A primary purpose of teacher education is to prepare and induct
candidates into the teaching profession. What does it mean to be a
professional educator? Is deep content knowledge really enough as the
federal government and others suggest? Does professionalism look
different in urban contexts? How do teachers learn to navigate the
multiple opportunities and challenges they are faced with day-by-day,
hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute in today's high-stakes
accountability climate? What happens when teachers don't learn how
to successfully navigate the realities? This article examines notions of
professionalism and how one preservice teacher learned to become a
professional educator in the context of an urban school-university
Some may argue that a large inner-city high school is not a
suitable learning environment for preparing new teachers to become
professional educators, yet if we believe that there is specialized
knowledge for teaching in the urban context, the urban school at the
center of this study provides opportunities for preservice teachers to
integrate themselves into classrooms with professional educators who
model negotiation of the realities teachers face today. Through the
school-university partnership, many preservice teachers learn first-hand
what professionalism looks like in practice and begin "combining
parts of their past, including their own experiences in school and in
teacher preparation, with pieces of the present in their current school
context, with images of the kind of teacher and colleague they want to
become" (Feiman-Nemser, 2001, p. 1029).
In this article, the concept of professionalism is considered from
multiple perspectives, including from the perspective of scholars who
contend a specialized knowledge base is necessary for successful urban
teaching and that school-university and professional development school
partnerships may provide contexts for developing this knowledge base.
Then, a collective case study is described and one typical case from the
study illuminates the possibilities and challenges of becoming a
professional educator in an urban school-university partnership.
Viewing teaching as a profession has been evident in educational
literature for decades (Clark & Peterson, 1986; Cochran-Smith &
Lytle, 1999). Hargreaves and Fullan (2000) suggest we are in an age of
"postmodern professionalism" at the beginning 21st century,
"where teachers deal with a diverse clientele and increasing moral
uncertainty, where many approaches are possible and more and more groups
have an influence" on teachers' professional lives (p. 52).
Before considering one case of a preservice teacher learning about
professionalism, it is important to conceptualize and deconstruct
notions of professionalism that inform this paper. First, a distinction
must be drawn between professionalism and professionalization:
Professionalism refers to the internal workings of a profession and
the concern of a profession's members to do the best possible job
for their clients; professionalization refers to external criteria such
as status, salary, specialization, and control. (Noddings, 2001, p. 102)
It seems that these two terms, though distinct in meaning, are
intricately connected theoretically. It is by drawing attention to
teacher education reform through professionalization (and deregulation)
that many definitions of professionalism have arisen. Next, various
definitions of professionalism are discussed, followed by an examination
of professionalism in terms of the urban context.
The federal government (U.S. Department of Education, 2002)
legislated a definition of professionalism in teaching by defining a
highly qualified teacher as one who has obtained full state
certification through a traditional or alternate route or passed the
State teacher licensing examination. Those who instruct core academic
subjects must either hold a degree in each subject taught or pass a
rigorous academic subject test for each subject taught. Of course,
content knowledge is an extremely important aspect of being a
professional educator, but many would argue that knowing how to teach
that content is as important as knowing the content, and that mentored
practica in schools provide novices with valuable experiences to combine
content and pedagogy to develop pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman,
1987). The federal government questions the importance of teacher
preparation, claiming there is no convincing research that teacher
preparation makes a difference in student achievement (U.S. Department
of Education, 2004), a notion disputed by numerous scholars
(Darling-Hammond, 2006; Wilson & Youngs, 2005). The federal
government legislated a definition of professionalism in teaching that
privileges "book learning" over applications of that learning.
