  What you believe about the potential of our most vulnerable children, the assets and possibilities they bring to learning.  It’s about understanding who you are, who your students are, and using robust content knowledge and pedagogical skills to create powerful learning experiences.”

The UCLA Teacher Education Program at Center X
  • Established 1994
  • Prepares aspiring teachers to become social justice educators in urban schools.
  • Two Year graduate program leading to teaching credential and Masters degree.
  • Opportunities for specialization in mathematics, science and music teaching
  • Commitment to social justice, instructional excellence, the integration of research and practice, and caring in low-income urban school.
  • About 250 teaching candidates each year, divided among first and second year teachers.
  • 100 teachers received their teaching credential in 2016 and are teaching in the field.
  • More than 1500 teaching program graduates since 1994
  • Ongoing professional development for teachers in math, science, reading, writing, history, computer science and more
  • Preparation for National Board of Teaching Standards Certification

Collaboration is a cornerstone of the work. Candidates are organized in cohorts of content specific teams and take all their classes together.  Students have the opportunity to build relationships that support learning, participate in inquiry and discussion, and receive academic and personal support.  Along the way faculty advisors and teacher guides provide support, coaching and feedback.

“Becoming a social justice educator is very challenging, it’s stressful. I’ve been doing this work for ten years and I can’t remember a teaching candidate who has not cried, at least once,” says Jeff Share, a faculty advisor in the Teacher Education Program. “We mentor, teach and advise them, and also support their personal and professional development.  We place teachers in the highest need schools and help them not just to survive, but to find ways to become great teachers who will stay in the community and thrive.  We push them to understand and stay focused on the students as assets.”

In the second “resident” year candidates serve as paid full-time classroom teachers in a high-poverty urban school.  They are supported by a faculty advisor and guiding teachers and receive ongoing feedback and support.  They also take additional courses and complete a master’s inquiry project.

“Our standards for content and pedagogical expertise are as strenuous as at any teaching program, but UCLA’s program is harder,” says Isken. “We make them work harder because just knowing how and what to teach isn’t enough to be prepared to be an urban teacher and to be committed to staying in teaching in urban areas. Our students take the same courses people get in other places, but they are also learning and thinking about very real problems facing real kids in urban communities.”

Over the two year process, the Teacher Education Program prepares program graduates to become caring advocates for all students in and outside of the classroom.  Teacher candidates learn to view and use the racial, cultural and linguistic diversity of urban communities as assets while striving to provide high quality educational experiences to the students who live in them. Candidates also learn to use appropriate bilingual and English language instructional strategies to further the English language development of their students, and how to obtain the necessary social supports that students need to bolster their academic achievement.  

"Too often, new teachers are dropped in having no idea of the history of the schools and communities in which they work, and no real knowledge of the students and families with who they hope to build caring relationships." says Lorena Guillén, an assistant professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education who has recently begun working with the Teacher Education Program.

“We want to flip that model. Our work aims to help teachers develop a deep level of understanding of their communities and their role and position in them. We want them to develop authentic partnerships with the communities they serve.”

"Our goal is to prepare and support teachers who are "transformative professionals," says Francois.  "We believe our teacher candidates must be ready to assume activist roles in our schools and communities, so they can productively challenge and transform urban schools to become places which offer hope and powerful learning opportunities for all students."

"The program seeks to develop caring teachers with a commitment and capacity to facilitate social justice, combat racism and promote equitable learning opportunities for student populations traditionally underserved by high quality educational programs."

Jesús Gutiérrez Jr. in the classroom.

Jesús Gutiérrez Jr. is one of those teachers. After graduating from the Teacher Education Program in 2006, he went on to teach at Baldwin Park High School.  In 2013, he was named Teacher of the Year by the Baldwin Park Unified School District and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Over the last several years, as a resource teacher, he has shared his knowledge with other teachers and also worked with Stanford University to help teachers to understand and implement teaching strategies to help students achieve the Common Core Standards. This year he is teaching in the Rowland Heights Unified School District.

“The UCLA Teacher Education Program changed my life,” says Gutiérrez. Its impact is with me every single day, inside and out of the classroom. It was for me a personal and professional transformation. It helped me to understand myself and reaffirmed my true identity as a person and teacher, and in doing so has empowered me to help other students do the same. 

“The experience exposed me to the historical systematic oppression of underserved people of color and taught me that students, parents, and surrounding communities have immense cultural, social and intellectual value.  It changed how I saw and thought about marginalized students and how I think about urban schools and the kids that attend them. I learned to seek to understand before seeking to be understood.

“The program also gave me profound lessons in research-based pedagogy. Exploring the work of Freire, Vygotzky, Piaget and Skinner, I learned the educational psychology and theory of how people learn. Just as importantly, I learned the deficit model and what not to do in the classroom.

“My classroom is a student-centered environment where we espouse democratic principles. I use the students’ knowledge in most everything I teach. It changes the qualitative aspects of learning -- the look in their eyes, the change in their body language, wit, charm, personality, or a simple smile -- and leads to a classroom culture that cultivates a love of lifelong learning.”

Just as the Los Angles Normal School served teachers seeking “additional preparation for their work,” teacher education at UCLA is bolstered by the professional development programs at Center X, which include the California Subject Matter projects in reading and literature, science, mathematics and history and geography. Programs in writing, computer science and parent involvement also offer additional resources for educators.  Teachers also have access to support for developing strategies for helping students achieve California’s Common Core Standards and programs to help them achieve certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.  Together, these efforts serve thousands of teachers each year, helping them to develop deeper levels of knowledge and skill, improve their practice, and keep them engaged in the profession of teaching. And in doing so, they continually build awareness among teachers of the challenges facing students in urban schools and help them to develop strategies to further educational equity.

“We unapologetically focus on social justice and equity by supporting aspiring to accomplished teachers as they grow the knowledge, skills and dispositions they need to thrive and succeed in urban schools,” says Francois. “We’ve been doing this work for over 25 years, so we know a thing or two about recruiting, preparing and retaining teachers for low-income communities of color.”

Los Angeles has changed greatly in the years since the opening of the State Normal School and the early days of UCLA.  The population has exploded and demographic and economic shifts have reshaped the region. In some ways, the city and surrounding area are unrecognizable from those days.  But one thing has not changed, Los Angeles still needs teachers, and UCLA is committed to producing the teachers the City needs.  And while they might not recognize what Los Angeles has become, it is likely that Dewey, Moore, Seeds, Goodlad and others would understand and approve of what the UCLA Teacher Education Program at Center X is trying to achieve. 

“We deeply believe in the transformative power of public schools and the critical importance of good teaching,” says Francois. “While aspects of our program have changed since the 1992 uprising in Los Angeles, our progressive beliefs about teacher education remain at the core – the need to understand students holistically, the importance of community, collaboration and social responsibility, and an unwavering belief in education as essential to democracy. We are in this to change the world.”