Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Urban, but Not Too Urban": Unpacking Teachers' Desires to Teach Urban Students

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

"Urban, but Not Too Urban": Unpacking Teachers' Desires to Teach Urban Students

Article excerpt

The majority of today's teaching candidates are middleclass, female, White, raised in suburbs or small towns, and have limited contact with those culturally different from themselves (Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Howey, 2006). For more than three decades, these demographics have scarcely changed (see Zimpher, 1989); however, there have been notable changes during this time period in the population that these teachers now serve. The student population is growing more racially and ethnically diverse (rising from 22% in the 1970s to 39% in 2003, with 64% in urban schools) (Strizek, Pittsonberger, Riordan, Lyter, & Orlofsky, 2006). The number of schoolchildren who speak a language other than English at home increased 118%; and the number of poor students is concentrated in the nation's largest urban schools, with more than 56% of students in those schools on free and reduced-price lunch (Strizek et al., 2006).

As Hollins and Guzman (2005) point out, these student demographics are not the problem. The challenge is providing a quality education for all students. Ina review of the literature on teacher retention, Johnson, Berg, and Donaldson (2005) noted,

   New teachers today ... are seeking to succeed with their
   students.... "In deciding whether to stay in their schools,
   transfer to new schools, or leave public school teaching,
   the teachers weighed, more than anything else, whether
   they could be effective with their students." (p. 75)

This decision-making process needs to be examined given the reality that a large number of teaching candidates do not want to teach students who are different from them (Hollins & Guzman, 2005) and that White teachers tend to leave schools with higher percentages of Black and Latino students (Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin, 2004; Johnson et al., 2005). Although some of this attrition is surely due to a lack of resources available in many high-minority schools, more attention needs to be paid to how the teacher-student race gap might mediate where teachers choose to teach.

In the past few decades, race theorists have posited a new racial ideology that characterizes the post--civil rights era. These theorists contend that overt racial opposition has declined significantly but has been replaced by a new expression that is subtle (Bonilla-Silva & Forman, 2000; Jones, 1999) and marked by people asserting that they do not see color or talking as if race does not matter (Pollock, 2004a, 2004b). Whereas many of these theorists have conducted studies that examine White college students (e.g., Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Bonilla-Silva & Forman, 2000; Dovidio, 1993, 2001), we are just beginning to learn how this new expression--what some call "colorblindness" or "color-blind racism"--is revealed among teachers (e.g., Castro, 2003; Lewis, 2001, 2003a, 2003b). Colorblindness promotes a view that racial inequality, such as the racial achievement gap or school segregation, is not a result of impeded opportunity but personal choice (Forman, 2004). In schools, colorblindness often obscures, while simultaneously fostering, deficit thinking, which is usually linked to membership in a racial minority or low-economic-status group. Instead of ascribing considerable responsibility to how institutions such as schools are structured, subscribers of this framework root low academic achievement mostly in individual students' "cognitive and motivational deficits" (Valencia, 1997, p. 9). Thus, the new expression allows teachers to speak about students without explicitly revealing racial bias and to pretend that skin color is not important.

Although face is a prominent force in our lives, in this era of color-blind racism, race is "an issue constantly at play but only rarely named" (Lewis, 2003b, p. 86). However, no matter how hard we try to ignore or downplay race, it still is fundamental to how we understand and explain our world (Orai & Winant, 1994). …

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