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Engaging Emotions in Teacher Education Research

by Mary Louise Gomez & Amy Johnson Lachuk - 2019

Questions this chapter addresses include: What changes have teacher education programs attempted in the past in order to ameliorate the emotional struggles that prospective and new teachers undergo? What successes have been realized in these programs, and what criticisms have been made? How may teacher educators avoid what some scholars have called “false empathy” and encourage real compassion and knowledge of their students’ families, homes, and cultures so they may be more knowledgeable and skillful in communicating with students? How might future programs be improved in course work, field experiences, and other ongoing experiences of viewing, reading, and interacting with others? How can emotion be used as a mechanism for critical reflection about teachers’ identities and their understandings of youth identities?

Teacher educators agree that becoming a teacher is a complex process that requires managing a balance among content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and self-knowledge. Highly effective teacher education programs (e.g., Alsup, 2006: Hallman & Burdick, 2015; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Zeichner, 2003, 2010) take such complexity into account, creating cohesive curricula that offer preservice teachers opportunities to expand their content understandings, acquire effective pedagogical methods through fieldwork experiences, and enhance their understandings of self through critical inquiry so that they can effectively teach other peoples children (Delpit, 2012; Gomez, 2010). Such complexity in learning to teach highlights an age-old understanding that teaching is both an art and a science. This means that some aspects of being a teacher can be explicitly taught, while others are acquired less explicitly, often taking into account an individuals talents and gifts, and may reflect what some view as a natural disposition for teaching.

We agree. Teaching is both an art and a science. And learning to teach requires learning how to balance rational thinking (e.g., using qualitative and quantitative data to make targeted instructional decisions) with what we call affective bodies of knowledgee.g., relationship-building with students, understanding how to connect with childrens families, and explaining content in ways that resonate with childrens cultural backgrounds. Our interests concern how such affective aspects of learning to teach can support preservice teachers (and their in-service counterparts) in accessing the emotions generated through practicing their craft and rethinking those practices for more reciprocal relations with those who we formerly have thought about as persons who may be others.

We understand that approaching emotion as a category of analysis within teacher education may position our work as weak, shallow, petty, vain, and narcissistic (Micciche, 2007, p. 3). However, we see such criticism as reflecting a reductive view of emotion that has circulated within teacher education, and that sees emotion as removed from the professional work of teaching, instead of a critical attribute of the work of teachers. Notably, what Zeichner (2003) called the professionalization agenda within teacher education has sought to forefront the technical and rational skills and dispositions that persons need in order to become highly effective teachers. With its focus on raising the status of teaching as a profession (Zeichner, 2003, p. 499), the professionalization agenda has undergirded a variety of reforms:


the end to issuing emergency teaching licenses and other alternative routes that fail to provide adequate preparation for teaching;


aggressive recruiting of teachers in high-need areas and of a more ethnically diverse teaching force;


higher standards for entry into and exit from teacher education programs;


the adoption of teacher standards linked to K12 student standards;


performance-based assessment of student-teachers, based on these teacher standards;


external examinations of teachers content knowledge;


extended education programs of five years;


professional development schools;


the establishment of professional standards boards in every state;


mandatory national accreditation for teacher education programs;


better teacher induction and mentoring programs;


National Board certification as the benchmark for accomplished teaching;


more support for high-quality professional development for teachers; and


greater university-wide support and funding for teacher education programs. (p. 499)

Advocates of the professionalization agenda seek to position teachers as rational and technical professionals. We appreciate how the professionalization agenda has forefronted mastery of the technical and rational aspects of teaching (Zeichner & Liston, 1990), such as current reform efforts that focus on preparing teachers who are able to engage in rational evidence-based teaching practice (e.g., the EdTPA teacher performance assessment; see Chung, 2008; Darling-Hammond, 2001; Lachuk & Koellner, 2015). Such a reform atmosphere within teacher education has created opportunities for renewal within teacher education, allowing teacher educators to engage in critical reflection about how to integrate education for social justice and equity into a rational, practice-based, and clinical focus (Zeichner, 2017). To us, the research on emotion as socially and culturally constructed is an important component of such renewal in teacher education. For, as we have learned throughout the duration of our own teaching careers, emotion undergirds the supposedly rational decisions we have found ourselves making as educators. Such an understanding is corroborated by the research of neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (2017), who wrote:

You might believe that you are a rational creature, weighing the pros and cons before deciding how to act, but the structure of your cortex makes this an implausible fiction. Your brain is wired to listen to your body budget [i.e., the limbic system]. Affect is in the drivers seat and rationality is a passenger. It doesnt matter whether youre choosing between two snacks, two job offers, two investments, or two heart surgeonsyour everyday decisions are driven by a loudmouthed, mostly deaf scientist who views the world through affect-colored glasses. . . . You cannot overcome emotion through rational thinking, because the state of your body budget is the basis for every thought and perception you have, so interoception and affect are built into every moment. Even when you experience yourself as rational, your body budget and its links to affect are there, lurking beneath the surface. (pp. 8081)

The idea of a purely rational teaching professional is a mythThe bottom line is this: the human brain is automatically structured so that no decision or action can be free of interoception and affect, no matter what fiction people tell themselves about how rational they are (Feldman Barrett, 2017, p. 82). Feldman Barrett argues that our brain constructs emotions within social and cultural contexts. This theory of constructed emotion illuminates the ways that the brains predisposition toward making predictions based on past experience constructs the way a persons body experiences emotion.

