“Good Teaching” and “Good Teachers” for Whom?: Critically Troubling Standardized and Corporatized Notions of Quality in Teacher Education
by Mariana Souto-Manning - 2019
Background: Historically and contemporarily, dominant conceptualizations of quality teaching are and have been rooted in notions of the cultural deficiency and inferiority of intersectionally minoritized populations. Such conceptualizations of quality teaching have kept and continue to keep racial, cultural, and linguistic injustices in place. They are imposed on intersectionally minoritized populations—those who, even when numerically the majority, continue to be positioned as inferior to or lesser than the dominant population.
Focus: In this article, through the critical analysis of counter-narratives of early childhood teachers of color, I seek to trouble commonplace discourses of “good teaching” and “good teachers.” I take a close look at how such discourses are instantiated and propagated by the educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA), a high-stakes assessment that purports to measure teacher quality and is tied to certification. I focus on early childhood teachers of color because although the percentage of young children of color is increasing, there is a reverse trend in the early childhood teaching force. This may be partly due to mounting certification requirements recently established for early childhood teachers. Thus, early childhood teachers of color are a critical group from whom the field can learn.
Research Design: Seeking to conversationally elicit personal narratives regarding edTPA from early childhood teachers of color, I interviewed 10 early childhood teachers of color who had graduated with master’s degrees leading to early childhood education initial teacher certification since the 2014 implementation of edTPA as a requirement for licensure in New York State. Specifically, I sought to understand how edTPA as a phenomenon came to life in their lived experiences. I engaged critical narrative analysis to analyze their counter-narratives.
Conclusions and Recommendations: By listening closely to women of color seeking teacher licensure and learning from the critical analysis of their counter-narratives, I expose how institutional discourses of teacher quality serve to racialize the teaching profession, keeping White hegemonic discourses in place in the name of quality. Specifically, the counter-narratives of the 10 early childhood teachers of color who participated in this study unveiled how they perceived edTPA as (a) serving as an obstacle to access higher pay; (b) leading to mental health issues and stress; and (c) being antithetical to good teaching. Implications point toward the need for research that helps us move to a definition of good teaching grounded in justice as nonnegotiable if we are to (re)define teacher preparation in transformative and racially inclusive ways.
Eurocentric master-narratives of quality teaching and best practice are deeply ingrained in U.S. schooling. For example, almost a century ago, Carter G. Woodson (1933) documented how the curriculum in place did not include Black knowledge, experiences, and traditions. When it did include African Americans, it was to condemn and judge them and their practices. African Americans have been deliberately educated away from their own culture and traditions and attached to the fringes of European culture (Asante, 1991, p. 170). Such practices remain prevalent today. They are particularly salient in early childhood teaching and teacher education (Pérez & Saavedra, 2017; Philip et al., 2018; Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018).
Historically and contemporarily, dominant conceptualizations of quality teaching are and have been rooted in notions of the cultural deficiency and inferiority of intersectionally minoritized1 populations (Carter & Goodwin, 1994; McCarty, 2002; Woodson, 1933). They scale and rate Eurocentric ideas of goodness against all others, without considering the ethnocentric nature of such an approach (Souto-Manning, 2010). These conceptualizations of quality teaching have kept and continue to keep racial, cultural, and linguistic injustices in place (Gay & Howard, 2000; Leonardo, 2004; Pérez & Saavedra, 2017; Philip et al., 2018). They are imposed on intersectionally minoritized populationsthose who, even when numerically the majority, continue to be positioned as inferior to or lesser than the dominant population (Kendi, 2016; McCarty, 2002).
In this article, through the critical analysis of counter-narratives2 of early childhood teachers of color, I seek to trouble commonplace discourses of good teaching and good teachers, taking a close look at how such discourses are instantiated and propagated by the educative Teacher Performance Assessment (edTPA)3 (Pearson Education, 2017a), a high-stakes assessment that is tied to certification and purports to serve as a measure of teacher quality (Wilson, Hallam, Pecheone, & Moss, 2014, p. 2). I engage critical narrative analysis (CNA) to analyze their counter-narratives, using the concepts of framing agency and grammatical agency (Souto-Manning, 2014a, 2014b). By listening closely to women of color seeking teacher licensure and learning from the critical analysis of their counter-narratives, I expose how institutional discourses of teacher quality serve to racialize the teaching profession, keeping White hegemonic discourses in place in the name of quality.
REFLECTING ON THE HISTORY OF THE DISCOURSE ON GOOD TEACHING AND GOOD TEACHERS
Accountability measures have gained a stronghold in public education and have been enacted through a number of policies over time. Scholars have documented the impacts that such policies have on students (Figlio & Loeb, 2011), teaching (Berliner & Biddle, 1995; Swadener & Lubeck, 1995), and teacher education (Cochran-Smith, 2001; Darling-Hammond, 2010b; Labaree, 1992). For example, in 1986, the Carnegie Corporation identified the interrelated problems of an increasing demand for teachers, declining supply of well-educated candidates and a particularly acute need for minority teachers (p. 11). That same year, the Holmes Group (1986), a collective of deans from colleges of education, organized to reform teaching and teacher education, seeking to make teacher education more intellectually solid and creating standards and examinations for entering the teaching profession. In 1996, the National Commission on Teaching & Americas Future issued a report that identified barriers to quality teaching, including teachers low expectations, unenforced standards for teachers, and major flaws in teacher preparation. The report issued recommendations, including the establishment of professional standards boards in every state, the accreditation of all schools of education, the closing of inadequate schools of education, the licensing of teachers based on demonstrated performance (including tests), and the use of national standards as benchmarks.
Answering calls for reforms in teacher education, professional standards were developed and accreditation processes implemented. But even with the establishment of professional standards and the implementation of mandatory accreditation processes undertaken by professional organizations to assess and ensure quality through syllabi analysis and the review of the qualifications and experiences of teacher educators, teacher education was still under attack. Student teaching was declared lax and came under the microscope. As explained in Goodwin and Oyler (2008), student teaching was conceptualized as a gate for measuring competence, deciding incompetence (p. 477). Teacher educators were accused of not being good gatekeepers of the profession and continue to be faulted for new teachers lack of content knowledge, or their inability to pass subject matter tests (p. 482).
This phenomenon has been captured by teacher educators conceptualization of the field of teacher education, which has been punctuated by defenders, reformers, and transformers (Ellis & McNicholl, 2015; Zeichner, 2014). Defenders are teacher educators who defend what they do at all costs, seeing little room for improvement. Reformerstypically located outside of university-based teacher education programswant to blow up the system, enlisting noneducators to save teaching by wresting teacher preparation away from traditional teacher educators. Current educational reform movements lack respect for the intellectual work of teaching (e.g., Lemov, 2010; Sposato Graduate School of Education, 2015; see also Ellis & McNicholl, 2015; Zeichner, 2018); reformers see education as an enterprise where they can make money, treating human lives as dividends. Transformers, on the other hand, realize that teacher education can and should improve through the problematization of what is in place, identification of areas for improvement, and engagement of schools and communities in transforming teacher education.
According to its own description, edTPA focuses on how teacher candidates plan and teach lessons in ways that make the content clear (American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education [AACTE], 2017, para. 5), assessed via rubrics rated by neutral evaluators. Teacher education researchers have highlighted how this focus on planning and content clarity erases much of the complexity and messiness of teaching (Madeloni & Gorlewski, 2013). Although edTPA may have germinated as an attempt to transform teacher education (Darling-Hammond, 2014; Wei & Pecheone, 2010), it has become corporatized and standardized in ways that are consistent with the conceptions and work of reformers. Thus, here, I locate edTPA within the education reform movement because the assessment is informed by key reform concepts such as external accountability, standardization, and corporate profit. Furthermore, I problematize how edTPA is currently positioned within teacher education. Because of its widespread adoption and positioning as a high-stakes assessment tied to teacher licensure, edTPA defines what counts as good teaching and who may qualify as good teachers.
RACING GOOD TEACHING AND ERASING GOOD TEACHERS OF COLOR: ON THE EDUCATION DEBT
History matters. As we look back at the history of the persistent exclusion of Black educators from schools and schooling, we must contextualize teacher quality within its tenuous history of exclusion and exclusionary practices. The history of exclusion of Black educators from U.S. schools is persistent. Black teachers were pushed out of the professionthrough job losses and demotionsfollowing Brown v. Board of Education (Foster, 1997; Ladson-Billings, 2004). Their absence was denounced by the struggle for community control in Ocean Hill-Brownsville schools (Winn, 2011). Later, they were denied charters in post-Katrina New Orleans (Henry & Dixson, 2016). Today, certification and licensure requirements imposed onto early childhood teachersincluding women of color who have been educators in community-based programs for decadesare pushing teachers of color out in the name of quality. That is, institutional discourses on quality and their accompanying high-stakes assessmentsof which edTPA is a situated representationpretend to be acultural. Yet, given how quality teaching is a culturally drenched concept (as exposed by scholars such as Leonardo, 2004; Pérez & Saavedra, 2017; Rogoff, 2003; and Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018), this purported aculturality effectively sanctions quality teaching as Eurocentric, centering Whiteness4 and fostering the re-production of structural social privileges (Brodkin, 2001, p. 148).
