You've Met Your Match: Using Culturally Relevant Pairing to Cultivate Mentoring Relationships during the Early Practicum Experience of Community College Preservice Teachers

October - December, 2020

Source: The Teacher Educator, 55:4, 347-372

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This paper examines how the interpersonal relationships that develop between community college early childhood pre-service teachers (CCPSTS), cooperating early childhood teachers (CTs) and professors during the capstone practicum course can create space for the CCPSTS to develop an authentic pre-professional identity as well as mastering requisite skills, despite their marginalized social positions within the field of education.
To understand the relationships between CCPSTs, CTs and professors and the impact on CCPST outcomes the authors investigate the following questions:
1. How do the relative racial and socio-economic positions of Professors, CTs and CCPSTs impact the development of CCPSTs?
2. How do pedagogical, professional and interpersonal dynamics among professors, CTs and CCPSTs affect the triad’s functioning?
3. How does the cultural historical context of the practicum classroom impact the development of the CCPSTs?
4. How does the course assignment impact the triad relationship and the connection between the practicum classroom and the college classroom?

This study reports on 60 mentoring triads, each consisting of one CCPST, one CT, and one community college professor.
Among the N = 60 students, 30% were African American, 50% were Latinx, 17% were Asian and 3% were White.
All but one identified as female.
More than 80% were first-generation college students with family incomes below the poverty line.
In total, over the course of two years there were N ¼ 33 CTs, of which 19 identify as White, 8 as African American, 5 as Latinx, and 1 as Asian.
More than half are first-generation immigrants.
At the beginning of the Spring semester, the CCPSTs completed a survey regarding their preferences for practicum placement based on location and age group.
Based on these responses, they were placed either at one of the “diverse” schools or at one of the “affluent” schools.
Most teachers at each school had previously served as CTs during prior semesters and each professor had developed knowledge of their teaching and mentoring styles based on these past experiences.
Once assigned a site, each professor matched CCPSTs to CTs based on a number of factors including: racial/cultural identification of both, pedagogical orientation of the CT and personality traits such as introversion/extroversion, history of warmth of the CT toward prior CCPSTs, and the CCPSTs observed confidence level during their prior semester’s practicum.
CCPSTs were assessed via in-class writing assignments, class discussions and observations of their prior engagement during practicum over the course of the immediately previous semester.
The goal of these “matches” was to provide CCPSTs with CTs the authors predicted would be best able to establish a supportive relationship with them.
These perceptions had developed over multiple observations of CCPSTs in practicum during the previous semester as well as through their class participation and coursework.
However, it is likely that in their roles as professors from dominant social positions with significant power differentials to that of their students what they observed and concluded about their students was subject to bias and to a very specific lens (that of what a student shows their professor).
It is also likely that what they observed of both CCPSTs and CTs during practicum visits was similarly impacted by power differentials and their positionality.
Nonetheless, their intentions for matching CCPSTs with CTs most likely provided a better “fit” than had CCPSTs been matched randomly to CTs.

Data sources

CCPST Self report:
CCPSTs completed open ended questionnaires related to their educational histories and career goals at the start of the experimental year and again at the beginning of the final experimental semester.
They also responded to journal prompts throughout the year detailing their perception of their relationship with the CT and their place in the classroom.
Additionally, course-work assignments including short and long form papers informed the research.

Professor Reports:
The authors used their notes from classroom discussions and feedback on student assignments in relation to the seminar course.
They wrote extensive field notes on practicum observations, (some were shared with students as feedback).
They also took notes on meetings held with CCPSTs and CTs.

CT Reports:
CTs wrote up evaluations of students at the end of each practicum semester.
They also conferred with the authors regarding students’ progress and the authors documented these conversations.

