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African American Teachers in Suburban Desegregated Schools: Intergroup Differences and the Impact of Performance Pressures


by Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela & Jean A. Madsen - 2007

Background/Context:

There is much literature that examines how the desegregation literature had implications for majority teachers and its impact on students of color. However, little has been written about the experiences of teachers of color working in suburban desegregated majority schools.

Focus of Study:

This article examines how intergroup differences created performance pressures for African American teachers and how this affected their ability to contribute optimally in these environments.

Setting:

The study took place in four predominantly European American districts that surround a large midwestern metropolitan area. When the desegregation program was implemented in these districts, it was court mandated; however, now the program operates on a volunteer basis whereby students can elect to participate and withdraw as necessary. The district accepted less than 25% of their minority students from a court-mandated desegregation program.

Participants:

A total of 7 male and 7 female African American teachers were interviewed. These male and female participants differed in grade-level positions. There were 4 female African American teachers at the elementary level, and 1 female and 3 male African American teachers at the middle school level. At the secondary level, there were 2 female and 4 male teachers who taught English, math, and history. There were some similarities between the male and female African American teachers.

Research Design:

For this study, a case study is defined as a single entity, a unit of similar groups of people within the bounded context of suburban desegregated schools surrounding a midsized midwestern city. Case studies are differentiated from other types of qualitative research in that they are intense descriptions and analysis of a single unit or bounded system.

Data Collection and Analysis:

In our sample of 14 participants, we had an equal representation of males and females (7 each). We were specifically interested in the perceptions and experiences of the African American teachers in their interactions with school administrators, parents, and students. A qualitative thematic strategy of data analysis was employed to categorize and make judgments about the interpretation of the data. This analytical procedure allowed important themes and categories to emerge inductively from the data across schools and districts. The researchers used the prior-research-driven approach to identify themes and to develop a coding process. In establishing the reliability for this study, the data were analyzed using what Glaser and Strauss called a constant comparative method.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

Our findings, based on the experiences of 14 self-reported accounts of African American teachers in these school environments, illuminated patterns of experiences for teachers of color. Regarding the first subtheme, automatic notice, teachers developed strategies that assisted them in their transitions to inhospitable environments in the suburban schools. The female teachers reported the need for a strong reference-group orientation that would enable them to retain their cultural identity within the school. Whereas the female teachers viewed automatic notice negatively, the male participants recognized their high visibility as way to compete with their peers.

Dealing with symbolic consequences, the second emergent subtheme, underrepresented individuals often bear the burden of dispelling myths and representing their race in their exchanges with coworkers. The African American teachers also became resistant to representing their race. In many ways, these teachers expressed the notion that their European American colleagues expected them to take ownership for issues that affected only the African American children. These teachers were compromised by this narrow definition of their expertise and disliked their limited role as the “minority representative.”

In fighting discrepant stereotypes, the third subtheme, the underrepresented African American teachers had to defend their status to have their accomplishments recognized. The teachers reported that their individuality was often overshadowed by their colleagues’ stereotypical beliefs about African Americans. The male teachers constantly had to refute negative male African American stereotypes, and the women had to deal with proving their worth as “qualified” teachers.

The final pressure, what we call cultural switching, became apparent as the African American female teachers expressed the heaviness of being in an environment where they were often one of few people of color, or the only person of color, in the school. The female teachers struggled with the cultural incongruity that occurred between them and their European American peers. In many ways, these performance pressures resulted in the feeling constrained and unable to use social cues to navigate their school’s culture. Recommendations from this study may provide insights on how suburban desegregated schools may improve workplace relationships to recruit and retain teachers of color in these contexts.

INTRODUCTION


European American participants in culturally homogeneous schools who may have limited exposure to people of color face a deficiency in their education that could affect their ability to function in a multicultural world (Gordon, 2000; Grant & Sleeter, 1989). Positive cultural translators and dispelling racial and ethnic stereotypes are as important for students of color as they are for European American students. If we are to attract and retain teachers of color in these contexts, several questions become evident: What are the implications for creating positive workplace relationships for teachers of color and their European American counterparts? How do teachers of color navigate the culture of these schools? This article examines how intergroup differences create performance pressures for African American teachers and how this pressure affects their ability to contribute optimally in suburban desegregated schools. Findings from this study may provide insights into how these schools can improve workplace relationships and recruit and retain teachers of color.


THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: INTERGROUP THEORY AND PERFORMANCE PRESSURES


Previous studies have addressed the intersection of race and gender, factors that define the cultural ideological context of workplace relationships (Ransford & Miller, 1983). There is ample evidence that women and persons of color face disadvantages in gaining entry into organizations, and they fill a disproportionately large number of lower level occupations with fewer chances for individual promotion (Miller, Labovitz, & Fry, 1975). Little research has been conducted on the direct experience and advancement of people of color in organizations, but it can be argued that race relations patterns may be similar to those of gender (Miller, Lincoln, & Olson, 1981). Butler (1976) found that racial factors, independent of ability and training, have a direct effect on promotion. Racial dynamics within an organization also lead to persons of color not being promoted to positions of higher responsibility.


To advance understanding of the impact of performance pressures on teachers of color in suburban desegregated schools, we applied multiple intergroup theories to recognize how African American teachers perceive their workplace relationships in these schools. Intergroup theory helps us understand how individuals and diverse groups interact within a larger organizational context (Nkomo & Cox, 1996). Key elements of intergroup theory are relevant to issues of diversity that may impact (1) circumstances that lead to formation of groups, their boundaries, roles, and development cycle; (2) the effect of individual and group membership and intergroup dynamics in dealing with prejudices; and (3) recognition of the problems of identity, power, conflict, and social comparisons in groups (Watts, 1994).


As a way to conceptualize this research, we used previous studies of Kanter (1977), Cose (1993), and Anderson (1999) to characterize how different types of performance pressures affect teachers of color. These previous studies examined issues of intergroup identity within a majority organization and the implications for workplace interactions. Kanter researched women in predominantly male European American organizations and identified problems that women encountered, such as high visibility and scrutiny of their work. Cose and Anderson highlighted the marginalization of African American workers and their treatment as lesser participants within majority organizations.


Kanter’s (1977) framework identified three perceptual tendencies that impact how underrepresented individuals are perceived within organizations in which they form the minority. These tendencies include performance pressures, boundary heightening, and role entrapment. Kanter’s research conceptualized the processes that occur between the majority and people of color in the workplace. The first perceptual tendency, visibility, generates performance pressures; polarization, the second identified tendency, creates cultural differences; and assimilation, the final theme, leads to role entrapment.


For the purposes of this study, we used Kanter’s (1977) three themes identified under the performance pressures perceptual tendency. Because African American teachers in suburban desegregated schools are highly visible, Kanter’s research was useful in defining the performance pressures that these teachers encounter. Kanter’s first perceptual tendency, performance pressures, comprises three factors. The first factor, automatic notice, is caused by the proportional rarity of “tokens,” which results in singular examination, and underrepresented individuals capture a larger awareness share. Thus, the actions of each person who is ethnically different are carefully scrutinized. The second factor, symbolic consequences, refers to the resistance a person of color may encounter in representing who he or she is in context. The final factor, fighting discrepant qualities, results when a person’s presence in the workplace overshadows his or her accomplishments.


Kanter’s study, based on European American women, is of limited utility in explaining the racial undertones voiced by African American teachers in this study. Cose’s (1993) and Anderson’s (1999) work provide additional theoretical premises to describe the discriminatory experiences that African Americans face in majority organizations. Cose interviewed African Americans employed in professional settings who encountered racism that interfered with their psychological well-being and their ability to position themselves within the organization. His interviews revealed that many of his subjects experienced the “dozen demons” that impact African Americans’ psychological well-being. Anderson’s research was similar to Cose’s; he too interviewed African Americans in majority-group organizations. His study revealed that African Americans must navigate complex social dynamics when interacting with their European American colleagues.