High-stakes assessments and other so-called objective measures of quality have sanctioned and continue to sanction who can become a teacher. They position quality apart from culture and thus relegate the onus for the lack of teachers of color in todays schools to the teachers themselves, without acknowledging a history that has pushed teachers of color out of the profession. The disproportionality between teachers of color and students of color in todays schools (Ladson-Billings, 2004; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014), as well as what Ladson-Billings (2006) titled the education debtwhat we as a society owe to students and communities of colorrequires teacher educators to ask questions that address such inequities. Therefore, I do not ask whether edTPA, in the name of rigor, is fostering good teaching and identifying good teachers. Instead, I ask: Who defines good teaching and good teachers? Andgood teaching and good teachers for whom? In doing so, I specifically seek to learn about the ways in which edTPA serves the needs, influences the trajectories, and shapes the conceptions of good teaching according to experienced early childhood teachers of color.
In 1988, Christopher Jencks raised similar questions about whom educational institutions should treat equally and whom they can legitimately treat unequally (p. 518). He revealed that although there was overwhelming agreement that educational opportunities for children ought to be equal, there were a number of different meanings for the concept of equality. Jencks (1988) made visible how questions such as according to whom? and for whom? have a long tradition in education writ large and in educational philosophy in particular. As I take up these questions pertaining to quality in early childhood teacher education, it is important to understand that although there is overwhelming support for quality in early childhood education, there are multipleand at times conflictingunderstandings of what comprises quality and whom it benefits (Ellis & Orchard, 2014; Leonardo, 2004; Souto-Manning & Rabadi-Raol, 2018). Thus, it is important to identify whose meanings have more power and to denounce how dominant meanings have dis/advantaged children and communities along racial lines.
I focus on early childhood teachers of color because although the percentage of young children of color is increasing (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010), there is a reverse trend in the early childhood teaching force (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014); from 2011 to 2014, the percentage of White early childhood teachers rose from 66.9% to 80.2%. This demographic trend in the early childhood teaching force stands in contrast to the upward trajectory of elementary to high school teachers of color from 1984 to 2011 (Feistritzer, 2011). To be sure, early childhood education is a critical area marked by growing disproportionality; the percentage of teachers of color is diminishing while the percentage of students of color is rising. This may be partly due to mounting certification requirements recently established for early childhood teachers. Thus, early childhood teachers of color are a critical group from whom we can learn.
PROBLEMATIZING THE DISCURSIVE CONSTRUCTS OF GOOD TEACHING AND GOOD TEACHERS
Instead of accepting things as they are and conforming to injustices inherent in dominant conceptualizations of good teaching and good teachers, which regard education primarily as a technical issue (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 173), I employ a critical pedagogy theoretical framework, informed by Freire (1970) and hooks (1994). I seek to critically problematize these discursive constructs, developed by those who live at the center, whose perspectives on reality rarely include knowledge and awareness of the lives of women . . . who live in the margin (hooks, 1984, p. x). I acknowledge that for such constructs to be reenvisioned in transformative and just ways, it is essential to (re)position the voices, values, experiences, and perspectives of women of color as legitimate critiques to the dominant racist, classist, sexist hegemony as well as to envision and create a counter-hegemony (p. 15).
As a theoretical framework, critical pedagogy aligns well with the process of reading, rereading, and critically interrogating inequities emanating from racism and interrelated forms of bigotry. It urges researchers to (re)position intersectionally minoritized individuals and communities centrally (hooks, 1984). Critical pedagogy demands contextualizing and historicizing realities, problematizing what is, engaging in dialogue, learning from those who have historically been unheard or deliberately silenced, problem solving, and seeking to foster and promote positive transformation. That is, critical pedagogy allows me to delve beyond face value constructions of quality, to trouble the power inherent in defining good teaching and good teachers, and to ask who is benefitting from such definitions. It entails deliberately confronting the biases that uphold and maintain white supremacy, imperialism, sexism, and racism in and through teacher education (hooks, 1994, p. 29). Thus, from a critical pedagogical perspective, I seek to problematize and interrupt definitions of quality grounded in Eurocentrism, because they disadvantage communities and individuals of color while continuing to privilege Whiteness.
Critical pedagogy provides liberatory paradigms (hooks, 1994, p. 51); it enables transgressionsa movement . . . which makes education the practice of freedom (hooks, 1994, p. 12). In particular, it demands that women of color, albeit too often positioned in the margins of teaching and teacher education, be (re)positioned as capable and active participants in the construction of knowledge and in the (re)definition of quality teaching and quality teachers (hooks, 1994; Leonardo, 2004). It is predicated on the acknowledgment that it is erroneous to assume that . . . teacher mastery of particular teaching methods, in and of themselves, will guarantee successful student learning, especially when we are discussing populations that historically have been mistreated and miseducated (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 174).
Thus, rejecting the belief that educators do not need to identify, interrogate, and change their biased beliefs and fragmented views about subordinated communities (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 174), from a critical pedagogy perspective (Freire, 1970; hooks, 1994), I analyze institutional discourses of quality teaching and quality teachers against those of early childhood teachers of color who sought to become certified since edTPA was established in 2014 as a high-stakes certification assessment in New York State. I trouble the master-narrative that frames the academic underachievement of subordinated students [of teacher education] as a technical issue and thus question solutions that are technical in nature (e.g., specific teaching methods, instructional curricula and materials) (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 174). Instead, I recognize the complexity and situatedness of teaching and seek to gain insights from early childhood teachers of color about the colonization/appropriation dialectic. That is, I seek to understand how institutional discourses (such as quality teaching and teachers as assessed by edTPA) can serve to colonize and disempower when uncritically recycled into everyday narratives as unchangeable realities. Simultaneously, I inquire into how they may be appropriated, critically problematized, deconstructed, and (re)defined in ways that strategically subvert discursive colonization efforts (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999).
Specifically, I inquire into how institutional discourses are defining quality teaching and quality teachers, recognizing the appropriation of such discourses as sites of engagement upon which other ongoing social practices and contestation of identity may be constructed (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999, p. 45). Using the concepts of discursive colonization and discursive appropriation,5 I look at how edTPA, as an institutional discourse defining quality, is infiltrating and/or being critically repurposed and recycled in participants narrative tellings. In doing so, I trouble the macro-micro separation in the construction of discourses surrounding and defining quality by employing CNA (Souto-Manning, 2014b) to consider ethical and moral dilemmas experienced by student teachers of color who are required to submit edTPA portfoliosand attain passing scoresin order to be certified. After all, teacher educators
working toward political clarity understand that they can either maintain the status quo, or they can work to transform the sociocultural reality . . . so that the culture at this micro-level does not reflect macro-level inequalities, such as asymmetrical power relations that relegate certain cultural groups to a subordinate status. (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 178)
Such political clarity refers to the process by which individuals come to better understand possible linkages between macro-level political, economic and social variables (p. 178) and situated realities, such as the experiences of intersectionally minoritized women of color, at the micro level. It also demands that the experiences of people on the margin who suffer sexist oppression and other forms of group oppression are understood, addressed, and incorporated (hooks, 1984, p. 161).
CRITICAL NARRATIVE ANALYSIS
Critical narrative analysis is an analytic approach to research and praxis that can accommodate both the power of the discursive social field and the moral impulse to take a stand (Souto-Manning, 2014b, p. 161). It accounts for the linkages between micro-level narratives and macro-level institutional discourses. CNA relies on the analysis of conversational narratives and/in institutional discourses. It brings together narrative analysis, analyzing how people make sense of their experiences in society through language, and critical discourse analysis, which is concerned with power and language in society (p. 161). In doing so, CNA acknowledges that narrative analysis and critical discourse analysis can inform each other and result in a more robust analysis.
CNA is predicated on the understanding that
personal narratives are constructed and situated in social and institutional realmsyet by and large, they are analyzed apart from issues of power and/or institutional discourses. CNA proposes that when individuals make sense of their experiences through narratives, they bring together the micro (personal) and the macro (social or institutional) situations in place. (Souto-Manning, 2014b, p. 163)
Thus, CNA can help us researchers assess the power of discourses emanating from institutions, systems, and structures in place (p. 163) instead of simply resting on our perceptions and assumptions.
CNA requires the analysis of larger institutional discourses (such as the master-narrative of quality teaching put forth by edTPA) and of personal narratives (how teachers of color make sense of their journey toward licensure). It also accounts for the interplay, the movement, between these macro and micro discourses, paying particular attention to power relationships as instantiated through everyday narratives and institutional discourses. As it pertains to this particular study, CNA serves as a way to honor the counter-narratives of early childhood teachers of color while seeking to understand the ways in which the institutional discourse of teacher quality, sponsored and propagated by edTPA as a high-stakes assessment linked to teacher licensure, influences the ways in which they navigate the process of becoming certified as teachers and make sense of their own identities as teachers.
