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En La Lucha: The Struggles and Triumphs of Latino/a Preservice Teachers


by Jason G. Irizarry - 2011

Background/Context: Several studies have argued that the academic struggles of Latino/a students are connected, at least in part, to the dearth of Latino/a teachers and other school personnel who may be better equipped to meet the needs of this group. Others have suggested that there are significant academic benefits to having a more diverse teaching force. Despite significant population growth among Latinos/as in the United States, the teaching force remains overwhelmingly White, as Latino/a students continue to be underrepresented in institutions of higher education and, more specifically, within teacher education programs.

Purpose/Objective/Focus of the Study: Given the failure of teacher preparation programs to attract and retain more Latino/a students, and the implications that the shortage of qualified teachers has on Latino/a and other K–12 students, it is vital to learn from the challenges and successes of Latino/a preservice teachers to improve the ways in which teachers of diverse backgrounds are attracted into the field and prepared for this work. This article reports the findings of an ethnographic study in which a cohort of Latino/a preservice teachers was followed from the teachers’ recruitment into college, through their undergraduate years and, for most, their eventual transition into the teaching profession.

Setting: All the participants were undergraduate students enrolled in the teacher education program at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) of higher education in the northeastern United States.

Participants: A cohort of 5 Latino/a preservice teachers recruited to the institution as part of a minority teacher recruitment program participated in the study.

Research Design: This article draws from data collected ethnographically, using phenomenological interviews, observations, field notes, and student work products to document barriers that students encountered while navigating their preservice teacher education program. The author critically examines how this cohort of Latino/a undergraduates experienced systematic silencing, the result of the acts of individual agents and institutional practices and policies that manifested in overt and subtle forms of subordination.

Findings: The study reveals how subordination serves to marginalize students of color by hindering their full, active participation in teacher preparation programs through the silencing of their voices. Using critical race theory (CRT) and Latino/a critical race theory (LatCrit) as analytic lenses, the author describes multiple sites within the institution of higher education where students experienced silencing.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The article concludes with a discussion of implications, framed around the central tenets of CRT and LatCrit, for improving the recruitment and retention of Latino/a college students in teacher education, particularly as an important means for enhancing the educational experiences and outcomes for Latinos/as in K–12 schools.

Today, Roberto, a Puerto Rican undergraduate with aspirations of becoming a teacher, plopped himself into the worn chair in my narrow, third floor office. He looked at me with a mixture of hurt and defiance. In my roles as his academic advisor and director of the minority teacher recruitment program that attracted him to the college, I was just beginning my second round of meetings with potential preservice teachers as I provided support for navigating life at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI). I began, as I usually did, by asking Roberto, “¿Qué tal?” [What’s up?] With a look of fierce intensity in his eyes, he sighed and responded, “En la lucha” [In the struggle]. (Adapted from field notes)


Given the grim data regarding the experiences and academic outcomes for Latino/a1 students from elementary school through college, la lucha is a particularly appropriate metaphor. Judging by most educational indictors (e.g., graduation rates, standardized test scores, and college attendance), Latino/a students have been woefully underserved by public schools. It is estimated that almost 1 in every 4 Latinos/as in the United States between the ages of 16 and 24 is either not enrolled in high school or lacks a high school diploma. Further, one third of all current Latino/a students between the ages of 15 and 17 are enrolled below grade level (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2008), a strong predictor of future dropout rates. Moreover, for Latino/a students able to successfully navigate K–12 schools, the quality of education they receive often leaves them underprepared to meet the rigors of higher education (Greene & Winters, 2005). Several studies have argued that the academic struggles of Latino/a students are connected, at least in part, to the dearth of Latino/a teachers and other school personnel who may be better equipped to meet the needs of this group (Becket, 1998; Monzó & Rueda, 2001; Villegas & Clewell, 1998). Others have suggested that there are significant academic benefits to having a more diverse teaching force (Dee, 2004; Zirkel, 2002).


As a result of these leaks along the Latino/a educational pipeline, Latino/a students born and/or raised in the United States continue to be underrepresented in institutions of higher education. Latino/a students who are able to gain access to higher education often face hostile environments, particularly at Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs) (Hurtado, 2005; Irizarry, 2007; Rodriguez, Guido-DiBrito, Torres, & Talbot, 2000), which enroll approximately 60% of all Latino undergraduates (Gasman, 2008). In this article, I examine the struggles and triumphs of a cohort of Latino/a students recruited into a teacher preparation program at a private institution of higher education in the northeastern United States. Because each individual confronted marginalization as a Latino/a student attending a PWI, this study draws particular emphasis to their experiences with navigating racism and racial differences.


Latino/a youth currently constitute approximately 20% of all children enrolled in U.S. schools, and demographers predict that by the year 2050 they will constitute close to half of the school-age population (Pew Hispanic Center, 2008). In contrast, Latino/a educators represent less than 7% of all teachers (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2006). Given the failure of teacher preparation programs to attract and retain more Latino/a students, and the implications that the shortage of qualified teachers has on Latino/a and other K–12 students, it is vital to learn from the challenges and successes of Latino/a preservice teachers to improve the ways in which teachers of diverse backgrounds are attracted into the field and prepared for this work. To address these issues, this study was organized around two broad research questions: (1) What are the experiences of a cohort of Latino/a preservice teachers attending a PWI? (2) How can improved understandings of their experiences facilitate increasing the presence of Latinos/as in teacher education programs and the teaching force at large?


Beginning with the participants’ recruitment into college almost a decade ago, the study follows a cohort of Latino/a preservice teachers through their undergraduate years and, for most, their eventual transition into the teaching profession, and then returns several years later to reconnect with participants to more deeply explore their experiences as preservice teachers of color.2 This article draws from data collected ethnographically, using phenomenological interviews, observations, field notes, and student work products to document barriers that students encountered while navigating their preservice teacher education program. More specifically, I critically examine how this cohort of Latino/a undergraduates experienced systematic silencing, the result of the acts of individual agents and institutional practices and policies that manifested in overt and subtle forms of subordination. The study reveals how subordination serves to marginalize students of color by hindering their full, active participation in teacher preparation programs through the silencing of their voices. Using critical race theory (CRT) and Latino/a critical race theory (LatCrit) as analytic lenses, I describe multiple sites within the institution of higher education where students experienced silencing. The article concludes with a discussion of implications, framed around the central tenets of CRT and LatCrit, for improving the recruitment and retention of Latino/a college students in teacher education, particularly as an important means for enhancing the educational experiences and outcomes for Latinos/as in K–12 schools.


