Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Aggressive and Tender Navigations: Teacher Educators Confront Whiteness in Their Practice

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Aggressive and Tender Navigations: Teacher Educators Confront Whiteness in Their Practice

Article excerpt

The call for teacher education programs to address the challenge of preparing a predominantly white, middle-class, female teaching force to work effectively with an increasingly diverse population of students is resounding (Darling-Hammond, 2002, 2006; Ladson-Billings, 1999; Sleeter, 2008). (1) Research shows that many such teachers have low expectations of students who belong to racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups other than their own (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; Irvine, 1990). Their developing cultural competencies and understandings of antiracist pedagogy shape their practice, the educational opportunities they provide for students, and the ways in which they interact with students, families, and communities (Darling-Hammond, MacDonald, Snyder, Whitford, Ruscoe, & Fickel, 2000). Although attention has been focused on transforming preservice teachers' beliefs and developing practice with antiracist pedagogy, this article suggests that similar attention should be paid to teacher educators' practice and beliefs.

This project is the product of a series of frank conversations among the three coauthors. We are three white, female teacher educators who have come to our shared work via different paths: as a religious activist for racial justice through liberation theology, as a white ally to a beloved spouse and children of color, as a long-time teacher and listener, inspired by students of color and white students alike. We knew that we all believed in the importance and centrality of antiracist work in teacher education; however, disturbing stories from current and former students had begun to awaken us to the collective realization that despite the purest motives, our efforts might be misdirected, fruitless, or, worse, counterproductive. We knew what the research said: New teachers need preparation to be antiracist educators, including opportunities to gain understandings about race and racism in the context of their own identities and others' (Banks, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 2000, 2001; Solorzano, 1997; Valli, 1995). We also knew that the cost of not providing this preparation could be disastrous: New teachers have been shown to use race as a major factor in determining academic and behavioral expectations and treatment of students of color in their classrooms (Banks, 1995, 1998; Coleman & Gilliam, 1983; Eliasoph, 1999).

Our review of the literature found, as Sleeter's (2001) did, that most attention is paid to developing and testing strategies to challenge preservice teachers' whiteness and connected beliefs (to help them learn what "not" to do), whereas significantly fewer studies describe explicit practices associated with high-quality teaching in diverse schools (teaching them what "to do"). However, we still wanted to know where the teacher educator fits into these objectives. We wanted to foreground our goals for preservice teachers by providing an intermediate and in tandem objective: to examine some teacher educators' experiences of whiteness as possible filters acting on their race work in teacher education. (2) We wanted to address the periphery of strategy, what Cochran-Smith (2003) describes as the "inquiry stance" (p. 8) that frames the work of both learning and unlearning racism and that can begin with self-study of our practice as teacher educators.

By combining self-study and focus group research to capture a bidirectional portrait of our beliefs and practices and student experiences around race, we attempted to answer the following research questions: (a) What are our beliefs about and practices related to antiracist work as teacher educators? (b) How do preservice teachers experience race and racism in our program? and (c) How do their experiences reflect, confirm, or trouble our understanding of our own practices and beliefs? In answering these questions we hoped to examine not only what we believe but also how our actions and instruction were perceived by some of the preservice teachers in the program. …

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