Cultural Match or Culturally Suspect: How New Teachers of Color Negotiate Sociocultural Challenges in the Classroom
by Betty Achinstein & Julia Aguirre - 2008
Background: The call to recruit and retain teachers of color in urban high-minority schools is based on an assumption of a cultural match with students. Yet new teachers of color may find themselves challenged by students with whom they are supposedly culturally matched. Although past research has examined recruitment, preservice, and veteran experiences of teachers of color, little research investigates the critical novice phase.
Purpose: The study examines the induction experiences of new teachers of color in urban high-minority schools as they negotiate challenges about cultural identifications. The research questions ask: How, if at all, do new teachers of color experience sociocultural challenges from students? If they do experience such challenges, how do the teachers respond to them in practice?
Participants: Fifteen new teachers of color working in urban high-minority secondary schools in different subject domains in California. The participants include Latino, African American, Asian, Filipino, and biracial new teachers.
Research Design: This article draws from cross-case analysis of case studies of new teachers of color on the theme of responses to sociocultural challenges.
Data Collection/Analysis: Data are from teacher interviews, classroom observations, and focus groups, reflecting 3 years in the teachers’ lives. We coded the data on three levels: preliminary coding of sociocultural challenges, pattern coding of responses to challenges, and cross-case analysis.
Findings: The study findings complicate the limited conception of cultural match currently dominating policy and research rhetoric about teachers of color. The authors highlight a surprising new form of “practice shock” that the novices of color experienced when students of color questioned the teachers’ cultural identifications, finding them culturally suspect. The study also challenges the prevailing description of novices’ response to practice shock as moving toward more control-focused teaching. Instead, most novices at times took up the challenges as teachable moments and opportunities to broaden student conceptions. Teachers drew on “emergent multicultural capital” to negotiate challenges in ways that shaped teaching practice.
Conclusions: The literature on novices, drawn from a White-dominant sample, has not included a discussion of sociocultural conflicts or the supports needed in induction years for teachers of color. The study revealed the lack of support that many of the teachers felt in relation to negotiating sociocultural issues. The study raises issues about targeted induction support for teachers of color that educators and researchers should consider as they seek to diversify the workforce.
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