Instead of assuming the power of institutional discourses merely because they emanate from institutions and individuals with power in society, CNA assesses the power of institutional discourses according to whether and how these are taken up in the authoring of everyday narratives portraying everyday realities. Thus, CNA centrally addresses the question, Critical for whom? (Souto-Manning, 2014a, p. 201). This question captures a dilemma often present when critical research is undertaken. It allows researchers to avoid imposing their own perspectives in colonialist ways and to (re)define what is critical according to participants perspectives and experiences, via the analysis of their narratives in light of institutional discourses. In such a way, CNA serves as an especially helpful framework for analyzing how early childhood teachers of color make sense of corporate and standardized discourses of good teachers and good teaching, particularly focusing on issues of for whom? and according to whom? It also allows for the revision of master-narratives of quality, centrally accounting for their voices, experiences, and perspectives. This is a necessary revision because the counter-narratives of teachers of color are often absent in institutional discourses of good teaching and good teachers, reducing the definition of quality to a single racialized story of quality, which excludes the perspectives, needs, and strengths of intersectionally minoritized communities and individuals (Bartolomé, 1994; hooks, 1994).
Seeking to conversationally elicit personal narratives regarding edTPA from early childhood teachers of color, in 2016, I interviewed 10 early childhood teachers of color who had graduated with masters degrees leading to early childhood education initial teacher certification since the 2014 implementation of edTPA as a requirement for licensure in New York State. Because I was concerned about the privileging of Eurocentric conceptualizations of quality teaching and quality teachers in edTPA, I relied on purposive sampling to recruit participants. I identified early childhood teachers of color pursuing teacher licensure in New York Statea state that ties teacher licensure to edTPAas the target group. I interviewed ten individuals who met the criteria and were willing and available to participate.
The participants were recruited via email messages targeting early childhood teachers of color who were required to submit edTPA portfoliosand attain passing scoresin order to get certified. I reached out to one faculty member in each of six graduate-level early childhood teacher education programs leading to initial teacher certification in New York State (three public, three private), asking them to send out my invitation via e-mail. I received 38 replies to my initial message. Of these, 13 had graduated before 2014, when edTPA was first linked to teaching certification in the state of New York, or held initial certification in another area and thus did not have to submit edTPA portfolios. I sent e-mail messages with the IRB informed consent form to the remaining 25 respondents and asked to schedule a time for interviews. Thirteen participants responded within a week, but because of logistical issues, 10representing all six graduate-level early childhood teacher education programs contactedwere interviewed (see Table 1 for specifics). To protect their identities, I employ pseudonyms.
All participants were womennot atypical given that the early childhood teaching profession overwhelmingly comprises women. They identified as Latinas (five; two of whom identified as Afro-Latinas) and African Americans (five). They were all employed as educators in early childhood classrooms, having all, at one point, held the position of lead teacher. Participants ages ranged from their 20s to their 50s, and although they had completed programs leading to initial certification in New York, four of them were teaching in other states during the time the interviews took place. Of the 10 interviewees, four either did not submit or did not pass edTPA. All participants were teaching or had taught in classrooms that predominantly served children and families of color.
Table 1. Participants Racial Identity, Licensure Status, Teaching Setting, Age, and Experience
Semistructured, in-depth interviews took place either in a location convenient to the participant or via video platforms. Interviews lasted an average of 105 minutes (ranging from 40 to 150 minutes). Seeking to understand how edTPA as a phenomenon came to life in their lived experiencesthat is, illuminating their specific and situated perceptions, perspectives, and understandings of edTPAthe first open-ended prompt related to edTPA was, So, tell me about edTPA. Overwhelmingly, participants looked down, rolled their eyes, sighed, and expressed frustration over edTPA.
Because I asked participants to share their lived experiences pertaining to edTPA as early childhood teachers of color seeking licensure, I shared some of my lived experiences with high-stakes tests on my journey to teacher certification in the United Statesas a first-generation immigrant woman of color. I purposefully and intentionally sought to reach across traditional research boundaries and roles, engaging my intersectional sensibility (Crenshaw, 1991, p. 1475). Positioning myself vulnerably, I shared that despite having been certified as a teacher in Brazil, on immigrating to the United States, I had to complete an accredited degree and acquire passing scores on a number of standardized tests in order to become certified. Although now a professor of education at a well-regarded private institution of higher education, I shared how my journey started in a public community college, where my prior experience as a teacher was dismissed and I was presumed incompetent, having to test out of remedial courses. In addition to sharing some of my own journey toward teacher certification in the United States, I shared some of my journey pertaining to my own English language development, explaining how to this day I still struggle with some English-language prepositions. Sharing such moments of vulnerability allowed us to bear witness to each other as we shared vulnerable moments in our professional trajectories. Many of the women connected with my experiences of having their prior qualifications dismissed, of being presumed incompetent, and/or of having to undergo accredited degrees and pass tests in order to become certified. This allowed us to develop trust.
Although I considered the possibility of conducting more than one interview as a way of enhancing reliability, I decided to focus on cross-participant reliability, grounded in the consistency of findings across their counter-narratives. The decision to engage in one in-depth interview was due to a number of factors: (a) the interviews were lengthy; (b) trust was established between interviewer and intervieweethat is, participants were forthcoming and displayed a great deal of vulnerability, as indicated by experiences shared; (c) findings were consistent across narratives; and (d) participants recalled experiences of stress and trauma in the process of being interviewed and therefore were not asked to revisit such instances of trauma by engaging in further interviews. At the end of each of the interviews, I asked if there was anything else they wanted to add and invited them to contact me if they wanted to engage in a follow-up interview. They agreed to contact me if they would like another interview. None did. Then, as an initial member check, I asked participants to tell me three key things that would define how they experienced edTPA; these served to validate my initial memos and to guide the subsequent development of analytic memos (Charmaz, 2000; Schatzman & Strauss, 1973).
As each interview was conducted and audio recorded, I wrote researcher memos. I engaged in recording observational notes (jotting down what I was observing), theoretical notes (my thoughts, connections, and interpretations), and methodological notes (Schatzman & Strauss, 1973). Through observational notes, I specifically attended to nonverbal behaviors and displays of emotion and documented additional data sources volunteered by participants during the interview, such as edTPA score reports, medical records, and electronic correspondence with family members, friends, and professors/instructors. Although I did not keep copies of these additional data sources, they were recorded in my observational notes and informed the coding and analysis of interviews, thus allowing me to strengthen the trustworthiness of my findings. For example, Fatima showed me medical records pertaining to her clinical depression and suicide attempt, and Brianna shared email correspondence with professors/instructors and text messages that she had sent friends and family members capturing facets of the financial hardships she was experiencing to pay the requisite edTPA scoring fee. Immediately after each interview, I expanded on my theoretical memos, better developing my interpretations, and wrote separate analytic memos. This was the process through which I started analyzing, developing, and (re)defining categories (Charmaz, 2000).
Within a week of each interview, I followed up with an electronic thank you note, asking participants if they would be willing to share their edTPA portfolios (videos and written components) with me. All participants who had submitted their edTPA portfolios responded affirmatively and shared their portfolios with me electronically (even Fatima, who had received a failing score). These served as supplementary data sources and allowed me to better understand sections of interviews that referred to particular edTPA tasks or components, thereby strengthening my analysis.
Each interview was transcribed, read, reread, and coded according to prominent themes emanating from participants summaries (Appendix A). Major themes and categories were identified from what participants deemed critical (Appendix B). Two weeks after each interview I followed up by email, sharing the interview transcripts with participants, asking for any corrections, and asking again if they had anything to add to their interviews. Their responses indicated that transcripts were accurate, and they did not have anything else to share regarding their experience with edTPA. I then followed up with an email identifying prominent interpretations and emotional hot points (Cahnmann-Taylor, Souto-Manning, Wooten, & Dice, 2009) in the interview (as identified in Appendix A and Appendix B) and asked participants to offer corrections and expand these categories. These emails also offered short excerpts that illustrated each category and comprised emotional or critical experiences (some of these excerpts are included in Appendix Cfor example, Sample Transcription Coding A, Sample Transcription Coding D). These member checks sought to address issues of trustworthiness, especially given that the study was predominantly based on interview data. They also sought to ensure that my analysis honored what was deemed important to participants. In analyzing and learning from participants perspectives regarding edTPA, to honor the voices, values, and perspectives of women of color, only examples and categories validated by interviewees were included.
I read and reread transcripts, identifying, coding, and excerpting sections that addressed how the participants experienced edTPA. After initial analysis was completed and excerpts were identified, I categorized them according to subthemes (identified in Appendix B), noting peculiarities and connections across the counter-narratives of participants, focusing on their learnings, their language use, and discursive patterns. I employed CNA, seeking to identify any turning points and displays of grammatical and framing agency (or lack thereof). Grammatical agency is agency portrayed linguistically by the use of subject plus active verb (Souto-Manning, 2014a, p. 208). For example, in I am a good teacher, I plus am is used to indicate grammatical agency. Framing agency is the narrators character alignment with normative and situated morals (Souto-Manning, 2014b, p. 176), with what is socially deemed to be good and right. For example, Im ashamed that I couldnt do it is used to frame I as lacking agency to align with normative and situated morals.
