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A Recap and Reflection: Exploring the Opportunities and Challenges of Immigration for Teachers and Teacher Education Programs

As presenters at the AACTE 2020 Annual Meeting Deeper Dive: Challenges of Immigration and Teacher Education, the authors offer a recap and reflection of the session.

 “Quisieron enterrarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas” is a Mexican proverb translated as “They wanted to bury us, but they did not know that we were seeds.” This proverb captures the current experience of many immigrants and their children in U.S. society. Immigrants in the United States and around the world are being “buried” under policies and practices that violate their human rights, yet immigrant students and families remain incredibly resilient. Immigrant families draw on sociocultural assets to persevere through setbacks. These conditions have direct implications for teacher education in the U.S. and abroad.

Given the large numbers of immigrants of Latinx descent in the United States, we focus our commentary on Mexican and Mexican American communities. Two-thirds of the U.S. Latinx community is of Mexican origin, and one in seven of all U.S. students in elementary and secondary schools has a Mexican-born parent or grandparent (Jensen & Sawyer, 2013; Passel, 2011). The United States shares many of these immigrant children and youth with its neighbor to the south, México. Indeed, the fastest-growing group of “students we share” between our two countries are U.S.-born students of Mexican heritage living in Mexico and struggling to integrate into Mexican schools (Gándara, 2020).

Students of Mexican descent in the United States face significant challenges including existing in a liminal space due to citizenship status. Though more than nine in 10 Mexican-origin youth in the United States are American citizens, many live in mixed citizenship status families. This leads to several barriers, including lack of access to social services, limits to college access, inconsistent employment, and the stress and uncertainty of family deportation threats. Students in mixed-status families often feel isolated, afraid, and invisible. These youth need spaces of empowerment to engage as “citizens for a cause”—-to challenge inequality and promote immigrant rights and social justice (Salazar, Martinez, Ortega, 2016).

As teacher educators, it is critical that we prepare teachers to “see” immigrant students, integrate their strengths, and meet their needs. We call on teachers and teacher educators to

  • develop equitable teaching practices in classrooms, including connecting with students’ everyday lives and practices, communal interactions (i.e., agentive and interdependent), and critical consciousness (Jensen, Grajeda, & Haertel, 2018; Salazar, 2018);
  • decenter whiteness in teacher education and P-12 education (Salazar, 2018);
  • implement culturally responsive teacher evaluation and classroom observation models (Salazar & Lerner, 2019);
  • build dispositional foundations such as asset orientations (Jensen, Whiting & Chapman, 2018);
  • know laws and policies that impact and protect immigrant students (e.g., Plyler v. Doe, Lau v. Nichols, sanctuary cities, sanctuary schools, FERPA) (Sugarman, In Press);
  • advocate for DACAmented youth and teachers (Treviño, García & Bybee, 2017); and
  • mobilize for change and serve as activists for immigrant youth and their families.

With knowledge comes responsibility and power. We call on teacher educators to embed dispositions, knowledge, and practices to support the preparation of teachers to meet the needs of immigrant students. We must prepare teachers to nurture las semillas [the seeds] that are our immigrant youth.

A video recording of the full AACTE 2020 Deeper Dive session, “Challenges of Immigration and Teacher Education,” is available to Annual Meeting attendees at aacte.org. Additional video recordings, including the Opening and Closing Keynote Sessions and other Deeper Dives from the 72nd Annual Meeting may be accessed in the AACTE Resource Library.

María del Carmen Salazar, is a professor, Morgridge College of Education, University of Denver; Bryant Jensen is associate professor, Department of Teacher Education, Brigham Young University; and

Eric Bybee, assistant professor, Department of Teacher Education, Brigham Young University.



Gándara, P. (2020). The students we share: falling through the cracks on both sides of the US-Mexico border. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 43(1), 38-59.

Jensen, B., Grajeda, S., & Haertel, E. (2018). Measuring cultural dimensions of classroom interactions. Educational Assessment, 23(4), 250-276.

Jensen, B., & Sawyer, A. (2013). Regarding educación: A vision for school improvement. Regarding educación: Mexican-American schooling, immigration, and bi-national improvement, 1-24.

Jensen, B., Whiting, E. F., & Chapman, S. (2018). Measuring the multicultural dispositions of preservice teachers. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 36(2), 120-135.

Passel, J. S. (2011). Demography of immigrant youth: Past, present, and future. The Future of Children, 19-41.

Salazar, M. (2018). Interrogating teacher evaluation: Unveiling whiteness as the normative center and moving the margins. Journal of Teacher Education, 69(5), 463-476.

Salazar, M. & Lerner, J. (2019). Teacher evaluation as cultural practice: A framework for equitable and excellent teaching. Routledge.

Salazar, M., Martinez, L. M., & Ortega, D. (2016). Sowing the semillas of critical multicultural citizenship for Latina/o undocumented youth: Spaces in school and out of school. International journal of multicultural education, 18(1), 88-106.

Sugarman, J. (in press). From Plyler to sanctuary: U.S. policy on public schools access and implications for education of transnational students. In P. Gándara & B. Jensen (Eds.), The students we share: Preparing US and Mexican teachers for our transnational future. SUNY Press.

Treviño, L. E. J., García, J., & Bybee, E. R. (2017). “The day that changed my life, again”: The Testimonio of a Latino DACAmented teacher. The Urban Review, 49(4), 627-647.


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