LITERATURE REVIEW


COLORING THE IVORY TOWER


Institutions of higher education have historically been hostile toward the inclusion of people of color (Bowen & Bok, 1998; Law, Phillips, & Turney, 2004; O’Neil, 1971; Stein, 1995). Many of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the United States have a legacy of exclusion and discrimination that rivals their academic reputations (Guinier, Fine, Balin, Bartow, & Stachel, 1994; Karen, 1991; Kidder, 2003). Discrimination, however, has not been confined to elite institutions, but has permeated the fabric of all higher education, fueling the necessity for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges to create postsecondary opportunities for people of color who were otherwise excluded from attending PWIs. As a result of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, people of color began gaining access to institutions of higher education (Bowen & Bok); nevertheless, they remain underrepresented in institutions of higher education (Gándara & Contreras, 2009). Less than one third of all Mexican American and Puerto Rican high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in college, with the majority of these students enrolled in two-year institutions (Fry, 2002). Although the percentage of Latinos pursuing higher education has increased, this group is still half as likely as White students to complete a bachelor’s degree (Fry, 2005).


Shifts in policy corresponding with the civil rights gains of the mid-20th century, although significant, did not eliminate discrimination within the ivory tower. More recent manifestations of prejudice and discrimination aimed at limiting access to higher education for people of color, generally speaking, and Latinos/as, more specifically, include the elimination of affirmative action programs; an overreliance on SAT scores even though data suggest that such scores are not a useful predictor of a students’ college success or career potential (Astin & Oseguera, 2004); and, most recently, a political backlash against allowing undocumented students (the majority of whom are Latino/a) to pay in-state tuition rates at public institutions even though many have lived in the United States for much of their lives.


Beginning in 1968 with the passage of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, colleges and universities began creating race-conscious admission policies to increase the representation of underrepresented racial/ethnic groups (Yosso, Parker, Solórzano, & Lynn, 2004). Although race-based forms of affirmative action have always been highly contentious, 10 years after the passage of Title VI, a case was brought before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of race-based affirmative action programs, citing an adverse effect on White applicants. In their ruling in Bakke v. Regents of the University of California (1978), the court determined that racial quotas were unconstitutional for public institutions of higher education. However, the second part of their decision established that race could in fact be considered as one factor in college admissions. More recently, in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003), a White student sued the University of Michigan, claiming she was denied admission into the law school in favor of “less qualified” students of color. In this case, the court upheld the university’s right to use race as a factor in admissions decisions. Detractors of affirmative action have had their share of victories as well. The university systems in California, Washington, and Texas, among others, have all eliminated race-based affirmative action programs (Long, 2004), significantly limiting access to higher education for Latinos/as and other students of color.


Another barrier to accessing higher education for Latinos/as has been an overreliance on standardized test scores, including high-stakes tests used as secondary school “exit exams” and the ACT and Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Currently, 26 states require students to pass content-area tests as a requirement for graduation (Center on Education Policy, 2008). Although assessing student knowledge with a standardized test may seem benign, many school districts administering these exams cannot guarantee that students had access to the academic content that appears on the test, or a qualified teacher to engage them with material (Lankford, Loeb, & Wyckoff, 2002). Moreover, high-stakes tests have resulted in increased dropout/pushout rates among Latino/a youth, severely compromising the pool of prospective Latino/a applicants to four-year institutions of higher education (Heubert, 2002; Reardon & Galindo, 2002; Valenzuela, 2005). College entrance exams such as the ACT and SAT have been shown to be culturally biased, yielding significantly different scores based on the race/ethnicity, gender, and social class of the test taker (Freedle, 2003; Hedges & Nowell, 1998). Lower test scores are a barrier for Latinos/as pursuing postsecondary education, especially those who come from low-income families (Contreras, 2005; Duran, 1994; Gándara & Lopez, 1998). All these factors help to explain why fewer Latino/a students end up in college and enroll in teacher education programs.


Latino/a college students are concentrated in particular regions, most notably in the Southwest, where higher education institutions in two states—California and Texas—enroll approximately half of all Latino/a college students (Santiago, 2007). In addition, Hispanic Serving Institutions, which account for fewer than 7% of all institutions of higher education, enroll almost 50% of all Latino/a undergraduates. Latino/a students are also similarly overrepresented in two-year community colleges and underrepresented in four-year undergraduate programs (Fry, 2002; Santiago). To more effectively address the experiences and outcomes for all Latino/a undergraduates, it is imperative that we also examine their experiences in PWIs and in institutions in regions outside the Southwest. Moreover, these examinations should also move beyond general statistical portraits to more contextualized understandings of the experiences of Latino/a students. Although national statistics provide important information, more specific and personal stories, situated in specific contexts, are necessary to advance the conversation and to deepen our understanding and appreciation of those circumstances being faced by Latino students. Teacher preparation programs are one specific area that not only affects representation and completion but also has implications for the pipeline of future college students. In what follows, I explore the literature related to the experiences of Latinos/as within teacher preparation programs, a highly significant yet underexamined area of research with implications for K–12 schools and institutions of higher education.


LATINOS/AS, TEACHING, AND TEACHER EDUCATION


Research regarding the experiences of Latinos/as in higher education suggests that issues affecting Latino/a students in K–12 schools, such as limited access and discrimination, are mirrored in institutions of higher education, resulting in disproportionately high attrition rates among Latino/a college students (Gándara & Contreras, 2009). Given the role that teachers play in cultivating the pool of students who can gain access to college, the experiences of Latinos/as within teacher education are particularly significant and merit further exploration. Developing a better understanding of how to attract, support, and prepare teacher candidates of diverse backgrounds can have significant impact on the academic experiences and outcomes of Latino/a youth and other students traditionally underserved by K–12 schools.


Most Latino/a K–12 students attend schools that are segregated and underfunded (Darling-Hammond, 2004; Nieto, 2004). Many teachers view schools serving large populations of Latino/a and students from lower socioeconomic strata as less desirable places to work (Hampton, Peng, & Ann, 2008). Consequently, because of their difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers, many of the schools that Latino/a students attend are referred to as “hard to staff” schools. As a result, Latino/a students, as well as economically disadvantaged students and students of color, are more likely than White students from middle and upper socioeconomic strata to be taught by inexperienced, ineffective, and poorly prepared teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Access to quality teachers can significantly improve educational outcomes among students traditionally underserved by schools (Schrag, 2003), and I assert that teacher quality and teacher diversity are not mutually exclusive agendas, but rather inextricably linked (Eubanks & Weaver, 1999). Latino/a teachers are often more willing to work in hard-to-staff schools (Villegas, 2007) and have higher retention rates than White teachers in these settings (Kirby, Berends, & Naftel, 1999; Villegas, 2009). There are, of course, many non-Latino/a teachers who are effective teachers of Latino/a students (Irizarry & Antrop-González, 2007). However, Latino/a teachers are more likely to recognize and affirm Latino/a students’ languages and cultures, which are important for fostering school success (Achinstein & Aguirre, 2008; García-Nevarez, Stafford, & Arias, 2005; Villegas & Lucas, 2004).


