Academic journal article English Journal

Wobbling in Public: Supporting New and Experienced Teachers

Academic journal article English Journal

Wobbling in Public: Supporting New and Experienced Teachers

Article excerpt

Cindy: I remember you told me that you were the whitest person some of your students saw during school.

Antero: Yep. At my school in Los Angeles for many of my students, their only interaction with white people was their teachers. And a lot of those interactions were really negative interactions. A lot of my students hated school and implicit behind that is that they hate their teachers in those schools who are representations of power.

Cindy: I spent eleven years as a high school teacher in Oklahoma and my classes were far, far more diverse than they are here. . . . Certainly weren't the same demographics as at the school where you taught, but much more diverse than the school I grew up in, which was all white and Native American. And I wanted to be a good teacher. I was aware that some of my students might have the reactions that you were talking about, and I pretty desperately wanted to prove to them: I'm not one of "those" teachers.

Even though I didn't know the term at the time, I wanted to be a "culturally respon- sive" teacher. I wanted to know about my students and to teach in ways that would help them have success in school, but I got stymied sometimes. And I still feel this ten- sion in my own teaching: I want to be cul- turally responsive, but how do I do that without making assumptions that a student is from this background, therefore they have these needs?

We conducted the above conversation in front of our college students in Cindy's Teaching Compo- sition class at Colorado State University in an effort to reproduce our informal conversations about simi- lar questions and issues arising in our teaching. An overwhelming percentage of our students, most who are studying to be teachers, reflect the demograph- ics of the larger teaching population in that they are mostly white, middle class, and female (Feistritzer). We know from anecdotal evidence that many of these students are reticent to talk about issues of cul- tural and linguistic diversity in class or, on the other hand, are weary of such discussions, feeling like their education classes put an undue emphasis on is- sues of privilege. When we ask students to respond to readings that focus on such issues in reference to teaching, many see little relation to pedagogy, but consider them to be personal indictments instead. In written reflections on these readings or on course evaluations, students complain, "Why do we have to talk about this all the time? Why can't we just learn how to teach English?"

Suspecting that our students might there- fore be reluctant to publically share these views in class-as part of a group discussion, for instance- we decided to re-create the above conversations for them. We then used our conversation as a jumping-off point for discussing ways that cultural positionality can shape teachers' literacy instruc- tion. In doing so, we attempted to demonstrate that we, even as experienced teachers, continue to wrestle with our commitment to teach in culturally responsive ways (Gay). Because there are no easy an- swers in this territory, our questions persist.

How, for instance, does Antero address con- cerns about cultural positionality while preparing a mostly white, female, middle-class population when he is often the only person of color in the room? How does Cindy make claims about "what diverse students need" without essentializing vari- ous student populations or lumping them together as a homogeneous group? Moreover, how do the few students of color who are studying to be pre- service teachers in our classes participate in these conversations without taking on the responsibility of "representing" others who share their particular backgrounds?

In this article we highlight how considering questions such as these, especially from the perspec- tives of career teachers, can help support communi- ties of teachers still in the developmental stages of their practice. In doing so, we (1) challenge preex- isting stereotypes of "master" and "novice" teachers; (2) offer a new framework for identifying and work- ing through challenging areas of one's teaching that we call Pose/Wobble/Flow; and (3) and under- score how the practice of public reflection is sorely needed in today's teacher education programs. …

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