Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Connecting with the "Other" Side of Us: A Cooperative Inquiry by Self-Identified Minorities in a Teacher Preparation Program

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Connecting with the "Other" Side of Us: A Cooperative Inquiry by Self-Identified Minorities in a Teacher Preparation Program

Article excerpt

Minority teacher candidates' capacity to connect with diverse students in preK-12 settings is a driving force behind the demographic imperative to diversify the teaching professions (Achinstein, Ogawa, Sexton, & Freitas, 2010; Banks et al., 2005). Teacher candidates of color have great confidence in their abilities to relate to students of color and to serve as role models (Weisman & Hansen, 2008; Williams, Graham, McCary-Henderson, & Floyd, 2009). Similarly, efforts to draw men into the teaching professions have centered on male teachers' potential to be role models to male students (Martino & Rezai-Rashti, 2010). The possible connections fostered by a diversified teaching force are offset by the reality of classroom demographics. Teachers of color make up only 16% of the U.S. teaching population, while 44% of students are individuals of color (Noel & Sable, 2009). Male teachers comprise 24% of teachers across grade levels and only 15% at the elementary level (Coopersmith, 2009). By contrast, student populations are fairly evenly split between male and female (Noel & Sable, 2009).

Recognizing the importance of increasing the number of minorities in teacher education programs and subsequently increasing the number of minority teachers in the field, this article is written by five self-identified minorities in teacher education. We view our experiences through the lens of connecting to others as we explore our decisions to enter teaching, our experiences in a teacher preparation program, and our professional goals. Our aim is to improve the experiences of minority teacher candidates while enrolled in their teacher education program with the hopes that this will facilitate minority teachers' entrance into the teaching professions. To this end, our research questions are: What does it mean to identify as the "other" in a teacher education program? What obstacles have we encountered as a result of being the "other"? How do we, as teacher candidates and a teacher educator, believe our "otherness" will impact our teaching? In what ways do we perceive our "otherness" as a benefit to education programs and education as a whole?

Perspectives on Research

There are distinct benefits to recruiting additional ethnic and gender minorities to the teaching professions. The need for all children to have academic role models who closely reflect student populations has been a key rationale for diversifying the teacher workforce for the past 20 years (Villegas & Irvine, 2010). In other words, "Children need role models--they need to see themselves in the faces of their teachers" (Riley, 1998, p. 19). One example of academic role modeling is Klopfenstein's (2005) study that showed a strong positive correlation between the number of Black teachers of advanced mathematics and the number of Black students who enrolled in these classes. In the case of male teacher candidates, an additional reason for the call for role models is the perception of a shrinking number of male role models in children's homes (Gosse, 2011). A final rationale behind the arguments for male teachers and teachers of color as role models includes a belief that the prevalence of White, female teachers has sent a message that school and schooling are feminine and/or White pursuits (Martino, 2008; Zumwalt & Craig, 2005).

Besides serving as role models, minority teachers tend to forge closer connections to students' families and communities, particularly when these teachers share cultural background and experiences with the students they teach (Sleeter & Thao, 2007). This "cultural synchronicity" facilitates teachers linking academic material to students'previous knowledge and experiences (Villegas & Irvine, 2010). Additionally, teachers of color seem to hold higher expectations for students of color (Garcia & Guerra, 2004) and to have a strong commitment to social justice (Dilworth & Brown, 2001; Su, 1997). …

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