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Learning to See

Author(s): Kerri Anne Ullucci


Learning to see: The development of race consciousness in White teachers

Changing US demographics present a challenge to Schools of Education. While the student population becomes more diverse, the opposite is true of our teacher candidates. White teachers—primarily women—make up the vast majority of the teaching force. Teacher education programs have responded with a variety of interventions aimed at preparing teachers to work with diverse children. However, much of the research assessing these programs provides little insight as to what works best. How do successful White teachers learn to be race-conscious? What experiences, both personal and professional, help to shape their understandings of race, racism and diversity?

This study explored how White teachers learned about racism and diversity in meaningful ways, with a close eye on the role teacher education programs played in their development. After identifying highly regarded White teachers of children of color, I investigated the experiences that helped shape their race consciousness and their ability to successfully work with diverse children. To do this, I compiled case studies based on interviews and observations of urban classrooms in New England and California. I wished to uncover what life experiences—both in and out of educational contexts—shaped the pedagogy and belief systems of effective White teachers. My goals were three-fold: 

  1. to better understand the lived experiences that shape White teachers' understandings of diversity and race; 
  2. to capture how these understandings translate into classroom practice; 
  3. to address the ways in which teacher education programs impact teachers' racial development. 

Through classroom observations and in-depth interviews, I chronicled both the life experiences which shaped their own racial identity. I argue that it is their familiarity with "others," as well as their sense of being marginalized in their own lives which shapes their race consciousness. I also provide a window into classroom practice, and show the methods and strategies that these effective teachers use to support children of color in their classes.

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