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Meet Samantha Marshall: ‘I Hope My Students Will Learn to Become Justice-oriented, Critical and Skillful Educators’

NC State College of Education Assistant Professor Samantha Marshall

Why did you choose the NC State College of Education?

NC State has a wonderful tradition and mission of serving the broader North Carolina community, while at the same time producing internationally impactful research. That’s a combination I was quickly drawn to.

Why did you choose a career in education?

Like many educators, I had teachers who made a great difference in my own life and inspired me to consider a career in education. I found that education could be a powerful horizon-expander, but in too many cases it is instead an inhibitor of possibilities for students. I wanted to spend my energy working toward the former.

What drew you to your specific field?

Over the course of both my personal K-12 educational experiences and teaching career, I have seen many of the ways mathematics education can be deeply unjust, and have always wanted to find the best ways to improve it. In the district where I first taught, I found that our students’ mathematical development could hinge upon how we supported teachers’ learning, so I saw teacher learning as of critical importance.

Why did you decide to pursue a Ph.D.?

As a first-generation college graduate, a Ph.D. didn’t cross my mind until I was encouraged to pursue one by a professor. I loved teaching at the K-12 level, but I realized during my master’s program that many of the questions I was asking had not been studied. My master’s degree whet my appetite for research, and I saw that I could contribute to the body of knowledge that can help improve education beyond a single classroom, school or district.

What are your research interests and what sparked your interest in that topic(s)?

Overall, my research agenda centers around developing theory of teachers’ learning. In particular, I focus on designing and investigating supports for STEM teachers’ learning of justice-oriented pedagogies. In my work as a high school teacher, I saw that teacher learning can be a powerful lever for educational improvement, and I’m endlessly interested in finding ways to help teachers learn to be more anti-oppressive and justice-oriented educators.

What is one research project or moment in your academic career that you are particularly proud of?

My most recent project investigates video-based coaching models to support STEM teachers in learning culturally sustaining pedagogies. I think this research-practice partnership models the kind of anti-extractive research I am to do: research that has an immediate impact on students and is valuable to participants, not just to the researcher. Through this project, I am building theory of teachers’ learning, and I am really excited to share these findings with the world.

What is your teaching philosophy?

My teaching philosophy aligns with my theoretical perspectives. I approach teaching from a sociocultural perspective, seeing learning as a dialogic, social, cultural, political and power-laden phenomenon. Recognizing that students’ negotiation of meaning is shaped by contexts, I try to create learning environments that are student-centered, and that honor students’ identities, backgrounds and experiences. I prioritize discussion, frequent feedback and communication. I also audit my syllabi to ensure that minoritized perspectives are centered in our courses. Overall, I aim to cultivate anti-oppressive orientations and learning experiences.

What do you hope your students learn from you?

I hope my students will learn to become justice-oriented, critical and skillful educators, leaders and researchers, prepared to be powerful advocates for educational justice in their future endeavors.

What do you think makes someone an “extraordinary educator?”

I’ve been fortunate to have known a number of extraordinary educators. A few elements they have in common are: humility and willingness to admit mistakes, relentless pursuit of new knowledge and growth, an unwavering commitment to anti-racism, ability to create an inclusive classroom community and clarity about how important the work of education is.

*Samantha Marshall, Ph.D., will join the College of Education faculty in January 2021.