Quality of Implementation as the "It" Factor in Preparing Good Teachers of African American Children
Over the last two decades, discussions over teacher quality have gained unprecedented attention in response to the persistent underachievement of cultural student groups, particularly African Americans compared to their European American peers. This interest in the African American pedagogy agenda is a timely reminder of the quality of implementation factor in describing and designating effective teachers and teaching approaches of African American learners. This article presents findings from a qualitative, collaborative inquiry with community-nominated effective Black educators to argue that teacher educators must better understand the culture-systemic influences on effective pedagogy for African American children; and then must convert these understandings into comprehensive designations of teacher quality. Framed around an emancipatory theoretical perspective, the findings of this study discuss teacher quality from a culture-centered standpoint and illuminate the importance of why good teachers of African American children employ the instructional approaches and practices that they do. Findings make explicit connections between participants' cultural consciousness, or ways of thinking and being; and their instructional practices. Implications for teacher education are included.
Keywords: African American, Teacher quality, Teacher education, Black educators
Over the last two decades, discussions over teacher quality have gained unprecedented attention in response to the persistent underachievement of cultural student groups, particularly African Americans compared to their European American peers. As with many educational issues, improving instructional quality is highly contested terrain with little consensus on what kinds of reforms might yield the most promising outcomes for African American children. For example, some advocate for a greater emphasis on recruiting the "best and brightest" subject area experts into the teaching profession with little or no formal teacher preparation (Labaree, 2004; United Press, 1986). In response, researchers have demonstrated that academic expertise alone does not translate into quality teaching without formal educator preparation (Grossman, 1989), and conclude that teacher education is critical to teacher quality even more so now (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Milner, 2010).
Though it is doubtful that this polemic will soon end, as Siddle-Walker (2012) contends we must not lose sight of the importance of the pedagogy agenda in making immediate improvements in the achievement of African American youth. This pedagogy agenda refers to identifying, understanding, and describing the classroom and school climate, professional development, and parental and teacher support needed to ensure educational excellence for African American children. Her comments eloquently highlight the inseparability of teacher quality and culture (Eubanks & Weaver, 1999; Irvine, 2003), and also reminds us of the importance of the "quality of implementation" factor in describing and designating effective teaching approaches for African American children. Teacher educators must attend to the quality of implementation factor in their preparation of culturally relevant teachers.
In this article I argue that teacher educators must better understand the culture-systemic influences on effective pedagogy for African American children; and then must convert these understandings into comprehensive designations of teacher quality. Understanding teacher quality from a culture-centered standpoint illuminates the importance of how culture-focused pedagogies are implemented, or the quality of implementation factor, to teachers' pedagogical enactments with African American learners. This study is guided by the underlying assumption that the knowledge base of good teaching for African American children is embedded within many African American community conceptions of good teaching, and can be located in the wisdoms of practice of good Black educators. I present the collective descriptions and analysis of a group of community-nominated, successful Black educators on the cultural influences of their pedagogy. The purpose of the study was to think alongside these exemplary educators about their practice in an effort to make the connection between culture and teaching more explicit, and to present a more nuanced vision of teacher quality with full regard for African American educators and children. This study was grounded in previous research on effective teaching of African American children, through what I have come to conceptualize as a framework of pedagogical excellence. The questions that guided this qualitative inquiry were: (1) what are the cultural influences on the pedagogy of a group of community-nominated exemplary Black teachers of African American children? (2) How do these educators collectively make sense of the ways that culture informs their work with African American children?
REVIEW OF LITERATURE: PEDAGOGICAL EXCELLENCE
The research on effective teaching encapsulates three overlapping frameworks explicitly focused on African American schooling experiences. These include culturally relevant pedagogy, historical research on African American schooling prior to the desegregation of public schools and research on Black educators. Each offers critical insights into the nature and characteristics of excellence in teaching for African American children. However, the strength of this work, which lies in its theoretical and philosophical core, is often underemphasized, or altogether excluded from many teacher education programs, which significantly decreases the quality of implementation of these ways of thinking, being, and enacting in the classroom. The concept of pedagogical excellence emerges as the theoretical premises of each framework are connected toward an overarching extrapolation of good teaching for African American children. In the next section, I will provide a brief overview of each framework followed by a discussion of what each contributes to an overall understanding of pedagogical excellence for African American children.
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Ladson-Billings' seminal research on culturally relevant pedagogy extended previous research validating the salience of culture in teaching, learning and achievement (2009/1994). Her work offered a critical departure from earlier studies focused on sociolinguistics in its recognition of community-defined cultural standards of excellence in teaching as relevant to the achievement for Black students. In her theoretical argument, Ladson-Billings (1995) proclaimed culturally relevant pedagogy as" pedagogy of opposition" rooted in the struggle for African Americans to reject their socially constructed alter ego as "other" and exist on their own terms. Ladson-Billings made this critical assertion after she found that the teaching factor most significant in fostering educational excellence for African American youth was the teachers' ability to "assist students in their development of a relevant black identity which allowed them to choose academic excellence and still identify with African American culture" (Ladson-Billings, 2009, p. 476). In this way, Ladson-Billings' (1994) designation of culturally relevant pedagogy revealed the sociopolitical nature of pedagogical excellence for African American children. Observations and interviews demonstrated that the teachers who effectively taught African American children worked dialectically between the dominant European American ideology and one consistent with many Black cultures. They did this by validating African American student knowledge and making the standard academic content accessible to students. Through the framework of culturally relevant pedagogy, we have come to understand that pedagogical excellence for African American children is rooted in an epistemic and ideological assertion of African American existence that is inherently antithetical to Eurocentric racial formations that continue to structure American society. It is this political undertone that contribute to the culturally relevant teachers' perspectives and practices because culturally relevant pedagogy does not attempt to de-politicize teaching and learning, but rather implicates the political in the vision of what it means to teach African American children well.