Unfortunately, university-based teacher education programs have been unable or unwilling to attract significant numbers of Latinos/as, as well as members of other underrepresented groups, into the profession. Consequently, the demographics of teacher education programs closely mirror those of the national teaching force, with approximately 85% of all teachers being White, middle-class, and monolingual females (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2006). As the school-age population has become increasingly diverse, fueled significantly by the growth among the population of Latino/a youth, the teaching force remains relatively homogeneous.


The benefits of recruiting Latino/a teachers into the profession are far-reaching. First, teachers of color often serve as role models for students of color (King, 1993; Villegas & Clewell, 1998) and as cultural liaisons between students, families, and schools (Irvine, 2003). There are lasting academic benefits to students who encounter racially matched role models (Zirkel, 2002), whether they be teachers, family members, or other adults in the community. Thomas Dee (2004) offered empirical evidence supporting the need to increase the presence of teachers of color, particularly in schools that serve students of color. In his randomized experiment drawing from test score data collected from Tennessee’s Project STAR class-size experiment, Dee found that when racially matched, both White and Black students scored higher in math and reading.


The benefits of a more diversified teaching force are not limited to students of color. A study of the 350 largest culturally diverse school districts in Texas over a 6-year period indicated a positive relationship between the presence of teachers of color and the achievement of students of color as well as White students (Meier, Wrinkle, & Polinard, 1999). In fact, the authors asserted that the gains for White students in the study who learned from teachers of color were greater than those for students of color (Meier et al.).


Although racial matching can be beneficial, it is also important to prepare all teachers to work more effectively with students of color. Teacher education has been slow to respond to the needs of Latino/a K–12 students, often preparing teachers to teach some “amorphous, average student” (Commins & Miramontes, 2006, p. 240). When Latino/a students are addressed within teacher preparation, they are often positioned as subjects to be worked “on” rather than partners in the educational process (Grinberg, Golfarb, & Saavedra, 2005). The poor quality of education offered to many Latino/a students, as well as other significant impediments to their participation in higher education, makes it imperative that teacher education programs commit to producing a more diverse teaching force that includes Latino/a teachers.


METHODS


Much of the research literature regarding the experiences of students of diverse backgrounds in institutions of higher education, and more specifically in teacher education, has focused on “minority students” or “students of color” without disaggregating the experiences of Latinos/as or others incorporated under those umbrella terms. This study explores the experiences of a cohort of Latino/a students, drawing from data collected during their college years, along with follow-up interviews approximately a decade after their initial recruitment into college.


PARTICIPANTS AND SETTING: PUERTO RICANS IN HOOP CITY SCHOOLS


The 5 participants3 in the study (described in more detail in Table 1) were recruited into Project TEACH, a collaborative endeavor including an institution of higher education, a community-based organization, and an urban school district aimed at “home-growing” (see Irizarry, 2007) Latino/a and African American teachers for employment in the local school district, beginning in 1999. Although both African American and Latino/a students were recruited into the program, and data collection included members from both groups, for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the experiences and outcomes specific to Latino/a perservice teachers, I have chosen to focus on Latino/a members of Project TEACH in this article. As the former director of the program and the participants’ academic advisor for the duration of their undergraduate education, I developed relationships with the students and their families and had the privilege of accompanying them on their journey through their undergraduate education. Since our initial meetings in 1999, our relationships have grown. These are individuals about whom I care deeply and consider dear friends. In addition to our friendship, I share several identities with the participants, and these connections informed and enhanced my relationships with them. It goes without saying that my identities and experiences as a Puerto Rican student, teacher, and teacher educator also influenced the overall shape and direction of the study.


The students were recruited into Project TEACH during the 1999–2000 academic year. Three individuals began their undergraduate education in 2000; 2 began in 2001, with the final member of the program completing her degree in 2005. Since their graduation and departure from the Project TEACH program, I have remained in contact with the participants and have followed their careers with great interest and anticipation. A conversation with one of the participants in 2009, in which he referenced feeling alienated from other students and faculty in the teacher education program, reignited my research interest in students’ experiences navigating a PWI as a preservice teacher of color. At that point, I revisited the field notes I had collected while they were undergraduate students and used them to craft the interview protocol. When I approached the Latino/a members of what would be the final cohort of Project TEACH to invite them to participate in a larger research project exploring minority teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention, they were all eager to share their perspectives.


All participants identify themselves as Puerto Ricans, the second largest subgroup of Latinos in the United States. They all live in Hoop City, a midsize city in the northeastern United States. When they applied to the program, all the participants in the study expressed a desire to eventually teach in the Hoop City School District (HCSD) upon graduation. The HCSD serves approximately 26,000 students. Latinos/as account for almost half of all the students enrolled in the city’s public schools, and more than 85% of Latinos/as in the city at the time of the study were Puerto Rican. African Americans and Whites constitute 28% and 20% of the HCSD population, respectively. Approximately 2 of every 5 HCSD students speak a language other than English at home, and almost 3 out of every 4 students are eligible for free or reduced-fee lunch. iiiiiiDisaggregated data of high school enrollment by grade and by race indicate that on average, 70% of Latino/a students in the district fail to complete high school in 4 years. All the participants either attended schools or worked as professional staff in HCSD.


Although they shared certain characteristics, such as ethnic identification, residency in the same community, and a commitment to teaching, the participants were distinct individuals with unique experiences, histories, and pathways into college. I was interested in more deeply understanding their journey into the teaching profession, with a special emphasis on their experiences as preservice teachers. Two of the participants were recruited directly from local high schools; 2 were older “nontraditional” students who returned to college after working for several years as paraprofessionals and teachers’ aides, and the final participant transferred from a community college. Students in Project TEACH received full financial aid packages to cover the costs of tuition, books, and related fees and were expected to teach for a minimum of 3 years in HCSD upon graduation.