As I analyzed the counter-narratives of teachers of color against the backdrop of edTPA-propagated notions of quality teaching, instead of engaging in an indiscriminate critique of edTPA, I sought to understand how 10 teachers of color who identified as women made sense of edTPA and how the ways in which edTPA instantiated the discursive concepts of good teaching and good teachers affected and (re)positioned them. Multiple excerpts and data sources allowed me to confirm findings. Although all excerpts were analyzed, here I include representative excerpts, which I identified and then shared with participants to verify their importance and criticality. These excerpts pertain to particular themes and account for how participants displayed grammatical and framing agency. Given the number of participants and their responses, I am unable to include my analysis of everyones counter-narratives in this article.
In this section, I explore the three most prominent findings regarding edTPA from the perspectives of early childhood teachers of color, all of whom identified as women. In situated and contextualized ways, each of the themes identified next was present in the counter-narratives of the early childhood teachers of color who participated in this study: The first theme prominently figured in the counter-narratives of four participants, and the second and third themes were present in all counter-narratives. These findings are the most salient themes resulting from my analysis across counter-narratives and indicate that participating early childhood teachers of color perceived edTPA as serving as an obstacle to access higher pay; leading to mental health issues and stress; and being antithetical to good teaching. Although a number of reports have identified benefits of edTPA (e.g., AACTE, 2018; Adkins, 2016; Darling-Hammond, 2010a; Newton, 2010; Wei & Pecheone, 2010), the participants of this study noted none. Because I sought to conduct and present research grounded in the experiences of people of color (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002, p. 23), such institutional and majoritarian perspectives (presented by reports outlining the benefits of edTPA) are deliberately absent because their presence would serve to marginalize, silence and distort the experiences of people of color (p. 26). Instead, committed to centering the experiences of women of color, as I explain each of these findings, I analyze representative narratives authored by them.
edTPA AS AN OBSTACLE
Although all the teachers I interviewed saw edTPA as an obstacle, six of them passed edTPA, overcoming the many obstacles and hardships identified in their counter-narrativesfor example, time, money, health issues, and their own ideas and experiences regarding good teaching. In this section, I focus on the four who experienced edTPA as an insurmountable obstacle, presenting and analyzing excerpts that highlight what was important and critical to these participants, thus honoring their prioritizations. To capture the emotional dimensions of their narratives and to understand the data more fully, I engaged with techniques from poetry and the dramatic arts to highlight emotional hot points and heightened language from the original discourse of their narratives (Cahnmann-Taylor et al., 2009, p. 2548). To ensure trustworthiness, after I transcribed the data and identified emotional hot points and heightened language, I engaged in member checks, asking participants to verify (to confirm or disconfirm) the criticality of the excerpts identified. In this way, the selected excerpts analytically allowed for maximum evocation (p. 2555).
Fatima, who shared her edTPA score with me (by showing me a printout of the scores she received), failed edTPA by 3 points (according to the New York established cut score in 2016). She overcame the edTPA obstacle by finding a way around it: moving and acquiring certification and employment in another state. Fatimas counter-narrative is further discussed under the second finding, edTPA leading to mental health issues and stress.
Yesenia, Yolanda, and Makayla decided not to submit the edTPA portfolio despite having worked on it and having completed all sections corresponding to the early childhood planning rubrics (planning for the whole child, planning to support varied learning needs, using knowledge of children to inform teaching and learning, identifying and supporting language development, and planning assessments to monitor and support childrens learning)five out of the 15 assessment rubrics for the early childhood handbook (Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity [SCALE], 2016). They had all graduated from masters degree programs in well-regarded university-based teacher education programs across institutions of higher education in New York (per NCATE, CAEP, and Middle States accreditation6) but did not submit the edTPA portfolio. They all remain uncertified in New York. I include their counter-narratives here because in addition to those who are not passing edTPA, many teachers are choosing not to submit edTPA for a number of reasons. Their experiences have been absent from the literature to date. Although they were not judged against edTPA standards by a Pearson-trained and paid rater, they were well versed in the discourses on good teachers and good teaching sponsored by edTPA and its tasks, explaining the five rubrics they had completed, the 10 they had not, and whyidentifying specific moral and ethical dilemmas pertaining to each one of them.
While Yesenia and Yolandas decision resulted in professional demotion, for Makayla, edTPA led her to leave a teaching position working with intersectionally minoritized children and families of color in an East Harlem Early Head Start programwhere she worked as a lead teacher for two yearsand move out of state. At the time of the interview, she was teaching mostly White toddlers in a preschool primarily serving children of professors at an Ivy League institution of higher education in another state.
For Yolanda and Yesenia, both first-generation Dominican immigrants in their 50s with more than 10 years of teaching experience and who had held Head Start lead teacher positions before the establishment of licensure requirements for early childhood teachers, not submitting edTPA and therefore not obtaining New York State teacher certification led to professional demotions. They pursued and completed graduate degrees at reputable and selective institutions of higher education in New York City (per NCATE, CAEP, and Middle States accreditation), accrued a significant amount of debt, and were demoted, being assigned assistant positions, which resulted in lower salaries. Even though they had more than 10 years of teaching experience, edTPA became an insurmountable obstacle to becoming certified as teachers.
In a representative counter-narrative, which illustrated ethical and moral dilemmas shaping her decision not to complete and submit edTPA, Yolanda said,
Im ashamed, you know, that I couldnt do it. Even though I been teaching for many, many years, I started thinking, is my teaching any good? I learned a lot from the program at [university], dont get me wrong, but this edTPA, I dont know, got me really down. That somehow was telling me I couldnt teach. I started thinking, all for nothing. Then, I graduated and got back to the classroom. I thought, I know I can teach. The kids show me. Their family tells me. I can. But they dont pay me like people who dont know the kids, who dont know the families and the community they teach but have the edTPA. My experience, so many years, no cuenta nada [doesnt count for anything]. Its all about this paper. Not a paper from the professors who know me. From someone who dont know who I am, who my kids are, and who I am as a teacher. And I cant pay my loans cuz they didnt give me no raise. And I wont film my kids and send it in, you know, cuz many of my kids dont have papers. Their life is worth more. If being a good teacher is putting your kids en riesgo y sus familias también, entonces de acuerdo con sus reglas no soy una buena maestra [at risk and their families too, then according to their rules I am not a good teacher]. But if you ask my families, they tell you Im a good teacher. But Im worse off. All because of this edTPA. But the colleges still give me student teachers. Every semester. So, in the end, its all about them not wanting to pay me. It creates second-class teaching. Same degree, same responsibilities, less pay.
In this excerpt, Yolanda frames herself as someone who is full of shame, as lacking agency (Im ashamed, you know, that I couldnt do it) and embracing the institutional discourse of edTPA as defining and sanctioning good teaching. She disregards her prior teaching experience and takes up the discourse that teacher quality, and good teaching, must be validated by outsiders. She grammatically positions edTPA agentively: That somehow was telling me I couldnt teach. Then, she experiences a turning point in her narrative when she goes back to the Head Start classroom and agentively frames herself, refuting edTPA as defining and sanctioning good teaching. Nevertheless, she acknowledges the tensions of being framed and positioned as lesser than because they dont pay me like people who dont know the kids, who dont know the families and the community they teach but have the edTPA. While Yolanda issues a judgment about newly certified teacherspeople who dont know the kidswhen asked for clarification, she explains, They have no history with the community where my kids live. While edTPA requires candidates to relate insight on childrens prior academic learning and consider IEPs and 504s,7 Yolanda explains that these often comprise superficial understandings. She denounces, They have no commitment to the families. They want to teach families how to raise their kids. So many dont understand how amazing the families are. Here, she is referring to young White teachers who are not part of the community and often bring deficit lenses to their teaching, yet have teacher certification.
Yolanda is critically meta-aware of the injustices enacted by a system that ignores her knowledge of the children she teaches, of the community in which they livea system that invisiblizes her experience. She is trapped in a system that has placed her in debt for the coursework and degree program she completed but is not paying her a higher salary because she did not complete edTPA, which is required for state certification. Within this context fraught with incoherencies, she frames herself agentively, choosing her own definition of a good teacher who will not put the undocumented children she teaches or their families at riska well-recognized phenomenon throughout the United States (e.g., Chavez, 2013). While Yolandas moral and ethical dilemmas may lead some to suggest that there is no link between Pearson8 Education and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and question its factual accuracy, Pearson policy requires candidate attestation and clarifies that videos would be released if targeted by the U.S. government, in response to a subpoena, court order, or legal process, to the extent permitted and required by law (Pearson Education, 2017b, para. 6).
According to the rules (read: New York State Education Department licensure requirements that mandate edTPA), Yolanda is not good enough to be certified as a teacheror at least she was not proven to be. Yet, according to the families she serves, she is. She reframes herself as a good teacher, morally aligned with the families who send their children to her classroom, and against the rules set forth by the New York State Education Department and Pearson Education, which, according to her narrative, put the children she teaches and their families at risk.