Few studies have been conducted that address issues of diversity at the organizational level in schools. Cox (2001) contended that organizational diversity research conducted in corporations can be generalized to nonprofit organizations, particularly schools. There is an ongoing debate about how schools are viewed as organizations, whether they represent communities versus bureaucracies. Research conducted in corporations, however, reflects a perspective that indicates the organizational dimensions of schools (Verdugo, Greenberg, Henderson, Uribe, & Schneider, 1997). There have been a limited number of organizational diversity research studies conducted in schools. Thus, we relate schools to organizations to reflect the complexity of intergroup dynamics among diverse groups in these contexts and to understand how teachers of color respond to and deal with performance pressures in these environments.


METHODS


DATA COLLECTION


For this study, a case study is defined as a single entity, a unit comprising similar groups of people within the bounded context of suburban desegregated schools surrounding a midsized midwestern city (Merriam, 1998). Case studies are differentiated from other types of qualitative research in that they are composed of intense descriptions and analysis of a single unit or bounded system (Smith, 1978). For this research, our setting was predominantly European American suburban desegregated schools, and the unit of analysis was the persons of color who work in this setting (Boyatzis, 1998). African American teachers were selected for this case study because considerable literature is available on African American teachers’ pedagogy from which to draw comparisons between African American and European American teachers (Foster, 1997; Hollins, 1982; Irvine, 1990; King, 1991).


We contacted personnel directors from four desegregated suburban school districts, surrounding a midsized midwestern city, that participate in the voluntary city and county desegregation plan. Those personnel directors who agreed to participate in this project provided names, addresses, and phone numbers of all African American teachers in their districts (see data sources section for details about these districts). We invited all 21 African American teachers from the four districts to participate in this study; 14 responded positively. Our sample of 14 participants was equally representative of gender: 7 men and 7 women (see Table 1 for a detailed description of each participant). We were specifically interested in African American teachers’ perceptions of their interactions with school administrators, parents, and students, and their effect on the teachers’ professional experiences in the analysis setting.


Table 1. Overview of Female and Male Participants

Name

Background

Higher Education

Years of Experience

Jackie Jones

African American community

HBCU

20 years

Sue Brown

African American community

HBCU

15 years

Sandi Davis

African American community/private Catholic high school

HBCU

12 years

Julie Owens

African American community

HBCU

10 years

Mary Rogers

Integrated suburb/ integrated schools

HBCU

 6 years

Rita Morgan

Midwest metropolitan area/city schools

HBCU

6 years

Jane Smith

African American community

HBCU

1st year teacher

Albert Lainson   

South integrated high school

Predominantly European American State University

29 years

Jason Inman

South/ segregated school

Military

25 years

Chester Burke

Midwest metropolitan area/city school

European American state university

20 years

Walter Richards


Midwest metropolitan area/city school

European American state university

10 years

Nathan Carson

Rural South/segregated schools

HBCU

7 years

Gary Boyle

Midwest metropolitan city/private secondary schools

European American university but transferred to an HBCU

6 years


Wilson Gower

Rural African American community

Predominantly European American state university

30 years

Note: HBCU = Historically Black Colleges and Uni


DATA SOURCES


Districts


African American teachers from four desegregated suburban districts that surround a large midwestern metropolitan area and that voluntarily participate in the city’s desegregation program participated in the study. It is important to emphasize the culture of “Whiteness” that exists in the participating districts to provide a context for understanding the experiences of these African American teachers. Although these suburban desegregated districts are acclaimed for their academic superiority and resources, the neighboring inner-city public school does not share the same reputation. Inner-city students, the majority of whom are African American, participate in the interdistrict desegregation program hoping to receive what they perceive to be a high-quality education. When the desegregation program was implemented in these districts, it was court mandated; however, the program now operates on a volunteer basis, whereby students can elect to participate and withdraw as necessary. The wealthier suburban desegregated school districts that participated in this study receive additional funding to accept students from the city’s inner-city schools. The overwhelming majority of the students and school participants in these districts are European American, with only a smattering of students of color, and even fewer teachers and administrators of color.


The school context


The schools at which the 14 participants in this study teach are situated in four districts that form extensions of the more affluent metropolitan region. The schools are comparable to each other in terms of their student composition, resources, and size. They reflect the demographics of the district; they are predominantly European American, with about 25% of the student population accepted through the desegregation program. African American teachers compose less than 4% of the faculties of these districts. To preserve the confidentiality and anonymity of the African American teachers, we do not provide a more detailed description of the schools and districts where this study was conducted.


PARTICIPANTS


Male African American participants


 Because of the limited number of African American teachers in these suburban desegregated school contexts, all African American participants who volunteered were interviewed. It is important to note that the researcher did not contact those African American teachers who chose not to participate in the project. There was no difference in terms of gender, teaching levels, or experience between those who chose to participate and those who chose not to. All who were contacted were similar in their schooling and background experiences. We believe that additional study needs to be completed to address differences in the subject pool. Although the population for the study was only 14, it became apparent during the data analysis that participants experience similar responses to performance pressures affecting their relationships with their European American colleagues.


Seven male African American teachers were interviewed; 3 taught at the middle school level, and the other 4 taught at the secondary level. Two of the middle school participants had 6–7 years of experience at their schools. Although these two male African American participants grew up in segregated environments, their formative experiences differed. One grew up in the South and attended segregated schools, whereas the other lived in a segregated neighborhood in the city and attended a mostly European American private school.


Four male African American participants were older than the other 3 male teachers but had similar years of experience and backgrounds. These 4 male African American teachers had taught for 20–30 years in their suburban desegregated districts. Most of these veteran male participants had similar backgrounds growing up in segregated areas and then attending predominantly European American universities. One participant with 10 years of experience at his high school was the only African American teacher at his school, whereas the other participants taught with other African Americans at their school sites. The teaching experience among the male participants ranged from 6 to 30 years, with an average of 18 years (see Table 1 for a profile of the participants).


Female African American participants


The 7 female African American teachers who participated in this study had varied years of teaching experience in their schools. Only 1 female participant had less than 1 year of teaching in a European American school. Two more experienced participants had taught in their schools for 12–20 years. The other 4 participants had been with their schools for 5–10 years. The average years of teaching experience for these 7 female participants was 8.4. Four females taught at the elementary level, 1 participant was at a middle level, and the other 2 were at secondary level. All the female teachers attended a historically Black college for their teacher preparation. Of the 7 female teachers, 6 grew up in the African American community, and only 1 was raised in a suburban integrated neighborhood. Only a few of the female participants had taught in urban schools, where African Americans form a majority of the students. Most of the teaching experience for these participants has been in these suburban desegregated schools. The teachers stated that they came to these districts because they were committed to serving African American students who transferred from the inner-city schools. In addition, these districts paid well and provided resources not available to teachers in the city’s schools. (See Appendixes A and B and Table 1 for a profile of the male and female African American participants).


Similarities and differences between the male and female African American participants


For this study, we interviewed 7 men and 7 women who taught at different grade levels. Four female African Americans taught at the elementary level, and 1 female and 3 male African Americans taught middle school. Two female and 4 male African Americans taught secondary English, math, and history. There were some similarities between the male and female African American teachers. Both the male and female participants grew up in mostly segregated areas, but where the participants received their teacher preparation differed. All the females in this study attended historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), whereas 6 of the male participants went to traditionally European American colleges and universities. Only 1 of the male African Americans attended an HBCU in the area.