Though the federal government's definition of professionalism
represents the deregulation agenda, which is concerned with removing
what they consider to be barriers to teaching, other organizations have
defined professionalism with the interests of the professionalization
agenda front and center. For example, The National Council for
Accreditation of Teacher Education (Wise & Leibbrand, 2001) stated
that teacher candidates must "demonstrate the content, pedagogical,
and professional knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to help
all students learn" (p. 254). What might this blend of content,
pedagogy, and professional knowledge look like? The Interstate New
Teacher Assessment Consortium (2003) created standards for effective
teaching through collaboration among state education agencies, higher
education, and national education organizations. The assumption
underlying their standards is that an "effective teacher must be
able to integrate content knowledge with pedagogical understanding to
assure that all students learn and perform at high levels (p. 1). The
National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) (2003) based
its definition of "the effectiveness, knowledge, skills,
dispositions, and commitments of the accomplished teacher" on five
core propositions: teachers commit to students and their learning,
possess knowledge of both content and pedagogy, manage and monitor
student learning, think systematically about their practice and learn
from their experiences, and participate in learning communities (p. 1).
What is common among these definitions of professionalism is the notion
that content and pedagogy are inextricably linked, and that professional
teachers will reflect and act upon what their students need based on
These complex and comprehensive definitions of professionalism are
further problematized by urban education scholars. For example, Oakes
and her colleagues (2002) have clearly stated that urban teachers need
more than generic teacher preparation suggested by the NBPTS, for
This definition of professionalism transcends content and pedagogy
to include a specific stance toward teaching that encompasses teaching
as a political act for social justice. Ladson-Billings (1995, 2000),
Haberman (1994, 1995a), and Weiner (1993, 1999) are other scholars who
believe that specialized preparation for issues of race, poverty,
bureaucracy, and other elements of the social, historical, and
institutional context of urban teaching is essential to become a
professional urban educator.
Donnell (2007) extends the knowledge of context argument by
suggesting that successful urban teachers develop a transformative
teaching practice, meaning they view students as the primary resource
for their learning about teaching, what she calls "getting to
we." This orientation de-centers the teacher and re-centers the
students in professional decision-making about teaching.
Becoming a professional urban educator, then, requires knowledge of
context as Oakes et al. suggest and knowledge of students as Donnell
suggests. It is this complex definition that informs the
school-university partnership and teacher preparation experience at the
center of this study.
Professionalism and Partnerships
School-university partnerships (SUPs) and professional development
schools (PDSs) provide opportunities to prepare professional educators.
Research on teacher preparation in SUPs and PDSs has indicated various
elements of professionalism noted above as an outcome for teachers
prepared in partnership. Abdal-Haqq's (1998) synthesis reported
that preservice teachers prepared in PDS settings utilized more varied
pedagogical methods and practices, were more reflective, knew more about
school routines and activities beyond the classroom, felt more confident
and experienced less "culture shock" when beginning teaching,
and were more likely to seek employment in inner-city schools when their
PDS setting was urban, among other findings (p. 15). Rock and Levin
(2002) considered the role and outcomes of inquiry activities for
preservice teachers in partnership and found they clarified personal
teaching theories, gained a better awareness of themselves as teachers,
acquired knowledge about teaching, curriculum, and inquiry, and gained a
general appreciation for the inquiry process. Thompson and Ross (2000)
and Reynolds (2000) noted the link between theory and practice in
partnership teacher preparation as key to preparing successful teaching
professionals. Thompson and Ross's (2000) beginning teachers who
learned to teach in a PDS felt well prepared to begin teaching: they
understood the day-to-day activities of a classroom and school, they
felt prepared to collaborate and be reflective, and they felt confident
and knowledgeable. Reynolds' (2000) study found that
"professional partnerships are an excellent way to prepare
prospective teachers" (p. 13).
Despite the positive findings about professionalism in SUP and PDS
research, more studies must state the school context in which they were
conducted (urban, suburban, rural) in order to determine how effective
partnership preparation is for developing professional educators for
urban schools, for instance. A few SUP and PDS studies have considered
urban teacher preparation. Groulx's (2001) study found that urban
professional development school candidates in elementary schools
"had changed their minds about the challenges of working with
minority children, not denying the difficulties but clearly feeling more
positive and efficacious" (p. 86-6). Similarly, Wong and
Glass's (2005) research into a network of urban PDSs revealed that
PDS-prepared graduates were initially more committed to teaching in
low-income, culturally and linguistically diverse schools than were the
non-PDS graduates. Finally, Beardsley and Teitel's (2004)
evaluation of one university's reformed, urban-focused teacher
education program conducted in two professional development schools
resulted in not only more interns of color in the program, but also
interns who learned to see color in teaching and learning, recognized
their capacity to lead, and became change agents. Nevertheless,
Boyle-Baise and McIntyre (2008) suggest "attention to equity,
diversity, family, and community needs to become an integral part of PDS
principles, perspectives, and practices" (p. 326) more so than in
Urban Immersion (UI) is a teacher preparation experience for
secondary teacher candidates at a large, northeastern research
university offered in collaboration with a local urban high school. The
university has a long-standing relationship with the high school.
