“Urban, but Not Too Urban”: Unpacking Teachers’ Desires to Teach Urban Students

Jan. 01, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62(1), p. 23-34. January/February 2011.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current study explores novice, urban-trained teachers’ evaluations of their current schools.

The participants were16 teachers from the same private, graduate-level university teacher education program (TEP) in the eastern United States.
The sample consisted of two men and 14 women. One participant was of color: Peggy, an Asian American female; the remaining participants were White American.
One participant identified himself as working-class, the remaining participants identified themselves middle-class or above, and all attended suburban schools while growing up.

Conclusion and Implications

The findings reveal that these teachers prefer the behaviors, beliefs, and values that they perceive most resemble suburban-ness or middle-class-ness. For these teachers, urban and suburban are cultural constructs (Watson, 2007),rather than geographic references. They refer to the beliefs these teachers have about the race and class of their students.
The more culturally urban the students were, the more negative expectations the teacher had and the more the teacher believed she or he needed to know about race. The more culturally suburban the students were, the more positive the expectations the teacher had and the less the teacher believed she or he needed to know about race.

This study demonstrates how these teachers’ ranking essentially reinforced the dominance of White, middle-class culture, revealing the hidden discourse of class and how the beliefs associated with class are often entangled with race. If a student of color behaved according to participants’ notions of a White student, those seeking to teach students of color were more likely to be satisfied with their placement and have higher and positive expectations for their students.

Therefore, the author argues that teaching candidates must see that these issues are central to teaching.
One way to assist candidates in grappling with race is to begin with the admissions process. TEPs need to be proactive during the admissions process in weeding out candidates who seem too deeply rooted in Whiteness or unexamined White privilege and appear unable or unwilling to change. Applicants who are marginal might need to be placed in a course where extensive work on Whiteness is completed and sustained support is provided.

Furthermore, this teacher inquiry must begin with teachers examining themselves and at the very start of the TEP. The point is to get teachers to think deeply about themselves as racial beings and what that means as a teacher. Candidates need to inquire how this system of dominance affects teaching—the curriculum they choose, where they choose to teach, and how they view students of all races.

The author also claims that PK-12 schools have also a responsibility here. PK-12 schools must begin helping teachers to think critically about how race and inequity affect their practice.

The author concludes that if we want to respond adequately to the growing culture gap between teachers and students, we must address how teachers view students of color.

Watson, D. (2007). Norming suburban: How teachers describe teaching in urban schools. Unpublished dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, MA.

Updated: Mar. 27, 2012