Historical Research on African American Schooling
Educational historian Vanessa Siddle-Walker has written extensively about the nature of schooling for African American children during the period of legalized public school segregation (2005, 2000, 1996). From this in depth examination she concluded that schooling for African American children was highly "valued" within the African American community. She wrote, "Inequalities notwithstanding, many African Americans valued the cultural form of teaching and learning that developed in the segregated schools" (Siddle-Walker, 2000, p. 255). This conclusion challenged the prevailing assumption that early Black educational efforts were axiomatically inferior in its recognition of African American standards of exemplary teaching. She found that good teachers during this time demonstrated a deep commitment to student learning and success, and a demanding nature guided by an unflinching belief in the intellectual ability of students. Through her analysis, Siddle-Walker's cannon of scholarship contributes the psychological stance, or disposition of exemplary educators to the framework of pedagogical excellence. This stance was manifested in the teacher's appropriate enactment of care and authority, and is also referred to as warm demanding (Bondy, Ross, Hambacher, & Acosta, 2013; Ford & Sassi, 2013; Ware, 2006). Her work also provides a historical grounding, or social history, of pedagogical excellence, which demonstrates the systematic and sophisticated approach good teachers of African American children consistently enact to promote educational excellence.
Research on Black Educators
The research on Black educators has grown exponentially over the last two decades. The work of Michele Foster (1997, 1994, 1993) features prominently among this literature and offers insight about the work of Black educators relevant to any discussion of exemplary teaching. Foster challenged the negative depiction of Black educators' as uncaring individuals who perpetuated the status quo. She argued, quite convincingly, that effective Black educators were a positive force in African American education, and they enacted a culturally distinctive pedagogy relevant to their students. In this, Foster presented a cogent argument for the cultural study of teaching that emphasized African American cultural values. In Foster's (1994) literature synthesis, she revealed that the dominant characteristic of effective Black teachers was their "reliance on the cultural and social underpinnings of the Black community" (Foster, 1994, p. 227). She described the bond teachers cultivated with students as a kind of "connectedness" predicated on African American cultural values of communalism, self-determination, mutuality in relationships and social equality (Foster, 1994, 1993). Thus, the research on good Black educators adds a key element to the framework of pedagogical excellence, the African American cultural ethos. This inclusion moves the dialogue about effective teaching beyond an emphasis on cultural stereotypes and ethnic homogeneity towards a more critical analysis of the abiding cultural formations that give rise to a nuanced view of teaching excellence.
The lines of research discussed above are reflective of a sophisticated and systematic effort to successfully educate African American children. Though I have focused on key elements in each, there is a high degree of overlap and fluidity between each framework discussed such that it is difficult to distinguish between them. Rather than separate them, however, it may be more promising to analyze their connections to each other and to a larger vision of teaching Black children. From this purview, it becomes apparent that the confluence of this work creates a robust context for understanding the parameters of teaching for excellence. The underlying concepts that guide these frameworks are rooted in African American perspectives and values that assisted generations of Black people in their desire for education and subsequent demand for educational quality (Gordon, 1990; Perry, 2003). Therefore, understanding quality as it relates to teachers and teaching necessitates a dependence on a view of culture in education as a value added measure significant to the teaching and learning context. Given the pernicious trend in African American educational achievement, such a comprehensive framework may offer a promising way to analyze and interpret the work of good teacher of Black children that can be converted into a power and transformative teacher education agenda.
African American epistemology was the theoretical framework that guided the analysis and interpretation of data. Gordon (1990) posits that African American epistemology is critical to educational theory, policy, and practice because it produces a mode of social theorizing about education grounded in the experiential knowledge and reality of African American people. In this way it creates a context for understanding the teaching of African American children that is both liberatory and democratic in at least two ways. First, this framework is culturally sensitive given that the themes that emerge are based on the lived experiences of people of African descent. This sensitivity is important because it can reduce the likelihood for misinterpretation and misrepresentation that has stifled educational improvement for African Americans many times before (Tillman, 2002). Second, Gordon's thinking about the liberatory potential of culture dislodges the dominant view that sees diversity and culture as hindrances to educational achievement (Cochran-Smith & Fries, 2011). In place of this deficit view of diversity and culture, African American epistemology facilitates the creation of a vision of pedagogical excellence for students of African descent in America, explicitly connected to its abiding cultural epicenter.