Traditionally, City High School (a pseudonym) served as the field
experience site for the small number of prepracticum and practicum
student teachers who began their teacher preparation program with an
interest in urban education each year. University professors had
provided professional development opportunities for CHS faculty, served
on school-site committees, and prepared CHS students for college through
a College Bound program, while CHS teachers and administrators enrolled
in university courses and even co-taught some courses with university
faculty. Urban Immersion arose from a meeting called by the high
school's administrators asking for further classroom-level support
from their university partner. To address this need, the collaborators
determined that all secondary teacher candidates would complete course
and fieldwork one day per week at CHS. The dramatic increase in numbers
of preservice teachers in the building would support teachers and
students operating in overcrowded classrooms, and the experience would
provide the mostly White, privileged preservice teachers an opportunity
to become part of an urban school culture, with which few were familiar.
As stated earlier, the Urban Immersion program was conceptualized
around the complex definition of professionalism cited by urban
education scholars (Donnell, 2007; Haberman, 1994, 1995b;
Ladson-Billings, 1995, 2000; Oakes, et al., 2002; Weiner, 1993, 1999).
The school and university partners believe that there is specialized
knowledge new teachers to the urban context must develop to successfully
teach urban students, including identifying the resources and challenges
urban teachers face. They determined that through their coursework and
experiences in classrooms, participants should develop their knowledge
of content and pedagogy, but more importantly, develop their knowledge
of the urban context and how to balance the multiple demands so that all
students might learn and improve their life chances. This definition of
professionalism is in keeping with the five themes of the teacher
education department at the university, which include promoting social
justice, constructing knowledge, inquiring into practice, accommodating
diversity, and collaborating with others. These themes are based on the
assumption that educators have a responsibility to challenge the status
quo and effect social change as America's public schools grow
increasingly diverse and inequitable.
Recognizing how complex and debatable any definition of
professionalism is in the current era, for the purpose of this study,
general research questions were posed in order to examine which of the
many aspects of professionalism participants exhibited by the conclusion
of the Urban Immersion experience. The main research question framing
this study was, "What do preservice teachers learn in an integrated
course and field experience in an urban school-university
partnership?" Primary interest was placed on what participants
learned about becoming a professional educator in the urban context.
Subquestions included, "What do preservice teachers learn about
secondary curriculum and instruction and urban teaching?" and
"In what ways is their learning evident?" Collective,
interpretive case study methodology (Merriam, 1988; Stake, 2000) was
employed. The collective case study allowed for an examination of each
case of preservice teacher learning as well as cross-case analysis. An
interpretive lens applied to the methodology afforded going beyond
simple description of the phenomenon to explanation and analysis. This
paper examines one typical case of preservice teacher learning from the
collective case study.
City High School served as the research site for this collective,
interpretive case study. The school is located in a working to
middle-class section of a large, metropolitan area, though the vast
majority of students (somewhere around 8085%) come from other more
impoverished neighborhoods in the city because of a high school choice
policy. Of the 1,200 students attending the high school at the time of
this study, 46.3% were Black, 39.7% were Hispanic, 8.3% were White, and
5.4% were Asian. About half were English language learners, 20% received
special education services, and 75% received free or reduced-price
Several features of the Urban Immersion experience distinguished it
from traditional teacher preparation at the university. First,
preservice teachers were members of a cohort of 22-36 preservice
teachers at CHS from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every Thursday rather than
scattered with a few others across multiple prepracticum school sites.
