White teachers navigating race in elementary classrooms: portraits of possibility

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kimberly P. Mellor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Kathy Hytten

Abstract: Studies that document white teachers struggling to see whiteness and minimizing the impact of race on the quality of education are plentiful in the research literature. Much is known about white educators who activate and rely on defenses such as resistance, fragility, colorblindness, or innocent ignorance to avoid or silence conversations about race at school. Less is understood about mindful white educators, critical pedagogues, who work to disrupt whiteness and thoughtfully engage young children in explicit race talk. This study was designed to examine and better understand mindful white teachers’ ability to comprehend the significance of race and its impact on learning, as well as investigate factors that contribute to their sustained efforts to engage in equitable practices within one of the most inhibited and silent spaces for race talk, the elementary school classroom. To explore white elementary teachers navigating race, I collected data for this qualitative study through semi-structured interviews and reflective member-check interviews with three white elementary school teachers who work in a district committed to anti-racism and culturally responsive pedagogy. I drew on whiteness studies, critical race theory, and culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogy as theoretical lenses to guide interpretation and analysis of interview data and to fully examine 1) how lived experiences shape teachers’ racial consciousness, 2) ways that race issues emerge and play out in an elementary school setting, and 3) strategies mindful white teachers employ to disrupt whiteness and negotiate tensions. I used the method of portraiture to capture the experiences of these three teachers. Even though mindful white educators navigate race in a variety of ways, this study revealed some common methods. First, mindful white teachers are willing to engage in critical self-reflection and write new racial scripts. Second, they respond to these new scripts by challenging the traditional canon and incorporating instructional practices that allow all students to see themselves in the curriculum, the school, and the world. Race is not a taboo topic in their classroom. These findings indicate a need to continue research on mindful white teachers like the ones in this study. We can learn much more about how to improve education by examining their motivations and successes, as well as their blindspots and struggles, than if we continue to remain overly focused on resistant white teachers and their failures. Lastly, all three teachers indicate that supportive school context plays a major role in their confidence and motivation to tackle the messiness of race talk. Contexts shape how we think, what we say, and what we do, which points to a need to further investigate school environments that actively support equity efforts.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Elementary, Race talk, Whiteness, White teachers
Teachers, White $z United States
Elementary school teachers $z United States
Minorities $x Education (Elementary) $z United States
Race awareness $x Study and teaching (Elementary) $z United States
Racism $x Study and teaching (Elementary) $z United States
Racism in education $z United States

Email this document to