The overall range of teaching experience among the participants was from 1 to 30 years. The female group had approximately 1–20 years of teaching experience, with an average of 8.4 years. The male group had from 6 to 30 years of teaching experience, with an average of 18 years. Most of the participants began their teaching careers in their suburban desegregated schools. Only 3 participants had experience teaching in urban schools prior to moving to the suburban desegregated schools (see Table 1 and Appendixes A and B).


DATA ANALYSIS


A qualitative thematic data analysis strategy was employed to categorize and analyze the data interpretation. This methodological process became the unit of coding; the participants’ interviews became the unit of analysis and provided a theoretical justification, given the phenomenon of interest (Boyatzis, 1998). This analytical procedure allowed important themes and categories to emerge inductively from the data across schools and districts. The researchers used the prior-research-driven approach to identify themes and to develop a coding process (Boyatzis). In establishing reliability for this study, the data were analyzed using what Glaser and Strauss (1967) called a constant comparative method. This process creates a match between the interview data and existing theory and allows interplay between the coding and data analysis process. As researchers, we were sensitive to contamination of the data; therefore we (1) developed an explicit code and set up a consistency of judgment to establish reliability, (2) used multiple diverse perspectives to examine these teachers’ comments, and (3) were sensitive to the themes when interpreting the data (Boyatzis).


The coding process was developed by comparing data from this study with Kanter’s (1977) performance pressure themes (see Appendix A). Using Kanter’s research, along with Cose’s (1993) and Anderson’s (1999) studies, we created a set of preestablished categories based on performance themes of automatic notice, symbolic consequences, and discrepant stereotypes. We were able to generate a data analysis code that could be applied to the participants’ interview data (Boyatzis, 1998). By building on previous work, we were able to establish a theoretical framework to understand how suburban desegregated schools and their administrators and educators apply performance pressures to teachers of color (see Appendix B). These conceptually organized themes were clustered around related characteristics and the identification of an underlying construct (Boyatzis).


The findings from this study closely follow themes that evolved from Kanter’s (1977) study of women in male-dominated corporations. Cultural switching, an additional theme not found in Kanter’s work, was also identified in this study. This theme is important in understanding the cultural incongruity between the cultural norms of the female African American teachers and European American teachers. Consequently, these incongruent norms result in cultural switching as a way to respond to public scrutiny of their actions. The male African American participants, however, did not display cultural switching in their interactions with their European American colleagues.


To generate a collective interpretation of the data analysis, we believe that it is important for the reader to understand the complexities in collecting and analyzing cross-cultural data. Stanfield (l993) asserted that in race and ethnicity research, comparative analysis can be interpreted in a number of ways. He contended that researchers in mainstream disciplines rarely reflect on the effects of their own racial identities and how that influences their interpretation of data. There is also a norm in social sciences to assume that European American realities can be generalized to people of color. Stanfield further argued that there are ethical considerations in researching people of color because cultural, class, and/or gender differences require special sensitivity.


In completing the collective interpretation of this cross-cultural study, a female European American teacher completed the interviews with both the male and female African American teachers. The data analysis, however, was a collaborative endeavor between the European American researcher and a scholar of African descent. For this study, each researcher analyzed the data separately to ensure a reliable coding system. Once the data were examined, the researchers addressed different interpretations to ensure interrater reliability and a fair analysis of the African American teachers’ reported perceptions of their schools. The two researchers engaged in discussions about the differences in the cross-cultural interpretation of data to ensure a reliable and trustworthy interpretation of the findings (Merriam, 1998). There was a consistency of judgment between the researchers to determine the code development and coding process (Boyatzis, 1998).


Although the pool of participants was small and can only be generalized to these predominantly European American suburban desegregated schools, the participants’ experiences and perceptions contain common themes. This study provides an in-depth look at patterns of experiences in consistent-type suburban desegregated schools, which in turn helps us to examine similar contextual configurations. We believe that additional research needs to be conducted to disaggregate these participants’ experiences. These studies will further define how these contexts are the result of organizational structures so that additional obstacles to teachers of color might be prevented.


The findings presented are based on the African American teachers’ self-reports; however, these participants had taught for many years and had similar experiences across districts and schools in these contexts. Most of the male African American participants’ experiences were at secondary schools, and 4 of the female participants’ experience was at elementary schools. Teaching experiences at these levels may influence how these teachers respond to performance pressures. It is not the intent of the authors to represent European American teachers as one undifferentiated group who all have similar relationships with the African American teachers. The authors are cognizant of the complexity that exists within these two groups and are cautious about portraying the European American teachers as a monolithic group. We are, however, concerned about representing African American teachers’ perceptions in a manner that captures their experiences in these schools.


FINDINGS


PERFORMANCE PRESSURES


A number of themes emerged from this study; however, the discussion in this article is restricted to an examination of performance pressures experienced by African American teachers in their workplace. Both the male and female participants in our study identified performance pressures in their work environment that fit within Kanter’s (1977) performance pressures dimensions: (1) issues with automatic notice, (2) symbolic consequences, (3) fighting discrepant stereotypes and qualities, and (4) cultural switching. Because these teachers were highly visible in their schools, these four subthemes illuminate the crux of their experiences. Both male and female African American teachers identified similar experiences, but there were subtle differences in their reactions to the experiences. These differences may be attributable to the grade levels at which the participants taught, their cultural backgrounds, gender issues, and/or their various personalities. The ensuing discussion reflects these African American teachers’ perceptions of how they responded to the performance pressures they experienced in their suburban desegregated schools.


AUTOMATIC NOTICE


Kanter (1977) argued that automatic notice of “tokens” results in their becoming the subject of conversation, gossip, and careful scrutiny. Anderson (1999) stated that in organizations, skin color is a persistent issue, a conspicuous and observable characteristic that makes individuals subject to negative consideration and treatment. The teachers in this study reported that they are highly visible within their schools. The African American teachers believe that because of their small numbers at these schools, they are overly dissected. Because of this automatic notice, they understand that they are expected to fulfill stereotypical roles when different standards are applied to them. Thus, all their actions are public, and everything they do in their classrooms is examined and discussed by the European American teachers. As such, automatic notice by their colleagues causes the participants to feel as if their achievements could be limited (Cose, 1993).


Analysis of the data revealed that although both the male and female teachers experienced automatic notice, they responded to this notice differently. The female African American teachers expressed greater reliance on their cultural identity as a way to cope with automatic notice. The female teachers stated that the impact of automatic notice is more than they can bear at times. In contrast, the male African American teachers expressed the need to be self-disciplined and to take control by reacting in a competitive manner to automatic notice. Therefore, the male African American teachers were less negative about their peers’ scrutiny than were the female African American teachers.


The male African American teachers perceived the stress of automatic notice as a positive factor that pushed them competitively. They considered their peers’ scrutiny to be an impetus to compete with their European American colleagues. These male participants generated an energy that became internalized the longer they remained at their schools. The more experienced male African American teachers learned over time that automatic notice means higher expectations. The less experienced male teachers, however, felt the need to have some control over their peers’ scrutiny of their presence in these schools.


The 4 male respondents who had been at their schools the longest noted the pressures of automatic notice. Conversely, they expected this type of scrutiny. They felt school leaders were responsible for exerting these pressures, and they were expected to be better than their European American counterparts. One participant called this performance pressure the “Jackie Robinson” syndrome. That is, as the only male African American teacher at his school, there was an expectation that he must work harder than his colleagues because his performance was constantly examined. Automatic notice for the male African American teachers, furthermore, means proving that they are qualified, competent teachers who rightfully deserve a position within the school system. The following quotes are those of male African American participants:


When I first came here, I really got the feeling that there were people who were expecting me to fail. I had never failed. There was no chance of me failing. I am a successful professional with a very impressive track record. I have sufficient evidence that indicates there was a “standoffishness” of me [by the European American teachers] to prove myself. People weren’t so generous in helping me when I got here. There were instances where people could have been supportive and spared me some anguish, but they failed to when they knew that they could have. But it did not matter significantly because I have been successful.