Feldman Barretts research on emotion and the brain is imperative for the field of teacher education. In our own work as teachers of methods courses and supervisors of practicum students and student teachers, we have encountered mostly White preservice and in-service teachers who often grapple with what seem like overwhelming emotions they are experiencing about their general teaching duties, as well as the differences they identify between themselves and their students.

With these young teachers in mind, we highlight the following key attributes of teacher education for the 21st century:


imagining and crafting narratives of emotional strength and resilience with prospective and new teachers that take into account social justice and equity;


disrupting existing perspectives of aspiring and prospective teachers from privileged racial, ethnic, social class, language background, and gender-identity groups;


providing aspiring and prospective teachers with opportunities to become well acquainted with and to serve communities and individuals who may benefit from their knowledge, skills, and curiosity about the world;


forging reciprocal relationships with families and communities for the purpose of renewing and sustaining communities; and


building strong partnerships with schools and classroom teachers/mentors for prospective and new teachers.

Such work is consistent with the kinds of reflection advocated by teacher educators who engage with a social-justice approach to teacher education (Zeichner, 2003; Zeichner & Liston, 1990). From a social-justice angle, schooling and teacher education [are] crucial elements in the making of a more just society (Zeichner, 2003, p. 507). In this agenda, teachers are able to use the funds of knowledge from their students communities and families to develop rich curricular and instructional engagements that amplify students strengths and help them extend and develop their content knowledge. A social justiceoriented teacher sees resources for learning in all students . . . [and] believe[s] that he or she is responsible for making a difference in his or her students learning (Zeichner, 2003, p. 508). As we see it, in order for teachers to be able to use students cultures and lifeworlds as critical assets in their teaching, teachers must be able to critically interrogate how their identities have shaped their perceptions of the world and their students lives, creating an affective filter through which they make judgments and decisions about students academic achievement (Feldman Barrett, 2017). The current investigation of emotion for teaching and teacher education offers a way to interrogate identity using narrative/s as a tool for analysis.


Over the past two decades, generating, collecting, and gathering aspiring, prospective, and experienced teachers narratives has become commonplace. Teacher educators share a widely held belief that analyzing or interrogating narratives that teachers tell concerning their educational histories or memories can help new teachers overcome long-held and overly simplistic belief structures about what a teacher should be and what a classroom should look like (Alsup, 2006, p. 54). As we see it, teachers narratives provide a valuable tool for educating teachers who can interrogate the biographical antecedents of their practices (Johnson, 2005) and are thus able to make instructional and curricular decisions that challenge such antecedents, as opposed to reproducing them. From an educational research perspective, teachers narratives are understood as revealing nuanced aspects of teachers identities, as well as the tensions they encounter in teaching. In a research report on agency within teachers literacy narratives, this chapter's author Amy (Johnson, 2008) explained:

Teachers personal narratives offer a unique context for apprehending teachers experiences and knowledge. Such personal narratives lend insight into the experiences, theories, and beliefs that give shape to aspiring and experienced teachers knowledge base for teaching, instructional practices, and curricular choices (e.g., Carter, 1993; Connelly & Clandinin, 1988, 1990; Egan, 1988; Gitlin & Meyers, 1993; Gitlin & Russell, 1994; Gomez, Walker, & Page, 2000; Goodson & Cole, 1993; LaBoskey & Cline, 2000; McEwan & Egan, 1995; Valdez, Young, & Hicks, 2000; Witherell & Noddings, 1991). Likewise, teachers personal narratives illuminate how teachers enact certain identities for themselves and position themselves in relation to others (Abt-Perkins & Gomez, 1993; Florio-Ruane, 2001; Johnson 2005, 2006, 2007; McVee, 2004). Undoubtedly, teachers personal narratives can perform important work for teacher educators and educational researchers alike in understanding who teachers are, what they consider to be important, why they teach the way they do, and how they conceptualize their classrooms, curriculum, and students lives. (p. 124)

From such a vantage point, teachers narratives are integral to approaches to teacher education that focus on preparing teachers who can teach in critically and socially just manners. This is because teachers personal narratives can reveal what teachers think about teaching all students effectively (Johnson, 2008, p. 124). Teachers narratives can be useful tools for understanding teachers dispositions in terms of if they see resources for learning within all students and believe that [they are] responsible for making a difference in [their] students learning (Zeichner, 2003, p. 508). Along these lines, several researchers have embraced narrative as a method for understanding how preservice teachers develop critically-reflective dispositions (Burdelski, 2004; Gomez, Walker, & Page, 2000) and make cross-cultural connections with diverse students and families (Florio-Ruane & Da Tar, 2001; McVee, 2004).

