Growing Teachers for Today’s Schools

By Rebecca R. Garte and Cara Kronen

Dr. Garte is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education. Her grant-funded research uses observational and mixed methods to understand the factors that contribute to cognitive and social–emotional outcomes for young children through late adolescence. She has also partnered with NYC public schools to create professional development interventions designed to investigate teachers’ professional identities and practice from pre-service to in-service.

Dr. Kronen is an Associate Professor of Teacher Education and Coordinator of Secondary Education Programs at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York. Her research areas include urban education, social foundations of education, and the art of teaching and learning. Her current projects focus on increasing the number of non-traditional pre-service teachers and supporting them through full certification attainment and early career. 

This month’s authors from the current Educational Forum wrote the article, “From the Margins of the Classroom to Mattering: How Community College Education Students Develop Future Teacher Identities.” It is available free for the month of May here.

Like the two of us, the overwhelming majority of teachers in the U.S. are middle-class, white women. As the demographics of the United States become increasingly diverse, children from Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian racial groups must see themselves reflected in their classroom teachers. The key to increasing teachers of color with the cultural competence to relate to the growing majority of minority public-school students may begin with supporting community-college education students.

Community-college students majoring in education are more likely to be from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, and from lower income families, than pre-service teachers enrolled in 4-year colleges and universities. Unfortunately, many of these students do not persist in the teacher career track all the way until certification. This may be due to inadequate preparation for college, but a more significant barrier may be a negative experience with early fieldwork. Most teacher-education faculty are white, and therefore often select practicum classrooms where the teachers, administrators, and even the children are predominantly white. Although these school settings may showcase model pedagogy, the lack of diversity often conveys to community college students that they do not belong in the field. When Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) feel out of place—or worse, experience biases and micro-aggressions during early fieldwork—they may be less likely to develop a sense of themselves as a future teacher.

Our article explores future-teacher identity development among 60 community-college, early childhood education majors during their last semester fieldwork course. This course was designed to support their transfer to 4-year schools of education. We conducted an experiment to see whether the racial and socioeconomic diversity of the classroom and the students’ role during fieldwork would impact their future-teacher identity. Half of our students (randomly assigned) interned in a Title 1 public school, where BIPOC children and teachers were predominate. In addition, these students created action research projects in consultation with their cooperating teachers and with support from us­: their professors. The other half of the students attended the schools typically used by our colleagues. These schools were located within the same affluent neighborhood as our community college, serving predominantly affluent white families, and staffed by predominantly white teachers and administrators. Instead of the action research projects, these students created the traditional activity plans for the course.

We found striking differences in indicators of future-teacher identity between the two groups of pre-service teachers. The experimental group showed much higher degrees of critical self-reflection regarding planning for teaching than the traditional students, and they were rated as much more integrated into the classroom by their cooperating teachers. In addition, the experimental students described themselves in terms of feeling connected and committed to the teaching profession. It seems that for students who are the first in their family to attend college, seeing themselves in the role of a professional requires a major shift in their identity. To cultivate the teacher force that the diverse children in America’s public schools need, we must necessarily look more deeply at how future-teacher identity is formed. We particularly need to consider the role of community-college teacher preparation programs and how they can better support non-traditional students entering the field. We recognize that the socio–cultural environments of classrooms impact children’s feelings of belonging. Teacher educators need to consider how the socio–cultural contexts of fieldwork classrooms impact pre-service teachers’ perception of whether they belong in the field of education.

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