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Change(d) Agents: New Teachers of Color in Urban Schools

reviewed by Carolyn Talbert-Johnson - September 26, 2011

coverTitle: Change(d) Agents: New Teachers of Color in Urban Schools
Author(s): Betty Achinstein and Rodney T. Ogawa
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807752185, Pages: 224, Year: 2011
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One of the most pressing challenges facing the nation today is providing high-quality schooling for all students, especially those presently underserved by the educational system, including students of color, low-income students, English-language learners, and students in urban settings. Since schools are more diverse today with American classrooms experiencing the largest influx of immigrant students since the beginning of the 20th century, it is imperative that high-quality teachers with the requisite knowledge, skills, and dispositions be hired. Unfortunately, the reality is that most teacher preparation programs continue to enroll White, middle-class preservice candidates, who have little or no experience with students of color.

The field of education has consistently attracted largely White, middle-class, monolingual female teachers. There is evidence to suggest that these teachers have had limited experiences and interactions with students of color. Additionally, the research supports that some of these teachers have negative beliefs about students who are different from them, despite their willingness to teach in urban schools. These teachers are more concerned about passing standardized tests than the academic, behavioral, social, and emotional welfare of students of color. This results in a disconnect between diverse students and their White teachers, which can affect the learning outcomes that may contribute to the pervasive achievement gap that continues to plague classrooms today. Therefore, the presence and contributions of teachers of color in urban, hard-to-staff schools have foci of interest for many researchers. The argument, as some believe, is that these teachers of color have a “richer multicultural knowledge base,” as well as a personal commitment to culturally relevant pedagogy and equitable learning opportunities.  

The authors posit that teachers of color can greatly impact the learning experiences for students of color simply because of their cultural backgrounds. This has the possibility to greatly reduce the potential for varying degrees of misunderstandings between students and their teachers, especially when there is a lack of training and competence necessary to teach students from diverse groups. Since there is a dire need to diversify the teaching profession, the book shed light on issues that teachers of color must address in order to be successful in urban schools.

In this informative and insightful discussion, the authors present a view of teachers as change(d) agents in urban schools who have a moral commitment to improving access to quality education for students of color. Their commitments ensure that these students of color will have the opportunity to perform at optimal levels in robust environments that are conducive to their unique learning profiles. An introduction into the complex skills involved in teaching in urban schools is presented in the five year study of 21 teachers of color and the daily emotional stamina required for teaching in urban schools, which typically lack the necessary resources and often face increased accountability pressures. The realities of the personal struggles, frustrations, concerns, and commitments of the teachers were presented in a poignant manner, as they shared their multiple cultural affiliations. The voices of the teachers of color were pronounced as they shared their desires to work with students from non-dominant cultural communities. Their commitments to social justice and the availability of human, social, and multicultural capital and supportive power relations influenced their decisions to remain in school placements.  

The teachers’ commitments to remain in their schools through the 5th year of teaching was due to their desire to work with students from low-income, culturally and linguistically non-dominant communities and in schools with high concentrations of students of color, even though they were often kept from acting on their commitments due to the culturally subtractive conditions of the schools. The stark reality is that in many respects the teachers of color were held hostage to subtractive structures of schools by bureaucratic accountability demands to prepare students for standardized tests. This forced the narrowing of curriculum as teachers prepared students for taking the high-stakes, standardized tests.   The authors refer to the situation as a double bind because the teachers of color were challenged to reflect critically on the shift in ideologies and to become change(d) agents as they were reshaped by the very system they were attempting to change. The change impacted their professional and personal development thereby suggesting the need for a dramatic change in the removal of barriers that impeded the opportunities to provide high-quality instruction.  

As agents of change, these teachers utilized culturally responsive practices, serving as role models in the transformative process in the preparation of students of color for a democratic society. It is not surprising that these teachers of color drew on their cultural resources and those of their students of color to enhance educational opportunities and performance. There must be a vested interest in reshaping current policies in the development of schools that are culturally additive which provide adequate physical, human, social, and multicultural capital and positive power relations in the design and organization of innovative schools.  

Some teachers of color focused their attention on entities outside the schools for support, such as community-based organizations, to provide a forum for discussions between the community and teachers. This provides opportunities for building dialogue about their ability to navigate multiple terrains while sustaining their commitments. In addition, many teachers were challenged to interrogate their endurance for teaching in culturally subtractive urban schools. Ultimately, these teachers of color must determine ways in which they can cultivate and employ their own and their students’ cultural/linguistic resources in the classroom, by advocating on their own and their students’ behalves while honoring their cultural/professional roles.  

A paramount goal of the authors’ research is to complicate and deepen educators’ understanding of the complex realities of bureaucratic accountability systems that impact teachers of color.  Some teachers were supported by individual, organizational, and community-based sponsors. The book will captivate and endear not only teachers of color, but also preservice and inservice candidates, curriculum specialists, administrators, policy makers, and citizens concerned about improving schools and students’ access to culturally relevant pedagogies. Aschinstein and Ogawa’s book will help practicing teachers of color deal with the controversial and complex challenges of teaching in urban schools.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 26, 2011
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16551, Date Accessed: 11/27/2021 9:31:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Carolyn Talbert-Johnson
    University of Dayton
    E-mail Author
    CAROLYN TALBERT-JOHNSON is a Professor in the Department of Teacher Education at the University of Dayton. She recently published the article, Establishing Internationally Competent Leaders for the Future: Promoting an Agenda for Social Justice, Equity, and Intercultural Sensitivity. She is currently working on a project regarding the issues of spirituality, social justice, and dispositions among preservice and inservice candidates.
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