JTE Author Interview: ‘Engaging and Working in Solidarity With Local Communities in Preparing the Teachers of Their Children’
Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? Check out the latest entry below.
This interview features insights from the JTE article “Engaging and Working in Solidarity with Local Communities in Preparing the Teachers of their Children,” written by Ken Zeichner, Michael Bowman, Lorena Guillén, and Kate Napolitan. This blog highlights the experience of authors Bowman (MB), Guillén (LG), and Napolitan (KN). The article is featured in the September/October issue of JTE.
Please note that TC refers to teacher candidate.
Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?
MB: There were a number of different motivations. On the institutional level, as we mention briefly in the paper, some faculty in Mountain City’s teacher education program had been for years trying to create curriculum and experiences that could foster the development of what Peter Murrell called “community teachers.” In the beginning, this consisted of placing TCs in community-based organizations and holding a concurrent seminar. While there were positive aspects of this work for some TCs, after three years the program faculty decided that another approach was necessary. At that time, there was little sense about what shape the next approach would take and little in the research literature that suggested what shape it should take. This was our invitation into the research.
LG: On a personal level, all of us have worked in urban schools and as teachers. Though we come from different backgrounds and communities, we know that students are best supported when teachers, families, schools, and communities work together. I continue to worry about the number of teachers who leave historically marginalized schools. In my experience, the reasons for this include a lack of understanding and sense of belonging to the communities where our students and families live and work.
Q: Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?
KN: Our work in elementary began the same summer of the killing of Trayvon Martin. That shaped many of the conversations between the mentors and TCs. The mentors from the families and communities often shared with us that they felt teacher education programs were culpable, and they had certain expectations about what TCs were learning when the TCs entered their communities and taught their children. We felt researching this work was an important way to remain accountable to our community partners, a way to better understand the work we were engaging in, and could provide insight for others who are engaging or planning to engage in similar work.
LG: At the same time, there was growing concern about the outsized influence of high-stakes testing on curriculum and on the labeling of students and schools. Though most teachers are sensitive to their responsibilities as anti-oppressive educators, they often struggle with their role as agents of the state operating within an inequitable system. At the time, local teachers were organizing and protesting against high-stakes testing. This left our TCs asking for guidance about their role both as novices and as future teachers working with(in) their communities.
Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?
ALL: In regards to this, we can only say how grateful we are to the many students, teachers, and mentors from local communities and families for the time they spent with all of us, sharing their experiences and their learning. We all felt a level of investment from them – that in the telling of their experiences, they were contributing to the power of the work and the learning of future teachers. We were deeply moved and humbled by their contributions and collaborations with us.
Q: Writing, by necessity, requires leaving certain things on the cutting room floor. What didn’t make it into the article that you want to talk about?
MB: As Ken has discussed elsewhere (e.g., Zeichner, Payne, & Brayko, 2015), outsiders have long maligned teacher education programs as either ineffectual or irrelevant and have worked to “reform” preparation by “blowing up” the present system in favor of market-based approaches. Like all market-based educational reforms, this deserves strong critique and ultimate rejection.
Yet we also must recognize that those within teacher education – even those who are working to “transform” the system from within – do not always share the same vision for its transformation.
We decided to leave much of the internal faculty debates and the intentional attempts to undermine the work of the community mentors out of this paper. Our goal for the paper, instead, is to illuminate the different curricular components and learning opportunities that can be created and supported when community mentors are at the table in planning teacher education for their children. Make no mistake, however, what we in the paper call the “solidarity approach” to teacher-family-community relations is extremely difficult and contentious. It necessarily rubs up against hierarchies and cultures beholden to the idea that knowledge emanates primarily from the academy and/or the belief that teaching can be reduced to a number of high-leverage practices to be rehearsed and performed.
KN: Although present in the paper, we really could have also written an entire other paper on the role of the two co-founders of the Family Community Mentor Network (FCMN) with the TCs. TCs heard from more than 70 local mentors from families and communities throughout the year this research took place, but the sustained engagement between the two co-founders and the TCs had an impactful and important story on its own. We saw it reinforced again and again – relationships matter.
Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?
LG: I have been fortunate enough to be able to continue our research on community-based teacher education at another institution close to where I grew up. Los Angeles Unified is home to the second-largest school district in the country and is comprised of a majority Latinx population. Based on our previous work, I have become increasingly interested in the culturally responsive and critical pedagogies that we model in teacher education programs. TCs in our work often wondered about partnerships with families and communities, and how that translated to their classroom teaching. I’ll let you know how it goes!
MB: Alongside Iowa State University colleague Isaac Gottesman, I continue to do work related to what we call “place-conscious social foundations.” Of course, the Iowa social-political-economic context is different from that of the (sub)urban areas of the Pacific Northwest, but the question remains: How can we best develop critical community teachers who have the abilities to work with families and community mentors to build more just, humane, and responsive classrooms, schools, and society?
KN: I, like my colleagues, remain a champion of those learning to teach, practicing teachers, and the families and communities teachers work to serve. As I work on a research agenda, these are people I keep in my mind, in hopes of serving them. My current areas of research include the multiple ways teacher candidates (and our graduates) can engage in this work, its impact on their classrooms (and those connected to it), and how teacher educators can support this work.
Q: What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education?
ALL: The practice of (teacher) education within an unjust social world is necessarily political. From our research, the solidarity approach offers the best path forward for educational transformation. Yet even those who espouse “social justice” teacher education may balk at the idea of sharing curricular space with families and community mentors because it seems to conflict with their professionalization agenda.
We argue that teacher education must prepare teachers to work in relationship and in solidarity with families and communities towards a more just, vibrant, and humane social order. Otherwise, we are culpable and complicit in systems of domination and oppression. Teacher educators and teacher candidates must together confront social, political, and economic forces that target students of color with harsh disciplinary practices; that erase or elide nondominant cultural productions and practices from curriculum and inquiry (thereby elevating dominant culture); that frame families and communities as problems needing professional or technocratic solutions; and that fail to recognize “community cultural wealth” (Yosso, 2005) and the connections between people, land, and place.
Teacher educators and teacher candidates cannot do this alone; we/they have neither the wisdom nor the social and political networks to confront these forces and imagine alternatives. We must work to build trust and relationships with youth, families, and community mentors in order build and realize a collective vision for justice.
Q: What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?
KN: So much is focused on what the individual contributes in academia – understandably so. But teacher education benefits from collaboration. In asking whose knowledge counts, we have an opportunity to include more wisdom and honor what others, outside academia, bring to the preparation of teachers. Despite its potential tensions, we are better for it.
LG: I believe that teacher education operates at this incredibly complex intersection between the actual day-to-day classroom interactions and relationships, and the moral, ethical, and political decisions of our society. We have a responsibility to educate our future teachers to be critical thinkers, to develop as empathetic listeners and learners, and to work con humilidad. Humility carries a different meaning in Spanish, but it involves understanding one’s place and is an honorable stance from which to begin this work.