Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Lessons for Teacher Education: The Role of Critical Professional Development in Teacher of Color Retention

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Lessons for Teacher Education: The Role of Critical Professional Development in Teacher of Color Retention

Article excerpt

Bernice (1) was a Latina (2) teacher in the Bay Area, California, who taught in a school with many gang-affiliated youth. A few years into her teaching career, she had lost her 27th student to gang violence. She shared,

   I broke down. And when I went to speak to the administrators
   about needing time to get away and to grieve the students, they
   were unapologetically callous. It was very matter-of-fact. "Well
   [Bemice] what do you think the work is? You know the students
   that you work with, and that's just what they do to each other."
   It was okay to them. "All of us here are working with the same
   kids. You're just taking it too personal. You need to distance
   yourself. You need to find a balance. Or, if you can't handle
   this--and this is the job--then maybe you should find another
   job." There was just no appreciation for the human life our
   students were.

Schools are fraught with dehumanizing and racialized beliefs about students of Color. (3) As a justice-oriented teacher of Color who cares about her students and their families, nothing in her teacher education program prepared Bernice for the hostile racial climate she experienced at her job. Her administrators actually believed that being detached was a job requirement; and without critical frameworks, language, and allies to name and unpack the racism inherent in their stance, Bernice began to feel like teaching may not be for her. Isolated and questioning her professional worth, Bernice eventually left the school community in which she was deeply invested.

The current literature on teachers of Color might normalize Bernice's exit as predictable by the high-turnover rates of "urban" or "hard to staff' schools (Achinstein, Ogawa, Sexton, & Freitas, 2010). However, what research has taken up less is why many teachers of Color leave the classroom after just a few years (Ingersoll & May, 2011), and more specifically, what can help to support their retention. For example, Bernice had entered the profession ill equipped to navigate or resist the powerful, racialized structures of schools. But her fate was different than many of the passionate, caring, and dynamic teachers who are pushed out of teaching. When I interviewed her, she was at a new school and in her 11th year as a classroom educator. Despite systemic challenges, she had found a way to not only persist, but to also shine as a racial justice teacher leader. So, what changed for Bernice that allowed her to remain in the profession?

Soon after she decided to leave the school described above, Bernice received an email about a local convening for teachers of Color. Wanting space to process the racialized dehumanization she experienced, she decided to attend this critical professional development (CPD)--a development space that frames "teachers as politically-aware individuals who have a stake in teaching and transforming society" (Kohli, Picower, Martinez, & Ortiz, 2015, p. 9). This CPD provided Bernice with a like-minded community in which to strengthen her racial literacy--skills to understand and interrogate racism embedded within institutions (Sealey-Ruiz, 2011). She articulated that having the literacy, confidence, and community of supportive peers to confront racialized structures of school inequity helped her resist the ways she had been internalizing deficit messages and questioning her place in the profession.

With disproportionately high attrition rates for teachers of Color, there are many lessons to be learned from justice-oriented veteran educators like Bernice that can inform how we train and support teachers (Montano & Burstein, 2006). In this article, I share analysis of a study with 11 women of Color veteran teachers who served in formal or informal leadership roles within social justice education--organizations or initiatives dedicated to ameliorating social, racial, and educational injustice. Engaged in methods of narrative inquiry--a process of understanding phenomenon through story (Connelly & Clandinin, 2006)--their reflections reveal how teacher education programs, justice oriented or not, fell short in preparing them to navigate the landscape of racially hostile schools, thus putting them at increased risk of being pushed out of teaching. …

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