Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

What Works in Race-Conscious Teacher Education? Reflections from Educators in the Field

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

What Works in Race-Conscious Teacher Education? Reflections from Educators in the Field

Article excerpt

Introduction and Purpose

David is a White teacher at an urban school in Los Angeles. He grew up in rural Oregon in an almost entirely White community. As an adult, he specifically wanted to work in racially diverse schools. During a classroom visit, I watched as his students investigated music as a way of understanding how marginalized groups counter their oppression. They discussed gospel and rap. He made vivid connections between the lyrics and slavery and Biblical passages. This complex conversation dazzled his students. Their interest was palpable.

Two hours away in the California desert, Mona, a White woman, teaches middle school English in a majority Latino school. During class, her thirteen years olds chant out the alphabet. "B says /buh/, /buh/," says Mona. The class responds. Over and over they mimic her lead. The children are timed--when the buzzer rings, they switch to a new sound. This goes on for an hour. She explains to me that this is all they can do. Their parents don't value education. They just need the basics. Mona thinks this approach works best for these students. It is all they can handle.

In South Los Angeles, Ms. Holden yells down the hallway at two Mexican second graders. She admonishes them for running; she says they look like criminals. One child, who is learning English and can't understand what was said, asks his classmate in Spanish to translate. "No Spanish in school!" shouts the teacher. "Learn to speak English! You'll be picking in the fields forever if you don't!"

Over the years I have spent as a teacher and as a teacher educator, I have been collecting stories. These stories are similar in that the main character is White and the plot is about ethnicity. The stories are different in the protagonist's understanding of how race and racism operate in schools. These stories provide a jumping off point for the questions that shape this research.

This is a study about how schools of education impact their students' ability to be successful in urban schools. What experiences--if any--in teacher education programs shape the development of race-conscious White teachers? To address my goal, I conducted a qualitative study of six teachers currently employed in urban schools. (1) All were considered excellent White teachers of children of color. Through a series of interviews, I explored the ways race, culture, and diversity were addressed in their teacher education programs and whether the experiences were meaningful. In this study, I define race conscious as the opposite of colorblind. I see race consciousness as occurring along three dimensions: (1) teachers understand that racism impacts schools; (2) they acknowledge and draw on the racial and cultural backgrounds of their students; and (3) they understand the value of culturally relevant pedagogies. This is akin to Teel and Obidah's (2008) definition of culturally competent teachers as understanding personal and societal racism and having the ability to apply these understandings to teaching and learning processes. I chose specifically to focus on White teachers since they are the majority of school teachers. As of 2004, White teachers make up 83% of the teaching force in the United States (National Center for Education Statistics, 2007).

As K-12 student bodies continue to diversify, teacher education programs have addressed this need through a variety of interventions. Typical approaches have included fieldwork, stand-alone courses, and community projects that include issues of race and diversity. But do they matter? What experiences stick with teachers once they are out in the field? Much of the research on preparing White teachers for diverse contexts focuses primarily on the short term and in university settings. Studies provide information on the immediate changes (or lack thereof) the treatment had on the participants. In most cases, students participate in a field experience or take a course, and then are followed up via survey or interview. …

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