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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


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.


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.


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.

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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: 5/6/2021 5:54:48 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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