Collaborating with Urban Youth to Address Gaps in Teacher Education

By Brown, Tara M.; Rodriguez, Louie F. | Teacher Education Quarterly, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

Collaborating with Urban Youth to Address Gaps in Teacher Education


Brown, Tara M., Rodriguez, Louie F., Teacher Education Quarterly


Introduction

Research shows that many of the predominantly White and middle-class teachers are unprepared to teach an urban public school population increasingly comprised of low-income children of color. Lack of cultural competencies, low expectations of and lack of caring for students, and racial/ethnic, linguistic, and class biases are all cited as barriers to the success of teachers in urban schools (Bollin, 2007; Brown & Rodriguez, 2009; Howard & Milner, 2014; Rodriguez, 2012; Williams, 2013), and as this and other studies suggest, these barriers are not limited to White teachers (Conchas, 2001; Lynn, Bacon, Totten, Bridges, & Jennings, 2010; Whitney, 2009). Thus, teacher education programs have been charged with helping pre-service teachers to develop the competencies they need to effectively teach, particularly, low-income children from urban communities--a difficult task for which many teacher education programs have neither adequate commitment nor expertise (Brown, Clark, & Bridges, 2012; Gorski, 2012; Paulson & Marchant, 2012; Raible & Irizarry, 2010).

At the crux of the problem is the fact that many pre-service teachers have significant gaps in the critical knowledge they need to connect pedagogically and personally with children from backgrounds different from their own. These knowledge deficits derive from social structures, practices, and beliefs that reinforce racial/ethnic and socioeconomic privilege, stratification, and isolation, which impedes the development of valuable cultural, social, and linguistic capital (Orfield & Lee, 2005; Ryabov & Van Hook, 2007). These gaps in knowledge and experience inhibit many White and middle-class pre-service teachers' ability to engage in the critical examinations of schooling which are essential to providing quality education for low-income children of color.

Adding to these difficulties is the relative isolation of teacher education programs from the urban communities that many of their pre-service teachers will one day serve. This disconnection profoundly impedes understandings--among both university faculty and students--of the significance of the social, economic, and political contexts that profoundly impact what happens in urban schools. Rather than developing such complex and vital understandings, many teacher education programs focus almost exclusively on technical skill-building (i.e., lesson planning, instructional methods, and behavioral management) (Bartolome, 2002; Gorski, 2012; Rodriguez, 2013). As such, they often fail to adequately address significant gaps between the skills, knowledge, and experiences that White and middle-class teachers bring to teacher preparation programs and what is actually required to successfully serve low-income youth and youth of color. The result is that many new teachers, as low-income students in urban school are often described, are "not ready to learn" (Jerretti & Bub, 2016, p. 16) what they need to be successful in today's classrooms.

In this article we highlight two initiatives that sought to address these gaps in pre-service teachers' knowledge through participatory action research (PAR) with urban youth. Specifically, we examine how, within these projects, negative perceptions about low-income Black and Latino youth among some pre-service teachers were revealed through their direct engagement with these young people and how this helped us, as teacher educators, to better understand and address our students' knowledge gaps. Included are recommendations for further implementing the direct involvement of urban youth as partners in teacher education to address some ways in which pre-service teachers are often unprepared for success in urban schools.

Study Background

The present study draws from and integrates data from two PAR research projects conducted with high school students, as described below.

Action Research into School Exclusion (ARISE)

The purpose of ARISE, a two-year participatory action research (PAR) study, was to better understand and to improve the schooling experiences of adolescents excluded from mainstream public schools for disciplinary reasons. …

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