Table 1. Participant Overview


Participant

Ethnic Identification

Pathway Into College

Current Position

Gladys

Puerto Rican

Paraprofessional

(On leave from administrative position in the school department) Currently working in political appointment

Jennifer

Puerto Rican/Irish

Community college

Elementary school teacher

Yolanda

Puerto Rican

High school graduate

Waitress

Roberto

Puerto Rican

Teacher’s aide and paraprofessional

Elementary school teacher

Francisco

Puerto Rican

High school graduate

Elementary school teacher


DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS


Data were generated from a variety of sources and collected during the 4 years the students were enrolled in the program, with follow-up interviews taking place approximately a decade after their admission into the program. Notes from meetings with students, field notes crafted after observations, and student application essays served as data sources that were collected while the participants were in college. Three years after the last student graduated, I began conducting in-depth phenomenological interviews (Seidman, 1998) with the participants to learn more about their experiences relative to their undergraduate education and teacher preparation. Each participant was interviewed to learn more about his or her life history and journey into teacher education, his or her experiences while in the program, and the meaning that he or she attributed to the experience. Each participant was interviewed twice, and each interview lasted approximately 90 minutes. All data were transcribed, and these texts served as the primary data sources for this study.


Interview data were crafted into vignettes (Seidman, 1998), condensed narratives culled from the interview data. Each vignette was subjected to inductive analysis using the cross-case analyses method (Miles & Huberman, 1994) to generate and analyze themes that emerged across participants. Consistent with this approach, cases were first analyzed individually and subsequently compared with other cases (Creswell, 1998; Merriam, 1998). To bolster the validity of the findings, frequent member checks (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) were conducted to provide participants with an opportunity to influence how they were presented in the data and the accuracy of my interpretations.


ANALYTICAL FRAMEWORK


LATINOS/AS AND CRITICAL RACE THEORY


Latino/a critical race theory (or LatCrit) grew out of critical theory to address issues that were excluded from examination in critical race theory (also known as CRT). Consistent with the goals of CRT, LatCrit centers race in examinations of power, but it also seeks to extend the scope of CRT to address how variables other than race (including immigration status, language, ethnicity, class, and culture) also shape the experiences of racialized peoples (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). LatCrit also challenges the Black/White binary that often limits considerations of race and racism to two groups, thereby creating discursive space for Latinos/as, who can be of any race, and individuals who may be multiracial. Such an expansion is crucial to understanding the complexity of the context facing Latino/a youth in schools today.

CRT itself emerged within legal scholarship as lawyers, activists, and scholars sought to address the comprehensive prevalence of racism within the legal system and society at large (Bell, 1980; Delgado & Stefancic, 2001). Drawing from critical legal studies, CRT explicitly focused on the role of race and racism in shaping the experiences of people of color (Bell, 1980). The centrality of race within CRT makes it a particularly appropriate lens to apply to this study about Puerto Rican students “because for more than a century the education of these students in both Puerto Rico and the United States has been deeply affected by the racialized sociopolitical dynamics of the colonial relationship between the two nations” (Rolón-Dow, 2005, p. 87).


CRT began to gain traction as an analytical tool within education in the early 1990s as scholars sought to apply the tenets of the framework to critically examine the racialized experiences of people of color within schools (Chapman, 2007; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995; Solórzano & Delgado Bernal, 2001; Tate, Ladson-Billings, & Grant, 1993). This emerging body of scholarship unpacks how race shapes opportunities for students who have been marginalized within schools. Since its first application to education, CRT has also become a useful tool to examine policies and practices within teacher education (Dixson & Rousseau, 2005; Milner, 2008).

Pushing CRT toward a more specific focus on the contexts of Latinos/as, Daniel Solórzano and Dolores Delgado Bernal (2001) forwarded five themes that undergird a LatCrit framework in education: the centrality of race and racism and intersectionality with other forms of subordination; the challenge to dominant ideology; the commitment to social justice; the centrality of experiential knowledge; and the interdisciplinary perspective. These tenets were used to draw implications for teacher education from the findings and contribute to a more robust understanding of the challenges and successes of Latino/a undergraduate students navigating teacher education programs.


Consistent with a CRT and LatCrit framework, special attention was given to foregrounding the perspectives of the participants to document the knowledge they have gained through their experiences and to elucidate the potential implications their experiences present for the work of teacher educators and other higher education personnel. The everyday challenges that preservice teachers of color at PWIs encounter are unfamiliar to many, in part because the voices of students of color are often rendered mute, especially in regard to issues of racialized discrimination. Unwillingness to address issues of race and the silencing of the perspectives of students of color regarding race and racial discrimination serve to reinscribe and legitimate Whiteness within schools (Castagno, 2008; Pollock, 2004). Conversely, amplifying the voices of students of color affirms their experiential knowledge and provides important perspectives that need to be considered. The need to include the viewpoints of racially marginalized peoples is echoed in the work of critical race scholar Mari Matsuda (1987), who argued, “Those who have experienced discrimination speak with a special voice . . . and have distinct normative insights . . . to which we should listen” (p. 324).


The theme of voice is a common thread within CRT and LatCrit studies (Delgado & Stefanic, 2001; Dixson & Rousseau, 2005). The subaltern voices of people of color provide counternarratives that can be used as a “tool for exposing, analyzing, and challenging the majoritarian stories of racial privilege” (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002, p. 32). Although the marginalization of faculty of color in academe has received increasing attention in the research literature (Cooper, 2006; Padilla & Chavez, 1995; Villalpando & Delgado Bernal, 2002), the stories of Latino/a students, and more specifically, Latino/a pre-service teachers, remain largely inaudible, invisible, and underexplored. Using CRT and LatCrit as an analytical framework, in the next section, I forward the voices of the participants to document the various ways they experienced alienation and marginalization during their undergraduate educational journeys.


FINDINGS: SYSTEMATIC SILENCING OF LATINO/A VOICES


Arising from the analysis of participants’ voices using the lenses of CRT and LatCrit, the main finding that emerged was the systematic silencing of subaltern voices in the academy. This occurred in three key and interrelated ways, namely through (1) curriculum and instruction, (2) social space, and (3) school policy. Each will be discussed in turn.


During formal and informal advising meetings as well as in interviews, Latino/a Project TEACH students shared powerful stories of encounters with discrimination on campus. These narratives describe the struggle and pain that accompanied the participants throughout all aspects of undergraduate life, from the classroom to the cafeteria and beyond. They cogently expressed how their experiences as undergraduates were tainted by the burden of racism and exclusion. This pain and frustration regarding the racialized aspects of their undergraduate experience is captured in an excerpt of an interview with Jennifer, who noted,


Everyone says [the college] is such a good school. I always roll my eyes when I hear that. It might provide a good education and have a good reputation, but if people only knew what I had to go through every day there to get that [bachelor’s] degree. Being a Latina there, it was hell sometimes.


