An Ideal Match: MU Office of Service-Learning and Dr. Tony Castro

For Tony Castro, teaching was always in the plan.

In middle school, Castro was a teaching assistant for a computer science class, where he explained the programming for the computers to the other students.

“The teacher saw that I had done a good job explaining and he had me teach using the overhead projector at the front of the class,” Castro says. “I taught about 20 minutes and was hooked. By the end of that year, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Castro is an assistant professor in the Department of Learning, Teaching and Curriculum (LTC) in the College of Education. He is the supervisor for the Inquiring into Schools, Community and Society course (LTC 2040), in which the political, cultural and economic conditions of the schools are studied. It is the foundation course for all undergraduates of the College of Education who wish to be teachers.

“It does look at the foundation of education, but it also really focuses on diversity concerns,” Castro says. “Part of the process of students doing work in the field is that it has them working in different community organizations that promote education and community development.”

The fieldwork refers to the College of Education’s partnership with the Office of Service Learning. Service Learning helps to place students in such courses as LTC 2040 with community or service programs that meet the requirements of the curriculum, and more importantly, provide real-world experience in situations that involve teaching, kids and the community. LTC 2040 instructors provide a list of possible sites in which students can become involved for the class through Service Learning.

Castro firmly believes that this component of the course is vital for students who wish to be educators.

“The key to success for students is making sure that when they are out in the field there are opportunities to connect with dialogue in the classroom about their experiences,” he says.

Castro would like for students to see it as more than just a requirement for the course.

“We want to know what are the successes, downfalls, transformations, breakthroughs, problems, etc. that the organizations are going through,” he says. “We want students not to just say they are volunteering but talk about what they see and how they are working. It’s about the deeper reflection and engagement with what they are doing. Reflection is key.”

Aside from this real-world experience, Castro also wants the students to realize the importance of teaching in ways that validate and value every single student, not just as a learner, but also as a person who has unique lived experiences, a unique racial and cultural identity and unique frames of reference.

“Teachers who are going to be powerful in the classroom have to teach kids first before anything else,” he says. “They have to know who their children are and teach from their perspective. We want them to be able to broaden their sense of what other people go through that may have different backgrounds than they do.”

In LTC 2040, students are asked to discuss and consider issues that are normally not discussed, such as race, sexuality, social capital or white privilege.

“These are difficult concepts that can cause a sense of uncomfortable-ness,” Castro says. “This can lead a person to resist wanting to learn more but there’s also no way for a person to change and grow in their cultural frame of reference if there is no uncomfortable-ness.”

This makes the service-learning component of the course essential. Program sites vary across the board and give all students a chance to reach outside of their comfort zone.

“Moments I enjoy are when students write on their immersion projects or evaluations, ‘I really learned and grew a lot. I was uncomfortable but it turned out okay.’ A willingness to put themselves in these situations is the mark of a great teacher. Being uncomfortable is only the beginning step and it’s a small price to pay for expanding worldviews and enriching ideas of humanity,” Castro says.

It is clear that Castro has followed his own advice. His passion for improving the lives of those he teaches has earned him renown in both the College of Education and the Office of Service Learning. Castro is highly esteemed by those who have worked closely with him, whether as a student, teaching assistant or colleague.

“The thing that stands out the most about him is his belief in students achieving their goals,” says Sarah Shear, graduate instructor at MU who has taught LTC 2040. “He is a great facilitator of what students want to do, which is very important as graduate and undergraduate students are developing their own selves. He gives us space to grow, but we know that if we need him he is there.”

To find out more about Dr. Castro’s published works and presentations, check out the College of Education’s website at education.missouri.edu.