Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Student Teaching in the Contact Zone: Learning to Teach amid Multiple Interests in a Vocational English Class

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Student Teaching in the Contact Zone: Learning to Teach amid Multiple Interests in a Vocational English Class

Article excerpt

In his study of a university's first-year composition program, Durst (1999) describes the "collision course" that instructors and students travel when they arrive with very different beliefs about the raison d'etre for the class. At the University of Cincinnati, the site of his research, many students take a pragmatic view of their college education, matriculating to elevate their station in society. First-year composition, in these students' view, should have a utilitarian emphasis, teaching them writing skills that will help them succeed in their upper-level coursework and ultimate careers.

The first-year composition instructors, however, typically adopt a critical theory stance toward writing pedagogy. Rather than simply teaching students how to write in accordance with college expectations, they take a more political perspective in which they instruct their students to use writing as a means to critique and transform society into a more equitable place. Often, this effort involves requiring Students to critique their own privilege. This emphasis, in the view of many students, assumes of them a privilege that they do not believe that they have and further provides for the course a purpose they believe it ought not have. These competing assumptions and interests, argues Durst (1999), make first-year composition courses problematic in terms of the various stakeholders' beliefs about what is appropriate for the class's curriculum, instruction, direction, and assessment.

The intersection of oppositional interests in a social setting has been described by Pratt (1999) as a contact zone. To Pratt, contact zones are sites where members of different cultures "meet, clash, and grapple with each other, often in contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power" (p. 76). The examples Pratt provides are often extreme in this regard, such as the inequitable relationship between master and slave. However, more nuanced versions of a contact zone are often in evidence in schools, where a host of relationships--often involving people of disproportionate power--intersect in complex ways. At times such a nexus of competing values and interests provides the site for the violence implied by Durst's (1999) "collision" metaphor or Pratt's "clash" of values. At other times, however, the different conceptions of the classroom's purpose provide for a more subtle, less cataclysmic convergence of interests.

In this study, we investigate a student teacher's pedagogy in a 12th grade English class called Applied Communications. The class was designed to teach vocational-track students both a literature-oriented curriculum and the skills they presumably needed to find jobs and succeed in the workforce. We analyze teacher candidate Joni's experiences in relation to the four primary perspectives that intersect, interact, and come into conflict in her teaching of the Applied Communications class: (a) Joni's stated beliefs about effective teaching based on her experiences as a student, (b) the Applied Communications curriculum as interpreted by her mentor teacher, (c) the student-centered pedagogy advocated by her university professors and supervisor, and (d) the students' reported beliefs about the appropriateness and usefulness of the Applied Communications curriculum. In light of these interests, we explore the following research question: What are the consequences for Joni's teaching as a result of the ways in which she acknowledges and interprets these four perspectives?

Theoretical Framework

Leont'ev's (1981; cf. Wertsch, 1985) account of the motive of a setting provides a useful construct for understanding the dynamics of a contact zone (Grossman, Smagorinsky, & Valencia, 1999). Borrowing terms from Sarason (1972), Wertsch (1985), and others, we refer to the contexts that mediate the development of consciousness as activity settings. Lave (1988) makes a distinction between an arena, which has visible structural features, and a setting, which represents the individual's construal of that arena. …

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