Whiteness in a hidden space—unspoken but still there, in a private space, the classroom
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The purpose of this study was to address what it means that so many Black students are taught by White female teachers. Specifically, this study examined the beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions of White female novice teachers in regards to their Black students. In doing so, it described the teachers’ educational backgrounds and experiences with Black students and what they perceive their role and professional responsibility to be in eliminating the Black-White achievement gap. Furthermore, this study evaluated the degree to which these high school White female novice teacher were aware of their own Whiteness and privilege, and were prepared to teach in classrooms where the student population consists mostly of Black students. The conceptual framework that guided this study was Critical Whiteness Theory, which has its origins in Critical Race Theory. Critical Whiteness theory places emphasis on the idea that White people are afforded certain privileges just because they were born with light skin. Three White female novice teachers who teach at the secondary level participated in this study Semi-structured interviews were conducted with each teacher to understand their beliefs about and perceptions about their Black students. Additionally, this study investigates how three White female teachers at the high school level understand the connections between their own Whiteness and its impact on their interactions with Black students in the classroom. All three interviews were recorded and then transcribed for analysis. The analysis process involved coding and classifying the interview data with the goal of highlighting the important messages and findings. The data were arranged and discussed systematically. There were several commonalities across the participants’ experiences. Specifically, all three teachers discussed their exposure to diversity, the mistrust Black students felt towards them, their decision to teach, their teacher education programs, the roles and responsibilities of the school and administration, what they believed to be the causes of the Black-White achievement gap, and their awareness of Whiteness and White privilege. These teachers demonstrated a genuine desire to see their Black students achieve academic success, however, what they each found most surprising was the degree of mistrust their Black students had for them because they are White. As a result, these White female novice teachers were placed in a situation where they were forced to reflect on their Whiteness and how this impacts relationships with Black students. The implications of this study will assist leaders at the collegiate level in designing courses that will address cultural competency and White privilege. In addition, this study will benefit educational leaders interested in cultural competency by recommending and supporting the necessity for developing ongoing professional development training that will assist teachers with becoming more culturally competent. Moreover, the information shared by the three participants in this study will help bring awareness to issues often experienced by White females who are teaching Black students, thus encouraging White female teachers to become self-reflective in regards to their own Whiteness, and its impact on Black students. Finally, the information shared in this study will help equip school administrators to be able to engage in crucial conversations about race and culture with their teachers to help them begin the journey toward cultural competency.