The Dilemma of Cultural Responsiveness and Professionalization: Listening Closer to Immigrant Teachers Who Teach Children of Recent Immigrants
by Jennifer Keys Adair, Joseph Tobin & Angela E. Arzubiaga - 2012
Background/Context: Many scholars in the fields of teacher education, multicultural education, and bilingual education have argued that children of recent immigrants are best served in classrooms that have teachers who understand the cultural background and the home language of their students. Culturally knowledgeable and responsive teachers are important in early education and care settings that serve children from immigrant families. However, there is little research on immigrant teachers’ cultural and professional knowledge or on their political access to curricular/pedagogical decision-making.
Focus of Study: This study is part of the larger Children Crossing Borders (CCB) study: a comparative study of what practitioners and parents who are recent immigrants in multiple countries think should happen in early education settings. Here, we present an analysis of the teacher interviews that our team conducted in the United States and compare the perspectives of immigrant teachers with those of their nonimmigrant counterparts, specifically centering on the cultural expertise of immigrant teachers who work within their own immigrant community.
Research Design: The research method used in the CCB project is a variation of the multivocal ethnographic research method used in the two Preschool in Three Cultures studies. We made videotapes of typical days in classrooms for 4-year-olds in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings in five countries (England, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States) and then used these videos as cues for focus group interviews with parents and teachers. Using a coding framework designed by the national CCB team, we coded 30 focus group interviews. The coding framework was designed to facilitate comparisons across countries, cities, and categories of participants (teachers and parents, immigrant and nonimmigrant).
Findings/Results: Teachers who are themselves immigrants from the same communities of the children and families they serve seem perfectly positioned to bridge the cultural and linguistic worlds of home and school. However, our study of teachers in five U.S. cities at a number of early childhood settings suggests that teachers who are themselves immigrants often experience a dilemma that prevents them from applying their full expertise to the education and care of children of recent immigrants. Rather than feeling empowered by their bicultural, bilingual knowledge and their connection to multiple communities, many immigrant teachers instead report that they often feel stuck between their pedagogical training and their cultural knowledge.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Bicultural, bilingual staff, and especially staff members who are themselves immigrants from the community served by the school, can play an invaluable role in parent–staff dialogues, but only if their knowledge is valued, enacted, and encouraged as an extension of their professional role as early childhood educators. For the teachers, classrooms, and structures in our study, this would require nonimmigrant practitioners to have a willingness to consider other cultural versions of early childhood pedagogy as having merit and to enter into dialogue with immigrant teachers and immigrant communities.
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