Urban Educators' Perceptions of Successful Teaching

Article excerpt

The publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) stimulated several reports in the mid-1980s on the need for reform in urban education (American Council on Education, 19837; Darling-Hammond, 1985; National Alliance of Black School Educators, 1984; National Coalition of Advocates for Students, 1985). Many initial urban school reforms focused on the need for fundamental changes in the delivery of educational services. Reformers argued for rapid expansion of specific programs and services in early childhood, health and social services in the schools, school-community partnerships, and alternative delivery systems (Oakes, 1987; Yinger & Hendricks, 1990). Recently, considerable emphasis has been on structural-based school reform efforts including school choice, approaches to systemic change, use of common core curricula, flexible scheduling, and the use of alternative methods for assessing student performance (Carroll, Potthoff, & Huber, 1996; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).

Teachers' voices are absent from much contemporary school reform literature (Ascher, 1993; Koerner, 1992). When asked to cite factors most important for successful urban teaching, how do experienced urban teachers reply? How may urban teachers' voices affect teacher preparation programs? How do experienced urban teachers' voices compare with those of other teachers? In this study, we examined these questions and issues in the larger context of urban school reform. Hargreaves (1996) persuasively argues that teachers' voices are an important area of inquiry. He also cautions investigators to avoid potential overgeneralization and romanticism in teachers' voices when such voices are presented in a decontextualized manner.

Corcoran, Walker, and White (1988) conducted over 400 interviews with urban teachers, administrators, and staff concerning the conditions of teaching in urban schools. They identified and categorized specific conditions of urban teaching according to organizational, physical, and relational attributes.

Pasch et al. (1993) interviewed 90 teachers working in Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee to examine critically the voices of urban teachers and identify factors the teachers perceived critical to successful urban teaching. They interviewed participants to identify specific environmental, curricular, funding/resource, and organizational factors they thought would directly affect urban teachers' success. They categorized teachers' responses and analyzed them by thematic codes and found that teachers' direct understanding and fundamental knowledge of the urban community and culture inextricably linked with their perceptions of success in the classroom. Furthermore, they provided insight into the belief that factors internal and external to the classroom and school building directly affect successful urban teaching. They categorized individual themes as contextual, personological, or pedagogical. Themes such as Home/Community and Classroom/School Conditions represented contextual emphases. The category of Learner Needs and Characteristics is a theme representing a personological emphasis, whereas Subject Matter and Teaching Skills represented a pedagogical emphasis. Pasch et al.(1993) reported that themes in the contextual category were most frequent, followed by themes in the personological and pedagogical categories.

We undertook this study as part of a national school reform initiative supported by the AT&T Education Foundation's Teachers for Tomorrow initiative, the major goal of which was to improve the preparation of urban teachers through school-university partnerships. In Detroit, one of the first steps toward improving the preparation of urban teachers was to describe factors contributing to successful teaching in urban schools. We addressed two questions:

* What factors do urban teachers identify as fundamental for successful teaching? …