As our thinking about narrative has evolved, we now recognize that teachers narratives can also help us identify the emotions that underlie teachers practices. Take Alsups work (2006), for instance: She argued that analyzing preservice teachers narratives is one way of understanding their professional identity development, for, "as Widdershoven (1993) noted: It is not concrete experiences that shape our sense of identity, but the stories we tell ourselves (and exchange with other people) about those experiences (Alsup, 2006, p. 53). Alsup discovered that the six preservice teachers in her study recounted five kinds of narratives: (a) narratives of tension; (b) narratives of experience; (c) narratives of the embodiment of teacher identity; (d) narratives about family and friends; and (e) borderland narratives. She found that preservice teachers who recounted stories in which there were unresolved tensions between their identities and belief systems were least likely to develop fulfilling identities as teachers. Alsup asserted that the preservice teachers who recounted the greatest number of narratives of tension decided not to take traditional teaching jobs after graduation and expressed confusion as to their future professional lives (p. 55).

Sandy was one of Alsups participants who opted out of pursuing teaching as a professional career. Alsup described how Sandy narrated tension between herself as a student/tutor and herself as a teacher:

Its just weird because as much as weve talked about grading and stuff, its kind of weird how she [the teacher of the course for which she was tutoring] would look at it [a paper written by a tutee] and give it a C, and maybe I could look at it and say its a B, so it's just kind of weird how its so subjective. If they [students] didnt like something in class, then they wouldnt tell her, but theyd tell me about it instead, so when we have our meetings where I communicate [to the teacher] that they didnt really like that or whateverits weird being that kind of middleman. I was exposed more to being the middleman as opposed to being the teacher or just being the student, you know? (Alsup, 2006, p. 61)

This story became a positioning tool (Micciche, 2007, p. 27) that functioned affectively, conjuring Sandys identity as a preservice teacher. Sandy was caught between herself as a student and what she saw as being her future identity as a teacher. As we read it, this story also signaled a teacher identity that is emotionally distanced and removed from students, based upon the idea that teachers wield authority in inconsistent and subjective ways. When Sandy asserted, as she did to Alsup, that she would prefer more of the role of a tutor to that of a teacher, she was embracing an identity for herself that was connected with students on a more emotionally intimate level. In other words, in Sandys eyes the difference between teacher and tutor had to do with the level of emotional intimacy one can have with ones students.

As Micciche (2007) asserted, narratives in general have the power to attach feeling to scripts of identity and belonging (p. 26). Such work on narrative and emotion has helped us see in new ways the work that teachers narratives accomplish. Being more than simple recountings or identity assertions, teachers narratives embody emotion and often dictate the lens through which they see their work. Drawing on Ahmeds (2004) notion of stickiness (p. 92), Micciche argued that the affect generated and reproduced in . . . narrative has a stickiness about it (p. 27). In other words, the emotions that Sandys narrative produced for her stuck to her developing identity as a teacher. As Micciche might argue, the image of the emotionally disconnected teacher who ignores her students emotional needs bound Sandy to a mythology (p. 27) of teachers identities that may obfuscate other ways of being a teacher. In this case, the stickiness of emotions for Sandy was to remain committed to the teaching pathway she had chosen, that of tutor and emotional supporter of children, rather than what she saw as someone who might be a distant judge of students work. In our experience, new teachers, like Sandy, often remain steadfast in their devotion to an image of teacher that enables a romantic, warm, and playful set of interactions.

From our vantage point, however, steadfast understandings of teachers identities stick not only to teachers but also to the field of teaching and teacher education, creating a culture around teaching in which narrow understandings of teachers and teaching are foregrounded and circulated.

In Danielewiczs (2001) longitudinal study of teachers, a similar tendency can be recognized. In order to understand preservice teachers identity development, or the continuous process of how others, through words and actions, make us who we are (p. xi), Danielewicz studied six preservice secondary English teachers for three years at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, following them from their program entrance through graduation and beyond. Danielewicz asserted that as people, we develop and demonstrate our identities via discourse use, or ways that our multiple and overlapping memberships in various social and cultural groups demonstrate our beliefs, attitudes, and values (p. 11). She showed readers how the field experiences in which prospective teachers participated and the relationships they developed with cooperating/mentor teachers and students shaped the ways they spoke about, thought about, and enacted pedagogy.

LIke Alsup's student Sandy, Danielewiczs student Elizabeth recounted how her experiences with one mentor teacher, Mr. Collins, trumped her own notions about what writing can do for adolescents in terms of personally enhancing their self-understandings. Mr. Collinss insistence on a writing pedagogy that reified structure seemed to represent the majority opinion of teachers in her high school. Eventually, the strength of Mr. Collinss argument dissuaded Elizabeth from pursuing idealistic dreams of teaching that privileged meaning over form. Rather than highlighting the potential of Elizabeths encouraging of teens to write as a means to self-discovery, Mr. Collinss pedagogy emphasized the mastery of elements of language for their own sake.