Another teacher concurred:


I’m 53, and I guess having the experiences that I’ve had, I’ve learned that you have to be yourself. You can’t get stressed out. It’s true for a lot of minorities, if you are going to a place, you are the only one or two. I think a lot of people feel the pressure. I’m at the stage I don’t care about that. I’ve been successful. I am not carrying the baggage anymore of having to be the “best of” because of what I am. I am a teacher.


A majority of the male African American participants indicated that they had to control pressure in their work environment. Two male teachers who had been at their schools for approximately 7 years defined “control of the pressure” as needing to be self-disciplined, remain positive, and dismiss their intolerant colleagues. These male teachers accepted pressure from the European American teachers and enacted their own response to this orientation. One participant noted that he accepts being the “token” and the associated need to overcompensate and justify his worthiness at every opportunity.


The less experienced male African American teachers cited a lack of support from their European American peers, leaving them to question their decisions to remain at their schools. Unlike the veteran participants, these male teachers wanted to be in control of how they were perceived by their European American colleagues rather than accepting the pressure. They, in essence, turned the automatic notice into strategies that allowed them to retain their sense of identity and gain power over their work environment. Although these male participants learned to deal with automatic notice, they are still bothered by their peers’ perceptions that they are unqualified. As one male participant noted:


When I first got here I felt that the teachers felt that I was not up to par. I did pick that up in their comments. I think one [European American] teacher called me “culturally deprived.” He offered me an opportunity to come over to his house and go to church or something. There were several [European American] teachers who were brought in at the same time as me. I just noted the differences in the way we were treated. We were the same age, young people, first job, and so forth. I just noticed the assistance they got and I had to fend for myself. In general there was a perception and that pressure that kept me here to 8:00 p.m.


Interestingly, only 1 of the male participants noted that he does not “buy” into the pressures of being “super teacher.” Of all the male participants, he did not acknowledge that automatic notice influenced his work. Yet, he believed that if he was well prepared for the teaching profession, he would not need to worry about the scrutiny of being the “token.” His response regarding automatic notice did not seem to fit with the other male participants:


The pressure to be “super teacher,” I can’t buy into that. It seems to me you need to go in there and do your job. And I think if you go in there and do the things you are supposed to do, the things you were trained to do, and you’re going to be fine. My pressure is trying to turn this off on Fridays and Saturdays so I can have somewhat of a life because it drains you so. That’s the pressure I have. Not the pressure that I’m going to do a good job. The pressure for me isn’t in the performance; the pressure is in the preparation to perform. It’s not external, but internal.


In sharp contrast, the female African American participants responded negatively to automatic notice and resented the overexposure of their teaching. They viewed automatic notice as harmful and cited coping strategies in response to public pressures. One of their strategies was the need to have a strong reference-group orientation, a reliance on a strong support system outside the school, and the ability to connect to their cultural identity. The African American teachers’ conceptualization of cultural identity aligns with Cox’s (1994) research in which he conceived of this idea as two pronged. On one hand, “cultural identity profile” refers to the culture group(s) with which an individual identifies, whereas on the other hand, “identity strength” refers to the significance that an individual places on a given cultural group. These interrelated prongs constitute the essence of these teachers’ sense of cultural identity. A strong cultural identity gives them the ability to filter out prejudices and deal with the low expectations that their European American colleagues have of them.


Throughout the interviews, the female teachers openly expressed that their sense of who they are, and their connection to their community was important in dealing with automatic notice. Cross, Strauss, and Fhagen-Smith (1999) believed that as African Americans learn to immerse themselves in another group’s experiences, they develop bridging competencies that allow them to function, yet that do not suppress their sense of “Blackness.” Applied here, the female teachers found a way to draw upon their cultural identity and to deflect the discomfort of being the only African American teacher in their building.


The female African American participants with 5–10 years of teaching experience relied heavily on their cultural identity as a security factor and were not intimidated by the normative structure of the school. The more experienced female teachers, consequently, stated that the longer they remained in their schools, the stronger their cultural identity became, and it was harder to remain race neutral in responding to students of color. These internalized strategies helped these female teachers to retain their cultural identity and to buffer those colleagues who at times challenged their competency as teachers. One female African American teacher’s comment illustrates this:


The strange thing is when you think of yourself, you have these labels. My label is I am a Black woman. Sometimes it’s harder dealing with the fact that because I am Black in an all-White school that I am dealt with differently. I see the difference of having taught in an all-Black school that I need to feel secure enough about my self-image that I don’t have to cat-walk down the street. I don’t have to talk like I don’t belong when I am here. My feelings still get hurt being here, but the environment I was raised in was so nurturing that once you get out of it, you are strong enough. You have to be secure enough about yourself and that the standards you are setting are standards that not only are appropriate for your kids, but for all kids. You have to have a level of confidence that you have to pass on to not only your minority students, but to the other students as well.


The single female African American teacher who had been at her school for less than a year cited her strong sense of cultural identity as a baseline to retain her confidence. It was apparent that the first-year teacher noted her sense of cultural identity but had not internalized these bridging functions. Unlike the other African American teachers, she was unsure if the European American teachers and students would accept her. She was troubled by her inability to move back and forth, to balance her cultural identity with the school’s expectation of her. She felt confined by the perceptions of the European American teachers and was uncomfortable being herself. A comparison of the first-year teacher’s comments to those of the other female participants with 7–10 years of experience revealed her inability to refine her self-defense mechanisms and to negotiate the school’s organizational culture. As she reflected:


The other day I was really loud and I thought, “I’m that typical Black person.” I am just trying to be myself. I am always saying to myself, “Don’t lose your identity when you get out there.” I start doing that. People then say that’s typical; that’s how people act. You see, that’s one of the reasons why I sometimes can’t be myself because I just want to be loose. It’s kind of hard because then you want to watch yourself to make sure you’re not being loud or have White people say that’s how Black people act.


SYMBOLIC CONSEQUENCES


Symbolic consequences refer to pressure placed on minority group members to be representatives of their race in response to stereotypical beliefs of their majority peers, and the subsequent treatment that follows from that stereotyped portrayal. As Kanter (1977) indicated, because of the visibility of underrepresented individuals in the workplace, majority workers attempt to categorize their stereotypical views about members of minority groups. When these individuals do not represent the majority’s perceptions of a specific minority group, the person of color develops an elevated status. Thus, the person of color is not viewed as a true representation of his or her race. Cose (1993) further revealed that most organizations seek specific assurances that the people of color they hire have qualities that will enable them, despite their color, to blend into the traditional beliefs of the workplace. Thus, the pressures of representing their race and their ability to blend in create stressful conditions for these African American teachers.


The most conflicting expectation that both the male and female participants encountered was that their European American colleagues did not perceive them as being true “African Americans.” The participants stated that their peers felt that they did not fit the African American stereotypes portrayed in the media. Because of this misrepresentation, both the male and female African American teachers believed that they were expected to accept the traditional structure of their schools’ norms and hold beliefs similar to their European American colleagues. The following comment captures the essence of both the male and female African American teachers’ encounters with their peers:


The other people [European American colleagues] are monocultural. I have had enough White associations. They are the ones that have few Black associations. I am the novelty to them. They are not different to me. I am different to them. I get tired of that. Interestingly enough, the other three Black teachers here, we are four different people. Sometimes I wonder if my White colleagues realize how different we are. Each of us grew up in different parts of the country, our backgrounds are different, and there are age differentials, general temperament, and interests. I can establish a common ground, but it is not easy given the fact that we are so different.


