Findings on Black Women Educator Professional Experiences

Read the latest 
JTE Insider blog interview by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles in the JTE online archives—just log in with your AACTE profile.

This interview features insights from Melanie M. Acosta, author of the JTE article “The Paradox of Pedagogical Excellence Among Exemplary Black Women Educators.” The article is published in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of the Journal of Teacher Education.

Q1. What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

I was compelled to study the professional experiences of exceptional Black women educators for many reasons. One of the most important reasons was related to my own positionality as a Black woman educator with a record of success in teaching. Another crucial reason I wanted to pursue research on Black women educator professional experiences was related to expanding and complicating the dialogue on diversifying the teaching force to focus on issues affecting Black teacher retention, which includes teachers’ positionalities and the treatment of Black women educators in schools.

Q2. Were there any specific external events (political, social, economic) that influenced your decision to engage in this research study?

Enduring concerns about the shrinking pipeline of Black educators as well as the limited uses (and major abuses) of the wisdoms of practice of exemplary Black women educators in the field of education and teacher education were the major issues that influenced my interest in pursuing this research study

Q3.   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?

Honestly, what I wanted to share was included in the article. There wasn’t anything I had to completely leave out. I think if I had more space, however, I would have expanded more on the pedagogical practices of the exemplary Black women educators in my study. African American pedagogical excellence (AAPE) is such a powerful and sophisticated approach to teaching that when referencing it or drawing on it in conceptual or empirical ways, it really demands explication of its underlying social, political, cultural, and racial connections. Talking about AAPE in this way, I think, can help prevent AAPE from being constructed and co-opted as a prescriptive set of strategies or curriculum that can be implemented thoughtlessly.

Q4. What current areas of research are you pursuing?

Currently I am studying the preparation of prospective Black teachers, particularly as it relates to their study of diversity, multiculturalism, and social justice education as part of their preparation for the classroom. Historically, these courses have not been designed to support the learning needs of potential Black teachers.  Listening to Black preservice teachers’ perspectives on what they learned or did not learn in these types of courses can be very helpful in recruiting and retaining Black teachers through an emphasis on teacher education curriculum and pedagogy. I am also beginning to study the influence of teacher education pedagogy that is steeped in Black intellectual traditions on the development of Black women preservice teachers as education practitioners and women of color. 

Q5. What new challenges do you see for the field of teacher education? 

I think teacher education has to disentangle itself from a narrow focus on accreditation and meeting state and federal guidelines related to the preparation of teachers.  In my experience, I’ve seen teacher education programs so focused (or only focused) on ensuring that preparation efforts meet guidelines set by state or federal-level policy, that it suffocated attempts to pursue innovative changes that could have really improved the program. If we, as the teacher education field, continue to posit that we can and should lead in the reformation of educator preparation because we have the knowledge and expertise, then we will need to reclaim policy.  We will need to become developers of policy and practice as well as consumers and implementers. Now, this is not necessarily a new challenge for teacher education, rather it is an enduring one that will continue to have a big impact on the scope and shape of teacher education unless we find ways to reposition ourselves in relation to teacher education policy.

Q6. What advice would you give to new scholars in teacher education?

As a relatively new scholar in teacher education myself, I would first say that this is a great moment to be engaged in the work of educator preparation. I would follow that with advice to allow larger goals related to increased human freedom, democracy, and justice to help shape and drive your research, teaching and service in this field.

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