The Dilemma of Cultural Responsiveness and Professionalization: Listening Closer to Immigrant Teachers Who Teach Children of Recent Immigrants

Dec. 01, 2012

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 114, No. 12, December 2012, pages 1-37.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors present an analysis of the teacher interviews which were conducted in five U.S. cities with 50 preschool teachers, almost half of whom were bilingual, bicultural immigrant teachers.
These interviews were part of a comparative study in Europe and the United States of what practitioners and parents who are recent immigrants think should happen in preschool.

The authors compare the perspectives of these immigrant teachers with those of their nonimmigrant counterparts.
Specifically, the authors focus on the cultural expertise of immigrant teachers who work within their own immigrant community.

The Research Method
The authors made videotapes of typical days in classrooms for 4-year-olds in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings in five countries (England, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States) and then used these videotapes as cues for focus group interviews with parents and teachers.

In all the focus group interviews with immigrant parents and preschool teachers, participants were asked to watch and discuss first a video of a day in a preschool in their country and then one from another country.

Approximately 50 teachers and 100 immigrant parents participated in the U.S. focus groups.


One of the major findings is that preschool teachers are caught between their pedagogical training and their cultural knowledge.
The core of the problem is that in the course of becoming a professional, immigrant teachers have had to renounce positions they held before joining the field and to adopt the field’s central beliefs.
On the other hand, if immigrant teachers too completely adopt the positions of their nonimmigrant fellow teachers, they risk being seen as alienated from their culture of origin, or worse, as being a traitor to their community.

Cultural Responsiveness to Immigrant Teachers
The findings also reveal that both immigrant parents and nonimmigrant teachers express admiration and appreciation for bicultural, bilingual staff members as sources of information, translators, and mediators.

Furthermore, the interviews suggest that neither immigrant parents nor nonimmigrant staff members are always aware of the difficulties the bicultural staff members in their program face as they struggle to negotiate their in-between positionality.


Ignoring the tensions produced by the in-betweenness of the immigrant teacher sets an impossible expectation for the teachers and frees the larger structural institutions from addressing this contradiction head on.
Immigrant teachers can be effective cultural explicators and mediators between the host and immigrant cultures.

Furthermore, immigrant teachers can play an invaluable role in parent–staff dialogues, but only if their knowledge is valued, enacted, and encouraged as an extension of their professional role as early childhood educators.

For the teachers, classrooms, and structures in our study, this would require nonimmigrant practitioners to have a willingness to consider other cultural versions of early childhood pedagogy as having merit and to enter into dialogue with immigrant teachers and immigrant communities.

Updated: Jun. 17, 2013