Also like Sandy, Elizabeth developed a narrative about her struggles with her mentor teacher indicating that she was unable to affiliate with more collective identities of teacher that did not seem to favor a student focus, or to find joy in developing reciprocal relationships with students and other faculty members. The image of the writing teacher (i.e., Mr. Collins) who is overly committed to form, as opposed to function, also bound Elizabeth to a mythology (Micciche, 2007, p. 27) of writing teachers identities.

Both Sandy and Elizabeth succumbed to the stickiness of what a teacher might be. Neither of these preservice teachers strongly affiliated with their mentors and their corresponding viewpoints and commitments, which, as Danielewicz pointed out, is critical for the development of a collective identity as a teacher. Both preservice teachers eventually made alternative career choices that included some dimensions of tutoring or teaching. While Sandy chose to work with individuals or small groups of youths, Elizabeth chose graduate school and a masters degree in composition and rhetoric over life in a secondary school classroom. Both saw their strengths as working intimately with young people in ways that favored emotional fulfillment and in the content fields they enjoyed.

Not all prospective teachers primarily seek affective fulfillment in their teaching. However, Sandys and Elizabeths dilemma of failing to find a compatible mentor highlights the importance of possibly locating multiple, differing mentors to help prospective teachers explore their deep and abiding commitments.

Using emotion to understand other scholars narrative research prompted Amy to revisit her own work on narrative analysis. In one study, in which she had analyzed preservice teachers narratives about their own literacy learning for what they indicated about their sense of agency (Johnson, 2008), Amy identified how preservice teachers used story settings as pivotal. For instance, in one story, a participant named Lindsay Maxwell (a pseudonym) recounted how her authoritative father was resistant to bringing newer technologies into the household. Lindsay recollected how she had to convince her father of technologys potential value:

Like you had to convince your parents that it was necessary to have this tool at home. It was like: Do you understand the capabilities? Like either you spend, ya know, how many hundreds of dollars on like an encyclopedia set. And thats what we were debating, whether we should get an encyclopedia set or the Internet. (Johnson, 2008, p. 132)

In addition to situating herself within a context of debate and struggle for new technologies, Lindsays narrative reproduces the affect and emotions she was feeling about the issue of procuring Internet access at home. Not only does Lindsays narrative shed light on family life during a particular time (the early 2000s), it also positions Lindsay generationally against her father. Lindsays narrative setting produces a stickiness between Lindsay and her contemporaries, whose stance on technology serves to distance them from Luddite adults. Such binary oppositions between youth and adults and how each orients toward literacy are critical aspects of the setting because they indicate the source of Lindsays stance that her fathers viewpoints were limiting her literacy learning (Johnson, 2008, p. 132). In hindsight, Amy now recognizes that Lindsay was doing more than just taking a stand in this narrative. Lindsay was generating an emotion (consistent throughout her interview transcriptsee Johnson, 2007), that demonstrated the affordances of an in-home Internet connection. The stickiness of the emotions reproduced in Lindsays narrative highlights how emotion and feeling that one has been violated or short-changed can motivate persons to take action in their own lives.

Using emotion as a means of analyzing teachers narratives can highlight how persons motivations for and intentions in pursuing teaching (or other goals) are intonated with affect. Affect drives people and compels them to take (or not take) action. Affect brings people together or splits them apart. Affect allows people to name something as good or that same something as harmful. Affect, as discussed earlier, also provides a filter through which people make everyday decisions (Feldman Barrett, 2017). Drawing on past experiences, a persons affective filter enables them to construct, predict, and respond to their life experiences (Feldman Barrett, 2017). Narrative enables teacher educators to understand how in-service and preservice teachers draw on affect to construct and interpret their lives, experiences, and selves through emotion. In the next section, we consider why emotion is a useful unit of analysis for preparing critical, social justiceoriented educatorsparticularly those who are White teachers of other peoples children.


Narrative is one of the most useful pedagogical tools of a critical teacher education curriculum that has social justice aims. As a pedagogical device, narrative is believed to help foster the kinds of critical reflection and dialogue necessary to help White teachers teach in diverse classrooms. As Amy has argued, narrative, with its ability to highlight issues of identity and belonging, is useful for unpacking how teachers construct their emotional realities of race and social class.

As Derald Wing Sues (2015) research elaborated, emotion plays a critical role in effective discussions of race. Emotions about race and experiences with racism add a layer of complexity to race talk (Wing Sue, 2015) that is not present in other forms of communication. Wing Sue explained that race talk is generally filled with intense and powerful emotions, creates a threatening environment for participants, reveals major differences in worldviews or perspectives and often results in disastrous consequences such as a hardening of biased racial views (Wing Sue, 2015, p. x). As teacher educators, we certainly are familiar with how polarizing discussions of race can be within teacher education classrooms. Nonetheless, we have learned that preservice and in-service teachers carry with them into our methods courses an assortment of emotions related to their teaching, and particularly related to racial differences between themselves and their students. One emotion that we have found ourselves having to grapple with, address, and prompt critical reflection upon is preservice teachers fear (yes, fear) of their future and potential students.