Results and discussion
Highly successful triads established intersubjectivity through an even power exchange, in which both teachers perceived themselves and communicated to the students that they were not superior despite differences in experience and professional credentials.
Intersubjectivity was further supported by a cultural match with Noelly and Ms. Denise and a socio-economic match between Katherine and Ms. Scully.
The shared cultural background enhanced intersubjectivity between CCPSTs and CTs, while the culturally diverse practicum classrooms supported a sense of belonging for Katherine and Noelly.
Finally, the coursework assignment created a concrete tool; enabling students to collaborate directly with the teachers and to collaboratively navigate the goals of the assignment and those of the practicum classrooms.
By enacting the classroom project together, CTs and CCPSTs were able to develop shared goals that reflected newfound approaches to pedagogy while shifting the classroom goals to be more inclusive of those of the course.
This boundary crossing served to deepen the cognitive and emotional intersubjectivity among the triad, enabling the students to apply course concepts to the practicum experience on a much more sophisticated level than before the practicum.
The unsuccessful triads’ relationships were based in hierarchical power relations.
The unequal power dynamics made the establishment of intersubjectivity impossible.
Kimesha was marginalized at the practicum site due to her social positionality relative to the families and teachers in the practicum classroom.
Samantha, despite sharing a cultural and socio-economic background with Ms. Melinda, also experienced marginalization due to the extremely unequal professional positionality imposed by Ms. Melinda.
Similarly, Ms. Melinda was protective of the boundaries of the activity system of her classroom and ensured that nothing from the course, including Professor G.’s advice for Samantha, would penetrate it.
Nonetheless, Samantha’s socio-cultural background and professional/academic history provided her with a degree of support for the challenging relationship with her CT.
As a result, she was able to understand Ms. Melinda’s pedagogy and learn from it despite not experiencing any actual mentorship.
For Kimesha, the hostile environment of the practicum made any connection between the systems of the community college course and the practicum classroom impossible.
Although Kimesha was never able to integrate herself into her practicum classroom, she was able to make use of support from her professor and classmates.
She found a role for herself in the activity system of the course and was able to learn from the seminar and assignment despite lacking mentorship from her CT.
These two examples show how power foundationally defines the practicum experience.
For intersubjectivity to develop among any individuals, power must be shared.
Once established, inter-subjectivity leads to a natural boundary crossing by intersubjectively interacting individuals who inhabit multiple activity systems.
Expansive learning between the practicum and college classroom happened naturally among the highly intersubjective triads as mutual goals reflecting both systems were co-constructed by the triad members.
The college course expanded to address the practical considerations of the practicum classrooms and the practicum classrooms became open to new methods and experimentation with teaching practice.
The results of the larger sample support the notion that culturally responsive mentoring is key for enabling mentorship of CCPSTs of color.
However, that alone is not enough.
CCPSTs of color are vulnerable to marginalization and the resulting feelings of estrangement from their course and the field of education as a whole (Delpit, 2012; Nunez, 2009; Rankin & Reason, 2005).
Taking a cultural historical activity theory )CHAT( perspective enables us to see how this student population is impacted by the historical fact that schooling in the US has been a place of exclusion for people of color (Hooks, 2000; Solorzano et al., 2005).
This culturally, historically embedded reality extends from early childhood through to college.
Recognizing how the activity systems of schools and classrooms frequently reproduce this history of exclusion explains why many CCPSTs of color enter into their education program and early practicums with extreme trepidation, distrust and a general expectation that they will be marginalized (Kim & Sax, 2009; Rankin & Reason, 2005).
The authors posit that as teacher educators we must acknowledge that CCPSTs of color bring the cultural-historical context of education as marginalization into their early practicum experiences.
We will then recognize that creating transformative practicum experiences for such students are part of our responsibility as teacher educators.

Delpit, L. D. (2012). Multiplication is for White People: Raising expectations for other people’s children. The New Press.
Hooks, b. (2000). Where we stand: Class matters. Routledge.
Kim, K. Y., & Sax, J. L. (2009). Student-faculty interactions in research universities: Differences by student gender, race, social class and first-generation status. Research in Higher Education, 50(5), 437–459.
Nunez, A. M. (2009). Latino/a students’ transitions to college: A social and intercultural capital perspective. Harvard Educational Review, 79, 22–48.
Rankin, S. R., & Reason, R. D. (2005). Differing perceptions: How students of color and white students perceive campus climate for underrepresented groups. Journal of College Student Development, 46(1), 43–61.
Solorzano, D. G., Villalpando, O., & Oseguera, L. (2005). Educational inequities and Latina/o undergraduate students in the United States: A critical race theory analysis of their educational progress. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 4(3) 272–294.

Updated: Mar. 15, 2021