Coursework related to secondary teaching and inquiry was completed
on-site rather than at the university, and courses were co-taught by
university and high school faculty. Course meetings occurred in bookend
design: meeting to discuss theory in the morning before field
experiences and meeting to inquire into the intersections of theory and
practice in the afternoon after field experiences. Finally, preservice
teachers were partnered for field experiences rather than placed in a
traditional student teaching dyad with one cooperating teacher and one
student teacher. All of these elements contributed to the collaborative
and collegial culture of Urban Immersion.
Study participants included all Urban Immersion preservice teachers
during fall 2004 and spring 2005 pursuing secondary licensure. All 55
were undergraduates majoring in a content area (primarily English and
history) with a double major or minor in education. Of the 55
participants, 34 were women and 21 were men, and most were middle- to
upper-middle-class and White. Seven of the 55 participants identified
themselves as students of color: three Asian Americans, two African
Americans, one Ethiopian American, and one Latino American.
The participant discussed in this article was part of the larger
study of 55 preservice teachers. Laura (a pseudonym) has been selected
from the larger pool of participants as she represents a typical case of
preservice teachers' learning about professionalism in this
school-university partnership. Data collection and analysis procedures
for the larger study are shared here to contextualize the process by
which Laura's case was identified as typical.
Data Collection and Analysis
Multiple qualitative data sources were analyzed in this study,
including open-ended pre- and post-surveys, coursework, lesson
observations, interviews, and artifacts. The anonymous surveys asked the
same questions on the first and last days of class to learn about
students' prior educational experiences, their teacher preparation
to that point (if any), their immediate plans upon graduating, and their
prior knowledge of secondary curriculum and instruction, cultural
diversity, and urban teaching. These anonymous surveys were matched by
numerical identifiers to see individual participants' changes from
the beginning to the end of the semester. Therefore, these surveys
provided a view across cases of participants' growth without being
identifiable to individual participants. The bulk of the data collected
were identifiable to individual participants, including all course
papers and prepracticum reflections collected to examine
participants' learning and experiences over time.
Conceptually-driven sequential sampling (Miles & Huberman, 1994) was
employed to select a representative sample of preservice teachers to
observe teaching lessons. A total of 14 solo or co-taught lesson
observations were conducted to examine students' practices in
relation to their learning (23 students observed solo or co-teaching).
Semi-structured interviews lasting 30-45 minutes were conducted shortly
after lesson observations to better understand participants'
impressions of their teaching. Two Urban Immersion collaborators (high
school co-teacher of coursework and university teacher education
department chair) were also interviewed to provide further insight into
the context and conditions of UI. Finally, relevant artifacts were
collected, such as instructors' course syllabi, course evaluations,
and prepracticum materials to further understand the context and
Inductive data analysis procedures were utilized to make sense of
the numerous data sources. Data were read chronologically (at the time
of collection), by source (e.g. interview transcripts), and by
participant (e.g., all data collected from Laura). After reading the
data chronologically, a start list of codes was created with both
descriptive and interpretive codes. Readings by data source led to
pattern codes being identified, which aided in the identification of
trends in the data during the third reading by participant. Memos were
written throughout each step of the coding process, and data were
displayed in tables and diagrams to visually represent trends and
clarify emerging themes.
At the conclusion of data analysis, it became evident that some
participants typified the experiences of the majority of study
participants. Laura was one of these cases. An examination of her
developing professionalism and the sources of her learning are discussed
in the next section.
