(Re)Framing Diverse Pre-Service Classrooms as Spaces for Culturally Relevant Teaching

By Price-Dennis, Detra; Souto-Manning, Mariana | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

(Re)Framing Diverse Pre-Service Classrooms as Spaces for Culturally Relevant Teaching


Price-Dennis, Detra, Souto-Manning, Mariana, The Journal of Negro Education


Our field is ushering in a new generation of teachers who need experiences that will prepare them to acknowledge the multiple worldviews of the diverse student population they will teach. For pre-service teachers working in urban under-resourced classrooms, constructing alternative practices rooted in critical ideology that honors their students' inquiry is a difficult task. To examine the complexities of this process, this article presents findings from a case study designed to understand how one pre-service teacher navigated the sociopolitical terrain of her middle school curricula and the pedagogical choices she made to create an engaging learning environment. Findings indicate that she fostered pedagogical third spaces to mediate conversations about diversity, equity, and social change with her middle school students.

Keywords: middle school education, multicultural education, teacher education

I was only in the room for five minutes and sweat was dripping down my back. I looked around the room and noticed that most of the students were slumped over lheir desks with their heads down. At that moment I stopped thinking about the research project and questioned the conditions in which the students I had been observing for the past few weeks were asked to learn in. This pushed me to think about the analogy Alice Walker made to orchids. (Excerpt from Price-Dennis's Reflective Journal, May, 2007)

Walker (2006) highlights the ability of life to sustain itself regardless of the impoverished conditions that surround it on a daily basis. She presents a story about orchids and the tenacity they display by thriving, even blossoming in rotting logs or ordinary trees without being cared for by anyone. During the 2006-2007 school year, Price-Dennis worked with Jill (pseudonym), a White pre-service teacher, to document how Jill engaged in culturally relevant pedagogy with her urban middle school students - which were experiencing conditions akin to those described by Walker (2006). Price-Dennis wanted to know what could be done as more and more African American students were being failed by the system. As the authors (henceforth we) now reflect on Jill's experience with the students - mostly African American - who walked into their semi-lit, hot and humid classroom each day, we wonder if school functioned as their rotting log.

For pre-service teachers working in urban under-resourced and over scrutinized middle school classrooms, acknowledging tiie politics of teaching in lheir field placements and actively working to construct alternatives rooted in critical ideology is a difficult task to accomplish in a short period of time. To shed light on the complexities of this process, this article presents findings from a case study (Dyson & Genishi, 2005; Stake, 1994) designed to understand how one pre-service teacher navigated the sociopolitical terrain of the middle school curricula and the pedagogical choices she made to create an engaging learning environment for all students. In so doing, we trace her ideological commitments from the university to the middle school classroom. Our goal is to understand how these factors influenced her work with a diverse student population.

SOCIOHISTORIAZING RACIALEED FAILURE IN U.S. SCHOOLS

It has been more tiian 50 years since schools were racially integrated in die United States. Yet, its pubUc schools are stiU not successfully educating a diverse society. WhUe American public schools have a diverse body of students, tiiose succeeding academically are mostly White, from economicaUy advantaged backgrounds (Goodwin, 2002; Sleeter, 2001). hi 1992, die National Center for Education Statistics reported that 40% ofthe nation's school-aged population was made up of students of color, whereas 90% of die teachers were White (NCES, 1992). The percentage of students of color has only risen since then This statistic is cited here to provide context for the cultural discontinuity that exists in the field of teaching and teacher education

The majority of pre-service teachers entering tiie profession do not share die same cultural, linguistic, or racial background with the majority ofthe students with whom they wtil work on a daily basis (Zumwalt & Craig, 2005). …

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