Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Scale of Teacher Empathy for African American Males (S-TEAAM): Measuring Teacher Conceptions and the Application of Empathy in Multicultural Classroom Settings

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Scale of Teacher Empathy for African American Males (S-TEAAM): Measuring Teacher Conceptions and the Application of Empathy in Multicultural Classroom Settings

Article excerpt

One does not have to look far to find literature documenting the persistent failure of US public primary, elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools to adequately educate Black males (used interchangeably with African American males). Black males have been misrepresented as devious, hyper-sexualized, misoginstic, and criminal in mainstream media (Ayers, 2002). Trawalter and colleagues (2008) concluded, "The association between young Black men and danger has become so robust and ingrained in the minds of social perceivers that it affects early components of attention" (p. 1326). Tratwalter and associates contends that White peoples' perceptions of Black males is akin to a phobia of the threat that spiders and snakes may pose. Findings such as these raise red flags for how teachers may perceive Black males going into the classroom. Professional teaching dispositions such as empathy may be significant for mitigating negative perceptions of Black males. However, there is little empirical literature that informs how or why empathy matters, how empathy is defined for use in the professional teaching context, and strategies for cultivating it as a disposition in teacher education.

In his The Journal of Negro Education (JNE) article, "The Teacher's Dilemma in Facilitating the Black Experience," Colquit (1978) wrestled with how well a White teacher can arrange learning experiences that value and affirm the culturally specific experiences of Black children. Educating Black youth in contemporary schools must account for knowledge of the social, environmental, and historical contexts influencing the way these young people experience school. There is a score of literature that vehemently refute cultural deficit theories that position Black children, families, and communities as less capable of achieving educational excellence (Hollins, King, & Hayman, 1994; Hollins, Smiler, & Spencer, 1994; Howard, 2001a, 2001b; Irvine, 1990; King, 2005; Moore & Lewis, 2012; Murrell, 2002). Existing notions of Black student academic inferiority is what led Ladson-Billings (1994) to conduct her historic study of teachers identified as effective educators of African American children.

Colquit (1978) argued that the "perceptual difference" between Blacks and Whites poses a dilemma for the range of teaching and learning experiences offered by White teachers to Black students, which may include choosing course material and negotiating social interactions with students. Perceptual difference can be viewed as any divergence in social and cultural points of view between teachers and students or family/community/school stakeholders. This argument can be extended to suggest that any dissimilarity between teachers and students (i.e., gender, socioeconomic class, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, generational) including race, can create perceptual difference. This difference may have significant implications for how teachers negotiate interactions with youth as well as the types of instructional decisions they make for young people. Sealey-Ruiz and Lewis (2011) edited a special issue of JNE that responds to the very issue of better preparing individuals to be effective teachers of Black students. The aforementioned work provides critical insights about educating African American children. Still, an important addendum to the last three decades of knowledge is a focused discourse around empathy's relevance and utility as a tool for strengthening teachers' comprehension for how to decide what is best for Black children, and the empathic processes influencing their professional decision-making.

Perception is understood in this article as the process of making meaning about others based on one's own subjective social and cultural perspectives. Similarly, racial bias and racial stereotyping can significantly impair positive images of students of color (Solórzano & Yosso, 2001) in general, and Black males more specifically. Tyler, Boykin, and Walton (2006) found that teachers tend to value and respond more positively to classroom behavior and learning preferences mirroring White cultural norms. …

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