Bear witness: African American teachers' perspectives of their teaching practices in segregated and desegregated schools
Burrell, Brenda Joyce
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Although it has been 50 years since the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education, the education of African American children is still in a critical, unresolved state. Delpit, in the forward of Foster’s (1997) Black Teachers on Teaching, suggested looking “at the past through new eyes in order to determine what we might learn to help address the apparently difficult educational issue of providing an excellent education for all African American children” (p. ix). The African American teachers who have taught in segregated and desegregated schools have participated in both the past and the present of American education. Their insight into how to educate African American students is therefore valuable. The purpose of this study was to ascertain the perspectives of African American teachers who taught in both segregated and desegregated schools. The main focus was on their teaching practices in each type of school setting and the critical examination of those practices searching for patterns of effective teaching strategies for African American students. Using a qualitative ethnographic methodology, this inquiry answered two questions: (a) What do African American teachers report as their teaching practices in segregated schools? and (b) To what extent did the teaching practices of African American teachers change when they taught in desegregated schools? The study revealed 12 practices: using resources effectively, team planning, continuing professional development, dressing in a professional manner, establishing classroom routines, varying instructional strategies, cultivating relationships, using strong classroom management and discipline, providing additional assistance, holding high expectations, embracing cultural sensitivity, and caring. These African American teachers’ practices changed to some extent as they moved to desegregated schools. Of the 12 teaching practices, five remained the same: using resources effectively, dressing in a professional manner, establishing classroom routines, providing additional assistance and holding high expectations. Two changed due to schools’ organizational structure: continuing professional development and using strong classroom management and discipline. Five practices were modified by the teachers: team planning, varying instructional strategies, cultivating relationships, embracing cultural sensitivity and caring.