This qualitative study employed a collaborative inquiry methodology situated within an emancipatory educational research paradigm (EER). Emancipatory educational research is designed to produce transformative knowledge generated through collaborative research with groups and individuals functioning as agents of their own change (Emancipatory Educational Research, 2012). It gives explicit focus on cultural, historical, and contemporary experiences with full regard for local complexities, power relations, and life experiences.
The collaborative inquiry methodology used in this study preserves emancipatory research imperatives through its emphasis on a view of inquiry, which "allows us as human persons to know that we are part of the whole, rather than separated as mind over and against matter" (Heron & Reason, 1997, p.2). This view of inquiry emphasizes inclusive participation, mutuality, and the co-construction of knowledge (Bridges & McGee, 2011). Knowledge is produced and validated in a shared space and grounded in the perspectives, experiences, and practices of the group. Researcher and participants function as both co-researchers and co-subjects, towards collective understanding and construction of knowledge about a given phenomenon. Hyland and Meacham (2004) lament that what is missing in teacher education research and practice are "effective ways to use the subjugated knowledge of the dispossessed as a liberating educational tool for cultural well-being and human freedom" (p.123). The collaborative inquiry methodology advanced in this study is well suited to meet this need.
Community nomination was used as a purposive sampling technique. According to Foster (1993) this technique is designed to center local community knowledge, or the emic perspective, as the theoretical and conceptual foundation of research in communities of color. In this study, I used community nomination in order to reveal the insider view on teaching African American children and use this culturally generated knowledge as the basis of inquiry. I visited a predominantly African American church, afterschool program, and community organization on separate occasions. At each site, I engaged in a structured conversation with African American caregivers around the definition of "good teaching" and "good teachers". I then asked families to identify in writing the names and schools of any teacher whom they believed met the characteristics produced in our discussion. Their nominations were collected at the end of the meeting. From this process, 12 educators were approached for participation in the study and four educators plus myself comprised the research team. Table 1 provides detailed information about research team members.
|Name||Ethnicity||Edu. Level||Teaching Exp (No. of years)||Grade Level||School Size||% of African American Students||% of students free or reduced lunch|
Partially structured research meetings provided the conditions necessary for the research collective to engage in the inquiry process. Each of these five research meetings lasted between 90 to 120 minutes and was conversational in nature. Each meeting followed a similar format. See appendix A for details of the format for each research meeting. Group interactions were mediated by negotiation, in which we used facial expressions, verbal and non-verbal cues, gestures, and reenactments to probe, challenge, and refine presented ideas. As the lead researcher, I was careful not to let my comments assume sole authority or dictate the discussions. That is, I used voice similarly to that of a portraitist in which, "voice never overshadows the actor's voice, though it is sometimes heard in duet, in harmony, and in counterpoint" (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 85). Conversations of this nature enabled the group to gather thick descriptions and detailed analysis of teaching from our collective cultural standpoint. All group meetings were audio recorded and I took extensive observational field notes.
Audio taped interviews were transcribed verbatim and transcripts were analyzed in three overlapping phases. Each phase is described below.
Phase one: Framing analysis. In the first phase, I conducted a framing analysis to: (1) to gain a sense of the emerging themes and key ideas (2) to use this analysis as an elicitation tool during subsequent research meetings. (3) To organize the data in ways would make collective analysis in the next phases manageable for the research team. Conducting the preliminary analysis produced "frames of analysis" which "put rough parameters" on how the data were approached (Hatch, 2002, p. 164). I read each transcript multiple times and noted large, emerging themes or frames that encompassed ideas related to teaching, African American children, education, and society. The data were then organized according to these frames (I listed the frame then gathered specific data segments that reflected each emergent idea). Examples of frames include: descriptions of teaching, views on culture, community, and society and personal educational history. The frames and supporting data were presented in this format to the collective.
Phase two: Collective analysis. Phase two involved collective analysis of the data. Domain analysis was used to support this process (Spradley, 1980). The collective analysis followed an inductive approach as described by Hatch (2002). According to Hatch (2002), inductive analysis involves "organizing and interrogating data in ways that allow researchers to see patterns, identify themes, discover relationships, develop explanations, make interpretations, mount critiques, or generate theories" (p. 148). The purpose of analyzing the data with the community-nominated African American educators involved was to ground the analysis in the cultural ways of thinking and knowing of the group. An additional underlying purpose was to provide an opportunity for the group of Black educators to crystallize their own understandings about the ways their lived experiences and cultural practices influence their teaching.
First, I provided the team with a brief overview and explanation of the inductive analytical approach-using Hatch (2002) as a guide. Next, the group collectively read data segments organized according to the frames of analysis conducted in the first phase. We then created an initial list of possible domains to describe group perspectives on the ways that culture influenced pedagogy. Example of domains included; "ways to describe our cultural knowledge", "ways our cultural values influence the way we teach", and "reasons why some teachers are unsuccessful with African American students". During this step, I asked clarifying and probing questions as a way to guide the group in identifying the semantic relationship between included terms and cover terms. In the next step, we read the domain sheets in order to identify and refine salient codes. Through this we developed interpretations and found examples from the data to support our thinking.
