In my final semester of my masters program, I’m taking the class I’ve been waiting for: Special Populations in Gifted Education. The course is held online, so all conversations take place on BlackBoard.
The third reading, ““High-achieving black adolescents’ perceptions of how teachers impact their academic achievement” by Linda A. Long-Mitchell, was published in Special populations in gifted education: Understanding our most able students from diverse background (Castellano & Frazier, 2011). My thoughts are below…
Which parts within the Theoretical Framework had value for you?
In my mind, the teacher section is speaking to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” (did I just quote GWB?). Teachers hold on to biased beliefs about the abilities of their students and continue to picture gifted children as white or Asian. In any classroom, not just those which service gifted students, teachers make assumptions about their students, often times unconsciously, because they haven’t paused to reflect on the biases they bring to the classroom based on their experiences, images in the media, or the history books, and instead impose these low expectations on students. During my first class in this program, Educational Leadership, I spent the entire class researching the under-representation of minorities in low-SES students in gifted. During my second semester, in Reflective Practice, I specifically focused on the way gate keeper assumptions prevent certain groups from being identified. All of these pieces fit together and create a system that doesn’t recognize the gifts, talents and value of all students. White teachers, specifically, need to closely examine their values and beliefs around minorities. This is a particular problem at my current school and I’ve been vocal in the past about it. When looking at discipline issues, the vast majority are committed by black students in a school that has less than 5% of their population identifying as black. It is the other side of the coin. Teachers believe the black kids are bad, so they watch them more. The pick at them for offenses that white kids get away with. They are also less likely to recognize when they do well. This, in my opinion, is far harder to challenge or change then any policy or law that regulates education. How do you reeducate a large portion of your teacher population on cultural sensitivity? One solution is the recruitment of more black teachers. This leads to the second part (or was it first?) about achievement values? This becomes more important in poor black communities. When children do not have role models that are educated or successful and look like them, they don’t see where education has valued any one they know. In these poor communities, the role models the children have also had bad experiences in education and this gets passed down. When I worked in RPS, parents would come in that had gone to my school. You could tell they walked in the door with the same fears and hang ups, even all those years later! These messages get passed down. If black children had more opportunity to see education working for people who “look like them” both in real life and the media, perhaps the value of education would become more apparent. I definitely see the effect in my school of having highly educated parents who value education. The kids, whether they know it now or not, know the difference between being educated and not, so they may resent it a little, but they work hard because the expectation for their success has been set at home, at school and in the media. For young black kids coming from impoverished communities, teachers can be the first line of defense for changing their perceptions of themselves.
Someone then noted:
I wonder aloud what the balance is between having consistent discipline and enforcement of rules versus providing a bit of wiggle room–time–for some of these Minority students to adjust?
I was speaking specifically to the way that having more black teachers can help black students start to reimagine educational value. But you bring up a great point and I think I addressed it earlier in the post, that there needs to be some sort of cultural training provided that helps teachers recognize their unconscious biases and the ways in which they are detrimental to certain groups of students. When it comes to discipline, I’m not advocating for a bending of rules. What I think we as educators need to do is reflect on our discipline practices and be willing to see where there are discrepancies. And I would argue, this isn’t just needed in discipline. We need to examine who we treat males and females differently. How do we speak to one over the other? We need to reflect on what we allow certain groups to get away with and not others. Do we privilege “boys will be boys” behavior? And we also need to reflect on our expectations of certain groups over others. Do we set higher expectations for certain students and then communicate disappointment to a certain group while allowing another group to underachieve because we had low expectations to begin with. This leads us to our discussion of gatekeeper biases in identification. If our expectations are set low for certain groups, this blurries our vision when identifying gifted children because we don’t expect it from certain kids.