Yolanda, Yesenia, and Makayla all positioned edTPA as an obstacle and decided not to complete their edTPA portfolios, not because of its difficulty or because they could not pass it, but because they did not want to further vulnerablize the children they taught by making and submitting videos. At a time when ICE agents were arresting undocumented students on their way to school and targeting parents taking their children to school (Eleveld, 2017), ethically and morally, they felt that they could not expose the children they taught to further risks. As Makayla explained,
This country has lied to people of color for generations. What will make them stop now? We tell immigrants they are safe. Till when?. . . There are no guarantees. The only guarantee is that harm will be done. We known this from history. . . . Can I promise my students will be safe? Especially the ones from undocumented families? No. I cant. . . . History has taught me this. Their freedom . . . is more important than submitting this thing.
Yolanda, Yesenia, Fatima, and Makayla repurpose edTPA, bringing into question its very validityand exposing the ethical and moral dilemmas it introduces to teacher certification. For teachers like Yolanda, Yesenia, and Makayla, firmly committed to equity and justice, putting their priorities ahead of the priorities and lives of the children they teach is simply unacceptable. Their counter-narratives teach us that although edTPA purports to be gatekeeping, ensuring quality in the teaching profession, it is not keeping noncertified educators (those who do not acquire state teacher certification in New York) out of the classroom but is creating (or at least exacerbating) a tiered system of teaching. This tiered system of teaching comprises individuals who, although fulfilling similar functions and having comparable educational backgrounds, are being sorted into different pay brackets (receiving different compensation) depending on whether they passed edTPA and became certified. Early childhood teachers who submit and pass edTPA and obtain state-issued teacher certification are paid more (regardless of experience); teachers who do not pass or choose not to submit edTPA, and therefore do not obtain state-issued teacher certification, often perform the very same job for lower salaries in settings that do not require certification, or they are demoted to assistant positions. Further, we learn from Makayla and Fatima that states that use edTPA as a high-stakes assessment required for licensure may be pushing teachers of color out of state. Their counter-narratives urge us to ponder whether edTPA may effectively be leading to the profession growing Whiter.
edTPA LEADING TO MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND STRESS
For all teachers interviewed, edTPA was associated with mental health issuesclinically diagnosed anxiety or depressionor with a significant amount of stress. The emotional hot point (Cahnmann-Taylor et al., 2009) in the counter-narrative excerpted next was authored by Fatima, an African American public school teacher. She did not pass edTPA and is currently certified and teaching kindergarten in another state where edTPA was not (yet) consequential for certification the year she was certified. She attributes six months of clinical depression and an attempted suicide to edTPA. Here is what she said:
So, the edTPA threw me for a long and dark loop. It gave me six months of depression. My mom had to take me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me. Clinical depression. Every time I thought about teaching, I felt like a failure. This edTPA even got me to try to kill myself with pills. I had to be hospitalized. It was really bad. Then, I moved to [another state] that didnt need edTPA. Im teaching kindergarten. I love it. And my kids love me, so I must be doing something right. I can hardly believe edTPA nearly made me take my life away. What a waste! And you know that Black women already have their share of health issues. So because there arent enough Black teachers, edTPA was created? To make sure that Black teachers leave before they ever enter the profession?
Fatima grammatically positions herself as the object of edTPAs actions, thus framing edTPA agentively. For instance, Fatima elaborates that the institutional discourse of quality as defined by edTPA led to a six-month bout of depression and a suicide attempt. She even frames edTPA agentively in her attempts to end her life. Her turning point comes when she moves to another state (where edTPA was not required for certification and employment). Then, she takes control of her life. This is when she grammatically positions herself agentively. She goes on to critique the aims and results of edTPA, displaying a critical meta-awareness of the institutional discourse propagated by education reformers and Pearson Educationwe need good teachers, and edTPA will ensure and standardize the quality of teachers.
Another of the teachers interviewed, Aliyah, stated,
And to think this test put that much pressure and stress on me. I can write. I graduated from [Ivy League institution of higher education] and [Ivy League institution of higher education]. I did good. I didnt just survive. I thrived. I got [NYSED] mastery, whatever the hell that is ((laughs)).9 But as I was working on the edTPA, I realized how incoherent this whole thing was with my commitment. With why I decided to become a teacher in the first place. . . . I am a proud product of Black Power. I was brought up on an Afrocentric curriculum. And here I was. Having to bow to White superiority? Hell no. I was plagued by anxiety attacks. I had to get medicated. . . . Mastery with a side of drugs.
Initially framing edTPA agentively, as indicated by her grammatical positioning herself as an object of edTPAs actions in this test put that much pressure and stress on me, Aliyah quickly moves to framing herself agentively by recounting her academic accomplishments (two degrees from Ivy League institutions of higher education). When she does so, she repeatedly displays grammatical agencyfor example, I can write, I graduated, I did good, I thrived, I got mastery. Yet, even as she positions herself agentively in her narrative, she exposes moral dilemmas pertaining to the incoherencies between her beliefs about good teaching (informed by her upbringing and her educationnamely, Black Power and Afrocentric curriculum). Despite her agentive positioningboth in terms of grammatical and framing agencyshe exposes how taxing this process was and how she was plagued by anxiety attacks.
The theme of mental health issues and stress caused by edTPA was presentto varying extentsin all the womens narratives. That is, although some of them did not experience clinical depression, they all reported heightened stress and anxiety. In fact, Yolanda, Yesenia, and Makayla not submitting their edTPA portfolios was the result of great worry and anxiety about their students safety and well being.
As illustrated by one of the teachers I interviewed, Brianna, an African American second-year teacher in a public school, multiple financial hardships created by edTPA resulted in stress and anxiety (also unveiled by Henning, Dover, Dotson, & Argawal-Rangath, 2018). In the excerpt that follows, she helps us understand the pile-up of stressors (McCubbin & Patterson, 1983) brought by the assessment (especially given that it is often submitted around the time of graduation, job search, and moving). She helps us see this in her narrative:
Just something they made me do. Didnt make me a good teacher. It stressed me out cuz it was so unrealistic. Like teaching in a laboratory. But children are not robots, you know? So, it caused a lot of stress. Took time away from my life and so much money away from my account. I remember I spent two weeks drinking hot water. My stomach hurt so bad. I didnt have no money to eat. I couldnt work, you know? I had to take time off to write. I had to. But it got me to the classroom. Didnt teach me nothing about teaching. At least nothing about good teaching.
Although she justifies her accumulation of stressors, including spending two weeks drinking hot water because she couldnt afford to eat, when she frames her actions as something she had to do in order to align with the morals in place (per edTPA and New York State certification requirements), she rationalizes her sacrifices by saying, But it got me to the classroom. Then, she critiques the larger discourse of the value of edTPA by framing it as teaching her nothing about teaching.
Melissa, a Latina primary grades teacher, was the only one who openly admitted to cheating as a result of the stress caused by edTPA. She recounts,
I did really well in all my coursework. I graduated as an A student. I turned in papers I was proud of for two years. Then, edTPA came. I just tweaked the example they gave me and turned it in. I passed. It was pathetic. Its over, thats all I care. Im not proud of it, but I was under so much stress and the deadlines for edTPA submission and that I had to do it. My one time cheating. I just wanna forget it and get on with life. Im a good teacher. I dont need edTPA to tell me that. I have that piece of paper. What a total waste of time. An expensive and stressful waste of time.
Melissa initially positions herself agentivelyboth in terms of grammatical and framing agency. Grammatically, she positions herself as the subject of her actions (e.g., I did really well, I graduated, and I turned in papers). She frames herself as a good student, doing well in her coursework and defining herself as an A student. Although she morally aligns with the compass of a good student and a good teacher, she frames edTPA as something beyond her control, requiring qualitatively different actions from those she had taken in her graduate degree program. edTPA is positioned as a turning point in her narrative. This is when she frames herself engaging in the exceptional and one-time action of just tweaking the example provided to her in her program. While she minimizes the act of cheating by using just tweaked, she displays awareness of the moral alignment of her action of cheatinghow it framed her as a bad student and potentially a bad teacher. She frames herself as someone who had no other option but to undertake such an actionI had to do it. She indicates how this was a one-time event. She rejects edTPA as a valid assessment of good teaching and good teachers when she states, Im a good teacher. I dont need edTPA to tell me that. Further, she disregards the worth of the assessment by labeling it [a]n expensive and stressful waste of time.
The counter-narratives authored by Fatima, Aliyah, Brianna, and Melissa offer us insights into the stress and mental health issues propelled by edTPA. They denounce trauma withstood in the name of external measures of accountability and rigor. But these issues were not limited to Fatima, Aliyah, Brianna, and Melissa. Stress and mental health issues as a consequence of edTPA were mentioned by all interviewed. Their counter-narratives urge us to question the ethical and moral dilemmas inherent in high-stakes accountability measures such as edTPA.
edTPA AS ANTITHETICAL TO GOOD TEACHING
All interviewees unequivocally agreed that edTPA did not comprise, foster, or assess good teachingeven those participants who passed with mastery (as defined by the New York State Education Department). Instead, they saw edTPA as reinforcing the notion of teaching as a routine or a doing (going through the motions) driven by specific, often technical goals (Ellis & Orchard, 2014, p. 9). When asked about good teaching, they referred back to their own educational experiences as students, recounted student teaching, or offered examples from their current teaching practices. In this section, I analyze representative counter-narrative excerpts, which position edTPA as antithetical to good teaching. I purposefully start with an excerpt from the counter-narrative authored by a participant who not only passed but also received a mastery score on her edTPA to deflect impressions that the participants were only critiquing edTPA as a consequence of not having passed or not having submitted it.
