10 SES 01 A, Teaching for Social Justice
The purpose of this paper is to describe, analyze and theorize the culturally responsive practice of an accomplished teacher, Rebecca, who successfully supports the growth and achievement of immigrant youth who are newcomers to the United States and also learning English as a new language.
Census figures indicate there are approximately 40 million “foreign born” in the U.S. (Greico et al., 2012); unsurprisingly, one in five school children is an immigrant or a child of immigrants (Rong & Preissle, 2009). The majority of immigrants do not speak English “very well,” one in ten speaks no English at all, and 85% of the foreign born speak a home language other than English (Author, 2016). This translates into 4.6 million English language learners who speak a multitude of languages (USDOE, 2014), and require English language support (Hopkins, Lowenhaupt, & Sweet, 2015; Batalova, & McHugh, 2010). Given the reality of “the new collective majority of minority children” in public schools (Maxwell, 2014, para. 3), many classrooms are witnessing an intense concentration of newcomer students. Yet, the achievement gap between English language learners and/or the foreign born versus their English-speaking, native-born peers, has persisted (APA, 2012; Murphy, 2014; Rong & Preissle, 2009). Clearly, public schools have not lived up to the promise of educating all equally, especially those who embody diverse histories, languages, and needs.
This reality is echoed throughout Europe (and indeed the world) as teachers struggle to meet the needs of newcomers to their schools as a consequence of increased transnational and global mobility. In 2017, the United Nations reported 258 million migrants, the majority of whom were received by Asia and Europe. In 2015, over a million migrants to the European Union, Norway and Sweden were refugees escaping war, including thousands of unaccompanied minors (Pew Research Center, 2016). Thus, while diversity across Europe is not new,
its nature is rapidly changing…The growing number of refugee, asylum seeker, and migrant children entering Europe places specific demands on schools and teachers…leading[ing] teachers to reconsider their everyday practices and strategies to meet the learning needs of these pupils (Public Policy & Management Institute, 2017, p. 12).
In Europe and among OECD countries, as in the U.S., immigrant students’ academic achievement lags behind that of their non-immigrant peers because they “often face the double disadvantage of coming from immigrant and disadvantaged backgrounds” (OECD, 2016, p. 244), resulting in increasing calls for teachers and teacher educators to receive preparation to help them be more responsive to changing social conditions and student populations (European Commission, 2013b; OECD, 2016, 2010; Public Policy & Management Institute, 2017). In fact, European Union member responses to recent reports such as Education and Training in Europe 2020 Report (European Commission (EC), 2013a) emphasize the need to support children from low socio-economic, migrant or disadvantaged minority backgrounds, particularly in urban areas given, typically, high concentrations of disadvantaged populations.
These questions and imperatives around meeting the needs of diverse students are not new, but rather are enduring and continuously perplexing. Despite much scholarship, curriculum and many programs examining and describing teaching and teachers for/to diversity, internationally we seem not to have made enough progress in terms of equalizing educational outcomes for students who are placed at risk by their social circumstances and their immigrant status, and who are often marginalized by schools. At the same time, there are always teachers who are consistently successful with “those” students, teachers who should be highlighted and studied, so we can learn from them what truly works to interrupt the tide of poor outcomes for refugee and newcomer children in urban schools.
The focus of this inquiry is Rebecca, a highly experienced master teacher whose career spans 20 years, most of which she has spent working with immigrant youth. Rebecca is qualified as both a teacher of English Language Arts and of English as a Second Language (ESL), and currently works in New York City in a secondary school that is designated as “high need,” which translates into high poverty. Rebecca always takes the students who are brand new to the school and country, with little to no proficiency in English. Many of the students have also experienced interruptions in their schooling because of the challenging, including war-torn, circumstances in their home countries. Yet, it is usual for her students to achieve proficiency in English in the one year they spend with Rebecca, and even, in several cases to pass the Regents English exam, a high school competency assessment that many native speakers find difficult to pass. Data were collected primarily through a series of dialogic interviews between Rebecca and myself that blurred researcher-participant boundaries and disrupted subject-object dichotomies. This mode of inquiry enabled us to build and examine a narrative of Rebecca’s practice through conversational inquiry, reflexive introspection, and autoethnographic story-telling. Each dialogic interview has lasted about an hour. The first focused on who Rebecca is as a teacher, specifically her commitments and philosophy, as well as her role models and inspirations. In the interview, we also created a portrait of her practice—how her classroom looks, what students do, what a visitor might see, and so on. In the second interview we focused on Rebecca’s practice with learners, weaving together narratives of their learning journey. We used other sources of data, such as student artifacts, or curriculum plans and materials, to illustrate these learning journeys and render them multi-dimensional and dynamic. Data analysis is ongoing and iterative, even as data collection continues. Each interview has been recorded and transcribed. Interview transcripts have been read and re-read by both of us as co-researchers, with each reading allowing new insights to emerge. Initial insights and new questions fueled and informed the second interview, just as the analysis of the second interview will feed the third and final interview. We plan then to peer beneath the surface of Rebecca’s practice—to further ponder how her teaching can be theorized or explained—to understand why it has such an impact on her students’ learning.
