Steven Athanases started his career as a high school English
teacher in the Chicago area, filling students’ minds with the
tales of John Steinbeck, Harper Lee and Langston Hughes for over
“I loved teaching. I loved it every single day,” said Athanases.
But, after all those years in the classroom, he realized he
“wanted to understand more deeply why when things work in the
classroom they do work.” He decided to pursue a PhD. “A research
doctorate equipped me to do that.”
Athanases wondered at first if he would still “find the same
passion for teaching at the university.” As a teacher educator
during PhD studies at Stanford, he did. “I found a real joy in
preparing the teachers of the future.”
Athanases came to UC Davis several years ago, in part, to conduct
research on the School’s teacher education program. In addition
to helping shape and teach in the combined Master’s/Credential
program, he has conducted several studies, including focus groups
with graduates of the program.
The idea behind combining an MA with a credential is to provide
new teachers with the tools and processes necessary for them to
conduct research on their own practices, even while they are
learning to be a teacher. The culmination of their research is a
symposium at the end of the MA year of study where these first
year teachers present their findings to colleagues and faculty.
“It is quite an exhilarating experience,” said Athanases. “I
didn’t have these skills when I started teaching. They could have
really helped me to reflect on the results of my teaching and to
make adjustments based on research, rather than a hunch.”
Athanases, who is also faculty coordinator for the Language,
Literacy and Culture emphasis in the PhD program, says it is
equally important to prepare PhD candidates to become effective
teacher educators. Though teaching and supervising student
teachers is increasingly one of the first assignments for a new
education professor, few PhD programs adequately prepare their
students for this duty.
According to Athanases, many PhD candidates have no K-12 teaching
experience. “So we need to equip them with a portfolio of
experience and expertise that they can take with them.”
One response to this need is the Teacher Education Fellows
program, which places up to five PhD candidates with a student
teacher supervisor and gives the fellows the chance to observe
student teachers and their interactions with their supervisors.
As part of this program, Athanases teaches a spring seminar
covering research on teacher education and development.
Most important, according to Athanases, is the School’s
insistence on faculty who eschew the traditional split between
researchers and teacher educators.
“We hire and support clinical faculty who are career teachers of
teachers, and most are equipped with research skills, even
doctorates,” said Athanases. “At the same time, we hire research
faculty who care and know about teacher education. In fact, many
have been K-12 teachers themselves. This whole approach moves
against the traditional divide and elevates teacher education in
Athanases’s other research interests include an emphasis on
teaching diverse youth in urban, public schools, and “broadening
English language arts curricula to better engage kids on the
Steven Athanases is a Professor in the School of Education at UC
Davis. He researches issues of cultural and linguistic
diversity and educational equity in teaching, adolescent
learning, and teacher education, with a focus on literacy and
English language arts. As a high school English teacher in the
Chicago area, he received several awards for outstanding teaching
of English, with a focus on writing, and drew on his disciplinary
roots in Performance Studies and Communications to stage annual
performance showcases of original student compositions.