Agents for change

PROFile: Jeannie Kerr, associate professor and chair of Human Ethics Committee, Faculty of Education, U of W

When associate professor and chair of the Human Ethics Committee Jeannie Kerr read the ad for her current position in the Faculty of Education at the University of Winnipeg (U of W), she couldn’t believe it was real. 

“I actually thought it was a bit of a joke,” Kerr says. 

“They actually were looking for somebody who is in philosophy, is concerned about social-justice issues and has been a practicing classroom teacher in an inner-city community. So, literally things you don’t generally find all in the same person, and it’s my weird combination of experience.” 

In the classroom, Kerr’s work is centred around how education produces inequality. Instead of instructing students on how to teach a specific discipline, such as science or mathematics, her lessons focus on systemic issues in the school system.

“I teach the courses Contemporary Issues in Inner-City Education and Just and Effective Schooling,” she says. “I love the courses I teach. Most faculties of education don’t have these kinds of courses.” 

Kerr’s inner-city course is mandatory for all education students. 

“I feel like it’s a really important intervention that is kind of unique to the University of Winnipeg,” she says.

Initially, Kerr found that her lectures came as a shock to her students. Most didn’t realize how much inequality existed in educational systems. However, over time, she’s found more of her students have shown increasing interest in the topic. She hopes their openness to learn about complex issues will improve as time goes on. 

“We all have to be change agents if we want to be teachers, if we believe what we say we do,” she says. “We’re not just going in to teach science, we’re teaching people within a society about our values, as well.”

What’s the best thing about your work?

“The freedom. I get to do whatever research I want. I’m in all these different research projects, and I love it.” 

What do you like to do in your spare time?

“Walk my dogs. I do it all the time.”

If you could have any superpower, what would it be?

“I would be able to talk to animals.” 

What’s one idea you hope your students take away from lessons?

“That they can be part of change, and they need to be.” 

Published in Volume 75, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 27, 2021)

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