Triple gators Melanie Acosta (B.S. ‘02, M.Ed. ‘09, Ph.D. ‘13) and Diedre Houchen (B.S. ‘05, M.A.E. ‘09, Ph.D. ‘15) were recently recognized by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) with a 2019 Outstanding Article Award for their collaborative work published in the Journal of Teacher Education.
Acosta, an assistant professor of Education at Florida Atlantic University, Houchen, a postdoctoral associate at the University of Florida Center for the Study of Race and Race Relations, and Michèle Foster, a School of Education professor at the University of Louisville, collaborated to author “Why Seek the Living Among the Dead? African American Pedagogical Excellence: Exemplar Practice for Teacher Education.”
Their collective examines the challenges ever present in the recruitment and preparation of today’s teaching force. It also poses an opportunity for improvement by reclaiming and realigning African American pedagogical excellence as a leading resource in teacher education.
“The field has not been very diligent in drawing on these ideas, these ideologies and frameworks, in preparing effective teachers,” Acosta said.
Inspired by the journal’s call to release a special issue blending historical and contemporary issues on pressing topics in teacher education, Acosta reached out to Foster and Houchen to craft the piece and shed light on the transformative power and effectiveness of African American educational practices and traditions.
“When we saw this call for something that was both historic and contemporary focused in the Journal of Teacher Education, we were all really excited about that,” Houchen said.
Houchen and Acosta first met as doctoral students at the UF College of Education. Though they were at different stages in their programs, they shared a course under Dorene Ross, now professor emerita, and cultivated both a friendship and a professional relationship.

I feel like, in the best way possible, where you have a body of scholars who are growing stronger by bouncing ideas off of each other — that’s the opportunity that Dr. Acosta and I had as students, Houchen said.

Melanie Acosta

Diedre Houchen

Their parallel paths through the UF experience and complementary research interests fostered their lasting contact and led to the collaborative piece with Foster, who Acosta considers a great mentor in the field.
Drawing from each of their areas of expertise, the article details the historical beginnings of African American pedagogical excellence, demonstrates how the desegregation of public schools led to its marginalization in teacher education and explains how its methods offer solutions to several prominent challenges affecting education today.
“I think it is a very timely and thoughtful piece that, begins to synthesize bodies of work that are out there, under larger ideas, that are really important for the field of education and teacher education,” Acosta said.
Houchen shared the article also seeks to raise the argument that the field of education has been ahistorical, viewing present challenges as though they stand alone in time.
“We are not thinking about how past generations of educational policymaking affects our current achievement gap,” she said.
Many of the challenges facing education today, including teacher diversity, teacher preparation and student achievement, are longstanding and deeply rooted.
“Having a real clear understanding of what’s happened over time is critically important to predicting how we can get better in the future and where we are,” Houchen said.
Acosta shared the title of the article holds particular significance, as it captures the position of African American pedagogical excellence within the field of education today.
“Within our own field of teacher education and education in general, it’s positioned as a historical relic,” she said. “It’s not drawn on heavily as we think about the preparation of new teachers and practicing teachers.”
Although this may be the field perception, teachers are still engaging and enacting African American pedagogy all over the world and experiencing great success.
“It’s not dead,” Acosta said. It’s alive. It’s vibrant.”
AACTE recognized the collaborative article with the 2019 Outstanding Journal of Teacher Education Article Award at the 71st Annual Meeting hosted in February.