Preparing Teachers for Urban Classrooms

Article excerpt

Jacqueline Jordan Irvine is the Charles Howard Candler Professor Urban Education at Emory University. For more than 20 ears, her research on the cultural context of teaching and learning and the development of urban teachers has lent new insights to educators on teaching in the nation s urban school districts. Jordan Irvine is the founder and director of the Center for Urban Learning/Teaching and Urban Research in Education and Schools, or CULTURES, which the U.S. Department of Education has recognized as a model of best practices in teacher professional development.

Jordan Irvine also is co-director of The Southern Consortium for Educational Research in Urban Schools. Her book, Black Students and School Failure received the 1991 "Outstanding Book Award" from the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education and the "Academic Book of the Year" award from the American Association of College and University Research Librarians.

Her edited volumes include Growing Up African American in Catholic Schools and Critical Knowledge for Diverse Learners. Irvine earned her doctorate from Georgia State University.

Black Issues In Higher Education Senior Writer Michele N-K Collison caught up with Jordan Irving earlier this month as she gave a lecture at her undergraduate alma mater, Howard University. The following is excerpted from that conversation.

Q Can you talk a little about your research for those who are not familiar with you?

I am a teacher-educator.... My mission is to do research around issues of urban education and, more specifically, I am concerned about issues with teaching African American children, for obvious reasons. Those are the children that tend to do poorest on standardized tests. Those are the children who are labeled as [having] disciplinary problems.

We all know that teaching is about telling, facilitating and delivering knowledge of your field. My work is about identifying what I call different themes of good practice. For example, African American teachers in the tradition of African American culture talk about teaching as a calling. So, they tend to have a more personal attachment to the students that they teach. What I've been trying to do is identify these attributes that make a good teacher of African American children.

Part of the problem is the number of African Americans that are going into teaching is pitifully small -- they're going into other fields.

Q Recently, the news has been full of reports of the gap in achievement between Black and White children. What can teachers do to bridge that gap?

A Americans tend to see teachers as part of the problem but not part of the solution. I'm very interested in ways to maintain to the African American cultural conception of pedagogy, which is very different from traditional mainstream pedagogy.

The tendency is to say something is wrong with the kids. They're poor. They come from single-parents families. Or we blame the teachers. We want to blame somebody. Blame the kids, the parents. But none of the research identifies what I talk about "identifying best practices."

What does work? We already know the things that don't work. But what does work? In order to understand it, you have to go all the way back to the late 18th, 19th, 20th century to teachers like Lucy Lane [and] Fannie Jackson Cooper. African Americans have a very long history of teaching. So we're not starting this from scratch. We have a historical context. And to me that is what's also missing.

There's also this notion that anything all Black is bad. And because urban schools tend to be mostly Black, people tend to think they're all bad. But we do know from before Brown v. Board of Education that we had excellent schools. They may have been resource poor, but they had other things to compensate.

Q Several communities are getting away from busing and desegregation orders. …