Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

When Will We Listen and Heed? Learning from Black Teachers to Understand the Urgent Need for Change

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

When Will We Listen and Heed? Learning from Black Teachers to Understand the Urgent Need for Change

Article excerpt


Teachers of color represent only 18 percent of the teaching population in the U.S. while Black teachers make up seven percent and they are leaving the profession at an alarming rale. (Griffin & Tackie, 2016, p. 1)

A critical body of work has long suggested that African American students benefit when their teachers are African American (Gay & Howard, 2000; Milner, 2006; Perry, Steele & Milliard, 2003). However, most of the teaching population across the United States continues to consist of White educators (Sleeter, 2016). Not only is the teaching profession glaringly not diverse, we lose Black teachers from the profession in growing numbers (Griffin & Tackie, 2016). Consequently, while the field of teacher education works to recruit and retain more Black preservice teachers, it is imperative that we also educate White preservice teachers to better teach students of Color. This article builds on the notion that the effectiveness of all teachers can be promoted by learning from insights that Black teachers bring to successful teaching. Toward that end, the field of teacher education has much to learn by listening to and heeding the stories of Black teachers.

The study of Black teachers and the call to learn from them is certainly not new. Powerful insights from Black teachers are highlighted in decades of research from the period prior to desegregation (Siddle Walker, 1996) through today (Carothers, 2014; Foster, 1993; Goodwin, 2003; Milner, 2010). And yet we do not yet see these insights or this research as foundational in programs of teacher education. At the same time, we see Black students over-referred for special education and under-referred for gifted programs (Codrington & Fairchild, 2013; Ford, 2013), inequitably disciplined (Morris, 2016), held to lower expectations than their White peers (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016), and their histories marginalized, distorted, or omitted from dominant curricula (Baines, Tisdale, & Long, 2018; Boutte, 2016). Bettina Love(2016) writes about this as a kind of spirit-murdering of Black students in schools. Johnson and Bryan (2016) use the metaphor of bullets to describe the kind of annihilation experienced when Black students are silenced, their histories marginalized, and their behaviors criminalized (Alexander. 2012; Morris, 2016). Many Black teachers are more successful (than White teachers) in teaching Black students because they recognize these issues of degradation and work to counter them (Milner, 2006). Often having experienced the same kind of bias-based spirit-murdering in their own schooling, they understand the need to alter the status quo. Thus, Black teacher narratives about their own experiences can provide important insights for preservice teachers as they learn to identify the inequities of current educational norms and confront their own biases in the work to better support Black students.

To bring clarity to this issue, this paper presents insights from the experiences of four African American middle school teachers and, in the discussion section, juxtaposes those insights with findings from my study of White preservice teachers (Williams, 201 8). The study of African American teachers highlights their negotiation of race and teacher identity through retellings of elements in their life histories, (Clandinin, & Connelly, 2000; Cole & Knowles, 2001). It highlights ways these Black teachers viewed and embodied teaching as more than just delivering instruction as they taught from their rich cultural perspectives and experiences, all pieces of their history and identity (Anderson 1988). The study of preservice teachers involves 17 White undergraduates who were doing their student teaching in a middle school setting. Data were collected as they engaged in critical conversations around race and began to define their individual teacher identities.

Recognition of both sets of experiences is critical to teacher education as we consider the need for change in our programs and practices. …

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