Evaluation of Teacher Attributes as Predictors of Success in Urban Schools

Article excerpt

In the early 1980s, a teacher shortage began to emerge, particularly in urban areas. At present, urban districts lose nearly one half of their newly hired teachers within the first 5 years of service (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 2003). This phenomenon is coupled with reform efforts calling for higher quality teachers. Because of these concerns, teacher educators and school district personnel are forced to examine their practices in selecting education students as well as teacher selection and retention.

Differences in sociocultural identities between teachers and students may affect teacher retention and success in urban schools. Currently, there are significant differences between teachers and students in the United States in race, gender, socioeconomic status, and native language. The majority of kindergarten through Grade 12 teachers are White, middle-class women from rural and suburban areas (National Education Association, 1997) whereas 37% of their students are children of color, many of them living in poverty in urban centers (Children's Defense Fund, 2001; Young, 2002). In addition, less than 15% of teachers consider themselves fluent in another language (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1990), yet in 2000 there were more than four million limited-English-proficient students enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 12, and the number is increasing due to increased immigration (Jamieson, Curry, & Martinez, 1999; Kindler, 2002).

The urban school context also may affect teacher retention and success. Urban schools have unique factors that differentiate them from suburban and rural settings. Urban schools are generally large, high-density schools in metropolitan areas that serve a population subject to social, economic, and political disparities because of population mobility, diverse ethnic/ cultural identity, low socioeconomic status, and/or limited language proficiency (Alkin, 1992). The impacts of population diversity and economic deficits on urban education have resulted in racially segregated schools, old school buildings with large student populations, significant teacher turnover, and violence (Dejnozka & Kapel, 1991). In addition, urban schools face (a) low student achievement, (b) inadequate school readiness, (c) low parental involvement, (d) poor access to learning resources, (e) lack of discipline, (f) language barriers, and (g) poor student health. Weiner (1993), in a review of more than 30 years of research, concluded that the impact of the urban context has been historically and consistently overlooked in the research on effective teaching. Yet the sociocultural identities of teachers and students and the factors that differentiate urban from suburban and rural settings characterize a unique urban context for examining teacher success.

Sociocultural and motivational theories provide a framework for understanding how context affects the development of teacher attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. According to Vygotsky's sociohistorical psychology, mental development is guided by community influence, interpersonal interaction, and intrapersonal reflection and transformed through social, cultural, and historical contexts (Blanck, 1990). Bandura's (1997) social cognitive theory examines motivation by describing a reciprocal relationship between personal, environmental, and behavioral factors. Cognitive evaluation theory (Deci & Porac, 1978) and emergent motivation theory (Csikzentmihalyi, 1978) describe an individual's motivation to seek optimal challenges by analyzing the task, including context, and the skill involved in completing the task.

Consistent with these psychological frameworks, theorists in urban education have identified several attributes of teachers as indicators of their potential success in urban settings. These attributes are characteristics or qualities exhibited by the individual and may include beliefs or perceptions about self and others as well as personal values, morals, or truths that are held as a standard to guide an individual's thinking and behavior. …