Latino/a student experiences in the teacher education program were similar to those of many Latino/a students navigating K–12 schools. Important research by Pamela Quiroz (2001) documented how the voices of Latino/a students are often suppressed through school-sponsored silencing, when schools dictate “who can speak, what can and cannot be spoken, and whose discourse must be controlled” (Fine, 1991, p. 33). Similarly, Latino/a Project TEACH students described what I refer to as systematic silencing, that is, overt and subtle forms of subordination by both individual agents and institutional practices and policies that serve to marginalize students of color by hindering their full, active participation in teacher preparation programs. This definition builds on the work of Michelle Fine (1991) and Quiroz (2001) by extending silencing beyond K–12 schools. Additionally, the notion of systematic silencing addresses the broad yet highly contextualized nature of silencing as manifested in teacher education programs, and institutions of higher education more generally, to account for the multifaceted ways that students are silenced across various aspects of their educational experiences. In what follows, I explore three sites where students were systematically silenced. The first, formal teacher education curriculum and instruction, suppressed students’ voices through their interactions with faculty and other students around a curriculum that was, as they reported, completely disconnected from the sociocultural realities of Latino/a communities. Students also experienced systematic silencing through their participation in various nonacademic aspects of college life, and these are explored in the section on social spaces. Finally, I examine a third site where silencing occurred, namely, through the policies of the teacher education program, which disproportionately alienated and silenced Latino/a preservice teachers.


Curriculum and instruction as a site for systematic silencing


The 5 participants represented more than 75% of all Latinos/as in the teacher education program. Although the institution made a commitment to diversifying its program through the establishment of Project TEACH, the structure and content of the curriculum remained virtually unchanged. According to the participants, professors were culturally insensitive, and the curriculum never explicitly addressed the needs of Latino/a K–12 students, nor prepared teachers to implement culturally responsive approaches with this group. Students expressed feeling tangential to the college and marginalized within the teacher education program rather than treated as valued members of those communities. As a result, when navigating the academic and social aspects of college and teacher education program, students often felt silenced, unable to speak or have their voices heard. During interviews with Gladys and Francisco, and in a conversation with Roberto shortly after his graduation, the following stories about their experiences taking courses emerged:


In classes professors treated me in one of two ways. They either focused completely on the White students and ignored me and treated me like I was invisible. Or, they asked me to give the “Latino perspective” [making air quotes with her hands] and be the voice of Latino America. (Gladys)


I only had one teacher education class with a Latino professor. It was the only class where we learned anything about Latinos and other minority students. I felt like I could speak up in that class and I didn’t have to explain myself or apologize. In other classes, I didn’t feel that support. I didn’t feel like I could speak up. (Francisco)


I didn’t learn anything in this program that was aimed at helping me be a better teacher in [the city]. They prepare you to work in [a surrounding suburb]. There is no Latino representation in the curriculum. . . . Half of the kids in [the city] schools are Puerto Rican, and the college sends student teachers into there without any training. Then [the student teachers] come back to class and say stereotypical, negative things about the community. I got tired of constantly correcting them. Sometimes I would say something, other times I didn’t bother. They really didn’t want to hear it. (Roberto)


All 3 participants speak directly to the silencing power of faculty over Latino/a students. Faculty play a central role in shaping the experiences of Latino/a undergraduates, through their actions, as in the case of Gladys being asked to speak for all Latinos/as, and through their inaction, including all the missed opportunities to include Latinos/as and other people of color in the curriculum, as noted by Francisco and Roberto.

 

Roberto indicated that at times, he said nothing because he felt his colleagues and the professor would not be receptive to what he had to say. Similarly, Francisco did not speak up in class because of his perceived lack of support from faculty and students, and Gladys’s experience with voice was bifurcated, offering her two extreme, equally problematic options: not to speak, or to speak for her entire racial/ethnic group. Indeed, the silencing of Latino/a students in teacher education courses significantly compromised the quality of their education. It also presented significant implications for the education of White students, who, as a result of the silencing of Latinos/as, missed opportunities to enhance their own personal and professional development, especially in relation to working with Latino/a communities. The participants’ experiences are reflective of the predominance of Whiteness within teacher education (Cross, 2003; Sleeter, 2001), where the knowledge base, experiences, and needs of White students are privileged, and those of students of color are pushed to the periphery.


Social space as a site for systematic silencing


All participants asserted that their experiences of discrimination and marginalization within teacher education courses were not isolated, but representative of much of their college experience, and these cultural clashes were not confined to the classroom. Latino/a students were often confronted by faculty, staff, and students in social spaces in ways they found to be offensive and problematic. Given the prevalence of negative portrayals of Latinos/as in the media and popular culture, many of the White students, faculty, and staff held steadfast to rigid, stereotypical grand narratives, viewing Latinos/as as more likely to be members of the custodial staff than undergraduate students or faculty at the college. Yolanda shared a powerful example of this type of negative portrayal and its impact on Latino/a students during a meeting with me the day after she endured an unfortunate and embarrassing incident. Trying to capture Yolanda’s story, I recorded the following excerpt in my field notes shortly after our conversation:


I walked into the cafeteria for lunch between two classes. When I walked through the door the manager, a White man, started screaming at me. “You’re so freakin’ late, and you’re not in uniform! Hurry up and get to work.” He thought I worked there. I guess because all the cafeteria workers are Puerto Rican or Mexican, so I must work in the cafeteria. I couldn’t possibly be a student [in his view]. I just stood there shocked and didn’t say a word. (Yolanda)


Certainly, even students with the most positive self-concepts would be hard pressed not to be detrimentally impacted by such an outrageous event. Latino/a students at this particular institution of higher education represented a small segment of the college population and, as seen in the participant responses, they were at times rendered invisible, not only because of their numbers but also because many students, faculty, and staff did not want to see them, choosing to mask their discomfort with communicating across lines of racial/ethnic and linguistic difference with a “colorblind” perspective regarding diversity, and a “colormute” (Pollock, 2004) approach to conversations addressing race. Consequently, they held a rigid schema regarding who Latinos/as are and what limited roles they can play at the college. The data suggest that some White faculty, staff, and students were unfamiliar with counternarratives (Delgado & Stefancic, 2001), that is, cases that debunk and destabilize disconcerting, narrow perceptions of Latinos/as.


The impact of these comments, as one can imagine, was devastating and extensive. Not only was Yolanda’s voice silenced at that particular moment, but she felt so embarrassed and hurt by the incident that she did not want to file a complaint. She endured seeing the cafeteria manager every time she entered the cafeteria that school year, her first year as a college student, until he accepted a position at another institution that summer. Although not directly attributed to this incident, Yolanda was the only Latino/a student in the cohort not to complete her undergraduate studies.