In an effort to negotiate the organizational culture and structure, the male and female participants reported that they had to be careful about the racial implications of their associations with European American teachers. It is in these intergroup dynamics that there is confusion and frustration for minority workers; they may appear either “too White” or “too Black” in their professional or social exchanges with majority workers (Anderson, 1999). Participants struggled with how to remain true to their race without appearing to compromise their cultural identities. They believed, furthermore, that their European American counterparts were ambivalent about their presence; hence, these African American teachers felt that they could not compromise themselves, nor did they feel that they could back down from issues that arose from the desegregation program.


There were differences between the more experienced male and female African American teachers and those male and female participants with fewer years of experience in how they responded to pressure of symbolic consequences. The older and more experienced male and female African American teachers often isolated themselves and reduced their contact with European American teachers. The collective reaction from these more experienced teachers is to let their anger go and remain silent. To them, it was not in their best interest to be combative for the students of color. However, at times, the more experienced females stated that they do address racial inequities that occur at their schools.


Interestingly, the older male African American participants who experienced the explicit racism of the 1950s and 1960s stated that nothing they encounter in their school is as challenging as what they faced growing up. These male veteran African American teachers indicated that their experiences of growing up during the turbulent l960s, when race relations were hostile, developed their resilience to racial incidents. In addition, these men also believe it is more important for them not to let their European American teachers intimidate them. As an older male teacher noted:


There never was a time I felt the racial pressures that were exerted on me in this district would be of major intensity enough to make me turn and run. By the time I got to this district I had been bathed in some of the best racial fires there were. I mean coming from Mississippi, I had no illusions about what lurked sometimes behind smiles and faces of people we meet. I was tougher than most people who tried to intimidate me. I had no illusions about what I was, who I was. Of course in the early days, I walked a tightrope and stayed out of situations that would cause anyone to arch their eyebrows in their direction. You’re concerned about your image. It’s only after you get older where I am in life that you’re more defiant. That’s the only attitude you can only get for being successful for a time and taking your place among your colleagues, establishing your place.


Much like the veteran males, the experienced female African American teachers become socially disengaged when necessary; however, unlike their male counterparts, they no longer “bite their tongues” during faculty meetings when disparaging comments are made about African American students. The female African American teachers acknowledged that although they make attempts to distance themselves from other faculty members, they continue to advocate for African American students. Thus, the female African American teachers who have remained in their schools have developed finely tuned defense mechanisms, such as withdrawing when the emotional costs are too high. The following quote succinctly captures these more experienced female teachers’ perspective:


At lunch times I sit in my own room. I have a refrigerator and a microwave in my room. I just mainly want silence from teachers. So I close the door and heat up my lunch and have 30 minutes to myself. I guess they do say insensitive things. The reason I don’t eat lunch with them is that I don’t like discussing students [the African American students] over lunch. I don’t like to be negative. Because I keep myself positive, then I can function. I like to exercise, listen to music, and I like to go to a movie. I just can’t do it, if I am washed out. Then I have to go home and go to bed. I’ve learned how to pick my battles, then how to withdraw to maintain my sanity.


Over the years, it has become evident to the veteran male and female African American teachers that in order to remain in these schools, they must understand how they are or are not appropriately perceived by their colleagues. In response to their symbolic representations, these veteran male and female African American teachers prefer to identify themselves as persons with more general roles than just the “Black expert” who was hired to teach students of color. These older male and female participants learned early in their tenure that they were hired to represent other African Americans. These teachers feel compromised by this narrow definition of their expertise and dislike their role as “tokens.” Because of this unspoken role assignment, some of the veteran teachers feel demoralized and cynical and expressed concerns about their value in the school. As a way to continue in their work, they often isolate themselves socially and professionally.


In contrast, the younger male and female African American teachers with fewer years of experience responded to their European American peers differently. These African Americans retained positive attitudes about their value and role in their schools. This optimistic outlook is important because it enhances their perceptions about themselves and their work in these contexts. It also means that they have some control over their destiny in the school. These less experienced male and female African American teachers believe that in presenting themselves as approachable, they can build positive relationships with their European American colleagues. The African American teachers believe that it is important to provide their European American colleagues with an understanding of how their stereotypes and narrow views are problematic for students of color. Even though they are willing to assist the European American faculty, they also realize the potential problems if they become too verbal or assertive. These less experienced participants walk a tightrope, balancing their place at the school with the need to respond to students of color. The following quote from a less experienced African American teacher summarizes the point:


I think the people here wonder what the hell I am going to say. I don’t think I am perceived as the average Black person in terms of how to relate and so forth. But at the same time, for a person who’s going to be outspoken or the sensitivity in terms of what they will think sort of prohibits some of the nonsense questions that are asked [by coworkers]. So becoming too political or something like that is perceived as somehow threatening. For Black teachers since the perception is that you don’t bring up Black issues. People feel very uncomfortable dealing with Black issues.


The differences in how to approach their colleagues about issues of race have become more problematic for the less experienced male teachers. Because these participants feel the need to dispel stereotypes about African American males, they are concerned with how they are perceived by their European American colleagues. The less experienced males feel that if they remain quiet when racist comments are made, their silence or lack of reaction reinforces opportunities for more racially insensitive comments to be allowed. Yet, if they are vocal, they jeopardize their chances to improve conditions for children of color. These male teachers are torn over wanting to respond to their colleagues’ comments but are unsure how to approach them. The need to dispel “African American male” stereotypes is often their typical response to their European American peers’ questions and concerns.


In contrast, the less experienced female African American participants stated that they ignore racial slurs often made in faculty meetings and other social contexts. Yet, they continue to address prejudices that occur in their schools. Furthermore, these female teachers also believe that it is better to model instructional practices for their peers than to engage in a dialogue about teaching. These less experienced female teachers noted that they often think through their decisions on whether to challenge their colleagues or ignore them. They are more willing to disregard their coworkers’ racially motivated questions and bear the burden of hearing complaints about teaching children of color. A quote from a less-experienced female teacher reflects this idea:


So it’s been a lot of different things, a lot of paths to cross, a lot of times where I had to grit my teeth, grin and bear it, and just go on. But I felt like, going back to my first year, if I didn’t stay then I couldn’t make way for someone else…So ethnic jokes started to spread and then people felt comfortable. I became invisible to them at times and they wanted to say something about this Black person. Often times, they [European American colleagues] went with a negative term and I would call attention to it. So I had to assert myself to get more respect and make sure. I didn’t do it in a combative way. It offends me greatly.


Of all the participants, the first-year female African American teacher struggled the most with how to respond to her colleagues’ comments. She was unable to handle the stereotypical questions about African Americans. She stated on several occasions that she often feels that the European American teachers try to intimidate her. This first-year female African American teacher questioned her decision to remain at the school. She talked about how her principal made her feel incompetent when she accidentally sent a paper home with a sticker placed upside down. Unlike the other participants, she never discussed strategies that she employs to deal with low expectations, and the anger from the European American teachers that she was an “affirmative action” hire. As the year progressed, she acknowledged that she eventually gained enough confidence to state her issues with her colleagues and students’ parents. As she recalled in her interview:


She was one of my more boisterous parents. I think she wanted to intimidate me. I mean, the night before I was just so upset with these teachers and parents that I just cried to myself. I pulled myself together and told them that if they did not like the way I teach, I’m sorry. I think they really wanted to get me to a point where they could tell me what to do and how to do it. My principal told me she would support me, but she pulled a child out of my class. But then she [the principal] told me she was not pulling any more children from my class. In a way I wish that she had just pulled them out and that would be one less headache for me.


