Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Paradox of Pedagogical Excellence among Exemplary Black Women Educators

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The Paradox of Pedagogical Excellence among Exemplary Black Women Educators

Article excerpt

While most states have created their own measures of exemplary teaching, many are rooted in philosophies that privilege progressive teaching pedagogies, but ignore African American Pedagogical Excellence (AAPE), which counts heavily in the success of Black women educators (BWEs; Barrett, Burris, Cody, Koonlaba, & Martinez, 2016; Hudson-Vassell, Acosta, King, Upshaw, & Cherfere, 2018; Philips, 2011; Serafini, 2002). AAPE includes factors such as political clarity, oppositional consciousness and sense of urgency, and connectedness, and is ground in the epistemic lived experiences of African descent people, both historically and contemporarily, in the United States (Hudson-Vassell et al., 2018). Yet these characteristics are not incorporated in teacher quality rubrics nor included in the discourse on effective teaching, and the consequences leave good BWEs at odds with the schools that often look to them for help (Barrett et al., 2016; Delpit, 1988; Irvine & Fraser, 1998). For example, in Boston, Black teachers (of which the majority were women) were three times more likely (5.9%) than White teachers (1.8%) to receive low scores on teaching evaluations, which often led to probation or termination ("Union Says Teacher Evaluation Plan Has Race Bias," 2013). Similar concerns were raised in California, Washington D.C., and Chicago, such that Caref (2016) concluded, "The lower evaluation scores given to Black teachers in particular may or may not represent their teaching abilities, and may instead be due to observer bias and is driving them to leave the system" (p. 38).

Another understudied consequence of BWE pedagogical marginalization is the reification of race and gender stereotypes that force Black women to shoulder the burden of proof when it comes to their race and gender status. In this paper, I argue that the inability (or unwillingness) to consider good teaching with a "cultural eye" (Irvine, 2003) positions effective BWEs in identity categories that reify the stereotypical images of Black women, namely, Mammy and Matriarch or Sapphire. 1 also argue that this positionality contributes to BWE alienation, and obfuscates factors foundational to their success, thus limiting critical analysis and discussion of their teaching in ways helpful to teacher education policy and practice.

The present study was part of a larger, year-long investigation of the racial and cultural influences on the pedagogy of exemplary Black educators in their work with African American children. The specific question guiding this study was, "How do a group of effective Black women educators make sense of their professional positionality?" This work was situated within the research on BWE professional experiences, and uses the lens of intersectionality (Crenshaw, 1995; Hill-Collins, 2000) and positionality (Cooks, 2003; Harley, Jolivette, McCormick, & Tice, 2002) as a theoretical frame to describe perceptions of effective BWEs on regarding their professional positionality. It is important to examine BWE professional experiences as raced and gendered individuals given the positive influence BWEs have on students' educational achievement and the decline of Black educators from the teaching profession (Griffin & Tackie, 2016; Hudson-Vassell et al., 2018). It is my hope that this study can stimulate dialogue about the influence of race and culture in good teaching and on teachers' experiences. Such conversations can contribute to the development of interventions that help retain Black women in the profession.

Intersectionality and Positionality

According to Crenshaw (1995) and Hill-Collins (2000), intersectionality challenges dominant assumptions that either gender or race plays a primary role in oppression. Instead, these scholars posit that "interlocking systems of oppression" (Hill-Collins, 2000, p. 222) interact with and impact one another. In other words, gender, race, class, sexuality, and nationality simultaneously influence Black women's identity and experience in America (Crenshaw, 1995; Hill-Collins, 2000). …

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