Phase three: Refining analysis. I independently applied African American epistemology (Gordon, 1990) as a theoretical lens to better understand how the domains were connected to dominant African American cultural themes encapsulated in African American epistemology. These themes include; service, nationalism, political power, self-determination/self-help and economic autonomy. As an initial step, I read the emergent themes from the collective analysis. I searched for similarities, differences, and relevant distinctions between the educators' explanations and descriptions of each cultural theme. This merging of theory with data produced overarching themes that represented both the thinking of the group and some of the dominant perspectives encapsulated in African American cultural knowledge. This layer of analysis was used to provide theoretical language as a complement to the research team's theorizing and analysis.
The educators in this empirical exploration revealed that their cultural ethos was the strong undercurrent that guided their instructional actions, interactions, and reactions Their collective theorizing provided a rich definition and description of quality as it relates to implementing instructional practices with African American children because it connects their instructional strategies to their ways of thinking, which gave rise to their powerful pedagogy. It must be mentioned that successful teachers of African American children orchestrate a sophisticated pedagogy, which includes a host of practices that have been documented by other researchers. For the purposes of this article however, I will focus on the conceptual implications of pedagogical excellence for African American children. Using African American epistemology, three themes were identified that reflect the collective theorizing on the implicit ways the culture-specific ways of thinking and being in the world served as a conduit that shaped their instructional perspectives and practices.
Clarity & Consciousness as a Conduit for Urgency and Activism
Insistence was a defining element of the educators' pedagogy, and this insistence was connected to an abiding sense of urgency in teaching African American children. They shared that when teaching African American children, "there is no time for messin' around" [interview 5] (see Acosta, 2013 for an in-depth discussion of the nature of urgency and insistence). Further analysis revealed, however, that their urgency was fueled by sociopolitical clarity regarding the social position of persons of African descent in America and the cultural politics inherent in teaching African American children well. The dialogue below is illustrative.
|Geneva:||When we say that we have these high expectations [for Black children] and that they [teachers who are not successful with Black students] may not have that, it's because they don't…|
|Harriett:||They haven't lived it, haven't experienced it, know nothing about it…|
|Jalonda:||and they think that if you just do…|
|Harriett:||x, y, and z….|
|Geneva:||that you'll be okay. When there's still the fact that our kids have to do more. We still have to do more.|
|Jalonda:||And then to look at where we came from, we understand on another level that education is the only way that you are going to get ahead in life…|
|Antionette:||it is the only way that is gonna somewhat level the playing field amongst you and a White kid or an Asian kid or whatever. You know I think deep down we know that this is the truth, but for them education is education–everybody goes to school, everybody goes to college everybody is doing fine, but they don't understand that it is more to us than that…|
|Monica:||so we hold a different value to education…|
|Harriett:||we hold a different value to education because it is something that, once we get it, they can't take it away.|
|Jalonda:||Exactly. [Session 5]|
The conversation above underscores the sense of urgency felt by accomplished Black educators who link their teaching approach directly to their extensive African American cultural knowledge in which political and economic uplift remain important goals of Black educational achievement.
The group of educators readily used this sociopolitical backdrop as a way to describe and make sense of specific kinds of interactions they had with students. The following dialogue captures the ways that the educators' practice in the classroom was an expression of their underlying cultural knowledge and perspectives.
|Harriett & Geneva:||Umhmm.|
|Antionette:||"Whatever you do is gonna be magnified times ten." "So although you did not feel that you were raising your voice, you were talking to a white woman so all she saw was a little black boy …"|
|Antionette:||Exactly! And those are the conversations that we have to have with our children. For them to understand, that just because we have a black president does not mean you can do what you want to do. …|
|Jalonda:||And you have to work twice as hard to get the same results, you have to be twice as good. So I have them [conversations], and there is no other way.|
|Monica:||Do you think that's critical to their success? Like do they have to know it?|
|Antionette:||Oh yes, oh yes, it is extremely critical [Session 4]|
It must be noted that while the group agreed that these kinds of talks with African American students were critical, they realized that their cultural standpoint made it easier for them than other teachers to engage in this kind of conversation. However, the group concluded, "All teachers needed to be given the language to say these things without feeling afraid of the backlash" [session 5].
In addition, the educators' conveyed that their critical race perspectives brought about their sense of agency and activism. Jalonda's reflection highlights this connection.
When all my kids are Black and half of them are male and 90% of them are in here [special education classes] because they got in trouble in elementary school…I fight hard for them. This is what they don't want to tell you---if you put them [Black students] in special ed classes, there is no going back to regular ed. You spend one year in ESE and there are so many credits that you are gonna have to make up that it's impossible to catch up…. [Session 2].
Jalonda, along with the other Black educators perceived that a special education diploma would not prepare Black students to "make it to the next level" but would "keep students at the bottom of the totem pole" [session 1]. Thus Jalonda believed that part of her professional role was to advocate for the educational needs of African American children. She continued,
Even as a department chair I used to go to the transition meetings for students transitioning from middle school to high school, I used to see kids that were on that Special Ed track. They [other school faculty] wanted to automatically put them in Special Ed---I was like, "No, we're going to put them in Regular Ed." See if I start them in regular ed… then they have a chance. If they don't make it with all the supports that's okay. It's easier to go the other way…So I told them [other school faculty] "We're going to start them in regular ed. We're going to give them extra supports and we're going to put them in a learning strategies classroom –we're going to do things to help them be successful". [Session 1]
Jalonda's reflection emphasized her understandings of the sociocultural limitations of special education for African American children. The fact that she fought so hard to keep African American students out of special education demonstrates one way the educators' African American cultural consciousness influenced their professional practice on a daily basis.
