Racial experiences of pre-service teachers

December, 2021

Source: Teaching Education, 32:4, 388-402

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this research was to explore the racialized experiences of pre-service teachers of color (PSTsOC) within their teacher preparation program.
The study was conducted as leaders in the College of Education (COE) initiated efforts to focus attention on the development of the pre-service teachers (PST’s) racial consciousness and commitment to racial equity.
The present study adds to the existing literature by providing a rich description of the experiences of PSTsOC. The white pre-service teachers’ (WPSTs’) perspectives are included to, in some cases, contrast and, in other cases, corroborate the stories of PSTsOC.
Although storytelling foregrounds the voices of PSTsOC, the intent in this study was to include WPSTs’ narratives alongside those of PSTsOC.
The purpose of this was to juxtapose the stories in ways that contrasted and yet, in some cases, corroborated the stories to elevate the unique voices of color. In addition to the tenet of the unique voice of color, the present study is also informed by whiteness, which, like race, is a social construct (Guess, 2006).

The present study used qualitative methods to investigate teacher education systematically (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) and employed phenomenology, which places emphasis on the lived experiences of participants (Van Manen, 2014) and is frequently based on in-depth interviews (Patton, 2002).
The phenomenon of this investigation was participating in a predominantly White teacher education program as PSTsOC.
In order to collect data, two separate focus group interviews were conducted to facilitate an interaction that generated socially constructed data through interactive discussion (Merriam & Tisdell, 2016) about a common lived experience.
The following questions guided the study: How do participants describe their racialized lived experiences
(1) with faculty in their teacher preparation program?
(2) with the curriculum?
(3) with other PSTs?
(4) with cooperating teachers in the field experience and/or student teaching classrooms?
(5) with P-12 students in the field experiences and/or student teaching.

Context for the study
The study was conducted with the College of Education (COE) at a public, regional University located in a town with a population of ~50,000 in the Midwest with an undergraduate enrollment of ~15,000 students who are primarily from within the state, many of whom grew up in rural communities or the one major metropolitan area.
At the time of the study, the number of PSTsOC was increasing and they reported to trusted individuals that they felt they were experiencing the teacher preparation program differently than their White peers.
Simultaneously, the COE had very recently written a new mission and vision, part of which was to ‘inspire lifelong learning and professional engagement through racial consciousness, social justice, and inclusion’.
As a part of these efforts, approximately 35 faculty participated in professional development related to developing racial consciousness and a small group of faculty wrote common definitions to be used across the College for terms like race, ethnicity, and culture.
The definitions were placed in some syllabi and were printed on posters. Some faculty began taking up issues in K-12 education related to race within their courses in a range of ways and were grappling with the curriculum.
Yet, most faculty were not yet making significant changes to their pedagogy or to the ways PSTs demonstrated their ways of knowing

PSTs from three initial preparation programs, Elementary Education, Kindergarten and Secondary Programs (KSP), and Special Education, were invited to participate via an email that included a link to a survey that collected demographic information including preparation program, gender, and racial identity.
Fifteen PSTs indicated they were interested in participating.
Two focus groups were created, one that identified racially as PSTsOC and one as White.
Two researchers facilitated each focus group who aligned racially with each focus group.
That is, the focus group for PSTsOC was led by two researchers of color and the focus group for WPSTs was led by two White researchers.
This decision was made in an effort to make the participants feel comfortable to share what they thought and felt (Krueger & Casey, 2001).
The interviews were approximately two hours long and were conducted in the evening.
The semi-structured interview questions included, as a White PST/PSTOC, how would you describe your lived experiences with:
(1) Faculty?
(2) Other PSTs?
(3) Cooperating teachers in the field experience and/or student teaching classrooms?
(4) P-12 students during field experience and/or student teaching?
(5) The curriculum?
(6) The teacher preparation program in relationship to racial equity and culturally responsive teaching?

Findings and discussion
The intent of this study was to elevate the voices of PSTsOC through storytelling and counter-narratives (Saddler, 2010).
Contrasting the WPSTs’ experiences with the PSTsOCs' experiences tells an important racial story about PSTsOCs’ lived experiences as they prepare to become teachers.
The authors believe the different experiences contribute to significantly different outcomes for the PSTs based on race and that improvements to teacher education are necessary.
Specifically, WPSTs reported feeling supported as they entered the teaching profession, while students of color felt isolated.
PSTsOC wanted, and deserve, more recognition and understanding of their lived experiences in course content and improved interactions with faculty, field experiences, and White classmates.
Their interactions with White peers, content faculty, and field supervisors, cooperating P-12 teachers, and P-12 students all were all problematized by the lack of relationships and absence of race talk.
This created isolation.
If there were more intentional and conscious acknowledgement of race, then perhaps PSTsOC would have felt more welcome.
White students appeared to be largely unaware of the race-based stress experienced by PSTsOC.
Moreover, whiteness allowed for WPSTs’ feelings of support and connectedness, which might have resulted in a sort of White solidarity (DiAngelo, 2018) or racial nepotism.
This is perhaps why WPSTs felt like family in this program.
White racial nepotism sets the conditions for, and fuels, whiteness, which is a necessary ingredient for white supremacy (Goldberg, 1982).
Transformation for PSTsOC might occur by uprooting such foundations with a more racially conscious approach to teacher preparation and by adding intensive work to improve White faculty and PSTs’ racial literacy.


Multiple racial perspectives - The number of faculty of color who also demonstrate race consciousness and pedagogy should be increased in order to add multiple racial perspectives.
Additionally, enrolling more PSTsOC can add missing perspectives and experiences to teacher preparation.
When multiple racial perspectives are considered, policies like admission criteria which privileges GPA more than personal stories, can be uprooted.
Similarly, job descriptions for faculty search committees can use language that includes racial literacy, as a required or preferred qualification, which might increase the number of candidates of color.

Dialogue about race - Protocols, such as Courageous Conversations about Race (CCAR) (Singleton, 2015), can effectively promote interracial and intra-racial dialogue with PSTs and faculty.
Further, the authors recommend professional development that is grounded in critical consciousness that includes processes for deepening awareness of their own racial identities.
Utilizing these processes could be used in a courageous, color brave curriculum to supplant white supremacy with racial equity

DiAngelo, R. (2018). White fragility: Why it’s so hard for White people to talk about racism. Beacon Press.
Goldberg, M. S. (1982). Discrimination, nepotism, and long-run wage differentials. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 97(2), 307–319.
Guess, T. (2006). The social construction of whiteness: Racism by intent, racism by consequence. Critical Sociology, 32(4), 649–673.
Krueger, R., & Casey, M. (2001). Designing and conducting focus group interviews. In R. Krueger, M. Casey, J. Donner, S. Kirsch, & J. Maack (Eds.), Social analysis: Selected tools and techniques (pp. 4–23).The World Bank.
Merriam, S., & Tisdell, E. (2016). A qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation (4th ed.). Jossey-Bass.
Patton, M. (2002). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (3rd ed. ed.). Sage.
Saddler, C. (2010). The impact of brown on African American students: A critical race theoretical perspective. Educational Studies: A Journal of the American Educational Studies Association, 37(1), 41–55.
Singleton, G. (2015). Courageous conversations about race: A field guide for achieving equity in schools (2nd ed.). Corwin.
VanManen, M. (2014). Phenomenology of Practice: Meaning Giving Methods in Phenomenological Research and Writing. Left Coast Press. 

Updated: Mar. 08, 2022