RIC Prof. Wins 2013 Emig Award for Scholarly Article

RIC Associate Professor of Educational Studies, Janet Johnson.

RIC Associate Professor of Educational Studies, Janet Johnson.


How well do teacher education programs prepare future teachers to work in troubled schools? This is the subject of an award-winning article written by Janet Johnson, associate professor of educational studies. For her contribution to English teacher education and research, Johnson will receive the 2013 Janet Emig Award by the Conference on English Education.

First published in “English Education,” her article is titled “A Rainforest in Front of a Bulldozer: The Literacy Practices of Teacher Candidates Committed to Social Justice.” In it she focused on the experiences of two secondary education students – Tracy and Christine – whom Johnson supervised while they were student teaching. The names of the two students and the high school where they taught have been changed, but their experiences are real.

Called “Riverbend” by Johnson, the high school is situated in a Rhode Island district with a large immigrant population and a high unemployment rate. The median income of the town, according to the 2000 census, “was $22,628, compared with $42,090 for the rest of the state," wrote Johnson, “41 percent of the children live in families whose household income is below the national poverty rate, 37 percent are born to mothers without a high school diploma, and the birth rate for teens age 15 to 17 is 59 percent (three times the state average).” Riverbend’s classrooms were overcrowded and lacked resources, including teacher’s editions of textbooks. And the administration was often unresponsive to teacher and student needs. 

A third RIC student also did his student teaching at Riverbend, but after two weeks he requested that he be placed elsewhere unprepared for “the psychological toll of teaching” there. Johnson transferred Mark to another school and asked Tracy and Christine if they, too, would like to be placed elsewhere. “They insisted on staying,” wrote Johnson, “because two weeks in, they already felt invested in the students, and as Christine put it, ‘They [the students] don’t get to leave.’”

Johnson’s article goes on to document how Tracy and Christine, both devoted to the principles of social justice, used specific literacy practices to cope in a school environment where many teachers had given up on the students, and many of the students had given up on themselves.

She wrote, “In effect, Tracy and Christine bore witness to one of the great tragedies of present-day education in many high-need districts: they experienced firsthand how poverty, racism and the accompanying issues had concrete effects on individuals and institutions.”

“Their struggles also point out the gaps in teacher education programs,” she wrote. “Teaching underserved populations encompasses much more than pedagogy. If we want to encourage future teachers to work with underserved populations, it is important to understand the challenges they face and cultivate specific literacy practices to better support them.”

Johnson will be recognized at the Annual Convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in Boston on Nov. 22. There, she will also have the opportunity to present her article during the awards session on Nov. 23.