For instance, as a teacher of a large undergraduate course (over 60 students each semester, nearly all of them White) in which she engages with themes of racism, sexism, ability, and homophobia in U.S. schools and schooling, Mary Louise (Gomez, 2016; Gomez, Carlson, Foubert, & Powell, 2014) sends studentsnot yet accepted, but interested in joining professional programs such as teaching, nursing, physical therapy, or speech pathologyout to conduct 25 hours of service learning. This occurs over a semester in various communities of the university, often at schools where she has developed close relationships with a few staff members. These schools frequently serve large numbers of youth of color and/or from low-income families. When students first go to classrooms to meet teachers and formalize their tutoring or club leadership sites for the semester, they often return to campus and report being anxious and fearful of youth they saw after school. They recount narratives of observing African American and Latinx youth running about, playing tag or other games, or yelling loudly at one another in Spanish while waiting for rides home after school. They tell Mary Louise that they then quickly enter the building, and locate their teacher/s, eager to be sheltered inside. As aspiring professionals, they do not wish to be seen as fearful or nervous, but they also seek a protective environment indoors. They worry about meeting the individual youths with whom they will work, and they hope that these adolescents will be polite and pleasant. Often, it is not until days or weeks later that students report that their tutees or club members were agreeable or delightful youth with whom to work and that they had completely misread them at first sight.

These aspiring teachers fears of African American and Latinx youth reveal how emotions involve a way of apprehending the world (Ahmed, 2014, p. 7). In reflecting on Mary Louises experiences with her students, we ask ourselves: In this experience, what do her aspiring teachers need to be sheltered from? What do they see when they see African American and Latinx youth playing on the playground? In the United States, an image of African American and Latinx youth circulates that is shaped by cultural histories and memories (Ahmed, 2014, p. 7). When young, White aspiring teachers encounter an African American or Latinx person, they already have an impression of the risks of the encounter (p. 7). However, through experiencing a school site together and talking with one another about what occurs and how different it is from what they had imagined, they are able to laugh about their earlier fears and dismiss them. They are able to see that it is not African American or Latinx youth who are fearsome on their own, but that such youth are fearsome to someone or somebody (p. 7). As Ahmed (2015) would explain it, fear is in neither the aspiring teacher nor the African American or Latinx youth, but is a matter of how the aspiring teacher and the youth come into contact: This contact is shaped by past histories of contact, unavailable in the present, which allow the [youth] to be apprehended as fearsome (p. 7). In helping aspiring teachers understand how their fear of African American and Latinx youth has been constructed through past histories, Mary Louise assists aspiring teachers in recognizing that their initial reactions to youth who looked, sounded, and behaved differently from what they expected were due to their own shortcomings, rather than those of the youth they encountered. It is not until such moments occur for her students that Mary Louise believes they can do as Freire (1970, p. 51) suggested and reflect and act upon the world in order to transform it.

Another teacher educator, Christopher Emdin (2016), also explored the powerful discussions of fear-based narratives about urban youth of color that bound him together with his colleagues during his first-year teaching. We highlight his work because it emphasizes the role that emotions play in beginning teachers stories to themselves regarding what classroom life will be like and the sorts of pedagogy they may need to enact as a result of its unrelenting, stressful nature. Writing about how he and his new teacher colleagues thought about their students, Emdin stated, The stereotypes we brought with us into that school auditorium [on the first day of school] shaped our understandings not only of the students we would be teaching but also of what it means to teach (p. 32). This fear, as Emdin explained it, became the lens through which he and his colleagues saw their work and their students:

We hyper-analyzed everything the students brought to the school in search of anything that would affirm the negative stories we had heard about them. Before they even spoke, we read their exchanges with each other and marked them as either teachable or not . . . . The seemingly shy and demure students, by virtue of not being the prototypical urban student described to us by the media and in popular narratives, became the teachable ones . . . . On the other hand, the students who spoke too loudly and seemed to be exuding too much confidence or urbanness were immediately judged problem students. (Emdin, 2016, p. 32)

Emdin explained how these fear narratives regarding youth shaped his colleagues and his own teaching practices. He asserted that professional development sessions became one-upping contests about how challenging their students were. Likewise, these stories also functioned as positioning tools in which Emdin and his colleagues positioned themselves as good guys in a war against the young people (p. 33). The emotion that produced these narratives about urban youth stuck to their students identities. The image of the hard to control, outspoken, and unteachable urban youth bound Emdin and his colleagues to a mythology of urban youth identities that made it difficult for them to envision other ways of being within an urban context.

Emdins discussion of fear-based narratives of urban youth revealed steadfast understandings of youth identities that have stuck because teacher education programs have not critically addressed the way that emotions, such as fear, shape teachers perceptions of their work, their schools, and their students. As a consequence, a culture of fear circulates within teaching and teacher education about working in urban contextsfear that is grounded in racist and classist understandings of such youth, their families, and their communities.