Patricia: edTPA? ((laughs)) What can I say? Worst teaching in my life. And I received mastery. A joke. A total joke. Some people say its like the bar ((laughs)). I sure hope the bar is not this pathetic. Oversimplify your teaching. Dont pay attention to your kids and what interests them. No room for teachable moments. Now, people do edTPA in my class and have to totally bribe the kids to act like robots. Who created this? And you have to pay so much for it. . . . Now that I am teaching, there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing about the edTPA that I use. I always think about the kind of teaching that exemplifies bad teaching [when I think of edTPA]. And they thought it was mastery. ((laughs))
Patricia uses irony as a way of dismantling edTPAs power as agent in her narrative when she says, Worst teaching in my life. And I received mastery. She goes on to name and critique some of the institutional discourses substantiating the need for edTPA, based on rigor. She uses laughter to dismiss the comparison made by some that edTPA is to teachers what the bar exam is to lawyers. She goes on to offer her critique. Patricia makes use of framing agency to communicate her own agency. Her turning point comes when she starts teaching (which is the case in so many of the narratives analyzed), but instead of changing her beliefs, her turning point further reified her belief in the lack of validity of edTPA and her stance that the teaching expected in edTPA simply exemplifies bad teaching.
Another teacher who passed edTPA, Maria, a Latina kindergarten teacher said, edTPA showcases some of my worst teaching. If I taught like that, my class would be total chaos. I would not be regarding childrens knowledge and experiences. I would not be meeting their needs. I would be simply ignoring them. Maria positions edTPA agentively, imposing conditions whereby her worst teaching was showcased. She explains that if she bought into the discourse of edTPA as quality teaching, she would continue to be robbed of agency, and the children she teaches would not have their knowledge and experience validated.
Brianna, an African American primary grades teacher, explains,
edTPA is too predictable. Too sure. Nothing like good teaching. . . . I staged the whole thing. The kids endured with me. . . . I told them wed get through it and then have extra recess. I felt terrible as I told them this day after day. Then, I passed and got to free myself. I endured. But it was bad. Raise your hand. Do this. Do that. Spit back.
Brianna denounces edTPA as being too predictable and nothing like good teaching. She exposes how mechanistic and simplistic the kind of teaching valued by edTPA is. Endurance and pretense become the operative actions; per edTPA, high quality teachers are seen as those who have the greatest degree of fidelity (Ellis & Orchard, 2014, p. 9). Brianna pretended to engage in edTPA with the help of kids, but offers, It was bad. The children are positioned as objects of her actions, and her actions were determined by what edTPA valued as good teaching: Raise your hand. Do this. Do that. Spit back.
Patricia, Maria, and Brianna show us that edTPA treats teaching as a definitive and simplistic endeavor, requiring complexities to be erased or at least minimized. Patricia explains how she has to bribe her students so that they behave during her student teaching edTPA video recording, making visible the artificiality of the task. Further, Maria underscores how edTPA disregards childrens knowledges and experiences; it treats teaching quality as clarity of content delivery. Patricias, Marias, and Briannas counter-narrativesrepresentative of the other seveninvite us to see how edTPA rewards the ignoring of childrens unique storylines, values, cultural practices, and experiences. Teaching in this way is very similar to what Freire (1970) denounced as the pedagogy of the oppressed.
ON edTPA COUNTER-NARRATIVES
These teachers counter-narratives unveil a prominent narrative about edTPAa narrative firmly grounded in ethnocentric concepts of standardization, quality, rigor, and accountability. This is a master-narrative, which rests on reforming teacher education and rejecting collective transformative efforts. It tells us that darker skin and poverty correlate with bad neighborhoods and bad schools. It informs us that limited or Spanish-accented English and Spanish surnames equal bad schools and poor academic performance (Solórzano & Yosso, 2002, p. 29). This dominant, majoritarian story has become the reformers and Pearsons corporate flag, propagating deficit-ridden stories about persons of color, our practices, and knowledges. Rarely do we hear counter-narratives, especially from teachers whose identities have been historically, and continue to be contemporarily, minoritized.
Findings from this study center the voices of intersectionally minoritized teachers of color and indicate that edTPA serves as an obstacle for women of color seeking teacher licensure. The counter-narratives of 10 women of color seeking to become licensed as early childhood teachers suggest that as a high-stakes assessment, edTPA cultivates racial injustice, not dissimilar to the racial inequities inherent in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (Fish, 1994, p. 83). As such, it may effectively exclude teachers of color from schools and schooling. Thus, it is essential that those of us committed to equity and justice in teacher education pay close attention and seek to learn from these early childhood teachers of color and their counter-narratives, gaining important insights into the (potentially detrimental and damaging) effects of edTPA and better understanding how it defines good teaching and good teachers, even if covertly. Otherwise, we risk driving teachers of color out of the profession. This is especially relevant in light of the new findings from a long-term study of more than 100,000 Black students. This study documents how having one Black teacher in elementary school reduces low-income Black boys chances of dropping out of high school by 39% and leads to stronger expectations of going to college for high-school-aged Black students across gender identifications (Gershenson, Hart, Lindsay, & Papageorge, 2017). This is also important given recent statistics, which show that fewer teachers of color are being certified as a whole and that edTPA is serving as a significant obstacle to the certification of teachers of color in particular. While the average score of African American candidates was lower than those of other subgroups (p <.01), the fact that African American candidates made up a very small portion of the candidate pool (5.6%) should be noted (SCALE, 2016, p. 33). Perhaps the small numbers have to do with educators of color choosing not to complete and/or submit edTPA, as in the cases of Makayla, Yolanda, and Yesenia. Their experience may signal a much larger trend.
These 10 early childhood teachers of color engaged in a critique of edTPA based on lived experiences, unveiling how it serves to keep the status quo of the overwhelming presence of Whiteness in teaching and teacher education in place (Sleeter, 2001, p. 94) and how it defines good teaching and good teachers in narrow and reductionist ways. Their counter-narratives serve as situated representations of a larger narrative: how certification rules and tests (such as edTPA) may be preventing teachers of color from becoming licensed (Barnum, 2017). Further, their counter-narratives urge us to reframe and refocus the master-narrative on teacher quality (Kumashiro, 2012), thereby serving as acts of resistance. That is, they beg us to (re)consider the validity of edTPA as a performance assessment of good teaching.
In listening to and learning from counter-narratives, such as the ones shared in this article, I move toward acknowledging, problematizing, and dismantling deficit views and negative profiling of students reified by edTPA structures and mandates. These counter-narratives help us refocus and reread edTPA critically, realizing how it effectively fails to go beyond ethnocentric verbalismthat is, talk without action (Freire, 1970)while insisting on banking models of education being applied to teacher education and certification (Freire, 1970) and on widening chasms between teaching and teacher education.
Throughout this article, as I critically troubled standardized notions of quality and learned from the counter-narratives of early childhood teachers of color who identified as women, I focused on the central question: Good teaching and good teachers for whom? In doing so, I problematized the institutionally sponsored and propagated majoritarian story of edTPA as indexing rigor, quality, and accountability, and centered the perspectives of teachers of color, examining the ways in which edTPA continues to marginalize their practices, identities, and very lives. Without questioning whose stories and values are present in the curriculum (as Woodson did in 1933), edTPA embraces narrow and problematic metrics without troubling the claim of objectivity of such measures, thereby inflicting harm and fostering trauma (as evident in the counter-narratives presented in this article). The idea of upholding dominant practices as objectiveas edTPA doeswas denounced nearly 50 years ago by Scribner, who wrote that professional neutrality often masks support of dominant interest groups (Scribner, 1970, p. 40). Calls for neutrality in teacher evaluation are pervasive today; yet, they fail to acknowledge how neutrality serves as a tool for assimilation, colonization, and erasure. Denouncing the impossibility of professional neutrality as it pertains to the conceptualization and assessment of good teaching and good teachers, the participants of this study highlight how good teaching requires deep knowledge of, commitment to, and engagement with children, families, and communitiesnot in general or generic terms, but in situated and specific ways, in ways that honor their humanity (Bartolomé, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 2014). After all, teaching is relational, situated, and contextual (Philip et al., 2018). As such, it cannot (and should not) be reduced to a set of teaching moves or practices (Ellis & Orchard, 2014; Philip et al., 2018), lest it intend to re-produce inequities.
