A Study of Teacher Resilience in Urban Schools

By Patterson, Janice H.; Collins, Loucrecia et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, March 2004 | Go to article overview

A Study of Teacher Resilience in Urban Schools


Patterson, Janice H., Collins, Loucrecia, Abbott, Gypsy, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This paper describes a qualitative research study that investigated strategies used by urban teachers to build their personal resilience. Sixteen resilient teachers from four urban districts that reported student achievement equal to or higher than the state average on standard tests of reading and mathematics were interviewed. The definition of resilience was "using energy productively to achieve school goals in the face of adverse conditions." A three cycle interview process included pre-interview, interview and review by the respondent for accuracy. Standard qualitative methods were used in the analysis. Results revealed four key findings reported in this paper. Resilient teachers act from a set of values that guides their professional decision-making. They also place a high premium on professional development and find ways, often outside the school district, to get what they need. They provide mentoring to others and stay focused on students and their learning. A teacher candidate who gives evidence of resilience, of taking charge to solve problems and find opportunities may add to the school in important ways that bolster student achievement and school success.

"Resilience is a key factor in how a teacher will hold up and perform in an urban school."

Elementary school teacher, 7 years experience

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Much has been written over the last two decades about the difficulty of recruiting quality teachers for urban schools (e.g. Bobbit, Faupel & Burns, 1991; Darling-Hammond, 2000). Until recently, few scholars have recognized that the problem is not recruitment but retention (Salvador & Wilson, 2002). As teachers and teacher leaders in urban schools face the challenge of maintaining their vitality in an era of nonstop change, they struggle to remain resilient. Particularly in urban schools, teacher and teacher leader resilience is critical to schools accomplishing what needs to be done. The impact of teacher leader resilience is particularly important because of teacher leader's ability to encourage colleagues to change, to do things they wouldn't ordinarily consider without the influence of the leader (Wasley, 1991). Thus, the resilience of teacher leaders is a key factor in school reform (Patterson, 2001). The operational definition of resilience that guides this study of teachers and teacher leaders is using energy productively to achieve school goals in the face of adverse conditions.

Urban schools suffer from far greater complications than rural or suburban schools. High teacher and student absenteeism, high teacher turnover, high numbers of uncertified teachers and great numbers of inexperienced teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1998) all contribute to stress of urban teachers. Urban teachers are also more likely than their suburban and rural counterparts to teach more students with fewer basic resources like books, blackboards and paper (Farber, 1991).

These problems are exacerbated by federal legislation that demands a certified teacher in every classroom by 2005. For instance, a clash regarding California's new draft standards for certification demonstrated the potential financial loss to districts of the new federal legislation, No Child Left Behind. To meet the federal requirements, California proposed defining "highly qualified" teachers as including interns with emergency permits. When asked to evaluate this plan, the US Department of Education said it wouldn't meet the terms of the law. That could cost the state $5.4 billion in federal dollars (Chaddock, 2002).

Outside the school, the environment is also more complex as teachers are called upon to confront social issues that many believe belong in the home or larger community. It is not surprising that many urban teachers become skeptical, cynical and "burn out." Burn out can result in isolation and caring less about the students and other aspects of teacher's work or it may lead to working harder, sometimes mechanically, to the point of exhaustion (Farber, 1991).

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