"I'm Not Afraid to Come into Your World": Case Studies of Teachers Facilitating Engagement in Urban High School English Classrooms

Article excerpt

This article provides a vicarious experience in the classrooms of two teachers who successfully facilitated engagement in urban schools. With practices grounded in culturally responsive classroom management, the teachers created classroom environments in which students were motivated to participate, met high behavioral expectations, and remained cognitively engaged. As one teacher commented, "they're not afraid of a challenge," and this article provides insight into the successes and challenges of creating this kind of rigorous academic community in urban high school English classrooms. Teacher educators can use the snapshots in this article as a vehicle for pre-service teachers to "see" and learn from effective teachers in urban high schools.

Student learning is contingent on teachers' ability to create and sustain optimal learning environments.

(Brown, 2004, pp. 266-267)

Researchers regularly cite the inadequate preparation of teachers who enter urban schools that serve low-income families and families of color as a major factor in the pervasive racial gap in academic achievement (Foster, 1991; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Thernstrom & Thernstrom, 2003). The level of student engagement, as evidenced by completing assignments, participating in class, and putting forth effort, is directly connected to a teacher's practices (Patrick, Turner, Meyer, & Midgley, 2003). Furthermore, when students believe they have the intellectual capacity to succeed and know their teachers hold high expectations for them, they are more likely to be engaged in schoolwork (Brown, 2004; Lee, 2001; Linnebrink & Pintrich, 2002; Patrick et al., 2003). To prepare future teachers more adequately for urban schools, merefore, teacher educators need to provide die opportunity for them to learn from teachers who successfully facilitate engagement. The study reported in this article offers pre-service teachers die opportunity to understand the beliefs of two culturally competent teachers and have a vicarious experience in their classrooms. The purpose of the study was to describe the beliefs and practices of two urban high school teachers who successfully facilitated engagement in rigorous academic learning communities.

For the teachers in mis study, culturally responsive classroom management was a key element in facilitating high levels of student engagement. Their practices created demanding, but supportive learning communities based on an ethic of care and respect and fostered academic gains among students (Brown, 2003, 2004, 2005).

CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE CLASSROOM MANAGEMENT: A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

Based in the tenets of culturally responsive pedagogy (e.g., Gay, 2000; Irvine, 2003; LadsonBillings, 1994), culturally responsive classroom management requires that teachers set high expectations for students, ensure that students meet their expectations, and maintain a caring, structured, cooperative classroom environment that addresses students' lived experiences and cultural backgrounds (Bondy, Ross, Gallingane & Hambacher, 2007; Brown, 2004; Ware, 2006; Weinstein, Tomlinson-Clarke & Curran, 2004).

To explore the concept of culturally responsive classroom management that was described by Weinstein and colleagues (2004), Brown (2004) conducted extensive interviews with teachers across the United States to understand how teachers considered to be effective by their peers approached classroom management in urban schools. Specifically, he sought to understand how they created a cooperative learning environment among students and addressed cultural differences in a way that facilitated academic gains. Teachers reported that they typically addressed inappropriate behavior non-punitively. Instead, they created learning environments built on strong relationships and mutual respect where students generally chose not to engage in activities that would disrupt the instructional activities.

Bondy and colleagues (2007) provide observation-based examples of Brown's findings from the classrooms of three novice elementary teachers in urban classrooms. …