The counter-narratives presented in this article remind us that good teaching cannot be conceptualized apart from (or even in opposition to) theory, reflection or deliberative discourse of any kind (Ellis & Orchard, 2014, p. 2). Thus, they do not define good teachers as those who can go through the motions associated with reductive notions of good teaching; they recognize that no single practice will work in every context. According to participants, good teachers are those who engage with the complexities inherent in teaching as relational and contextual; those who engage in the ongoing negotiation of ethical and professional norms (e.g., Yolanda deciding not to video record her teaching in order to protect the undocumented children she taught); and those who engage in the interruption of injustices fostered day in and day out in the name of education. Thus, they invite us to revision good teachers as those who take on the role of cultural workers (Freire, 1998) and humbly engage in learning from the children they teach, their families, and communities, committing to (re)positioning their knowledges, voices, and experiences from margin to center in curriculum and teaching. From such a perspective, good teachers are not developed through the acquisition of teaching moves, the mastery of a set of practices, or mere delivery of content; instead, they need to develop political clarity so as to be able to effectively create, adopt, and modify teaching strategies that simultaneously respect and challenge learners from diverse cultural groups in a variety of learning environments (Bartolomé, 1994, p. 178).
In addition to the impossibility of neutrality and objectivity, which mask the interests of dominant groups, conceptualizations of quality purported by edTPA marginalize the perspectives and livelihoods of teachers of color. The experiences and voices of teachers of color who participated in this study urge usteacher education researchersto engage with the question posed by Barmore (2016): Will controversial new tests for teachers make the profession even more overwhelmingly white? (p. 1). To honor the voice and narrative of one of the teachers of color who participated in this study, You know that Black women already have their share of health issues. So because there arent enough Black teachers, edTPA was created? To make sure that Black teachers leave before they ever enter the profession? As in the case of Fatima, who uttered these words and did not pass edTPA, Race may play into how we judge good teaching (Barmore, 2016, p. 1).
Implications point toward the need for research that helps us move to a definition of good teaching grounded in justice as nonnegotiable if we are to (re)define teacher preparation in transformative and racially just waysby insisting on a counter-narrative of quality teaching and quality teachers centered on the practices, values, and identities of teachers of color, the children they teach, and the communities in which they live. Thus, future research, policy, and practice pertaining to the assessment and certification of teachers must prioritize justice and equity and, in doing so, commit to centering the lives and experiences of teachers of color and to seriously addressing the consequences of high-stakes assessments to the Whiteification of teaching. Such a (re)focusing has the potential to provide a pathway for interrupting injustice in and through teacher education research.
Teacher educators can no longer afford to ignore the issues brought forth by Carter G. Woodson in 1933: how people of color are deliberately educated away from their own culture and traditions, and how they are expected to learn about and thus be located on the margins of Eurocentric ways of being and behaving. And as a field, we must understand that antagonism and racism are not always overt. That is, while edTPA did not set out to foster depression or suicide, the counter-narratives presented in this article pinpoint some of the trauma and harm enacted in the lives of teachers of color as a result. Although the research study portrayed in this article presents limitations, including its reliance on interview data and the exclusion of observational data from participants teaching, it offers important contributions to the field as it centers the voices and perspectives of intersectionally minoritized women of color, who are often positioned in the margins (hooks, 1984). As such, it offers much-needed lessons for teacher education in general and for early childhood teacher assessment and certification in particular. Namely, it denounces how racism is instantiated under the guise of quality and how not understanding such covert and insidious racism and antagonism in teacher education may be a matter of life or death . . . as unveiled by Fatimas narrative.
Thus, I insist on calling for future teacher education research and practice to centrally honor the voices and unapologetically (re)focus on listening to the narratives of teachers of color, positioning them centrally in early childhood education and beyondlest teachers of color continue to be pushed out to the margins of the teaching profession (or relegated to a second tier of teaching) by this or another new assessment, in name of someone elses rigor and quality. Not theirs.
I thank Gail R. Buffalo, Dwight C. Manning, Shameka Powell, and Maisha T. Winn for their insightful comments and critiques on earlier drafts of this manuscript.
1. I employ the term intersectionally minoritized instead of minority because [a]s a characterization of people, minority is stigmatizing and often numerically inaccurate. . . . Minoritized more accurately conveys the power relations and processes by which certain groups are socially, economically, and politically marginalized within the larger society (McCarty, 2002, p. xv). Combining minoritized with intersectional acknowledges prejudice stemming from the intersections of racist ideas and other forms of bigotry, such as sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, and homophobia (Kendi, 2016, p. 5).
2. I use the term counter-narratives to signal how they are positioned in contrast to the dominant master-narrative defining quality teachers.
3. As of July 11, 2018, 18 states had established policies identifying edTPA passing scores required for teacher licensure or program completion; two states were in the process of establishing such policies. According to edTPAs Participation Map (http://edtpa.aacte.org/state-policy), there were 786 participating teacher education programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia.
4. Whiteness is a place of structural advantages based on racial privileges. . .a lens through which privileged people see themselves as well as others placements in society (i.e. meritocracy) . . . [and] cultural and societal practices that go unnamed and unmarked (San Pedro, 2018, p. 17).
5. Inspired by Chouliaraki and Fairclough (1999), who explored the colonization-appropriation dialectic, I define discursive colonization as the process whereby institutional discourses infiltrate everyday narratives uncritically and narrators are positioned passively. I define discursive appropriation as the process whereby institutional discourses are actively and critically problematized, appropriated, recontextualized, and repurposed in everyday narratives in ways that serve the purposes and align with moralities of social agents, strategically serving their needs and priorities and fomenting transformation.
6. NCATE stands for National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. In 2013, it was replaced by CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation). Both have served as accreditation bodies pertaining to teacher education. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education performs peer evaluation and accreditation of institutions of higher education in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.
7. IEPs (individualized education programs) and 504 plans are educational blueprints for children with identified disabilities.
8. Pearson Education is the corporate manager of edTPA. It disseminates edTPA handbooks, hires and trains raters, and archives portfolios, including video clips.
9. Double parentheses indicate laughter and other extralinguistic information.
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As further explained in the article, because I sought to prioritize what was critical to participants, I asked them to identify three things that defined how they experienced edTPA. Next, I offer excerpts from interview transcriptions where they identify what defined their experiences. As I read these, I identified emotional hot points (Cahnmann-Taylor, Souto-Manning, Wooten, & Dice, 2009), points of maximum emotional evocation (bolded). From these, I developed a list of codes to analyze the full set of transcripts (Appendix B).
Mariana: Tell me three key things that would define how you experienced edTPA.
Aliyah: edTPA led me to question my decision to become a teacher. It put pressure on me. Caused so much stress. I had anxiety attacks. I ended up having to take psychotropic drugs. . . . I got mastery, but I aint proud. I wanted to have the skills to make a difference in my community. edTPA wasnt about that. As I look back, I feel like I had to bow to White superiority. My people would not be proud. Hell, I aint proud. But Im glad its over. Even talking about it is stressful.
Brianna: It was all pretense. Like acting, not really what teaching is like. At all. At least not good teaching, mind you. I staged the whole thing. I felt bad asking the kids to play along. . . . I had to do it if I was gonna become a teacher. And to make it all worse, it wasnt easy to pay for it. I didnt have the money. And I couldnt ask my family for help like some of the girls in the program. I work to help them financially, not the other way around. I was so anxious about it all.
Fatima: Well, lets say there were definitely roadblocks. Im glad I was able to knock them down and not be knocked down by them. Although I almost was. I almost killed myself. I was clinically depressed. I was hospitalized. I guess these are the things I will remember edTPA for. Oh, and I failed edTPA by three points. Let me show you my score ((pulls out edTPA Score Profile on her phone)). Then I moved out of state so that I could teach.
Imani: For me? I passed. Its over. Im a great teacher, right? Alright, let me be serious for a moment. edTPA was stressful. It was long, expensive and unnecessary. My professors gave me better feedback than the edTPA. Did it make me better than other teachers? No. In fact, it did nothing to better prepare me for the classroom. I still dont understand how its supposedly measuring the quality of your teaching. I dont think it is. To me, it feels like something designed to line someones pocket. Seriously.
Makayla: Three things? Only three? ((laughs)) Okay. Let me see. I would have to say harm, exclusion, and lies. Harm because I could see how it didnt account for the safety of the students I taught or their families. Exclusion because it excluded me from teaching in historically dispossessed communities. As a Black woman, it extracted me from communities like the one I belong to. Im not good enough to teach Black and Brown babies in [historically Black community] but Im good enough to teach White babies at [Ivy League institution]. So ironic! And lies because it pretends to be all about good teachers, but its removing good teachers from the communities that need them. Its like history repeating itself, dispossessing the historically dispossessed.
Maria: They say edTPA is about good teaching. That its about putting good teachers in the classroom. This is not how I experienced edTPA. I can tell you that edTPA was my worst teaching. It sees teachers and children as blank slates. It is as if they brought no experiences to the classroom, to the teaching. It is an impoverished approach to teaching. I knew it made no sense, but I kept asking myself: Why? Then, as I saw some of my classmates struggle to pay for the test, it hit me. Someone is benefitting from it. Or it wouldnt exist. Or if it did exist, it would be free. Its cost is an obstacle.
Melissa: It was so stressful that it led me to cheat, to behave unethically. I was and still am ashamed. It didnt add to my development as a teacher. It was a waste of time. It was expensive too.
