Managing Race and Race-ing Management: Teachers’ Stories of Race and Classroom Conflict
by Sherry L. Deckman — 2017
Background/Context: Research exploring suspension and expulsion practices suggests that teachers may play a key role in perpetuating racial disproportionality in school discipline by interpreting student behavior through racialized and racist lenses and by viewing the behavior of students of color as an affront to their authority, resulting in more frequent punishing of Black and Latino students. The problem may be compounded for novice teachers, who are likely to teach in high-poverty, high-”minority” schools where discipline is a pronounced concern for educators.
Research Questions/Focus of Study: To illuminate the role of race in novice teacher interpretations of classroom management, this research explored the following questions: (a) How do novice in-service teachers narrate classroom management and disciplinary moments from their practice? (b) What do their narratives of these moments reveal about how they might negotiate racial difference in the classroom?
Research Design: This study employs narrative analysis of classroom management stories (N = 51) shared by novice teachers participating in a 10-week hybrid online/in-person professional development course focused on race, class, and gender equity in urban schools. Specifically, this article analyzes how race is discussed in these narratives.
Findings: Teachers in this study tended to share stories either about “managing race”—narratives about deescalating racial tension or reproaching transgressors of racial colorblindness—or “race-ing management”—stories that read race into incidents in such a way as to reveal latent racial dynamics. These patterns aligned with teachers’ self-identified racial backgrounds, with teachers who expressed a more tenuous racial identity or who described themselves as White tending to focus on managing race, and those who expressed a strong minority racial identity tending to focus on race-ing management.
Recommendations: To address issues of racial proportionality and justice in student discipline and to retain an experienced teacher workforce in underresourced schools, I offer two key recommendations. First, we must innovatively support novice teachers in reversing insidious trends by offering structured opportunities for critical reflection on management through the lens of identity. In this way, novice teachers can analyze the implicit beliefs at work in their understandings. Furthermore, school leaders and other professional development facilitators must make clear to novice teachers that their competence is not being questioned when we ask them to engage in critical reflection. I discuss specific ways to approach this and offer recommendations for future research.
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