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JTE Author Interview: Studying Candidates’ Responses to Immigration Documentary

Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? You’ll find recent podcast interviews with Kevin Kumashiro, discussing how the field has changed since the publication of his 2010 article “Seeing the Bigger Picture: Troubling Movements to End Teacher Education,” and with Noelle Paufler, author of “Preparing Teachers for Educational Renewal Within Current Contexts of Accountability: Reflecting Upon John Goodlad’s Twenty Postulates.” Meanwhile, check out the latest author interview below.

This interview features insights from the JTE article “Riding la Bestiá: Preservice Teachers’ Responses to Documentary Counter-Stories of U.S. Immigration,” written by Lisa Brown Buchanan (LBB) and Jeremy Hilburn (JH). You can find this article in the November/December of JTE through this link.

Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

LBB: My research has always in some way been connected to topics that are perceived by elementary preservice teachers to be difficult or controversial to teach (e.g., race) and often, I utilize film as a vehicle for unpacking these topics with preservice teachers. I was particularly interested in using this film as it portrayed the lesser known perspective of immigrant youth in relation to our ongoing, national discourse about immigration reform and trends while also identifying problems with the current path to U.S. citizenship.

JH: Lisa and I work together at the same university, and we had some conversations about linking our research interests – her work with documentary film and my work with immigration – in a study related to social studies teacher education. Lisa approached me with the idea of screening Which Way Home with preservice teachers at our university and I thought it was a really great idea. All of the work grew out of that initial conversation.

Q: Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

JH: Absolutely! Rising numbers of unaccompanied minors from Central America that were highlighted in the film Which Way Home were the focus of our study. But it was President Obama’s emergency supplemental request and the media attention it received that really generated a sense of urgency to engage in this specific inquiry.

LBB: I agree with Jeremy, and would add that I often, when teaching about immigrant and refugee experiences in my social studies methods course, facilitate deliberations about what should be done to address problems with immigration. Furthermore, as a new gateway state, North Carolina classrooms and schools have been directly impacted by the experiences of immigrant youth and families.

Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

A: We don’t know if we would categorize this as a difficulty with the research as much as the experience of balancing teaching and research and navigating the tenure process as new faculty. Deciding to collect the data iteratively over several semesters was a strength methodologically, but it also ran up against the realities of the tenure process. We were both in our second year when we initiated the study, we were still collecting data during the reappointment year, and we submitted to JTE in our fourth year. As new faculty, seeing the project through from design to submission was a much longer process than we realized. We continued with our direction, though, because we felt this experience with the film and grappling with the hard questions was important enough to offer several semesters with the greatest preservice teacher impact. We now see, with for example, the current presidential election, these questions are as important as ever in the United States.

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?

A: We probably could have dedicated more word space to two areas: fleshing out counter-examples and digging more deeply into what our participants didn’t say.

Q: What current areas of research are you pursuing?

LBB: I am currently completing a study with my colleague Christina Tschida, of East Carolina University, on preservice teachers’ beliefs about using LGBT-themed books in a unit on family. Moving forward, I am actually returning to my roots from my dissertation with a study using the recently released popular film Loving, based on the Supreme Court ruling Loving v. Virginia. I am also continuing my commitment to teach difficult topics by examining elementary preservice teachers’ beliefs about teaching religion and religious diversity. Both studies launch in spring 2017.

JH: At the moment I am continuing to drill down into my primary research domain, which is examining how immigration is conceptualized by teachers, represented in curriculum and media, and how these relate to social studies teacher practices, especially in new gateway states.

Q: What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

LBB: Three things: identify your research agenda and what your (new, original) contribution is going to be in your area; seek out strong mentoring specifically for your scholarship and be receptive to feedback; and finally, be committed to goal setting and meeting goals. Whether this is through conference proposal and presentation deadlines, grant deadlines that would fund research, or simply scheduling writing time, set concrete goals and prioritize to make it happen.

JH: My main advice is to, as quickly as possible, identify your specific research interest in an underexplored area. Then work on that specific topic deeply and broadly to develop true expertise.


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