Throughout these interviews, the African American teachers cited problems of dealing with public scrutiny and the symbolic consequences of representing their race. It was apparent that both the male and female African American teachers undergo personal stress and expend energy to maintain their personal and professional relationships with their European American colleagues. These African American teachers felt that there was an unwritten organizational agreement to use traditional practices in teaching both European American and African American students. Because of their unwillingness to align themselves with the European American teachers, they isolated themselves as a preservation strategy. The longer these teachers remained at their schools, the more they developed defense strategies meant to isolate them and limit their contact with European American teachers. As a result of a very prescribed and unreceptive organizational culture, these African Americans noted their frustrations and spoke about the need to develop meaningful coping mechanisms to remain in their schools.


FIGHTING DISCREPANT STEREOTYPES AND QUALITIES


Kanter’s (1977) last performance pressure indicated that because of automatic notice and the problems of symbolic consequences, people of color in the workplace are often not recognized for their achievements. Unlike symbolic consequences, the teachers in this study believed that they had to prove that they were “qualified.” Cose (1993) contended that African Americans often have to justify their skills and abilities to remain in majority organizations. For this study, there were differences between the male and female African American teachers in how they responded to these discrepant stereotypes. In particular, the male African American teachers conveyed the need to make their accomplishments known because they were often fighting the “African American male stereotype,” whereas the female teachers felt that they had to prove they were “qualified” to teach.


Fighting male stereotypes


The male African American participants in particular noted that they constantly have to fight the “African American male stereotype”—that is, the pervasive but false stereotype that they are lazy, unreliable, irresponsible, and not intellectually driven. For them, it is not that they are recognized for their accomplishments but that they must dispel their colleagues’ misperceptions about African American males. These male teachers differ from Kanter’s (1977) participants and the female African American participants in that they promoted their accomplishments as teachers. Although they seemed uncomfortable in advancing themselves with their European American colleagues, they also noted that in their self-promotions, their demeanor had to be casual and confident.


During interactions with their colleagues, the male African American teachers give the impression that they are intellectually and socially equal to their counterparts. Thus, in maintaining their relationships with their peers, they feel they are able to dispel misperceptions about the “African American male” and are able to prove their worth to the organization, performing acts beyond what their colleagues do. Even though they are ambivalent about promoting their work, they feel an obligation to not represent African American “male” stereotypes. The stress of performance pressures for these male African American teachers means that they must manage the various conflicting demands placed on them by their color and social meaning at the school. A significant quote from a participant framed how he rationalizes why he has to always dispel these stereotypes.


If you’re a Black teacher, if you are competent in anyway, if you make the grade, there is the perception that the White teachers have about you. Some of my [European American colleagues] think that I can get away with a lot and be excused because I am Black. If you don’t speak English quite so well, but you’re Black, you’ll do. It’s good enough to stay here because we are filling this program with you. It's despicable, but it’s there. You’re kind of Teflon coated against certain things because you are Black. Like they wouldn’t fire me because I’m Black and they need Blacks.”


Anderson (1999) stated that often times, “within-group” conflicts can result in other minorities making another minority feel as if he or she sold out or was co-opted by the system. Only 1 of the male African American participants noted his concerns about teaching with other African American teachers at his school. He stated that he does not care if he is perceived as an “Uncle Tom” by the other African American teachers. That is, other African Americans might perceive this teacher as exceedingly loyal to the interests of the European American teachers and students, and not a strong enough advocate for students of color. The performance pressures make this male African American participant feel the need to distance himself from other African Americans so that he can present himself as one who has made it despite the odds. He feels he needs to appear open to his European American colleagues and not be ambiguous in his social and professional relationships with other African Americans. He feels the tension that he needs to be seen as someone who is fair in his relationships with both European American teachers and children of color despite how other African American teachers might feel. As he noted,


I am going to be perceived as hard simply because I hold the standard true. That’s not one of the easiest things to say as a minority teacher in a predominantly White institution. Your [African American] peers see you as somehow being too hard. Then the White teachers say, “Well, I don’t want that said about me.” But that standard is held true for White students. It’s the same reaction from those who say I’m a sellout or an Uncle Tom or whatever. I really could care less. It’s not my problem. As long as I am seen as treating the kids fairly, Black or White, as long I am in an institution contracted to provide service with competency and integrity, then I am offering above and beyond what I see as necessary.


Females proving their worth


The female African American teachers reported that they had to establish themselves as “qualified” teachers to overshadow their “token” status. Although these females were not fighting male stereotypes, they encountered European American teachers who believed that they were “affirmative action” hires. The female African American teachers reported that they felt that their colleagues defined them by their color. Thus, they perceived an underlying assumption by their European American peers that they were not “qualified” teachers. Furthermore, they felt that their European American counterparts resented them because these teachers questioned their power and authority. Thus, as a response to their colleagues’ bitterness, they felt they need to diminish their successes as teachers. The following quote represents this point:


I thought I am going into a staff of teachers where they know I’m being hired because I am Black and that special concessions were being made. And I really did not want my peers looking down on me or think negatively. Then having to put up with the crap that goes with your peers putting you down. I just don’t trust these people, so you are always wondering. Yet, when they have a difficult Black child or a problem with a Black parent, I become the person they come to.


The female teachers, unlike the male teachers, reported that if both their African American and European American students performed well on tests or projects, their European American colleagues often sabotaged their efforts. One female African American teacher reported that her reputation to teach difficult students became known to the school’s parents. Consequently, the principal informed her that many parents requested her because of her success with students who had reading problems. Because she was recognized for her accomplishments with the more challenging learners, she encountered situations in which European American teachers pulled students from her room when their academic performance improved.


The female African American teachers who taught at elementary schools believed that their presence and significant student achievements caused additional problems for them. These female elementary teachers all stated that their European American colleagues were not culturally responsive to the “deseg” children. As a result, these teachers believe that there is an unwritten expectation that African American students are not to be favored or held to a different set of behavioral expectations. If an African American teacher does not adhere to similar philosophical beliefs about standards of behavior, they encounter additional consequences. Thus, these teachers believe that when African American students are disciplined by European American teachers, it is in response to their having allowed these students more latitude in their behavior.


Only the female elementary participants expressed concern that their principals were very naïve in handling racial tensions that occur at their schools. They expressed their opinions that their principals needed to validate their teaching ability and “ready” the school for possible negative reactions to hiring a teacher of color. The elementary African American teachers noted parent reactions of shock and dismay when their European American children were placed in their classes. Some parents asked for transfers, creating a stir in the school, with implications that the African American teachers were unqualified. Their principals were negligent in supporting them when parents questioned their abilities. Unfortunately, their physical presence often overshadowed their competence as teachers.


CULTURAL SWITCHING


Cultural switching, an additional theme not found in Kanter’s (1977) work of underrepresented groups in majority organizations, became evident in this study. According to research on ethnic identity development, code switching occurs when an organization or group indicates signs of discomfort with explicit expressions of difference, especially in race matters. In such code switching situations, African Americans act, think, dress, and express themselves in ways that maximize the comfort level of the group or organization to minimize their differences (Cross et al., 1999). In this study, we chose cultural switching as the preferred term because it was apparent that although the participants used some forms of code switching, it was not intended to diminish them or to allow the European American colleagues to feel comfortable about their presence in the school. For the purposes of this study, cultural switching for the female African American teachers was a response to performance pressures that their European American colleagues imposed on them.


