Five First Year Teacher Perspectives on the Effects of Culturally Responsive Pedagogical Training
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The perceived disconnect between culturally responsive teaching and rigorous instruction is a dangerous one. Without acknowledging that culturally responsive pedagogical training is necessary in order for teachers to be effective in the classroom, many first-year teachers are attempting to operate in their classrooms under a profound disadvantage. This gap only widens over the course of their first year in the classroom as instructional coaches spend time on prescriptive classroom management tools rather than pedagogical training and culturally competent curriculum development. In an initial planning conversation with the head of Excellent Teaching, the rationale for not including culturally responsive pedagogical training was that beginning teachers needed to first focus on classroom management and lesson facilitation before moving into culturally responsive practices. Students deserve more, and they deserve it from the minute we step foot into the classroom. In fact, it is imperative. Hammond (2015) argues that culturally responsive practices are rigorous instruction and that if we deny our teachers access to this training, we are denying them the opportunity to instruct our students most effectively. Gay (2002) defines culturally responsive teaching “as using the cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives of ethnically diverse students as conduits for teaching them more effectively” (p. 45). It requires work on the part of the educator. The educator must dedicate time to learning about the specific cultures of his/her students and understand that these specific cultures affect learning behaviors and classroom interactions. It is only through this dedication to self- and student practices that a teacher can become truly engaging. Omnes Public Schools is a charter school district that was founded almost twenty year ago, within a large urban community in the southwestern United States to address educational inequality. It is an award-winning district with a 100% college acceptance rate. Many educators in this district have been teaching for three years or less and are alternatively certified through programs like Teach for America and the district’s own alternative certification program for in-service first year teachers. This contributes to a very real gap in pedagogical training and the lack of a space to critically analyze such concepts as deficit thinking. Whereas educators pursuing teaching certification through traditional paths are engaged in multiple semesters of training, alternative certification teachers must squeeze this process into a two-week chunk over the summer and one Saturday per month in the first year. Traditionally educated future-teachers have access to such classes as Educational Psychology, Special Populations, Second Language Acquisition, Assessment of Children, content specific courses and Student Teaching (University of Houston, College of Education Sample Degree Plan). The space for such self-reflection and professional development has been glaringly lacking in this district – where, per interviews with participants, the focus was largely on classroom management strategies and lesson planning. From my own participation this program in my first year of teaching as well as through corroboration by current participants and Instructional Coaches, diversity training and culturally responsive pedagogical training needed to be embedded in the already existing certification program and clear recommendations needed to be provided to the developers of this program. This claim can be grounded in the research of Valenzuela (1999) and Page and Witty (2010) in which both sources articulate the gap that exists of pedagogical differences in teacher approach to students through the concept of “subtractive schooling.” In order to combat subtractive schools, alternatively certified teachers in this district must have access to teaching rigorous instruction through a culturally responsive lens so that students can achieve freedom and social justice rather than a simplified version of success identified through test scores (Grant, 2012 and Hammond, 2015). Additionally, the teachers in this district are serving high populations of students of color and free and reduced-lunch. The teachers themselves – for the most part – are not coming into teaching from this community and, for this reason, it is imperative to have teachers engaging in exercises around diversity and privilege so as to deescalate the defensiveness with which [teachers uncomfortable with acknowledging systemic racism] typically engage in these conversations (Sleeter and Grant, 2007). This study focuses on a case study using critical qualitative research. At the time of inquiry, diversity training at the campus level was popularly viewed as inadequate and was non-existent at the in-service alternative certification program. At the time, this study was just in its initial phases and so on-the-record interviews were not possible. These perceptions were gathered from informal interviews with teachers at the campus level and through the researcher’s own interpretations of the professional developments in which she participated that were provided by the district. The study analyzes the perspectives of five first-year teacher participants as they engaged with three radically different professional development series dealing with topics including, systemic inequality and colorblindness, culturally responsive practices, and critical hope. The sessions were organized in different ways so as to analyze for receptivity of the teachers and to see which types of sessions led to clear reflections and takeaways. Teacher perceptions through journal reflections and post-participation interviews led to recommendations to Omnes Public Schools. Analysis of these participants’ experiences lends itself to having deeper discussions about race, privilege, social class, ethnic identities and how these factors contribute to and influence classroom pedagogy. These conversations can extend to the campus-offered diversity sessions developed by the district and to how Omnes’ alternative certification program for first-year teachers can include this necessary pedagogical training for their participants. Additionally, first year teachers will have a space in which to develop their own informed pedagogical approach in order to function as change agents in their classrooms and schools.