Academic journal article English Education

Recalculation in Teacher Preparation: Challenging Assumptions through Increased Community Contact

Academic journal article English Education

Recalculation in Teacher Preparation: Challenging Assumptions through Increased Community Contact

Article excerpt


When I first moved to Atlanta, I heard this word often. I imagined a very tiny, very angry woman living in my cell phone, screaming at me as she repeatedly "recalculated" my route. In Atlanta, the traffic moves fast. People don't shy from honking their horns, every other road has the word "Peachtree" somewhere in its name, and in the span of three minutes you can go from a busy highway to the calm streets of a neighborhood. When in a new place, I crave familiarity. Having grown up and lived in suburban communities for most of my life, moving to a big city was unfamiliar for me, so I sought out quiet, residential streets as respite from the fast-paced thoroughfares such as Piedmont and Peachtree. On the one hand, I wanted a GPS to guide me through this new city-I didn't trust myself to navigate on my own and there was comfort in knowing that something or someone knew the way. But on the other hand, I wanted the GPS to direct me through more familiar places, rather than forcing me onto busy Atlanta highways. By giving over control, however, I was introduced to the new streets, neighborhoods, and customs of driving (essentially never slowing down) of what was now my city. Over time I found that rather than expecting my GPS to recalculate, I needed to be the one to recalculate. I couldn't continue to depend on and seek out the familiar; I needed to embrace my new city, get to know it, learn my way around it, and continue to grow as an individual in the process.

Teaching can be much like driving. Teacher candidates (TCs) enter classrooms craving a GPS with straightforward, practical instructions to direct their lesson planning, assessment, and classroom management. There is often tension in teacher preparation programs when the TC's desire for applicable, practical knowledge is met with the teacher educator's focus on the more abstract foundational and theoretical underpinnings of education (Ball & Forzani, 2009; Feiman-Nemser, 2001; Sleeter, 2008). In these moments when the practical and theoretical seemingly clash, TCs must recalculate their understandings of teaching and of education. Much like a driver lost on the busy streets in a new city, a TC is often left feeling frustrated and directionless. To help them navigate classrooms as teachers, these TCs may revert to memories of their own school experiences. As the demographics of PreK-12 classrooms become increasingly diverse, however, many TCs may find that the classrooms they enter as teachers look different from the ones they experienced as students themselves.

Drawing on the notion of recalculation to help the TCs with whom I work to navigate potentially unfamiliar territories, I incorporated what I termed a Community Inquiry Project (CIP) into their coursework. In this article I provide an overview of the demographic and personal disconnections that led to the project's inception and a description of the project itself. I then delineate the ways that critical multiculturalism and contact theory provided a theoretical grounding for both the design and subsequent analysis of the CIP. After describing the methods used to research the CIP and presenting my findings, I revisit the goals of the project and consider how it could be modified to better enhance TCs' critical multicultural awareness.

Demographic Disconnections in Education

When conceptualizing what it means to be a teacher and what they believe future classrooms will look like, TCs tend to draw upon their past schooling experiences (Lortie, 1975; Smagorinsky & Barnes, 2014). The majority of TCs come from backgrounds that have afforded them access to a good education and have limited their interactions with diverse populations of students (Burant & Kirby, 2002). Thus, many TCs expect to replicate the majority White, high-achieving classrooms they experienced as students upon entering their own classrooms as teachers. Such a predisposition has implications for TCs' interactions with and planning for future students that may be inappropriate for the populations of students they will teach. …

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