Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming a Teacher of Color: Mexican Bilingual Paraprofessionals' Journey to Teach

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Becoming a Teacher of Color: Mexican Bilingual Paraprofessionals' Journey to Teach

Article excerpt

As the cultural gap between students and teachers continues to present numerous problems for students of color to succeed at school, recruitment and retention of minority students have been a concern in teacher education programs (McNulty & Brown, 2009). Research shows that pre-service students of color "bring a commitment to multicultural teaching, social justice, and providing children of color with an academically challenging curriculum" (Sleeter, 2001, p. 212). Further, Ehrenberg (1995) claims that once they become teachers, minority teachers serve more effectively than White teachers as role models and mentors for minority students and thus enhance their educational performance.

One of the strategies for increasing the number of minority teachers is to tap the paraprofessional pool. Dandy (1998) considers paraprofessionals to be teaching assistants, clerks, and other school employees with or without baccalaureate degrees. They may directly work with students by carrying instructional responsibilities or providing other types of services (Genzuk & Baca, 1998). Ponessa (1996) reports that out of 9,000 paraprofessionals enrolled in teacher education programs nationwide, more than three-fourths were members of minority groups. Paraprofessionals often provide "an important source of expertise that many suggest is critical for students of diverse backgrounds, such as knowledge about students' backgrounds, home lives, and communities" (Rueda, Monzo, & Higareda, 2004, p. 54). With the growing number of language minority students, particularly Spanish speakers, entering public schools, Latino bilingual teachers are in demand (U.S. Department of Labor, 2004). One promising strategy to cope with this demand is to recruit Latino bilingual paraprofessionals for teaching (Haselkorn & Fideler, 1996). Genzuk and Baca (1998) acknowledge that Latino bilingual paraprofessionals have advantages such as coming from the same ethnic communities as their students, being familiar with Latino children's cultural experiences, and having personal insight into the experience of learning English as a second language.

However, Latino paraprofessionals face obstacles in the process of becoming teachers. According to Futrell (1999), the lack of academic preparation and the costs involved with becoming a teacher are the two major problems. The impact of high-stakes testing for both entry into the teacher education program and for teacher licensure on prospective minority/bilingual teachers has continued to be a great concern (Valencia & Guadarrama, 1995; Waldschmidt, 2002). Genzuk and Baca (1998) argue that Latino paraprofessionals attempting to become teachers experience more academic difficulties than most other teacher education candidates.

As a racial and ethnic minority, Latina/o students experience further obstacles in teacher education programs since most teacher candidates of color are prepared in programs where the majority of their peers are White (Hollins & Guzman, 2005). Durant (1999) reported that one Latina lost her public voice after her White classmates expressed a lack of interest in multicultural and language issues. Three Latino male pre-service teachers in Gomez, Rodriguez, and Agosto's (2008) study interpreted many experiences in their primarily White teacher education program as prejudicial and discriminatory and expressed wariness and distrust towards White peers and teachers. Padilla (1997) noted that Latina/o students and other minorities "are often viewed by professors and White students alike as academically unprepared and inferior, and as receiving a 'free ride'" (p. 12).

Several studies described paraprofessional-to-teacher programs and identified key elements for success of the programs and the participants (Becket, 1998; Dandy, 1998; Genzuk & Baca, 1998; Talbott, 2007; Waldschmidt, 2002). However, what Latino paraprofessionals actually experience as teacher candidates in classrooms and how they are perceived by their peers and instructors during teacher preparation is little known. …

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