Such steadfast understandings of urban youth identities stick because novice and experienced teachers are not sufficiently encouraged to excavate the emotional labor of teaching. Discussing the infamous mantra that circulates within urban schools, Dont smile till November, Emdin argued that such a mantra is problematic because it requires teachers to mask the emotional aspects of their work:

It turned us from passionate educators into automatons who worked to maintain the schools structures and inequities. Rather than face our fears, the mantra helped us to mask them. And because being in touch with ones emotions is the key to moving from the classroom (place) to the spaces where the students are, our students were invisible to us. (p. 37)

Removing teachers from the emotion that undergirds their work has created a culture around teaching in which understandings of urban students are reduced to problematic stereotypes. In other words, if teachers are to be able to connect with students from diverse cultural and social-class backgrounds, they must be able to access and overcome the fear that is embedded in their understandings of such youth. Rather than succumb to the stickiness of who urban youth are, teacher education must provide novice and experienced teachers opportunities to highlight the emotional undercurrent that binds them together with other urban teachers but can also set [them] adrift from one another (Micciche, 2007, p. 28).

Fear, as research on emotion tells us, is not naturally imprinted in the brain. Rather, fear, like all emotions, is constructed through past experiences (Feldman Barrett, 2017). When preservice and in-service teachers report feeling fearful about their students, they are designing and constructing their own affective reality about who their students are, where they come from, and what they might do. Such emotional construction is performed within a social and cultural context in which African American and Latinx persons are regularly portrayed as deviant and to be feared. In order to gain new emotional concepts that extend their emotional intelligence and help them develop greater emotional granularity (Feldman Barrett, 2017), White teachers must be given opportunities to question the basis of their fear. Teacher education can make a difference in how novice and experienced teachers construct emotions about their work.

Two teacher education programs that have proven successful in enabling prospective teachers to reimagine the promise of students often perceived as in need of saving or reforming are those of southwestern U.S. universities described by Hallman and Burdick (2015) in their volume concerning community fieldwork in teacher education. These programs initiate fieldwork placements for enrolled prospective teachers in one of three sites: a program for homeless students and families that engages youth in after-school tutoring, a residential program for youth who are remanded to state care by the juvenile justice system or family services department that offers a creative writing program on site, or an alternative charter high school where students receive help with their compositions. At all three locations, prospective teachers conduct a field placement at a community site rather than a traditional school/classroom placement.

In each of these program sites, prospective teachers were challenged in their notions of what it meant to be a teacher. Hallman and Burdick asked them to consider how they could see students as having strengths, knowledge, interests, and possibilities as learners; how they might envision differing curriculum and pedagogy that would meet all students needs; and how they might consider dimensions of their own identities that would enable them to welcome students from all backgrounds to school. Some prospective teachers found the researchers/authors questions challengingespecially those that asked them to rethink who they were and who their students might be. However, Hallman and Burdick (2015) found the project to be fruitful in helping preservice teachers to re-shape practice while engaged in practice (p. 139) and to engage them in what Schon (1987) has called the challenging or aptly named swampy zones of practice (p. 3).

In the next section, we discuss how teacher educators can create opportunities for aspiring and prospective teachers to serve people whose lives they previously have not seen as connected to their own. In so doing, we believe that, like Hallmans and Burdicks prospective teachers, they may better understand students and the families and communities from which they come and become better prepared to teach in those communities.


Today, what is known as service learning encompasses a worldwide movement to enhance the understandings and experiences of prospective professionals who volunteer in them. Service learning now spans continents and countries and many kinds of institutionsfrom grade school through higher education and beyond. Such programs are often criticized for enabling those who are socially and economically privileged to learn from and not with persons less fortunate than themselves; more recently, organizations sponsoring such partnerships have been increasing attention to democratic collaborations between those serving and those served (Butin, 2006; Cruz & Giles, 2000; Jacoby, 2009).

Here, we highlight partnerships with organizations aimed at developing reciprocal, compassionate relationships between campus groups and the communities in which these groups locate their service. One of these is the Council for Citizenship and Learning in the Community (CCLC), linking 200 higher-education partners in Great Britain with community programs. In writing about these efforts, Annette (2002) argued that through developing authentic personal relationships with community members, university students may understand how all people are connected in mutual humanity. And on the border between Mexico and San Diego, CA, Camacho (2004) developed a collaboration between a university and three Mexican community-service agencies. Through sharing meals and telling stories about their lives on Sunday afternoons, Camacho hoped to disrupt stereotypes about Latinx/Chicanx peoples and promote mutual understanding between low-wage Mexican service workers (cooks, groundskeepers, cleaners, etc.) and White university students. From these occasions of storytelling, Camacho aimed to disrupt stereotypes about Mexican people, who are sometimes viewed as criminal border-crossers, and re-story them as migrant peoples who support their families and work with pride at demanding jobs. All such programs represent what Yazdiha (2010) called reimagining an interconnected collective that can shift individuals orientations, our feeling towards others, [and] potentially redefine our exclusionary systems of labeling one another (p. 37).