Connectedness and Community as a Conduit for Relationships & Holistic Curriculum
The relationship the educators' developed with the children in their charge was a critical element that emerged from their descriptions of practice. As Geneva proclaimed, "You need to know your students. Don't just say 'Johnny is number two and Timmy is number five.' You have to learn your children" [interview 2]. They often used the words love, care, and concern to represent the kinds of relationships they maintained with children. As the conversations continued, the educators' theorized that their need for authentic relationships with the children in their classroom was driven, psychologically, by their sense of connectedness with students.
|Antionette:||In my classroom I'm like a researcher [laughter]…because I'm always trying to understand my students, what's going on in their head…|
|Jalonda:||I know that's right. You have to do a little research and talk to kids… and make that connection with them. Our kids need that all inclusive kind of love where its like, "Everybody come over here and lets get down on the floor and lets do this together"…you know…"Let me re-explain that to you cause you didn't get it the first time". It's this kind of interaction that I don't think our kids are getting in schools [Session 1].|
Note how the educators' use and description of the term inclusive love implicates a sense of connectedness with children. As the data indicates, the educators theorized that it was their determination to create this bond that compelled them to cultivate interpersonal relationships with children as part of their pedagogy.
The educators' also valued community solidarity with African American communities and expressed this through the articulation of their work as an extension of meeting the needs of the African Americans as a cultural group. They theorized, "We serve a better purpose when we're with African American kids cause we need people in our communities who can advocate for them and demand they do their best." [Session 2]. Moreover, the educators revealed that their authentic communal partnerships undergirded their professional mission to provide a robust curriculum focused on ensuring students were academically and socially well prepared for life. This was revealed in the educators' conversation about classroom management highlighted below.
|Harriett:||That's the number one thing when I get in to my classroom–classroom management.|
|Antionette:||and it's not just behavior as in misbehavior, but just knowing how to come to school and sit in a seat and just not talk when the teacher is talking and listen–just basic things that you would think children would come to school knowing how to do…|
|Monica:||Is it not understanding how the game of school is played?|
|Geneva & Antionette:||Umhmm. That's right. And they need to know that in order to survive in this world, not just to make good grades.|
|Monica:||What do you do when you see that they haven't been taught that?|
|Harriett, Antionette & Geneva:||Teach Them!|
|Geneva:||You have to. You have to teach the whole child, not just A, B, Cs and 1,2,3s….|
|Harriett:||it's gonna take some time. It's not gonna happen overnight and you start telling yourself–I know that this isn't gonna be an overnight thing and I'm prepared to deal with it…|
|Antionette:||and you model it every time you're in a situation–you stop and fix it right then.|
|Antionette:||don't wait. [Session 2]|
Whereas other teachers might draw clear lines of demarcation to limit their duties and responsibilities in educating African American children, as expressed above, this group of educators did not hesitate to offer students' guidance, advice and direction on academic and social subjects because they believed they were meeting critical student and community needs. This suggests that when teachers are connected to the communities in which they work, meeting the expansive needs of African American children becomes a normalized standard of quality professional practice.
Self-Determination & Nationalism as a Conduit for Holding High Expectations
One of the group's recurrent phrases shared was, "there are no excuses". This motto encapsulated the educators' high standards for student educational achievement and the oppositional, or subversive, pedagogical stance they believed was necessary to help students meet the standards of excellence they set for them. They agreed, "You cannot teach a child if you gonna give an excuse for that child's behavior or an excuse for that child's background--- every time you turn around you're excusing this and excusing that… At that point you're only enabling the child and you're not really helping" [Session 5]. This "no excuses" stance was a powerful influence on their practice and, when analyzed through the lens of African American epistemology was philosophically linked to their sense of self-determination as a culture-specific value. Instructionally, their "no excuses" stance, guided by self-determination served as the catalyst for subversive practices and pedagogical risk-taking. They shared:
|Jalonda:||I was givin' my kids TABE tests in school so they would know what they would need to work on so they could take their GED and pass it–I wanted to give my students a GED class–cause [I knew and wanted them to know] that, "Yes you need to get your GED baby–that's the only way you gonna make it to the next level."---They [school administrators] said I couldn't do it. They tied my hands. So I did it [gave a comparable test] under the table… [Laughter]|
|Monica:||so is that something we have to be willing to do?|
|Antionette:||We have to be willing to do it before hours or after hours or whenever you could get it in there. …|
|Jalonda:||I did it in the middle of the day honey–[I was like] "What you gonna do fire me?" I know what my kids need and I'm gonna give them what they need.|
|Monica:||I started takin' that mentality too. So I learned the boundaries…|
|Antionette:||how to push the envelope. …|
|Jalonda:||and that's another thing–teachers are afraid to take chances. And rightly so–rightly so because there is no tenure or anything and they can fire you at any moment. But you got to be able to get some chances in there–you got to be able to sneak some chances in there.|
|Antionette:||got to be a risk taker… right, right, [session 1]|
Note that the educators never considered lowering their expectations for student success, but rather they described a willingness to "push the limits" which it seemed was linked to an understanding that in an educational system designed to maintain race and class inequity, they had to be committed to teaching for excellence, even if it was counter to "common sense" schooling practices.
