Effective White Teachers of Black Children: Teaching within a Community

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION AND PURPOSE

Current trends in public school enrollment and teacher characteristics (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2001) indicate the overwhelming probability that Black children will experience mostly White teachers in their education. At the same time, however, a review of the literature (Cooper, 2001) suggests that relatively little is known about effective White public school teachers of Black children. A notable exception are the three White teachers described in Ladson-Billings's (1994a) study of successful teachers of African American children. There is, however, a substantive and growing body of literature on effective Black teachers of Black children, which could be relied on to support White teachers in their efforts to teach across racial lines. Nonetheless, this research remains largely unaccounted for in the general literature on effective praxis.

Numerous researchers, including Delpit (1995), Foster (1994), Irvine (1990), and Lipman (1998), have warned about the dangers of defining good teaching without accounting for the emic perspective (Siddle Walker, 1996), that is, who or what is valued by the community the teachers are intended to serve. This article reports on a qualitative case study of the beliefs and practices of three White teachers of mostly Black children in a public primary-grade school, nominated as effective by their Black principal and Black assistant principal. Nominations were based on the administrators' knowledge of the teachers' effectiveness in helping Black children achieve success in school, including learning to read, and standardized test scores. Nominations were also influenced by informal conversation with parents and the fact that the teachers were popular choices with parents for classroom placement. The purpose of the study was to provide a "holistic and meaningful" (Yin, 1994, p. 3) description of what good teaching of Black children by White teachers looks like to a particular Black community by accepting its choices of effective teachers. Findings were compared to the literature on effective teachers of Black children for generalizability. Ladson-Billings's (1994a) call for culturally relevant teaching and Irvine's (1990) theory of culturally synchronistic teaching of Black children guided the research.

The study was organized around two essential questions. First, what are the beliefs and practices of three White public school teachers of Black children, who were identified as effective teachers by key Black educators of a historically Black school district? Second, how do their beliefs and practices compare and contrast to the effective teachers of Black children described in the literature? An overarching finding was the interweaving of beliefs and practices at both the operational and conceptual level across the five major themes. By way of example, three specific subthemes are explored that demonstrate (a) the wide-ranging complexity of the teachers' intertwining beliefs and practices and (b) the generalizability of the findings to the literature on effective teachers of Black children. The subthemes center on reading and writing practices, discipline, and a view of teaching self as a second mother. To clarify, "second mother" refers to those beliefs and practices usually identified with habits of mothering, such as an overt concern for physical safety or bathroom needs. It does not imply the absence of a mother at home. A fourth subtheme of the findings that is also explored is racial consciousness. This only partially generalized to the literature.

The study focused on classroom life because, although researchers have long acknowledged the implications of school context on teaching (Anyon, 1997; Lipman, 1998), teacher-student interactions and the learning environment are two factors that individual teachers can reasonably control. The study also focused when possible on teaching during the Language Arts period. …