Another avenue for service learning is attached to college or university courses. These courses have various goals, from understanding a small group of people who share an ethnic and cultural background and live near a university to thinking about what growing up in poverty may mean to elementary-aged students. They take place in sites chosen either by a faculty member teaching a course or by those with whom she collaborates. The following are examples of two university courses that are intended to disrupt notions held by economically and socially privileged students enrolled in locations where numerous marginalized youth are schooled.

One course, named Cross Cultural Studies for Teaching, is taught by Seiki (2014) at Illinois Wesleyan University. She was inspired to teach it by one university students story of the redevelopment of a Japanese neighborhood in San Francisco. Through the story, she was reminded of the impact of the destruction and subsequent redevelopment of neighborhoods near her university with large numbers of Mexican immigrant children. After reading a text by Bigelow (2006) concerning how the North American Free Trade Agreement affected Tijuana, Mexico, she asked prospective teachers to view a documentary film (Which Way Home, Cammisa, 2009) about the struggles of undocumented children who must regularly cross the border between Mexico and the United States. Seiki then asked her students to examine how gentrification may affect not only those persons newly housed on redeveloped land and buildings, but also those who are displaced. She next asked them to conduct a multigeneration family movie project investigating their own familys immigration to the United States and their language loss or maintenance over time. Through these efforts, she is asking her university students to examine dimensions of their own identities in relation to those of children populating classrooms in their community. She asks them to examine their racial, ethnic, language, and social-class backgrounds, as well as how they came to inhabit the places where they resideperhaps to see their own families and those of children in their communities with fresh eyes.

Another such course took place at Texas Tech University, where Xu (2000) taught a field-based literacy course aimed at helping enrolled students understand how children feel when they are not respected or culturally understood at school. The assignments included writing an autobiographical essay, writing a biography of a case-study student in the classroom to which they had been assigned and describing that students literacy development, conducting a cross-cultural analysis of differences between themselves and their case-study students, and teaching a minimum of two lessons to a group of which the case-study student was a member. While Xu saw the lessons enhancing prospective teachers understandings of what students know about children in their diversely populated classes, she also believed that these understandings were limited. In particular, she saw that her students often did not understand that, regardless of their age, grade level, or acquired literacy skills, children can direct their learning in many ways, including choosing their own books and the topics of compositions that they write, or selecting goals for their literacy learning.

All of these partnerships are designed to enable aspiring or prospective teachers to critically reflect on their own identities and those of the students they are learning to teach. Further, they ask preservice teachers to analyze how the institutions where they work or volunteer contribute to marginalization of some persons and elevation of others. We see these projects as potentially contributing fresh understandings about what social justice and equity may mean for differing peoples and how, through institutions, individuals may enact these meanings. Further, through these experiences, we see aspiring and prospective teachers examining how people come to be located in particular contexts and how they either benefit or become marginalized as a result of their intersecting identities (race, ethnicity, social class, language background, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).

What are the key understandings to take away from learning with and about other people who are unlike ourselves? First, conversations about what aspiring and prospective teachers are learning should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust where everyone may voice their discomfort and uncertainty about what they are thinking, learning, and doing. The empathyviewing someones difficulties from their viewpointand compassionunderstanding someones suffering and wishing to ease their painteacher educators hope to develop in aspiring and prospective teachers must also be enacted with them.

Second, privileging families and community members voices in teacher education needs to be conducted with care and reciprocal faith in one anothers good will. We suggest starting with personal conversations with families and community leaders who are already engaged in local school and neighborhood collaborations and approaching them with a desire to have conversations about improving students school experiences. Building families confidence in local school teachers and university teacher educators willingness to listen and take their viewpoints into account is of key importance as such partnerships begin. Starting slowly and building success over time and across occasions seems significant, as collaborations between people unaccustomed to working together take care and sensitivity.

Likewise, partnering with mentor teachers located in schools deserves the same care. Many teachers are accustomed to working with university teacher educators who come and visit the field experience sites of prospective teachers, then soon leave the building following a brief observation and conference. Truly collaborating with and respecting teachers as teacher educators, as Zeichner (2010) has suggested, means investing time; conversation; mutually agreed-upon goals, processes, and outcomes; and a willingness to disagree as professionals with differing viewpoints and vantages on prospective teachers practices. It also requires campus-based teacher educators to relinquish some of their traditional power in relationships with school-based teacher educators, as we collaborate on, rather than dictate, processes and outcomes of preservice teachers learning. Investing in these dimensions of educating future teachers is time-consuming but well worth the efforts required. Prospective and new teachers, as well as their classroom mentors, require our belief in their ability to enact amazing things, but they also require tools of understanding and empathy to get there.


