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Change(d) Agents: School Contexts and the Cultural/Professional Roles of New Teachers of Mexican Descent


by Betty Achinstein & Rodney T. Ogawa — 2011

Background/Context: Educators and policymakers call for recruiting quality teachers of color in urban schools to promote educational opportunities for students of color by accessing cultural/linguistic resources. Yet little research has examined conditions that support or challenge Latina/o new teachers from performing as role models, culturally and linguistically responsive teachers, and agents of change.

Purpose/Research Questions: To examine conditions that support/challenge Latina/o teachers’ efforts to perform cultural/professional roles, we asked the following: (a) How and to what extent are the personal and professional backgrounds of Latina/o teachers associated with their performance as role models, culturally/linguistically responsive teachers, and agents of change? (b) How and to what extent are conditions in schools associated with the performance of Latina/o teachers as role models, culturally/linguistically responsive teachers, and agents of change?

Participants: Participants were drawn from a broader study about the socialization of 21 new teachers of color. The participants in the study reported here were 2 of the 11 teachers who identify as being of Mexican descent who work in urban, middle and high schools with high proportions of Latina/o student populations in California.

Research Design/Data/Analysis: This 4-year qualitative case study included teacher and administrator interviews, videotaped classroom observations, and focus groups. Analysis involved summarizing segments of data that referenced teacher background, school context, and teacher cultural/professional beliefs and practices; generating pattern codes; and conducting cross-case analysis.

Findings: Findings reveal the following: 1. Shaped by early schooling experiences and influenced by teacher preparation programs, these teachers are committed to increasing learning opportunities for Latina/o students by performing cultural/professional roles. 2. The teachers’ ability to perform these roles is shaped by the capital and power relations present in the schools where they work. We identify parallels between experiences of Latina/o youth, who are divested of cultural resources by “subtractive schooling” (Valenzuela, 1999) and experiences of Latina new teachers, who confront schooling challenges when attempting to perform cultural/professional roles. 3. The intersection of the teachers’ personal/professional backgrounds and school contexts resulted in these new teachers of color being change(d) agents—both agents of change and subjected to change by the system in which the teachers work.

Conclusions: Conclusions highlight how further research is needed to document culturally additive school conditions that support teachers of color to advance opportunities for students of color. Further, educational leaders and policymakers will need to reconsider the organizational contexts in which new teachers of color are expected to redress inequitable learning opportunities for nondominant youth.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 11, 2011, p. 2503-2551
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16109, Date Accessed: 9/1/2014 5:00:35 PM

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About the Author
  • Betty Achinstein
    University of California, Santa Cruz
    E-mail Author
    BETTY ACHINSTEIN is a researcher at the Center for Educational Research in the Interest of Underserved Students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her areas of specialization are new teacher socialization, teachers of color, induction and mentoring, and equity. Recent publications include “Retaining teachers of color: A pressing problem and a potential strategy for ‘hard-to-staff schools’” with Rodney T. Ogawa, Dena Sexton, and Casia Freitas in Review of Educational Research (2010), “Cultural match or cultural suspect: How new teachers of color negotiate socio-cultural challenges in the classroom” with Julia Aguirre in Teachers College Record (2008), and Mentors in the making: Developing new leaders for new teachers with Steven Z. Athanases, Teachers College Press (2006).
  • Rodney Ogawa
    University of California, Santa Cruz
    E-mail Author
    RODNEY T. OGAWA is professor of education and director of the Center for Educational Research in the Interest of Underserved Students at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His areas of specialization are school organization, teachers of color, educational reform, and leadership. Recent publications include “Retaining teachers of color: A pressing problem and a potential strategy for ‘hard-to-staff schools’” with Betty Achinstein, Dena Sexton, and Casia Freitas in Review of Educational Research (2010), “Improvement or reinvention: Two policy approaches to school reform” in G. Sykes, B. Schneider, & D. N. Plank (Eds.), Handbook of education policy research (2009), and “CHAT/IT: Towards conceptualizing learning contexts in formal organizations” with Rhiannon Crain, Molly Loomis, and Tamara Ball in Educational Researcher (2008).
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