Aggressive and Tender Navigations: Teacher Educators Confront Whiteness in Their Practice

Jun. 21, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(3) 225–236. (May/June 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes three teacher educators’ treatment of antiracist pedagogy.

The authors investigated the following research questions:
(a) What are the authors own beliefs about and practices related to antiracist work as teacher educators?
(b) How do preservice teachers experience race and racism in our program? and
(c) How do their experiences reflect, confirm, or trouble the authors understanding of their own practices and beliefs?


This qualitative study combined (a) focus group data from the authors’ own teacher education students and alumni and (b) self-study data of the authors’ own beliefs and practice as teacher educators. The authors used the themes emerging from focus group data to guide their analyses of the self-study data.


The authors work in a teacher education program which is dominated by the young, white, female demographic. The authors invited their 141 current students and alumni from 2005 to 2008 (12 of whom were students of color) to participate in the study. Seven students and alumni of color participated. Their white students were absent from the project. Five of the seven participants were current students, all were female.


The authors found that their beliefs and practices perpetuated and reinforced white racial knowledge in two ways:
(a) The authors affirmed white non-participation.
The authors suggest that one source of evidence of white non-participation can be found in white students’ absence from the focus groups and the authors own patterns of non-engagement with race talk in their capacities as white teacher educators.

(b) The authors silenced talk, missing opportunities to address or interrupt racism in the teacher education context. The self-study data suggested that the authors at least partially failed their students of color in the name of being nice by privileging white comfort to avoid bringing conflict to the fore and thereby making ourselves uncomfortable.


In conclusion, the authors propose three steps toward aggressively, yet tenderly, navigating and interrupting white racial knowledge.
1) Aggressively hack at our roots while tenderly working with others: White teacher educators must aggressively interrogate their own practice and tenderly work with others to create alternative ideologies and transitional practices to enable a shift that makes race everyone’s project.

2) Aggressively lobby for valued space and tenderly govern its use: This means building sustainable spaces for faculty to engage in authentic race work and dialogue.

3) Aggressively challenge our job descriptions, rewriting them if necessary, so that we might more tenderly promote growth. White teacher educators should pursue additional institutional support to become not just skilled teacher educators but also skilled intergroup dialogue facilitators. The teacher educators should increase their instructional repertoire to interrupt racism and tenderly guide students through conflict without resorting to economies of niceness.

Updated: Jul. 18, 2010