Analysis of the male African American data did not reveal that those participants attempted cultural switching strategies upon entering their schools. Based on these findings, the researchers cannot conclude that males are better at handling performance pressures than females; they simply employed strategies that were not apparent to the researchers during data analysis.


Our data analysis revealed that only the female African American teachers in this study expressed cultural dissonance between their cultural norms and values and those of their European American colleagues. This may in part be due to a response to performance pressures and confronting power relationships within the organization. The incongruity between the norms and values of these two groups of teachers necessitated cultural switching, a process through which African American teachers adjust to and negotiate the norms of their European American school culture. There were few teachers of color in these schools, which prevented these teachers from developing a “kinship” to assist them with their acculturation. These female African American teachers cited strategies that they developed upon entering their schools. They experimented on a trial-and-error basis as to how to develop a full repertoire of cultural understanding about their schools.


Upon entering their suburban desegregated schools, the female African American teachers experienced cultural incongruity in knowing, understanding, and expressing their ideas about teaching to European American colleagues. All the female African American teachers found themselves constrained and unable to use social cues to navigate their school’s institutional culture. Each participant described frustration in understanding and embracing the cultural norms and values of their schools. Analysis of the data indicated two distinct strategies that these participants developed for interacting with European American teachers. Some female African American teachers learned normative cues by being diplomatic learners who spent their time observing and testing their perceptions about their interactions with their colleagues. Other female African American teachers were more direct, forthright, and assertive. As the African American teachers maneuvered this process of cultural switching, they were better equipped to protect themselves and to address prejudices that they encountered.


Many of the female African American teachers felt that they needed to be diplomatic learners and experimented slowly in asserting themselves in productive ways. Participants who adopted diplomatic strategies in their cultural switching were concerned with how they were perceived by the European American faculty and how they interacted with them socially and professionally. Their intent was to dispel stereotypical myths that often pervaded their conversations with these teachers. Over time, they became adept at asserting themselves without appearing as if they were, as one participant put it, “militant.” These participants believe that maintaining a low profile is important for their transition to the school. After an extended period, these participants developed more one-on-one relationships with some European American teachers, but are still cautious in their interactions. As noted,


Assimilation in the workplace is just another place where African Americans have to assimilate in order to play the game, to get where you want to go, or to fit in. If I were an African American in the school and I was Black power, and I said, let’s hold a rally, or let’s do a march, or why are you looking at me because I’m 2 minutes late? Is it because I am Black? How long would I be here? So you can’t wear your anger and your mission on your shoulders. There is a way to make change and helping White people become more aware of things. But a riotous attitude or being aggressive doesn’t work here. I learned by watching the faculty how to get your ideas across or help people to try to understand things better.


Those female African American teachers who used a more diplomatic process stated that they develop strategies to make their points known without intimidating the European American faculty. Some participants stated they have acquired cultivated responses to racially related questions. They have also learned how to develop body language that does not reveal their uneasiness in their interactions with European American faculty. Usually within the first 2 years, they began to voice their opinions, knowing that the European American faculty would be more amenable to their suggestions.


In sharp contrast, other female African American teachers used a more assertive approach in their cultural switching and were more outspoken in their views. They challenged what they perceived as unfair and racist treatment of students. Some of the participants felt that being direct and speaking out in their interactions with European American faculty was essential to asserting themselves. By affirming their presence, they pushed their own beliefs and values. These strong individuals did not allow their colleagues to take advantage of them or to repress their sense of self. They interpreted their colleagues’ cultural norms as racist, so they assumed a confrontational role. Two participants talked about how they told European American faculty members to change what they perceived as prejudicial practices or tendencies when teaching African American students. For these participants, making “your voice known” was important in ensuring that their colleagues could not still their voices. Once their presence was established, they relaxed their guard, but their suspicions about European Americans were always in the forefront.


CONCLUSION


Kanter’s (1977) study about underrepresented individuals in the workplace addressed the importance of understanding interactions in groups comprising persons of different cultural categories and status. Her study revealed that if there are few persons of color within an organization, their resultant visibility generates performance pressures, group boundaries, and role entrapment. This overarching theme defined how the high visibility of African American teachers creates problems of automatic notice, symbolic consequences, discrepant stereotypes, and cultural switching. To describe workplace experiences of African American teachers in suburban desegregated schools, we applied Kanter’s performance pressure perceptual tendency.


Kanter argued that acceptance in a group and the ability to achieve one’s potential becomes imperative if the majority and minority groups are equally represented and balanced. Thus, these groups of individuals operate under a number of limitations in the workplace, where their isolation may exclude them from situations in which they are seen as promising to the organization (Kanter).This exploratory study examined how intergroup differences create performance pressures for African American teachers and how these pressures affect their ability to contribute optimally in desegregated suburban school environments. Although the size of this sample does not permit us to make broad generalizations to other suburban desegregated contexts, the experiences articulated by these African American teachers help us understand the complexities of intergroup differences.


Findings from this study suggest that the prevalence of a strong organizational culture within desegregated suburban schools results in an incongruence between the culture of the school and the norms and values of the teachers of color. This counterculture prevents development of a shared intergroup culture. In school environments where there are few teachers of color, a cultural dissonance results in African American teachers protecting themselves from unfair scrutiny from other school participants (teachers, students, and parents). This skewed distribution of socially and culturally different people in these environments results in the European American teachers generating perceptions about the African American teachers. These perceptions determine how these two groups of teachers interact, which often results in the African American teachers having to accept the distorted roles imposed on them by their colleagues.


In response to the first performance pressure, automatic notice, the African American teachers have developed strategies that assist them in transitioning to inhospitable environments in the suburban schools, including isolating themselves, withdrawing from controversial exchanges with their peers, and downplaying their accomplishments. Female teachers reported a need for a strong reference-group orientation to enable them to retain their cultural identity within the school. Although the female teachers viewed automatic notice negatively, the male participants recognized their high visibility as way to compete with their peers.


Dealing with symbolic consequences, the second perceptual tendency, underrepresented individuals are often forced to dispel myths and represent their race in exchanges with coworkers. In this study, it was apparent that the European American teachers have minimal exposure to other cultures because their cultural identity is based on what Cox (1993) called a monocultural identity. As a result of this monocultural identity, the European American teachers have to deal with their own beliefs and attitudes about people of color. Consequently, the African American participants in our study were continually under pressure to refute stereotypical comments from their European American counterparts.


In addition, the African American teachers had to negotiate their racial associations with the European American teachers. Appearing “too White” or “too Black” in their professional exchanges with these teachers could compromise their own cultural identity and associations with other African American teachers at the school. The African American teachers also resisted becoming representatives of their race. These teachers felt that their European American colleagues expected them to take ownership for issues that affected only the African American children. These teachers were compromised by this narrow definition of their expertise and disliked their limited role as the “minority representative.”


In fighting discrepant stereotypes, the third performance pressure, the underrepresented African American teachers must defend their status to have their accomplishments recognized. The teachers reported that their individuality was often overshadowed by their colleagues’ stereotypical beliefs about African Americans. The male teachers constantly had to refute the negative “male African American stereotype,” whereas the women had to deal with proving their worth as “qualified” teachers. As way of coping with these prejudices and low expectations from their European American colleagues, these participants experienced an internalized pressure to outperform their counterparts, yet they were not recognized for their accomplishments, except in their role as the “Black expert.”


The final pressure, what we call cultural switching, became apparent as the female African American teachers described the burden of being in an environment where they were often one of few people of color, or the only person of color, in the school. The female teachers struggled with the cultural incongruity that occurred between them and their European American peers. This pressure resulted in feeling constrained and unable to respond to social cues to navigate the school’s culture. In learning to culture switch, these teachers developed coping strategies of either being direct or diplomatic observers in learning to find their place in these contexts.