As we think about stories of aspiring, preservice, and in-service teachers we ask ourselves: How do these narratives inform our work as teacher educators? Clandinin et al. (2006) said it well when they wrote that developing relational narrative inquiry calls us to engage with our hearts as we felt our and participants stories, our ears as we heard our and participants stories, our eyes as we became witness to the living of our and participants stories (p. 25). Engaging first with our hearts enables us to be compassionate about what we hear and see in practicing teachers, students, and families experiences as well as our own. Then we may be mindful of our own becoming identity development, or how we define ourselves and are viewed by others as teachers (Danielewicz, 2001, p. 3). Such a relational narrative stance is consistent with Murrells (2016) emotional plea to teacher educators, found in the foreword to Zygmunt and Clarks Transforming Teacher Education for Social Justice (2016, p. ix) in which he encouraged teacher educators to adopt an approach for preparing teachers that systematically and deliberately cultivates the practices of care (he refers to Noddings work here). Murrell (2016) argued that because black and brown children in city schools are disproportionately expelled, suspended, adjudicated as criminals in zero-tolerance expulsions, and consigned to special education programs, teacher educators must frame their work through the lens of the care of children given their lived experience in the larger social, political and cultural landscape (p. ix). Highlighting the emotional aspects of teacher education that serves urban youth, he urged teacher educators to consider these questions:

How will we prepare teachers who will practice ethical caring to meet the challenges of American society? How will future teachers learn to span the developmental divide for their students? By what means will future teachers learn caring practices in the local contexts and relationships where they matter most? (Murrell, 2016, pp. xxi)

Murrell argued that preparing such caring teachers occurs in an immersive experience where communities, education professionals, and families collaboratively cope with the real issues and challenges of lives (p. xi). He concluded by asserting that teacher educators must prepare teachers who can practice ethical caring.

We believe that an important part of ethical caring concerns providing teachers with opportunities to grapple with the emotional aspects of their work. While teacher educators are not trained clinical therapists, a teacher education curriculum concerned with critical reflection on experiences with race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability can offer a point of entry for reflection on emotions. Once again, we turn to the work of neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett (2017), who offered this advice on how her readers could develop a more finely grained emotional life: Be a collector of experiences. Try on new perspectives the way you try on new clothing. These kinds of activities will provoke your brain to combine concepts to form new ones, changing your conceptual system proactively so youll predict and behave differently later (p. 180).

Warren (2013a, 2013b, 2015) suggested that teacher educators explore early and systematic program attention to what he termed empathy and we call here compassionthe development of perspective-taking on our students that engages teachers in considering the historical, cultural, and social contexts of their lives. Warren (2013a) explained that cultivating a conceptual framework for developing empathy is a professional teaching disposition, or fundamental beliefs, judgment making, and intellectual orientations guiding teachers actions and professional decision-making (Johnson and Reiman, 2007) (pp. 396). Further, he asserted that it has two components: the emotional, or development of concern for others, and its intellectual dimension, or perspective-taking, which encompasses taking up the psychological viewpoint of the other person. He asked us to imagine others or to surrender our own personal opinion, philosophies, beliefs, and points of view and exchange these with those of the person for whom we are considering an empathetic response. He also asked that we imagine how we ourselves would experience anothers context or feelings, imagining ourselves (pp. 397). Both of thesethe intellectual, or perspective-taking, and the emotional, or imagining ourselvesare necessary for White teachers to engage in reciprocal empathy with students who differ from them in one or more dimensions of identity.

Finally, and wedded to the significance of caring for those we teach, we heighten teacher educators understanding of the significance of introspection and self-awareness for ourselves and all our collaboratorsschool-based teacher educators, as well as prospective and practicing teachers. We must continually ask ourselves why we are endorsing particular practices with certain people and how we plan to enact these practices if we are to positively affect the well-being and school achievement of all students, especially those who are students of color and those living in poverty.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 13, 2019, p. 1-22
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22962, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 3:56:11 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Louise Gomez
    University of Wisconsin–Madison
    E-mail Author
    MARY LOUISE GOMEZ is Professor of Literacy Studies and Teacher Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she has served on the faculty of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction for over 30 years. Her research focuses on how prospective and practicing teachers learn to teach students who are unlike themselves in various aspects of their identities, including race, ethnicity, language background, sexual orientation, gender, and social class. She draws on methods of narrative inquiry and life history to generate, gather, and analyze her data.
  • Amy Lachuk
    Hunter College, City University of New York
    E-mail Author
    AMY JOHNSON LACHUK is an award-winning scholar and writer and an educational consultant who was most recently an Associate Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Hunter College, City University of New York. Amy holds degrees in Curriculum and Instruction (MS, PhD) and English (BS) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She spent three years teaching young children in urban school districts. She has received the Narrative Research SIG Early Career Research Award (2011, American Educational Research Association), the Promising Research Award (2008, National Council of Teachers of English), the J. Michael Parker Award (2007, National Reading Conference), the College of Education Early Career Research Award (2009, University of South Carolina), and the Nila Banton Smith Research Dissemination grant (2009, International Reading Association). She has published articles in journals including Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood, English Education, Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Journal of Teacher Education, Middle School Journal, The Reading Teacher, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, Teaching and Teacher Education, and the Yearbook of the National Reading Conference.
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