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Studying Preservice Teacher Impact within Urban School Settings

The study from which the chapter is drawn utilizes mixed methods (Tashagorri & Teddlie, 2010) combining surveys with mentor teachers with data from focus groups and preservice teacher interviews (Kroeger, Pech, & Cope, 2009). Mentor-teacher surveys (N=33) and teacher-action research approaches were used during a three-semester-long conversation with a small group of students and several of their mentor teachers. The data from small group conversations and post-semester interviews (after projects were completed) were culled for themes to create this chapter; they are themselves artifacts of a sociocultural view of practice in which teaching beyond the mandated curriculum is a way to “change contexts affecting immediate settings via resources” developed within and because of professional dialogues (Hokka, Etelapelto, & Rasku-Puttonen, 2012; Kroeger et al., 2009). During the process, the author/researcher served as a university-community volunteer, a professor to the preservice teachers, and a “critical” colleague (Costa & Kallick, 1993) to mentor teachers as she and her preservice teachers worked together.

Voluntary mentor-teacher surveys were carried out with 33 mentor teachers across of range of K-third grade classrooms (over 3 semesters) to garner perceptions of impact that preservice teachers’ projects may have had (group communication tools, event planning, and curriculum experiences) on families and staff in the schools. According to mentor teachers, difficulties with parent/family engagement were quite common in schools and were described in survey across the sample of communities using the following terms (see table 10.1). Ironically, the very challenges in this community related to parent- engagement intersect perfectly with legitimate reasons for social-class differences studied elsewhere (Kroeger, 2005; Lareau, 2000).

While the professor and other university staff teaching the course recognized many challenges faced by low-income parents and their children, we refused to accommodate the view that parents’ opinions did not count or that parents didn’t care about their children’s schooling. As others have noted, this dominant frame of thinking is not easy to deconstruct, but as a crucial skill in preservice teacher education and upon the assignment construction within our own course, we continue to believe it is possible, important, and worthwhile (Adair, 2008; Fennimore, 2008; Kroeger & Myers, 2013).

According to mentor teachers, some of the qualities of university student’s work influenced their settings. Over 90 percent of the

Table 10.1 Unique characteristics making parent engagement difficult

Themes

Key terms

Characteristic response

Work

Time, schedules

Difficulty due to work, multiple jobs

Basic needs

Needs

Lack transportation, telephone disconnected

Prior education

Threatened

Poor educational experience

After school

Obligations

Single parent, working parents, second- & third-shift workers

Leadership Parent Teacher Organization

No parent base

Lack of leadership in parent base of organization

Expectations

Stumbling blocks

Difficulty with homework and expectations of teachers, background checks needed to enter school

Location

Busing, mobility

Personal issues

Special events

Extended support

Attend special events versus support child daily

33 mentor teachers sampled stated that preservice student teacher offerings were unique and different from what usually occurred in the school, parents were motivated to support the preservice teacher, and children were motivated to interact with parents around learning experiences. Attendance at preservice teaching events was about the same or slightly higher than usual. Finally, based on children’s learning, mentor teachers evaluated preservice teachers’ created work as successful. Mentor teachers who completed our survey believed that preservice teachers’ work was as interesting and motivating as what usually occurred in their school but was also much more personally meaningful than what usually occurred.

Furthermore, during the three semesters of survey implementation, the researcher followed a small core of mentor teachers at one urban inner-city school, utilizing five, short, conversational focus groups during lunch and after school following the experiences of Sara, Rhonda, Charlise, Martha, and Janine’s cohort. Overall, the researcher sought to examine the larger impact of preservice teachers on settings and utilize teacher-action research strategies with this small set of mentor teachers and their preservice students. Angeline, Sacha, and Alan’s work is also referred to as they also worked with one of the focal mentor teachers (see table 10.2). All descriptions of work are used with permission and human subjects review board approval.

Table 10.2 University students and their mentor teachers

Cohort

Mentor teacher

University student

Year 1

Mrs. Gypsy

Sara

Mrs. Faye

Rhonda & Charlise

Mrs. Earle

Martha & Janine

Year 2

Mrs. Gypsy

Sacha & Angeline

Year 3

Mrs. Gypsy

Alan

Conversational groups in the school during field experiences were intended to support or enhance preservice teachers’ strategies for developing family involvement in this particular inner-city school. During the time frame of teacher research conversations, Ms. Gypsy’s and Mrs. Faye’s insights allowed their preservice teacher’s work to be exemplary. While Ms. Gypsy and her colleague Mrs. Faye’s work didn’t entirely fit the examples found in Ladson-Billings teachers (1994), each was particularly adept at taking the ideas of her preservice students in stride and made room for them in the classroom.

Alan, Sara, Sacha, and Angeline worked with Ms. Gypsy; Rhonda and Charlise worked with Mrs. Faye; Martha and Janine, whose words and projects are also shared here, worked with Mrs. Earle. Among these teachers, only Mrs. Faye was African American and was born in the Southern part of the United States (often a migration point for African Americans), as were most of the children with whom these preservice teachers worked, and she described herself as being educated in the North. While we don’t feature Mrs. Faye’s conversations here, we do acknowledge her influence on Rhonda’s and Charlise’s work as instrumental. Mrs. Earle, Mrs. Faye, and Ms. Gypsy were longtime employees of this school district and each described elements of her own background that allowed her common links with the urban neighborhood.

While analyzing the data, the author made several realizations about human capital assumptions as they intersect with the social capital of this community. I call upon these patterns in the data to help readers notice the ways in which human capital theories have strongly bounded many early childhood settings—especially those settings in which low academic achievement is feared. I also call attention to these patterns in the data to implicitly argue that early childhood education must be more purposeful and more strategic than ever in the primary years. I believe, as others do, that economically poor students have social and cultural capital worth recognizing to augment teaching (Fennimore, 2008; Johnson et al., 2007; Pushor, 2010). One powerful way to engage CRP to utilize social and cultural capital is to allow preservice teachers opportunities to describe and rationalize their approaches to planning and teaching based upon the students they know. It is only when doing so that teachers become adept at arguing for socially just practice and see the power of teaching beyond the test. Data from the preservice teachers, Ms. Gypsy and those who worked with Mrs. Faye and Mrs. Earle during the 2010-2011 cohorts, who are now practicing teachers in their own right, are displayed to illuminate the points in the next section of this chapter.

 
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