In one of our interviews, Francisco reported another powerful example of racism and silencing within social spaces within the institution of higher education. He gave a vivid description of an experience in the student union (referred to here as “the U”), a gathering place for many college students.


One time I was in [the U] waiting to see a comedian. I got there early and took a seat at a table. I watched White student after White student take seats at all the tables around me. At first I didn’t think anything about it. Then more and more students came in, and no one sat at my table. It was so bad that some [students] took chairs from my table and moved them to other tables. I don’t like to call things racist, but I was the only person of color there. I know it was because of that. I just sat there quiet; I felt like an outcast. (Francisco)


One might try to explain away or dismiss this experience, citing the fact that the other students may have had friends at the other tables or that this was a random occurrence. Of course, interpretations of this (and any) situation are subjective, based on the lenses we bring to the data, and are certain to vary. What matters most, however, is the meaning that Francisco himself attributed to this experience and how similar experiences can cumulatively impact Latino/a undergraduates in general. Moreover, Francisco did not speak out about his experience. In his words, he sat there quietly as he experienced what he perceived as racism. This racial microagression—“subtle insults directed at People of Color, often automatically or unconsciously” (Solórzano, Ceja, & Yosso, 2000, p. 60)—served to silence, suppressing student voice and identity and further alienating Francisco and students like him from the institution.


Policy as a site for systematic silencing


In addition to the silencing experienced by Latino/a students in the college classroom and social spaces on campus, such as the cafeteria and student union, students also reported feeling silenced as a result of policies created and rigidly implemented within teacher education. Two policies in particular, one related to fieldwork placements and another related to teacher testing, had adverse effects on Latino/a students in the study.


All the Project TEACH students had a commitment to working in their home communities. A condition of the scholarships they received required them to teach for at least 3 years in the local public school system (HCSD). Many of the students used public transportation to get to the college campus, which was centrally located in the city, as well as to reach their various field placements within HCSD. Students were also required to have a field experience in a suburban school as a part of their training. Of the 5 participants, 4 came from (or were the heads of) families that would be classified as low income. Having to navigate transportation to the suburbs to reach their assigned field placements constituted an additional obstacle for these students. Their frustration with the policy, and with some of the faculty responses to their questions regarding it, resulted in the suppression of their voices. Comments by Francisco and Jennifer offered during postgraduation interviews clearly illustrate this point:


One of the things that I would have them change is forcing us to go to The Burbs. I get it. They have good teachers and resources there, and we should see that. But the context is totally different. Those strategies, those books, etc. . . .may not work here. On top of that, I felt stressed trying to get out there all the time. I went to school here. My parents teach in the district. I always knew I was going to teach in [HCSD]. (Francisco)


I never felt welcomed at [the suburban school] when I went to do my internship there. I was the only Puerto Rican in the building. I would have to hear teachers in the cafeteria talking bad about Latinos in [the city] and the problems with HCSD. How do you think that feels? Then that same teacher is supposed to help me be a better teacher? I asked not to go, but they told me I had no choice. They said I had no say in where I was placed for that [experience]. (Jennifer)


Students conveyed an appreciation for the potential value of field experiences in various settings. However, the participants’ voices suggested that there were multiple layers to the issue, and the policy of placing teachers in hostile internship environments had an adverse impact.


Another example of a policy that impacted the educational trajectories of the participants was the adoption of a battery of state teacher licensure exams as an entrance requirement into the teacher education program. The majority of states have implemented teacher testing in an effort to ensure that teachers have a breadth of content knowledge and general skills deemed necessary for teaching (Angrist & Guryan, 2008). Similar to the case of testing students discussed earlier, it is easy to see the value of assessing teachers’ knowledge. Even so, the quality and validity of the assessment tools can certainly be debated.


Like the ACT and SAT, teacher tests have consistently yielded lower scores among Latino/a and African American test takers (Flippo & Riccards, 2000; Smith, 1987). In an attempt to have institutions of higher education take more responsibility for ensuring teacher quality and “raise standards” within their programs, the state government mandated that teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education across the state have a minimum of 80% of all prospective teachers enrolled in their programs pass the tests. Failure to meet the new standard would result in the college losing state accreditation. To protect against losing accreditation, this particular institution, like many others across the state and country, made the state exam, which was designed to be an exit exam measuring teachers’ knowledge, a prerequisite for official admission into the program. Teacher education students who did not pass the tests were not allowed to officially enroll in certain upper-level courses leading to licensure. The tests proved to be a formidable impediment for all the Latino/a Project TEACH students. Comments by Roberto, Jennifer, and Gladys reveal how the policy shaped their experiences within the institution of higher education:


I came here from Puerto Rico, so I think mostly in Spanish, even though I speak English well. They had weird stuff on the test like dictation. They timed it, and I struggled [to finish in time] because I was thinking in more than one language. I graduated magna cum laude, so obviously I can do the work. The test just stumped me for a while. When I finally passed it, I screamed for joy. (Roberto)


It was completely unfair. We had to take a test on information we didn’t even learn yet. I passed two of the three tests, but I never did pass the last one. So even though I took all the courses [I was allowed to officially enroll in], did all the field work, the college wouldn’t endorse my certification. If I passed the test after I graduated, the courses wouldn’t count. (Gladys)


I was missing one test when I graduated, and they would not make an exception. I went to work as a secretary in the school first. [The fee to take the test] was expensive. I couldn’t take it four times a year like some of the White kids did. I passed the test after graduation, but I had to re-enroll and re-do my practicum, and pay for that again even though I already paid for it once and finished it. They just couldn’t count it because I technically wasn’t in the program because of the test. I complained, but they didn’t hear me, I guess. Or they heard me and didn’t care. (Jennifer)  


Policies governing internship placements as well as those dictating admission requirements put students in situations that suppressed their voices and maligned them as a result of their ethnic/racial identities. Although this section focused on instances in which students within the college were marginalized, pushed to the periphery, and silenced, there were also times when students resisted this positioning, asserting themselves in ways that challenged the power structure and, for 4 of the 5 participants, facilitated their successful transition from college students to college graduates and teachers. The participants’ struggles and triumphs, despite the oppressive structures entrenched in institutions of higher education, are discussed in the following section.


DISCUSSION: STRUGGLES AND TRIUMPHS OF LATINO/A COLLEGE STUDENTS


The students’ experiences documented here are, unfortunately, common for many Latino/a undergraduates. Many are pushed out or drop out as a result of their experiences. Of the 5 participants in this study, 4 graduated and have transitioned into careers in education and social service; one was not so fortunate. For a variety of reasons, including feelings of alienation and animosity resulting from her experiences as an undergraduate, Yolanda decided not to return for her senior year even though she was in good academic standing and had passing scores on the licensure exams. At the time of writing this article, Yolanda is planning to return to school to complete her senior year.