Patricia: Oh, can I? ((laughs)) Yes. edTPA made me so anxious. I couldnt focus on anything else. I gained weight. I didnt make it to yoga like the whole semester. I kept thinking, how do I get the kids to behave like robots? It simplified, it oversimplified teaching while pretending to hold a high bar. It was just pathetic and it financially strained me. I had to pay for the test and buy new clothes cuz I had gained so much weight. It made me so anxious. I think I already told you that. There is so much more I could tell you. But the defining moments? It caused anxiety and weight gain, it cost a lot, and it didnt add to who I am as a teacher. I guess thats it.
Yesenia: No good came from this. I went from being a lead teacher to now Im an assistant. I have a degree, but no certification. Mariana, can you believe now my salary is lower? They tell me the degree is not enough to be lead teacher. . . . That Im not good enough. I had to work so hard and now I have a [remedial action] work plan. Its humiliating. I feel inadequate. A master degree and a work plan. I feel ashamed. I thank God my director, she dont judge me. Praise the Lord.
Yolanda: For me, edTPA mean less pay. It also made me doubt my teaching, you know. And, you know, ultimately I had to choose between being certified and protecting my kids. It was stressful. It still is. Many of my kids and their families, they dont have papers. . . . I couldnt risk them. I still am not certified. I dont know the experience of other people, but this is mine. And all the teaching I did before the degree? No cuenta nada. They want to treat all new teachers the same, but we are not all the same. Some of us have experience. This was just a requirement. Just a piece of paper.
LIST OF CODES
Initially, I used the emotional hot points (Cahnmann-Taylor, Souto-Manning, Wooten, & Dice, 2009) identified from the excerpts included in Appendix A to code the data. Through a constant comparative analysis, I was able to develop overarching categories, which (a) encompassed how these 10 women of color experienced edTPA, (b) honored their prioritizations or what was critical for them and according to them, and (c) better represented their collective experience. While the financial cost of edTPA was initially a separate category (Financial strains and costs associated with edTPA), because of the links between costs and stress, it was ultimately combined with edTPA leading to mental health issues, stress, and self-doubt under the category edTPA leading to mental health issues and stress, which became Theme 2.
The code edTPA as an obstacle to access higher pay focuses on the experiences of a subgroup of four participantsFatima, Makayla, Yesenia, and Yolandaall of whom either did not pass or chose not to submit edTPA portfolios (Theme 1). The other two themes are represented in all the participants narratives.
Next, to protect participants identities, I offer key phrases or words from their summaries (Appendix A). Numbers to the right of specific terms indicate repetition. Nevertheless, the themes identified next were present throughout their narratives: Theme (1) in the narratives of four women, and Themes (2) and (3) in the narratives of all 10.
SAMPLE TRANSCRIPTION CODING
Here I offer sample transcription codings. Honoring my research ethics and recognizing the harm withstood by communities and individuals of color in the name of research (Smith, 2012), and given the small number of participants in this study and my efforts to protect them and their identitiesespecially considering the stress they reported as a result of edTPAI restrict my samples to those already included in the article (expanding to include the question or prompt offered).
I underline the phrase exemplifying the code and then include the code between parentheses. The initial codes employed are:
(1a) edTPA as an obstacle to access higher pay
(1b) edTPA pushing teachers out of communities of color
(2a) edTPA leading to mental health issues, stress, and self-doubt
(2b) Financial strains and costs associated with edTPA
(3a) edTPA being antithetical to good teaching
As explained in Appendix B, (1a) and (1b) were eventually combined under (1) edTPA as an obstacle to access higher pay, and (2a) and (2b) were eventually combined under (2) edTPA leading to mental health issues and stress.
Sample Transcription Coding A
Mariana: Thank you for sharing your experience with me. Looking back at your experience with edTPA, what are some of your thoughts and reflections?
Aliyah: I hate to admit it. I doubted myself (2a).
Aliyah: And to think this test put that much pressure and stress on me (2a). I can write. I graduated from [Ivy League institution of higher education] and [Ivy League institution of higher education]. I did good. I didnt just survive. I thrived. I got [NYSED] mastery, whatever the hell that is ((laughs)). But as I was working on the edTPA, I realized how incoherent this whole thing was with my commitment. With why I decided to become a teacher in the first place. . . . I am a proud product of Black Power. I was brought up on an Afrocentric curriculum. And here I was. Having to bow to White superiority? Hell no. I was plagued by anxiety attacks. I had to get medicated (2a). . . . Mastery with a side of drugs.
Sample Transcription Coding B
Mariana: Yes, youre right; edTPA is a test, an assessment to see if new teachers are ready for the classroom. If you were to describe edTPA to someone whos unfamiliar with it, what would you say? What is it?
Brianna: Just something they made me do. Didnt make me a good teacher. It stressed me out (2a) cuz it was so unrealistic. Like teaching in a laboratory. But children are not robots (3a), you know? So, it caused a lot of stress (2a). Took time away from my life and so much money away from my account. I remember I spent two weeks drinking hot water. My stomach hurt so bad. I didnt have no money to eat (2b). I couldnt work, you know? I had to take time off to write. I had to. But it got me to the classroom. Didnt teach me nothing about teaching. At least nothing about good teaching (3a).
Sample Transcription Coding C
Mariana: What else can you tell me about edTPA and how it affected your life?
Fatima: So, the edTPA threw me for a long and dark loop. It gave me six months of depression. My mom had to take me to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me. Clinical depression (2a). Every time I thought about teaching, I felt like a failure (2a). This edTPA even got me to try to kill myself with pills. I had to be hospitalized (2a). It was really bad. Then, I moved to [another state] that didnt need edTPA (1b). Im teaching kindergarten. I love it. And my kids love me, so I must be doing something right. I can hardly believe edTPA nearly made me take my life away (2a). What a waste! And you know that Black women already have their share of health issues. So because there arent enough Black teachers, edTPA was created? To make sure that Black teachers leave before they ever enter the profession?
Sample Transcription Coding D
Mariana: How would you describe your edTPA videos? The ones you submitted as part of your portfolio.
Maria: edTPA showcases some of my worst teaching. If I taught like that, my class would be total chaos. I would not be regarding childrens knowledge and experiences. I would not be meeting their needs. I would be simply ignoring them (3a).
Sample Transcription Coding E
Mariana: Hmm. Im not sure Im fully understanding what you are saying. Can you help me? Can you tell me a little more about this tweaking you are describing?
Melissa: I did really well in all my coursework. I graduated as an A student. I turned in papers I was proud of for two years. Then, edTPA came. I just tweaked the example they gave me and turned it in. I passed. It was pathetic. Its over, thats all I care. Im not proud of it, but I was under so much stress and the deadlines for edTPA submission (2a) and that I had to do it. My one time cheating. I just wanna forget it and get on with life. Im a good teacher. I dont need edTPA to tell me that. I have that piece of paper. What a total waste of time. An expensive and stressful waste of time (2a + 2b).
Sample Transcription Coding F
Mariana: So tell me about edTPA.
Patricia: edTPA? ((laughs)) What can I say? Worst teaching in my life. And I received mastery. A joke. A total joke. Some people say its like the bar ((laughs)). I sure hope the bar is not this pathetic. Oversimplify your teaching. Dont pay attention to your kids and what interests them. No room for teachable moments (3a). Now, people do edTPA in my class and have to totally bribe the kids to act like robots (3a). Who created this? And you have to pay so much for it (2b). . . . Now that I am teaching, there is nothing, I mean absolutely nothing about the edTPA that I use. I always think about the kind of teaching that exemplifies bad teaching [when I think of edTPA] (3a). And they thought it was mastery. ((laughs))
Sample Transcription Coding G
Mariana: Tell me more about deciding not to submit your edTPA portfolio after completing so many tasks.
Yolanda: Im ashamed, you know, that I couldnt do it. Even though I been teaching for many, many years, I started thinking, is my teaching any good? I learned a lot from the program at [university], dont get me wrong, but this edTPA, I dont know, got me really down. That somehow was telling me I couldnt teach (2a). I started thinking, all for nothing. Then, I graduated and got back to the classroom. I thought, I know I can teach. The kids show me. Their family tells me. I can. But they dont pay me like people who dont know the kids, who dont know the families and the community they teach but have the edTPA. My experience, so many years, no cuenta nada [doesnt count for anything]. Its all about this paper. Not a paper from the professors who know me. From someone who dont know who I am, who my kids are, and who I am as a teacher. And I cant pay my loans cuz they didnt give me no raise (1a). And I wont film my kids and send it in, you know, cuz many of my kids dont have papers. Their life is worth more. If being a good teacher is putting your kids en riesgo y sus familias también, entonces de acuerdo con sus reglas no soy una buena maestra [Eng: at risk and their families too, then according to their rules I am not a good teacher]. But if you ask my families, they tell you Im a good teacher (3a). But Im worse off. All because of this edTPA. But the colleges still give me student teachers. Every semester. So, in the end, its all about them not wanting to pay me. It creates second-class teaching. Same degree, same responsibilities, less pay (1a).