Implications of this study are that school personnel need to understand the role of racial identity in the selection, recruitment, and retention of teachers of color, which are needed in all schools (Gordon, 2000). These African American teachers’ experiences reveal that teaching in this context creates challenging workplace relationships. These teachers must undergo a great deal of personal stress, are excluded from both formal and informal conversations, and often are socially isolated. Tensions of intergroup conflict become apparent among groups of teachers if there are only one or a few minority teachers in the entire school. Thus, the African American teachers are subjected to performance pressures whereby they become responsible for responding on the basis of their skin color rather than their ability to teach.


A school’s organizational culture establishes how school participants approach issues of diversity. Thus, school norms, along with its cultural nuances, establish the work climate and determine how it will accommodate and lead to greater flexibility on diversity-related issues. To ensure a school’s espoused beliefs about the views of a minority group, districts are apt to hire African Americans who are perceived as “safe” and less likely to challenge the school’s perceptions about African American students and teachers. If schools are serious about recruiting and retaining teachers of color, school personnel need to understand how gender, race, national origin, and work specialization create microculture groups. Hence, suburban desegregated schools often deal with microculture groups by exerting strong pressure on teachers of color to assimilate to the existing culture. Often, because of these pressures, teachers of color establish a cultural distance from the prevailing school norms or have to modify their behavior to achieve acceptance (Cox, 2001). The crucial distinction between hiring teachers of color merely to have diversity in a school, and developing a school’s organizational capacity to leverage diversity as a resource should be the challenge for schools. It is important that, in recruiting teachers of color, we create conditions in which performance barriers are minimized and we enhance the potential for all to learn about diversity-related issues.


Findings from this study reveal that we need to move from an awareness of the importance of diversity in schools to examining organizational workplace issues for teachers of color. When minority teachers are hired, they are expected to serve in the role of the “Black expert” and provide their beliefs about diversity. European American colleagues fail to understand the differences that exist within minority cultures and therefore project narrowly defined roles for these African American teachers. As a result, the teachers in this study believe that they have not been allowed to contribute to their schools because their function is conceived as and restricted to representing the “Black” perspective. The dominant culture’s stereotypical views and beliefs about the portrayal of these teachers further restrain the effectiveness of African American teachers. As a result of these findings, the question remains: How do European American schools develop an organizational culture that supports teachers of color? This study only identifies the problems; additional study needs to be done if we are to create inclusive schools.


APPENDIX A: PROFILES OF THE PARTICPANTS


PROFILES OF THE MALE PARTICIPANTS (All of the participants’ names are pseudonyms)


Albert Lainson grew up in the South and attended predominantly African American schools. He attended an integrated high school during his youth. His college years were spent in a predominantly European American state university where studied math and science courses. In 1965, he began teaching in his present district and has remained there. He has been at his school for over 29 years.


Jason Inman grew up in the South and attended segregated schools there. Potential family issues resulted in him moving to California and attending an integrated middle school. Eventually, he moved back to the South and attended a segregated high school. After high school, he joined the military and became fluent in several languages. After his military service, he joined the Peace Corps. After that, he was a teacher for the city schools before he was recruited by his present district. He has been with this district for the past 25 years.


Wilson Grower grew up in an African American community in a rural area of the state. He attended a predominantly European American state university. While there, he joined an African American fraternity. He became a certified math teacher and taught in the city’s high school for 17 years. He was eventually recruited by his present district to teach in the advanced placement math program. He has been with this district for the past 13 years.


Chester Burke grew up in the city and attended city schools. He attended a European American state university, where he became certified as a business teacher. He has been with his district for the past 20 years. For approximately 3 years, he entered the private sector working in this city’s major corporations. He was employed to adjust diversity issues in the workplace. He has also developed a consulting business that does diversity training workshops.


Nathan Carson grew up in the rural South and attended segregated schools. After high school, he joined the military, and he is still involved with the reserves. For his teacher preparation, he attended a historically Black college (HBC). Prior to working in his present district, he taught in a mostly European American middle school. He has been with his district for over 7 years and is responsible for teaching the technology classes.


Gary Boyle grew up in the city but attended private schools in the suburbs that were predominantly European American. He attended a European American university but eventually transferred to the city’s HBC. He completed his student teaching with the city schools. He has taught in his present district for 6 years.


Walter Richards grew up in the city, where he attended the city schools. Upon completion of high school, he attended a European American state university. He became certified as a math teacher at the high school level. He has been with his present district for the past 10 years.


PROFILES OF THE FEMALE PARTCIPANTS


Jane Smith is a first-year teacher at her district. She teaches first grade and has had little exposure to a European American schools. She grew up in the African American community and attended the local HBC. Jane did her student teaching in the city and felt very comfortable about her teaching. She took the job because of the district’s reputation and their salary scale for beginning teachers.


Jackie Jones is a veteran teacher who has taught in her European American district for 20 years. She taught in mostly European American schools before coming to this district. She grew up within the African American community and attended an HBC for her teacher preparation. She is a middle school math teacher. The reason she cited for remaining with the district was that it is close to her home and pays well.


Sue Brown’s teaching career was mostly in European American schools. Although she has only been with this district for 5 years, she previously taught in another European American district for 10 years. She, like the other participants, grew up in the city and attended an HBC. Prior to high school, she had little association with the European American community. She also elected to teach in the district because of its progressive reputation and its salary and benefits. She is a business education teacher at the high school.


Sandi Davis grew up within the African American community, but she attended a well-integrated private Catholic high school in the city. She also attended an HBC for her teacher preparation. The district hired her as a first-grade teacher. She has been with the district for 12 years. She originally applied to the city schools but was informed that there were no openings.


Mary Rogers grew up in an integrated suburb near the city and attended mostly integrated schools. Her teaching degree is from an HBC, and she did her student teaching in the suburban districts. When she completed her student teaching, the district hired her to teach English at the secondary level.


Rita Morgan, like the other participants, grew up in the city and attended an HBC in the city. Her first teaching job was with this district, and she has remained here for the past 6 years. She was the only African American teacher in her building and cited her first year as horrendous, but she felt the need to remain at her school.


Julie Owens grew up in the African American community and attended an HBC for her teaching preparation. She has been with this district for 10 years, teaching at the elementary level. The district offered her the position after she completed her student teaching.


APPENDIX B


EMERGENT THEMES AND SUBTHEMES: PERFORMANCE PRESSURES


Subthemes


Automatic Notice: Pressures of scrutiny by the majority group members.


Symbolic Consequences: Representatives of their race responding to majority group members’ stereotypical beliefs, resulting in isolation.


Fighting Discrepant Stereotypes and Qualities: The need for teachers of color to prove their abilities and accomplishments. Two aspects of subtheme: Fighting male stereotypes and females proving their worth.


Female Cultural Switching: A process through which the female African American teachers address how they adjust and negotiate upon entering their schools. This theme was not identified in Kanter’s research.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 109 Number 5, 2007, p. 1171-1206
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12892, Date Accessed: 12/2/2021 2:46:18 PM

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About the Author
  • Reitumetse Mabokela
    Michigan State University
    E-mail Author
    REITUMETSE OBAKENG MABOKELA is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. She is the author-along with Madsen-of the recently published Culturally Relevant Schools: Creating Positive Workplace Relationships and Preventing Intergroup Differences (Routledge Falmer, 2005).
  • Jean Madsen
    Texas A&M University
    JEAN A. MADSEN is an associate professor at Texas A&M University. She is the author-along with Mabokela-of the recently published Culturally Relevant Schools: Creating Positive Workplace Relationships and Preventing Intergroup Differences (Routledge Falmer, 2005).
 
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