The participants’ struggles to navigate a hostile environment, interact with insensitive faculty and students, negotiate coursework, and pass the licensure exams are well documented. Some of the struggles were specific to teacher education, whereas others apply more generally to Latino/a college students. Their undergraduate experiences, however, were not completely bleak, and the students were certainly not passive in their marginalization within the teacher education program. Students exerted agency and enacted what Daniel Solórzano and Dolores Delgado Bernal (2001) referred to as “transformative resistance,” through which individuals engage in a process of critical introspection with the goal of improving themselves and their communities while simultaneously challenging the oppressive structures that hinder their progress. In contrast to forms of resistance that are self-defeating, transformational resistance results in edification rather than self-loathing.


Of the 5 students, 4 cited their academic success as a form of resistance, a way for them to speak back to those whose policies and practices served to silence them. Although this study only reports on 5 students, the 80% graduation rate among the study participants is significantly higher than the national average for college students, which is under 50% (Bound, Lovenheim, & Turner, 2009). Congruent with the notion of transformational resistance, academic success for this population was not just about personal gain and upward mobility. Rather, the 4 college graduates used their academic credentials to obtain positions that allowed them to serve the community and work to improve the quality of educational experiences for students. Such commitments were evident throughout my interactions with the participants. Francisco commented in the essay he submitted as part of his application to the program, “I want to be a teacher to help kids like me and to improve education in my community.” Along similar lines, Roberto wrote in his application essay, “Many Latinos don’t have the opportunity to go to college and be a teacher. I want this for me and for those kids to come behind me.” During a conversation with Jennifer after the culmination of the final interview, she shared the following: “I wouldn’t want that experience for other people, but I am happy I was able to survive it because now I can change the system for my students.”


Of the 4 graduates, 3 pursued careers in teaching, accepting positions in HCSD upon graduation and completion of their licensure requirements. One took an administrative position in the HCSD Central Office as the director of family and community engagement. All view their role as teaching for social justice and educational equity. In addition, all the participants remain connected to Hoop City, working for community empowerment through their various positions. Although in many urban communities, success is often positioned as a “way out,” these participants continued to identify strongly with, and remain steadfastly committed to, the community that nurtured them. Their presence in the local schools, the political arenas, and the wider community is in itself transformational. They offer counternarratives debunking the stereotypical images of Latinos/as and forging new possibilities for the future of Latino/a youth. The focus on the students’ struggles here is an attempt to unearth the ways in which institutions of higher education fail Latino/a students. The emphasis on struggle and hardship does not detract from the magnitude of their agency or the power of their resistance, nor should the successes of the 4 graduates be taken to suggest that the system works well. Rather, critically examining their struggles offers insights into how we can better understand, attract, serve, and support preservice teachers of color. Taken together, the struggles and triumphs of Latino/a college students documented here speak strongly about the role that teacher education plays in shaping the demographics of the teaching force and have the potential to inform policy and practice within higher education more broadly.


IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHER EDUCATION

 

Throughout my interactions with the participants, I continually witnessed their extraordinary strength and determination. They persevered through difficult circumstances created by the curriculum, policies, and practices of their undergraduate institution. From the second they stepped onto campus, the participants were subjected to the racialized politics of the teacher education program and the campus as a whole. Critical race theory, when applied to their experience, highlights the prevalence of multiple forms of discrimination encountered by Latino undergraduate students. Their voices, amplified in the preceding analysis, document the struggles of Latino/a preservice teachers navigating life and learning at a PWI. Their experiences provide urgent implications for teacher education programs who are seeking to address issues of diversity. Following are some suggestions for addressing how the role of teacher education programs can change.


TEACHER EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND THE CENTRALITY OF RACE AND RACISM


Although often portrayed as liberal bastions dedicated to supporting the intellectual development of students, as demonstrated by the participants’ stories, racism is alive and well in higher education. Their experiences and stories are not unique, but rather reflective of the experiences of many college students of color across the country. If institutions of higher education want to attract Latino/a students, they must acknowledge the pervasiveness of racism and actively work to confront the multifaceted ways in which racism is manifested in the daily lives of Latino/a students and other students of color. The common yet disingenuous approach to attracting diverse candidates has been the “check and a handshake” model. Providing financial support for students is beneficial. However, it cannot absolve institutions from their responsibility to create an atmosphere, both within classrooms and throughout campus, supportive of the growth and development of all students.


Faculty, staff, and students are often unprepared to work with students of diverse backgrounds. Whiteness continues to dominate the landscape of teacher education—from the demographics of preservice teachers and teacher education faculty, to the monocultural, race-aversive approaches to preparing teachers that characterize many programs (Cochran Smith, Davis, & Fries, 2004; Milner, 2008; Sleeter, 2001). Consequently, as demonstrated by the data regarding the participants’ experiences, Latino/a students often have to endure silencing, alienation, and marginalization to earn a college degree. Institutions committed to supporting Latino/a students must engage in a process of introspection and create policies and influence practices in ways that acknowledge the omnipresence of racism and commit to dismantling racism and other forms of oppression that negatively shape the experiences of Latino/a students.


TEACHER EDUCATION AND CHALLENGING THE DOMINANT IDEOLOGY


The growing reliance on standardized test scores as a measure of educational quality, evidenced by the testing craze that permeates K–12 schools, also finds resonance in higher education, and teacher education more specifically. The dominant narrative trope is that having high standards is synonymous with having students perform well on standardized measures of achievement. Limiting admission into teacher education programs to students who earn high scores on a standardized tests, which have been shown to yield disproportionately lower scores among test takers from racial/ethnic groups and groups that have been traditionally underserved by schools, does not ensure a pool of quality teachers. The skills necessary to become an effective teacher are far more varied and complex than those measured by most teacher licensure exams. The tests used as part of the teacher licensure process, like those used in K–12 schools, often serve as a gatekeeper, denying access to quality educational opportunities for droves of students of color. Teacher education faculty and administration, typically stalwart advocates for the education of K–12 students, must use their platform to challenge the dominant ideology that uses standardized testing as the primary indicator of quality. Creating more inclusive admissions policies, accepting students based on a broader, more empirically based criteria, and preparing teacher candidates to meet all the necessary licensure requirements would allow for the diversification of the teaching profession and contribute to the development of a more diverse and more skilled teaching force.