Furthermore, the educator's ethic of self–determination drove their willingness to expand their professional identities and assume whatever role needed in students' lives to help them meet the high demands for excellence the educators maintained. Harriett's personal reflection below highlighted the group's theorizing. She shared,
|Harriett:||Man I lived in a house where one room was the whole house. We'd go to North Carolina every year picking sweet potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and I'm out there in the field with my daddy and I'm starting school late every year because we didn't come back till November–I was not supposed to make it–so if I can make it–why can't you? I'm no different than you; I am no better than you are. I had my daddy sayin' education is important, pushing education, tellin' me education, education--- Ok so you don't have your daddy telling you education is important, but you have me–tellin' you education is important–pushing education, saying education is important. What's the difference? There is no difference. There are no excuses [for student academic failure].|
|Monica:||so you fill that role for them if they don't have it …|
|Antionette:||if they don't have it–There are no excuses [session 3].|
A secondary finding connected to the educators' no excuse, high expectations approach was their unwavering belief in the ability and capabilities of African American students. The group frequently expressed, "These kids [African American students] know what to…They know how to act…It's not a lack of intelligence that's stopping them…How can we expect them to do better if we don't show them" [session 3, 4, 5]. Careful analysis revealed that this belief emerged from an African American nationalist mode of theorizing in which theories of Black intellectual inferiority are rejected and the full human potential of African Americans as a cultural group is held constant. Antoinette's comments demonstrate the collective's unwavering belief in the innate intellectual ability of her African American students.
|Antionette:||I had so many black kids that were in ESE that were gonna get a special diploma and I would look at these kids and say–baby why you in here? [I realized] they put all these black kids into my classroom not because they…|
|Monica:||needed extra support academically….|
|Antionette:||yeah---it was because they were bad. Dumped them all in an ESE class. When I realized that, I realized that I was working with a different population of students–I might as well had been in a regular education classroom. Because these kids are smart–these kids know. Now I'm gonna show them how much they know. Because if you in ESE you're thinking, "I'm in ESE, I must be dumb, I can't do this". So you know they had that mentality. And so I had to show them–that "Yes you can!" It gets them to understand that, "Wow, I am smart". And I'm like–"Yes baby you are". That's my mindset [session 1].|
Further fueling the educators high expectations for student academic and behavioral performance was their heritage knowledge, or knowledge of one's collective history, which engenders awareness and pride in oneself (King, 2008). They shared, "Our story don't begin with slavery--- we didn't come from slavery –you have to go way back further than that to find out where we came from. We were kings and queens in Africa--we haven't even got back to the level where we were…. That is the beginning of our legacy that we have to get back to, we have to get our kids back to that." [Session 2]. This kind of heritage knowledge, the educators described, contributed to their intolerance of educational underachievement from African American students.
|Monica:||I may not have lived through the struggle, but I know of the struggle. I've heard the stories from my family, I study it in graduate school, so with my 3rd graders I was always like, "I don't care if you didn't bring your homework today, if you didn't get it done at home last night. After we finish this lesson you are gonna get your homework done.". …|
|Harriett:||Me too. [I'd say to my students] Whatever happened at home, the reason you can't get your homework done doesn't matter, you can get it done now. So we create a space and opportunity for them to get it done because we know they CAN do the work, we EXPECT them to do the work correctly…|
|Antionette:||Right! No excuses. All the great things our ancestors brought to this country and how we made this country what it is today…. And they did it in the face of tremendous persecution…. If they had the strength, courage and brains to do it then, then our kids sure enough can do it now. They have those same attributes [Session 3].|
Self–determination and nationalism were two African American ethics deeply embedded in the pedagogy of this collective. They functioned implicitly providing focus to their instruction, framing their interactions with students, and fueling their oppositional educational stance. Some may describe this style as harsh and uncaring, but when viewed through an African American epistemology framework, it represents a systematic mode of care, urgently expressed and shaped by the African American existential condition.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS
A key variable that informs teacher effectiveness is quality of implementation. In this case quality implementation ensures that teachers will enact pedagogy in ways that will bolster African American student success. As the findings demonstrate, when teacher quality is analyzed with a "cultural eye" (Irvine, 2003), it produces a comprehensive, socially–grounded knowledge base for teaching African American children that can inform teachers' quality of pedagogical implementation in powerful ways. From this angle, it is clear that the educators' outward manifestations of urgency, relationship–building, and high expectations are deeply situated within an African American liberatory consciousness. Understanding more about this liberatory consciousness through the examination of effective Black educators is imperative to our understandings of teacher quality and subsequent reforms aimed at improving teacher effectiveness.