The data reveal how a skillful teacher taps into immigrant youth’s deep awareness of policies that threaten their lives and their possible futures, and activates their prior knowledge to scaffold new understandings. The stories of learning also illuminate students’ passions, assets, and knowledges, and reveal Rebecca’s pedagogical decision-making. While still emerging, core to Rebecca’s work are theories about Funds of Knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff & Gonzalez, 1992), Critical Pedagogy (Freire, 1972), and Learning Communities (Wegner, 1998). She sees her students as knowledgeable in multiple ways, bringing to school vast and rich experiences that she uses to develop meaningful curriculum that connects to their lives. However, the knowledge that students bring is not merely a tool or hook to build curriculum, but affords an authentic pathway into students’ very essence. These funds of knowledge are shared across the community of learners she cultivates, so that her students see each other as passionate knowers. In doing so, students reveal their fears and dreams, which motivates them to find the language to express their lived experiences and enact their activism through social action projects. Rebecca uses specific practices to ignite students’ thinking and support their language proficiency, but what she accomplishes is much more powerful than technique. In light of shifting immigration trends and demographics, teaching must be rethought to ensure culturally and linguistically responsive curriculum and equitable classroom practice. One untapped resource is those expert teachers who consistently support new immigrant students’ achievement by engaging them in meaningful curriculum around issues relevant to them, and encouraging them to find their voice. Rebecca is such a teacher from whom we can learn much about teaching for justice and equity, and there is much her students can tell us about how teachers can/do make a difference in the lives of immigrant youth.
American Psychological Association. (APA) (2012). Ethnic and racial disparities in education: Psychology’s contribution in understanding and reducing disparities. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/resources/racial-disparities.pdf Author. (2016). Batalova, J., & McHugh, M. (2010). Number and growth of students in U.S. schools in need of English instruction, 2009. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. Retrieved from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/number-and-growth-students-us-schools-need-english-instruction-2009 European Commission/EACEA/Eurydice. (2013a). Education and Training in Europe 2020: Responses from the EU Member States. Eurydice Report. Brussels: Eurydice. European Commission. (July, 2013b). Supporting teacher competence development for better learning outcomes. Retrieved from http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/education_culture/repository/education/policy/school/doc/teachercomp_en.pdf Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Grieco, M.D., Acosta, Y.D., de la Cruz, P.G., Gambino, C., Gryn, T., Larsen, L.J., Trevelyan, E.N., & Walters, N.P. (May, 2012). The foreign-born population in the United States: 2010. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved fromhttps://www.census.gov/prod/2012pubs/acs-19.pdf Hopkins, M., Lowenhaupt, R., & Sweet, T. (2015). Organizing English learner instruction in new immigrant destinations: District infrastructure and subject-specific school practice. American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 408-439. Maxwell, L. (Aug 19, 2014). U.S. school enrollment hits majority-minority milestone. Education Week. Retrieved from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/08/20/01demographics.h34.html Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & Gonzalez, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132-141. Murphy, D. (December, 2014). The academic achievement of English language learners: Data for the U.S. and each of the states. Child Trends (Research brief #2014-62). Retrieved from https://www.childtrends.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/2014-62AcademicAchievementEnglish.pdf OECD. (2016). Supporting Teacher Professionalism: Insights from TALIS 2013, TALIS, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264248601-en OECD (2010). Educating Teachers for Diversity: Meeting the Challenge, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264079731-en Public Policy & Management Institute, (2017). Preparing teachers for diversity: The role of initial teacher education. Brussels: European Commission. Rong, X. L., & Preissle, J. (2009). Educating immigrant students in the 21st century: What we need to know to meet the challenge. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage/Corwin. United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division (2017). International Migration Report 2017: Highlights(ST/ESA/SER.A/404). U.S. Department of Education. (2014). Educational services for immigrant children and those recently arrived to the United States. Retrieved from http://www2.ed.gov/policy/rights/guid/unaccompanied-children.html Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of Practice. Cambridge MA: Cambridge University Press.
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