UConn’s Neag School of Education has welcomed a new director of its Office of Teacher Education, Alyssa Hadley Dunn. As of Jan. 1, Dunn oversees the Neag School’s Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Teacher Preparation Program and its Teacher Certification Program for College Graduates.
“I am excited to be back in Connecticut,” says Dunn, who is originally from Waterbury. “UConn’s teacher education programs are small enough to provide individual attention and support to students, but big enough that our work and actions make a difference statewide. It’s just the right size for making a difference with both students and local communities.”
A former high school English teacher, Dunn’s current research and service focuses on urban education for social and racial justice. She studies how to best prepare and support teachers to work in urban schools and how to teach for justice and equity amid school policies and reforms that negatively impact teachers’ working conditions and students’ learning conditions.
“Through her scholarship, teaching, and service, Dr. Dunn has distinguished herself as one of the preeminent scholars in the field of teacher education,” says Neag School Dean Jason G. Irizarry. “Her passion and commitment to social justice and educational equity resonate with our commitments in the Neag School, and I am certain that she will make profound contributions to the School, the broader University, and the communities we serve.”
Dunn’s undergraduate years at Boston College first introduced her to social justice in education. The College was participating in a “Teachers for a New Era” grant, which prepared teachers to work in urban schools.
“Everything that has happened in my life since then has been because I had supportive faculty and instructors who really cared about and were committed to urban education for social justice,” she says.
“Through her scholarship, teaching, and service, Dr. Dunn has distinguished herself as one of the preeminent scholars in the field of teacher education.” — Jason G. Irizarry, Dean of the Neag School of Education
Dunn went on to earn her master’s degree from Emory University. It was there that a faculty member encouraged her to combine her passion for urban schooling with teacher education.
“Even though I had been prepared as a teacher, I really never thought about who was teaching me to teach,” Dunn says. “I loved teaching high school English, but I also love teaching people about pedagogy and how the world outside the classroom impacts what happens to teachers and students.”
She continued to study at Emory and completed her Ph.D. in 2011. Since then, Dunn has been a teacher educator, first at Georgia State University, then Michigan State University, and now UConn.
“My mentors in my undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs all helped me see the importance of the contexts – social, historical, and political – in which teaching and learning happens,” she says. “You don’t just need to know the content to be a good teacher, you need to understand children, families, histories, and communities.”
That context informs Dunn’s body of research, which has spanned studying teachers’ public resignation letters and why they enter and leave the profession, as well as teachers’ decision-making after the 2016 election to support marginalized students. Most recently, she published a book – “Teaching on Days After: Education for Equity in the Wake of Injustice”, which is also available in audio format – investigating what teachers are doing in the classroom on other “days after”; not just elections, but also other national traumas, tragedies, and even triumphs.
“Right before the pandemic, I began to interview teachers around the country about what they did on days after, how they made decisions on what to discuss with their students, and what they did if they felt like an ideological outsider in their community,” Dunn says.
Her interviews with hundreds of teachers and students informed her theory of “Days After Pedagogy.” Student spotlights in the book explain why such a teaching method is needed, while teachers describe being told to stay neutral and unbiased on days after but why and how they didn’t. To accompany the book, Dunn also curates an online learning community via social media.
“UConn’s teacher education programs are small enough to provide individual attention and support to students, but big enough that our work and actions make a difference statewide.” — Alyssa Hadley Dunn, director of the Neag School's Office of Teacher Education
“The first group of 30 teachers I interviewed were in all different contexts: rural, suburban, urban, different states, different political contexts,” she says. “They felt like they were the only ones doing this work in their schools. They said, ‘I need some kind of virtual professional learning community where I can connect with other people on days after to find out what they’re doing.’”
What started as a platform for those 30 teachers ballooned into 2,000 group members in summer 2020 following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. Every time something happens in the world, Dunn and other teachers share resources on the group page and the group continues to grow. After the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the group grew to 16,000 members. As of this month, the group has more than 20,000 members.
“This has shown me that this work is really having an impact not just in academia, but teachers are also using it,” she says. “That makes me feel like it’s having more of an impact than any article I could publish in a journal, because teachers have ready access to using research to make pedagogical decisions. While I’m grateful that this research on days after injustice exists, I also hate that it has to.”
Dunn is now channeling this work into preparing the next generation of teachers at the Neag School, while also committing to changing the systems that hinder her students’ future work. She says she’s excited about the opportunity to think collectively with faculty, staff, and students about how to make program-wide changes toward equity and justice, along with other goals she has set for herself in her new position.
“It’s wonderful how the Neag School focuses on recruiting and retaining students of color,” Dunn says. “That is something I’m excited to learn more about and be involved in. I would also like to support UConn faculty in being scholar-activists for educational policies in the state and beyond.”
Through it all, she says she’s most looking forward to meeting and speaking with students.
“Even as we tell pre-service teachers to listen to their students and hear what they have to say, in teacher education we sometimes have a hard time listening to our students about what they want and need,” Dunn says. “I’m really excited to involve our students in more decision-making processes so they can feel more agentic in their own education.”
To learn more about the UConn Neag School of Education’s Office of Teacher Education and its programs, visit teachered.education.uconn.edu and follow the Neag School on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.