The liberatory perspectives held by the five community–nominated Black educators in this study seemed were consistent with African American cultural formations, which speak to an moral, humanist social agenda (Anderson & Kharem, 2009). This agenda emphasizes teaching and learning as a way to "retool society" towards a new social configuration dedicated to the eradication of race–based designation of humanity. Instead, this Black humanist agenda prioritizes the vision, values, knowledge, experiences, and concerns that together comprise a more complete culture–systemic conception of being (King, 2005; Tuck, 2009). Each research meeting with the educators was framed against this philosophical backdrop and converged to form a powerful, emancipatory pedagogy (King, 1991a; Ladson–Billings & Henry, 1990). Emancipatory pedagogy uses cultural knowledge to formulate interpretations of African American experiences and generate relevant learning experiences for students. For these educators, this emancipatory perspective functioned as a pedagogical organizer through which instructional practices were designed, interpreted, and enacted. Thus, when they interacted with and taught African American children, they did so with an ever–present sense of the specialized needs of African American learners as a social group. In essence, these culture–specific insights and values were fundamental to the educators' definition and enactment of quality teaching. This means that high quality of implementation in the preparation of culturally relevant teachers demands continuous and explicit connections between the instructional practices associated with culturally relevant teaching and the abiding epistemic and ideological foundations that power this approach (Murrell, 2002).
This aspect of the cultural context of teaching and learning may hold great promise for improving the education of African American children, yet it is this link that is most often missing in teacher education (Ladson–Billings, 2007, 2000). In my own experiences as an African American teacher educator, I have found that without making these connections, some teacher education students struggle to demonstrate pedagogical excellence for African American students, particularly those experiencing the negative impact of poverty. Duncan– Andrade (2011), King (1991b) and Murrell (2002) confirm my speculations in their argument that without a deeper analysis of culture that moves beyond awareness of cultural traits, most teachers remain dysconscious, and maintain an uncritical disposition with regard to sociocultural inequality. Thus they are unable to develop any kind of transformative pedagogical project.
One possible way teacher educators can move towards focus on the quality of teacher implementation of culture–focused pedagogies is through explicit examination of African American theories of achievement with teacher education students. These theories are often based on some of the cultural politics, history and values involved in educating African Americans (Murrell, 2003; Perry, 2003). Including these theories of achievement into the framework of effective teaching might help teachers develop a body of relevant cultural knowledge in which to situate their conceptualization of pedagogical excellence. Use of such theories might also help to dislodge the preeminence of competing theories that locate the source of African American achievement, or underachievement, within the child, family or environment. Furthermore, restructuring the curriculum in ways that build on these indigenous educational principles may help teacher educators construct a more cohesive, asset-based approach to educating Black children. In the present study, the educators' maintained a socially connected perspective on educational success for Black children that linked their teaching and the achievement of their students with individual and collective political, economic and social gains. Thus they seemed to be more invested in the lives of their students, a feature heavily documented as effective practice in teaching African American children (Foster, 1993; Ladson–Billings, 1994; Edwards, Turner, & McMillion, 2013). Furthermore, findings revealed that the educators' culture specific stance enabled them to critically assess curriculum and school programs in terms of its ability to promote student achievement. As a result, the educators were able to make critical instructional decisions that more expansively met student needs. While it is uncertain the extent to which the group was driven by other social factors, such as gender, it is reasonable to suggest that these educators were well suited to meet student needs given the cultural influences on their teaching.
More research is needed to accompany existing approaches in teacher education that sincerely attend to teachers' quality of implementation in their work with African American and other children of color such as those provided by Dillard (1997), King, (1997), Gordon (1997) and Ladson–Billings, (2000). These approaches critique the knowledge base and ideology that guide teaching and learning processes from a liberatory and humanizing core, and draws from the cultural artifacts produced by communities of color that are relevant to education and teaching.
The outcomes of a more theoretically consistent, culture–focused approach to preparing teachers for African American children are promising. Teacher educators might find that they have a curriculum that truly reflects an asset–based approach to educating Black children from theory to practice. Teachers might find that they are better prepared to enter predominantly African American schools and teach in ways that promote educational excellence for students, and many more African American children may begin to experience schooling in ways that keep them connected, engaged, and educationally successful.
Anderson, N. S. & Kharem, H. (2009). Education as freedom: African American educational thought and activism. New York: Lexington Books.
Bondy, E., Ross, D., Hambacher, E., Acosta, M. (2013). Becoming warm demanders: Perspectives and practices of first-year teachers. Urban Education, 48(3), 420–450.
Bridges, D., & McGee, S. (2011). Collaborative inquiry: Reciprocity and authenticity. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen, D. Horsfall, & D. Bridges (Eds.) Creative spaces for qualitative researching: Living research (pp. 213-222). Netherlands: Sense Publishers.
Cochran–Smith, M., Fries, K. (2011). Teacher education for diversity: Policy and politics. In A. F. Ball & C. A. Tyson (Eds.), Studying diversity in teacher education (pp. 339–362). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Darling-Hammond, L. (2000). How teacher education matters. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 166–173.
Duncan– Andrade, J. M. R. (2011). The principle facts: New directions in teacher education. In A. F. Ball & C. A. Tyson (Eds.), Studying diversity in teacher education (pp. 309–326). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Emancipatory Education Research (2012). Emancipatory Educational Research Methods.Retrieved from http://education.ufl.edu/emancipatory-educational-research/about-eer/
Eubanks, S., Weaver, R. (1999). Excellence through diversity: Connecting the teacher quality and teacher diversity agendas. The Journal of Negro Education, 68(3), 451-459.
