Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Growing ... but Constrained: An Exploration of Teachers' and Researchers' Interactions with Culture and Diversity through Personal Narratives

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Growing ... but Constrained: An Exploration of Teachers' and Researchers' Interactions with Culture and Diversity through Personal Narratives

Article excerpt

The graduate education classroom is intended to be a space in which learning takes place through interaction with content and thought. The standards with regard to diversity are threaded throughout the content and interactions that the students have within each course they take. Dialogue on diversity is typically facilitated by exercises which are designed to give the teachers-as-students a space to interact with their own beliefs, values, and perceptions for the purpose of enhancing their cultural awareness.

As U.S. schools service increasingly diverse student populations, the need for such a dialogic space in education is amplified. Some researchers believe that teachers engaged in such activities have found inconclusive or minimal changes of depth or breadth of teachers' cultural understanding after such course engagement (Jennings, 2007). On the contrary, Critical Race Theory (CRT) researchers have found that educators grow in their cultural understandings and practices once they become comfortable with their own identities following the above stated activities (Helms, 1992; Tatum, 2009). This study seeks to enhance this work by addressing the following: How do teachers and researchers who interact with personal and past experiences inform present perceptions of culture and diversity?

Within this context, two female professors in education who are also researchers, one African American and one Caucasian, sat down to analyze autobiographic narratives of 64 teachers who had responded to issues of culture during a graduate Foundations of Education course. The teachers who are enrolled in a master's program, from two university campuses of the same predominantly White university participated in a Culture Learning Process (CLP). The CLP is a tool that is used as a voluntary exercise within the African American researcher's courses for teachers to give students the opportunity to take an in-depth look at their diverse cultural experiences by reflecting on 12 cultural attributes (Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2003). This instrument is intended for the participants to reflect upon their construction of culture and diversity through personal narratives.

As the teachers' narratives were read and analyzed, an unexpected dialogue surfaced which provoked rich thought and interaction in the midst of controversy. Even though we, as researchers are both females with advanced degrees in education, experienced teaching outside the contiguous United States, and have religious backgrounds, and although we would describe ourselves as being more culturally aware than the typical teacher, the ensuing dialogue during the data analysis exposed dissonance and heightened emotion due to each of our points-of-view. Within a few months it became apparent that this dialogue needed attention because we were approaching the analysis of the data from two distinct personally adopted theoretical frameworks that appeared to clash. The Caucasian researcher, Martha, chose to employ a Vygotskian (1978) socio-constructivist view of meaning construction to her analysis (Kozulin, 2003; Wertsch, 1991), while the African American researcher, Kimetta, framed her analysis within the lens of Critical Race Theory (Bell, 2009; Delgado, 1995).

The following includes each of our interactions with the teachers' data in dialogue with our own autobiographic narrative and theoretical framework. The juxtaposition of these narratives and ensuing dialogue revealed the importance and reframing of dialogic space in teacher education. This interaction between the analysis of the data, discussions between the researchers, and the narrative voices that emerged during the CLP from the teachers, exposed multiple voices and contexts. The discussions and analysis revealed the value of a space in which the exposure of diverse theoretical analyses and past encounters with culture and diversity can provide the opportunity for a dialogue that is characterized by growth within constraints. …

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