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Trading Stories: Middle-Class White Women Teachers and the Creation of Collective Narratives About Students and Families in a Diverse Elementary School

by Irene H. Yoon

Background/Context: Collaboration is increasingly part of teachers’ professional learning and continuous improvement of teaching practice. However, there is little exploration of how teachers’ racial, gender, and social class identities influence their collaboration with colleagues and, in turn, their teaching and professional learning.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study examines shared meanings that are constructed through storytelling by middle-class White women teachers who work in a racially and socioeconomically diverse elementary school I call Fields Elementary. I ask: What narrative tropes do middle-class White women teachers draw upon to create common understanding about what it means to teach at their school? In what ways does a normative middle-class White culture, specifically related to White womanhood, achieve ideological projects through teachers’ participation in collective storytelling in professional communities? The article proposes conceptual connections across whiteness, intersectionality, professional learning, and collective storytelling, and provides an empirical example of how the integration of perspectives illuminates this type of complex interaction.

Research Design: Utilizing ethnographic methods of data collection, I spent 5 months at Fields Elementary, dividing my time between two focal teachers, both middle-class White women. I followed these teachers across settings and responsibilities. The data in this critical discourse analysis are drawn from this larger study and come from a conversation in one teacher community (the second-grade team). On completion of preliminary data analysis, focal teachers reflected on findings to enrich interpretations.

Findings/Results: Findings indicate that this teacher community co-constructed narratives reproducing social locations as middle-class White women. Their professional knowledge reflected ambiguity in their efficacy to teach for equitable outcomes. In addition, their professional knowledge was tied to their identities as mothers; narratives reflected middle-class White social distance from students and families, which included asserting teachers’ moral superiority in parenting.

Conclusions/Recommendations: This study provides a model for conceptualizing collective storytelling and professional learning among teachers from an intersectionality perspective on whiteness. Empirical findings suggest that institutional constraints of teaching may require interventions at multiple levels: teachers’ and leaders’ learning how to facilitate professional conversations; home visits intended for "funds of knowledge" professional learning opportunities; hiring and placement of diverse faculty and school leaders to extend construction of professional knowledge; and policy changes. These considerations have implications for teachers’ professionalization and for schooling experiences that dehumanize students of color and students living in poverty.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 118 Number 2, 2016, p. 1-54 ID Number: 18232, Date Accessed: 10/24/2018 1:15:45 AM

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