Ford, A. C., Sassi, K. (2013). Authority in cross-racial teaching and learning (Re)considering the transferability of warm demander approaches. Urban Education, Advanced publication, doi: 10.1177/0042085912464790
Foster, M. (1993). Educating for competence in community and culture: Exploring the views of exemplary African American teachers. Urban Education, 27(4), 370–394.
Foster, M. (1994). Effective black teachers: A literature review. In E.R. Hollins, J.E. King. & W.C. Hayman (Eds.), Teaching diverse populations: Formulating a knowledge base (pp. 225-242). New York: SUNY Press.
Foster, M. (1997). Black teachers on teaching. New York: The New Press.
Franklin, V.P. (1984). Black self-determination: A cultural history of the faith of the fathers. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill & Company.
Gordon, B. (1990). The necessity of African-American epistemology in educational theory and practice. Journal of Education, 172(3), 88–106.
Gordon, B. (1997). Curriculum policy and African American cultural knowledge: Challenges and possibilities for the year 2000 and beyond. Educational Policy, 11(2), 227-242.
Grossman, P. (1989). Learning to teach without teacher education. Teachers College Record, 91(2), 191-208.
Hatch, J. A. (2002). Doing qualitative research in educational settings. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Heron, J. and Reason, P. (1997) 'A participatory inquiry paradigm', Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3): 274-294.
Hill-Collins, P. (1990/2000). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.
Hyland, N. E., & Meacham, S. (2004). Community-centered teacher education: A paradigm for socially just education transformation (pp. 113-134). In J. L. Kincheloe, A. Bursztyn, & S. Steinberg (Eds.), Teaching teachers: Building a quality school of urban education. New York: Peter Lang.
Irvine, J. J. (2003). Educating teachers for diversity: Seeing with a cultural eye. New York: Teachers College Press.
King, J. E. (1991a). Unfinished business: Black student alienation and black teachers' emancipatory pedagogy. In M. Foster (Ed). Readings on Equal Education: Qualitative Investigations into Schools and Schooling (pp.245–271). New York: AMS Press.
King, J.E.( 1991b). Dysconscious racism: Ideology, identity, and the miseducation of teachers. The Journal of Negro Education, 60(2), 133-146.
King, J.E. (1997). Thank you for opening our minds: On praxis, transmutation, and black studies in teacher development. In J.E. King, E.R. Hollins, & W.C. Hayman (Eds.) Preparing Teachers for Cultural Diversity (pp.156–169). New York: Teachers College Press.
King, J. E. (2005). Black education: A transformative research and action agenda for the new century. New York: Routledge.
King, J. E. (2008). Critical and qualitative research in teacher education: A blues epistemology, a reason for knowing for cultural well-being. In M. Cochran–Smith, S. Feiman Nemser & J. McIntyre (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring issues in changing contexts (pp. 1094–1135). Mahweh, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, Publishers.
Ladson–Billings, G. (1994/2009). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Ladson–Billings, G., & Henry, A. (1990). Blurring the borders: Voices of African liberatory pedagogy in the United States and Canada. Journal of Education, 172(2), 72–88.
Ladson–Billings, G. (1995). Towards a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491.
Ladson–Billings, G. (2001). Crossing over to Caanan: The journey of new teachers in diverse classrooms. San Francisco: Jossey–Bass.
Ladson–Billings, G. (2007). It's not the culture of poverty; It's the poverty of culture in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 55(2), 112–123.
Labaree, D. (2004). The trouble with ed schools. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Lawrence-Lightfoot, S., & Davis, J. H. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Milner, R. (2009). What does teacher education have to do with teaching? Implications for diversity studies. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(2), 118–131.
Murrell, P. C. Jr. (2002). African–centered pedagogy. Albany: State University of New York Press.
National Alliance of Black School Educators, Inc. (NABSE) (1984). Saving the African American child: Report of the task force on Black Academic and Cultural Excellence. Washington, DC. Author.
Perry, T. (2003). Up from the parched earth: Toward a theory of African-American achievement. In T. Perry, C. Steele, & A. G. Hilliard III (Eds.), Young, gifted and Black: Promoting high achievement among African- American students (pp. 1–108). Boston: Beacon.
Siddle–Walker, V. (2012). Original Intent: Black educators in an elusive quest for justice. Lecture presented at the Ninth Annual Brown Lecture in Education Research, Washington, D.C.
Siddle–Walker, V. (2000). Valued segregated schools for African American children in the South, 1935–1969: A review of common themes and characteristics. Review of Educational Research, 70(3), 253–285.
Siddle Walker, V. (1996). Their highest potential: An African American school community in the segregated south. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.
Tillman, L.C. (2002). Culturally sensitive research approaches: An African–American perspective. Educational Researcher, 31(9), 3–12.
Tuck, E. (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-427.
United Press. (1986, July 15). Education secretary says let those who can, teach. San Francisco Chronicle, p. 34.
Ware, F. (2006). Warm demander pedagogy: Culturally responsive teaching that supports a culture of achievement for African American students. Urban Education, 41(4), 427–456.