Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Moving beyond Our Progressive Lenses: Recognizing and Building on the Strengths of Teachers of Color

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Moving beyond Our Progressive Lenses: Recognizing and Building on the Strengths of Teachers of Color

Article excerpt

There is a growing recognition that teacher education must attend to the unique strengths and needs of teachers of color (Achinstein, Ogawa, Sexton, & Freitas, 2010; Dingus, 2008; Gomez, Rodriguez, & Vonzell, 2008; Weisman & Hansen, 2008). Part of the rationale for this focus on teachers of color is the argument that these teachers' "richer multicultural knowledge base" and their commitments to "teaching, to social justice, and to providing children of color with an academically challenging curriculum" are central to working toward equitable and just classrooms (Sleeter, 2001, p. 95; see also Ladson-Billings, 1991; Rios & Montecinos, 1999; Su, 1996, 1997). Villegas and Davis (2008) highlight, however, that teachers of color have been largely overlooked in teacher education. They argue that although teacher education has increasingly incorporated multiculturalism over the last decade and a half, the primary beneficiaries of these changes have been White teachers. Recent findings from Achinstein and Aguirre (2008) have also complicated assumptions of "cultural match" between students and teachers of color and have demonstrated that programs of teacher education fail to adequately prepare new teachers of color to negotiate their racial identity within the school context. Such lack of attention leaves them in positions where they must make sense of their racial identity as teachers outside of the support of their preparation program, often making them particularly vulnerable to attrition (Parker & Hood, 1995; Villegas & Davis, 2008). As teacher educators, we must move beyond archetypes of teachers of color and attempt to identify meaningful categories that will be productive in facilitating the growth and effectiveness of these teachers. In this article, through an in-depth analysis of interviews with a group of experienced teachers of color, I argue that one such category is teachers who strongly emphasize the importance of students accessing the "culture of power" (Delpit, 1995) as a means to racial justice in society, but, who are often represented by others as authoritarian and conformist. Through the constructs of "political and ideological clarity" (Bartolome, 2004), I argue that seeing these accomplished teachers through a "progressive lens," as defined below, hinders a deeper dialogue with them and does not adequately represent them as successful models for prospective teachers of color.

Throughout this article, I use the term progressive principles to capture ideals such as building student voice within the classroom, engagement as a class with sociopolitical issues, building on the knowledge of students and their communities, and transformation through democratic participation. Although there are significant differences in how these principles are embedded within particular theories, they are central to the philosophy and practice of educators from a wide range of communities such as critical theory, multiculturalism, and social justice education (Banks, 2006; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Freire, 2001; Giroux, 2001). I define progressive lens as an ideological (1) representation of teachers of color who emphasize teaching the culture of power as a primary aspect of their work toward racial justice. A progressive lens represents them as deficient in their understanding and enactment of progressive principles. By stating that the representation is ideological, I emphasize that it is embedded in a racialized society and its associated historical discourses. I further mean that the representation exists within and reproduces classed and raced assumptions and is dependent on the positionality of the observer and the observed. Finally, to be ideological means that these representations challenge or support forms of power and domination in society by naming certain teacher practices as legitimate or illegitimate means of addressing racial injustice. A progressive lens portrays this group of teachers of color as (a) authoritarian, teacher centered, and overly structured and (b) lacking in social, political, and historical understandings of race and racism. …

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