TEACHER EDUCATION AND COMMITMENT TO SOCIAL JUSTICE


This article has focused on the experiences of Latino/a preservice teachers to call attention to the needs of this group to improve recruitment and retention and attract more people of color into the teaching profession, particularly as a means to improving the educational experiences and outcomes for Latino/a youth and other students who have been underserved by schools. The dropout/pushout rate for Latino/a students and other students of color in urban schools is close to 50% (Swanson, 2009). Teacher education programs, which have trained the majority of teachers working in these settings, have to bear some of the responsibility for the shortcomings of their graduates and should be invested in developing a more critically conscious teaching force. Moving toward a more critical teacher education would involve training teachers to see their role as more than assisting students in developing mastery of a discrete set of skills, pass a set of tests, gain access to higher education, and fall into the pattern of conspicuous consumption that dominates American culture (Jaramillo & McLaren, 2009). The need for a more diverse teaching force is dire; however, proportional representation is not a sufficient goal. In addition to increasing diversity, all teachers need to be prepared to work with youth and communities to transform schools, from oppressive institutions that reproduce race and class-based stratification (Bowles & Gintis, 1976; McLaren, 2007), to liberating spaces that foster the development of critical consciousness.


VALUING THE EXPERIENTIAL KNOWLEDGE OF COMMUNITIES OF COLOR IN TEACHER EDUCATION


The resources necessary to transform urban schools so that they work in the best interests of students are present in urban communities. Currently, many preservice teachers are unfamiliar with the sociocultural realities of Latino/a youth, and teacher education has thus far been a relatively weak intervention for producing culturally competent teachers (Villegas & Lucas, 2004). If teacher education programs are genuinely committed to improving the quality of education for Latino/a and other minoritized students, they would place value on the experiential knowledge present in Latino/a communities and work to support the recruitment and retention of Latino/a teachers. “Home-growing” teachers for urban schools—that is, recruiting individuals from, and preparing them to work as educators in, the communities from which they come—is a strategy that has been lauded in the research for its potential to simultaneously transform the culture and climate of teacher education as well as the demographics and quality of education offered in urban public schools (Hill & Gillette, 2005; Irizarry, 2007).  


TAKING AN INTERDISCIPLINARY PERSPECTIVE IN TEACHER EDUCATION


Transforming teacher education is a formidable task. Addressing issues of diversity cannot be relegated to a single course, but rather must be endemic to the teacher education program and university writ large. Recruiting a select few Latino/a students and continuing to relegate issues of diversity to individual courses will continue to be insufficient to address the pressing needs of K–12 students of diverse backgrounds. Teacher education programs must also meaningfully include communities of color as partners in this endeavor. An interdisciplinary perspective, one that blurs boundaries between institutions of higher education and communities of color, is required to increase the presence of Latino/a and other minority teachers and improve the educational experiences and outcomes for Latino/a youth.


CONCLUSION


Most teacher education programs articulate a commitment to issues of diversity and increasing diversity among the student body, faculty, and staff. Task forces, ad hoc committees, and special hearings are regularly convened to examine the seemingly intractable problem of a lack of diversity within teacher education. Schools of education, which some would argue have done a better job addressing these issues than other segments of the university campus, are confronted with the additional responsibility of preparing teachers to work with the most racially/ethnically and linguistically diverse segment of the American population—school children.


Being a Latino/a preservice teacher at a Predominantly White Institution presents unique challenges. Gaining access to college is the first hurdle on the journey toward earning a college degree. Once admitted, successfully navigating life and learning in an environment that can be experienced as less than supportive is a daunting task. Predominantly White colleges and universities are often perceived as hostile places for Latinos/as and other people of color. For a Latino/a student to be successful at a PWI, it is an absolute necessity for him or her to interact with White students and faculty. Yet, the reverse is not true; White students, for the most part, are freed of the obligation to have significant contact with people of color to navigate college successfully. Thus, racial segregation burdens multiple groups, including the often unacknowledged compromises of the educational and personal development of White students, most of whom attended racially segregated high schools. Without meaningful and sustained interaction with people of color, White students enter teacher education with stereotypes and prejudices, attitudes that are not simply wrong but unquestionably destructive to the educational prospects of children of color (Sleeter, 2001). College is a time to critically examine, thoughtfully question, and, more often than not, redefine their belief system as a direct consequence of their experiences across lines of difference. Meanwhile, as White preservice teachers “figure it out,” this process occurs at the expense of students of color.


The psychological impact can be devastating, leaving Latino/a students and other students of color feeling alienated and alone. Too often, Latino/a preservice teachers at PWIs do not have critical allies, people to stand in solidarity with them and advocate on their behalf. If teacher education programs are ever going to drastically change the demographics of their programs and hence the teaching force at large, they need to expand opportunities for Latino/a students and stand in solidarity with them as they navigate what can be a hostile climate. In sum, they need to join Latino/a preservice teachers as equal partners “en la lucha.”


Notes


1. I use the term Latino/a throughout the piece to remain consistent with the terminology commonly used in the research literature and to be more inclusive of gender diversity among Latinos/as. However, I acknowledge that the term is also problematic in that it reinforces an arbitrary binary, limiting the social construction of gender to only two genders. As the scholarship regarding the experiences of Latinos/as continues to evolve, we must remain mindful of how terminology can simultaneously affirm the identities of some while suppressing those of others.   

2. I use the terms teachers of color, people of color, and students of color to collectively identify members of subordinated groups who have been historically marginalized as a result of institutional racism. Again, these terms are not perfect in that one can conclude that White people, therefore, are “colorless” or lack racial and/or ethnic identities. Although Latinos/as can be of any race, their experiences in the United States, as well as in their countries of origin, have been racialized. Therefore, even though some Latinos/as may identify as White, I include them in the umbrella term people of color.

3. Pseudonyms are used throughout the article to protect the privacy and identities of the participants. For this reason, the community in which the study took place is referred to as “Hoop City” throughout the article.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 113 Number 12, 2011, p. 2804-2835
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16206, Date Accessed: 10/21/2020 12:54:51 AM

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About the Author
  • Jason Irizarry
    University of Connecticut
    E-mail Author
    JASON G. IRIZARRY is an assistant professor of multicultural education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the Neag School of Education, and faculty associate at the Institute for Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at the University of Connecticut. A central focus of his work involves promoting the academic achievement of Latino/a youth and other students of color in urban schools by addressing issues associated with teacher education. Manuscripts documenting the findings of his research have been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals in the field, including Education and Urban Society; the Journal of Latino Education; Multicultural Perspectives; Race Ethnicity and Education; and Teaching and Teacher Education, among others. His first book, The Latinization of U.S. Schools: Successful Teaching and Learning in Shifting Cultural Contexts, will be released by Paradigm Publishers in 2011.
 
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