On Teacher’s Expectations Of Black Students
Antonio wasn’t the one that stuck out to me in the part. Hakeem said “I guess some teachers expect more out of me, so I’m going to expect more out of myself….”This reminds me so much of the responses I received from students when I did my action research last spring. My topic was “student definitions of teacher caring and connections to motivation and engagement.” I asked students how they defined caring, and then how it affected their motivation to work both in and out of class. Students reported that knowing a teacher cared made them more likely to work both in and out of class. One student reported “it makes me not want to work as hard if i know that the teachers don’t care about me” and another student stated “it totally affects it for instance, i have a teacher this year that makes me so mad all the time. she shows no effort or consideration, so when i’m my lengthy hw, i don’t feel very obligated to think very hard.” Both of these quotes reinforce what Hakeem is saying here. It doesn’t matter how students define care – high expectations, willingness to help, kindness, etc. It is always more motivating when you think your teacher is with you versus against you. And the more willing they are to work and meet your expectations, the more they feel self-efficacy and the more they learn. To really drive it home, another of my student said, “makes you want to impress them with the grade.”
I posted the rest of my action research here if anyone is interested:
Then my professor asked:
How can schools ENSURE that teachers reflect on their students’ own engagement and motivation to find/use the findings from your study?
Also, if you have a moment, can you offer us a Top 5 list of activities from your study that teachers can do to benefit students?
I posted my full response already here, but the top five list is below…
- Be available
- Be understanding
- Be respectful
- Reflect and allow your self space to make mistakes (accept responsibility, apologize and move on)
Discussing One Take-Away
Nothing surprised me, but one thing I think is probably the most important: “…participants desired to be challenged in their learning environment” (Long-Mitchell, 2011, p.119).
This feels like such a no-brainer, but what we see in schools that are predominately low-SES and minority, specifically African American and Hispanic, is a large amount of poorly designed curriculum and instruction that focuses more on delivering wide-breadth, no depth and drill and kill strategies that don’t actually promote understanding and transfer. This high-stakes testing has created an environment of fear in teachers who worry their jobs are on the line if they don’t produce high pass rates. Teachers, out of fear, revert to these drill and kill strategies hoping they can get kids to pass. This results in low levels of mastery, and instead of seeing test rates increase, we have actually seen them decrease. But fear is powerful and change is hard. We need to find ways to support teachers and help them challenge all students, because this culture is only creating a larger divide between those who have and those who don’t. I would also love to see funding unattached from test scores. But, that is another conversation all together.
Someone went on to say…
What frustrated me the most was how it talked about the “black adolescent” student. I would love for them to tell me what the definition of a black adolescent student is. What is this generic category? In my opinion, there isn’t one “black adolescent,” you can’t make a category like that, when that category couldn’t mean something completely different depending on the location of the study.
To which I responded…
I think there is a very real experience of being a black youth in this country that doesn’t necessarily depend on your other identities or location. There is an experience that comes with being black – that comes from the perceptions of others, expectations set for you, recognition of your blackness especially in situations when you are the minority. If you haven’t already, I would suggest you take a look at Peggy McIntosh’ s “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.
Her essay is talking about what it is like to have white privilege but if you just think about each statement, they show you what a black experience would be in this country.
Another teacher said
One key take-away for me is the importance of soliciting feedback directly from students!
Rachael – You hit on some powerful ideas here. I wish more teachers cared this much about what their students think. I just posted this in the other group’s thread, but I actually did my action research on student perceptions of care and the effect on motivation and engagement. It has always been a huge deal for me to make sure my students know I care about them as people and that this care doesn’t only extend to thier work. In other words, not doing well doesn’t exclude them from my care. I also solicit feedback and reflection from my students, on how they are doing and how I am doing. I start the year asking them what expectations they hold for a good teacher. I tell them in order for me to meet their needs, I must know what they are. Informal discussions and ongoing reflections pepper the class as check points throughout the year. At the end of each year, I do a big final evaluation of my course an ask them a series of questions and for targeted feedback. It def. takes thick skin to hear where you aren’t doing well, but can be so valuable to figure out how they perceive you and where you have room for growth in their eyes.