Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Supporting Teachers of Color as They Negotiate Classroom Pedagogies of Race: A Study of a Teacher's Struggle with "Friendly-Fire" Racism

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Supporting Teachers of Color as They Negotiate Classroom Pedagogies of Race: A Study of a Teacher's Struggle with "Friendly-Fire" Racism

Article excerpt

Calls to increase the dismally low number of teachers of color in K-12 schools are often based on "demographic and democratic imperatives" (Achinstein & Ogawa, 2011). As Achinstein and Ogawa have explained, the demographic imperative attempts to address the disproportionality in the racial backgrounds of students and teachers in the United States. The democratic imperative seeks to enhance the educational opportunities and academic performance of students of color and is "rooted in the assumption that teachers of color may be particularly suited to teaching students of color" (p. 161). The demographic and democratic imperatives provide strong rationales for recruiting and retaining teachers of color. The push to racially diversify the teaching force, however, is seldom accompanied by the equally important demand to understand and address the new and often un anticipated challenges that emerge when teachers of color teach students of color (Philip, 2012). Studying such challenges presents new theoretical and methodological difficulties, which we elucidate through a case study. As our findings suggest, focusing on increasing the proportion of teachers of color in the workforce without attention to how they address and navigate racial processes in the classroom risks creating new racial discourses and practices that negatively impact youth of color. Paradoxically, commitments to racial justice and assumptions about a shared racial identity might contribute to teachers' difficulty in recognizing forms of race and racism that emerge in classrooms where teachers and students are similarly racialized. We therefore forcefully argue that the demand for recruiting and retaining teachers of color must be accompanied by a push for new pedagogies of race that address their specific strengths and needs.

Teachers often learn about issues of race and racism in teacher education programs but receive little guidance on facilitating related classroom conversations (Bolgatz, 2005; Lin, Lake, & Rice, 2008). Despite the lack of preparation, teachers of color, in particular, feel a moral obligation to explicitly engage issues of race in their classrooms (Foster, 1994; Su, 1997). The lack of preservice preparation and ongoing in-service support for teachers as they engage issues of race, coupled with the passion for racial justice that teachers of color often bring to their work, regrettably leaves these teachers in a precarious position. We explore these challenges through the construct of friendly-fire racism, which we use to analyze the racial discourse in a classroom where a teacher of color inadvertently hindered her students' analyses of race and racism and reproduced "deficit understandings" of people of color (Valencia, 2010) precisely because she assumed "cultural synchronicity" (Villegas & Irvine, 2010) with her students. On the basis of our findings, we make a case for the unique supports that teachers of color must receive for them to effectively challenge racism and other forms of oppression in their classrooms.

Background

A growing body of literature has drawn attention to the unique strengths of teachers of color (Brown, 2009; Foster, 1994; Gomez, Rodriguez, & Agosto, 2008; Lynn & Jennings, 2009; Quiocho & Rios, 2000; Villegas & Davis, 2008). Some of these studies have suggested that teachers of color are well matched to teach students of color because of their "cultural synchronicity" (Villegas & Irvine, 2010). These teachers' deep understanding of the cultural and life experiences of students of color, it is argued, translates into effective teaching dispositions and practices. The scholarship on teachers of color attempts to walk a fine line when explicating these teachers' unique strengths: it stresses that teachers of color are not effective with students of color "merely by virtue of their race/ethnicity" (Villegas & Irvine, 2010, p. 187) but also maintains that these teachers' cultural insights and experiences with racism and ethnocentricity "give them an advantage over their White colleagues in teaching students of color" (p. …

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