Findings and Discussion
Analysis of anonymous pre-survey responses yielded evidence that
participants' prior knowledge of secondary teaching revealed an
area for potential growth as most seemed uninformed about the
professional aspects of teaching. Their conceptions of teaching were
that teachers decide what to teach and how to teach it based on their
own interest in the subject area. As one participant stated, "If
you don't enjoy it, the people who are attempting to learn from you
certainly will not" (UI student, fall 2004). They thought that
urban teaching was different from teaching in other contexts primarily
because the students and families are different, and these differences
embodied negative connotations and revealed deficit-thinking about these
"others." However, by the end of the semester, participants
had begun developing their conceptions of what it means to be a
professional educator in an urban context. They noted the multiple
demands on urban teachers and the challenging conditions of the urban
high school in which they completed course and fieldwork. Notably, in
looking across participants' anonymous survey responses, it became
evident that they no longer placed the teacher at the center of
effective curricular and instructional decisions but instead placed the
students at the center. Laura serves as an example of the typical
development of preservice teachers in Urban Immersion, and her case is
further examined here to illustrate the move toward professionalism
evident with most preservice teachers by the conclusion of the semester.
The Case of Laura
Laura, a double major in English and education pursuing a secondary
teaching license, matches the profile of the majority of college
students in teacher preparation programs: White, middle-class, educated
in public, suburban schools (Zumwalt & Craig, 2005). Laura had not
considered a career in urban teaching when she began the Urban Immersion
experience. Participants were introduced to the school in two
afterschool meetings with course instructors, prepracticum supervisors,
high school administrators, teachers, and students before they began
working in classrooms. After this two week orientation, Laura noted in
her journal entry that she hoped her first prepracticum would confirm
her love for teaching.
I have always been interested in teaching for as long as I can
remember. I was very impressed with my teachers in high school and
developed such close relationships with them that I wanted to give back
to students of my own all the caring and compassion they showed me ... I
love to learn.. .I love working with kids ... Teaching is about making a
difference, and I want to help make a difference in someone's life.
(Journal 1, p. 1)
Laura, like most Urban Immersion participants, had positive
schooling experiences which influenced her commitment to pursue a
teaching career. Though Laura understood that she would be in a school
context unfamiliar to her, she did not mention the possibility of
becoming an urban teacher at the beginning of the semester. She did,
however, express her excitement about the opportunity and noted she
hoped she could teach the high school students "as much as they
have the potential to teach me" (Journal 1, p. 2).
Beginning the Journey
Laura and her field experience partner Cara were assigned to a
ninth-grade classroom and a twelfth-grade classroom. Two long blocks
were spent with a strong ninth-grade teacher who was also co-instructor
for the university course held on-site and a graduate of the
university's teacher preparation program. A third long block was
spent with another mentor teacher in his twelfth-grade classroom.
Reflecting on her first day, Laura focused on her cooperating
teachers' dedication to their students. Laura noted, "The
teachers care very much about the progress of their students. They
encourage kids to take academic risks and ask lots of questions"
(Journal 2, p. 2). She explained that the ninth-grade English teacher
had surveyed the class to find out about the authors and readings
students particularly liked in the past so that she could adapt
curriculum and instruction based on students' interests, which is
why they were studying Langston Hughes's poetry. The twelfth-grade
English teacher seemed to be struggling to get the students involved
with reading Beowulf. Recognizing this, he approached Laura and Cara
after the lesson and asked that they brainstorm together about ways to
improve the class, and Laura noted her excitement to do so.
On that first day of observations and individual work with
students, Laura noticed not only her cooperating teachers'
dedication to students, but also their classroom management strategies.
Laura described the ninth-grade teacher as one who does not accept poor
behavior: "I was impressed at the control she had over her class.
This is a sign of a good teacher. Furthermore, her students respect her
and her opinion" (Journal 2, p. 2). She explained that the
twelfth-grade class "was a whole different atmosphere"
(Journal 2, p. 2). Students did not appear to want to be there and
either fell asleep or talked the whole time they worked on Beowulf. She
asked her cooperating teacher about this, and he said that the students
were bored with the curriculum. As stated above, the teacher invited the
university students to help him find ways to improve the class in the
future, but Laura did not note that he did anything about the off-task
behavior during class that day.
Finally, Laura noticed the classroom conditions on the first day in
classrooms. She described the environment in this way:
It was evident that Laura was keenly aware of the teachers, the
students, and the classroom climate created by some controllable and
some relatively uncontrollable conditions in the urban high school
classrooms early in her field experience. At this point, it seems that
Laura's concerns center around the teachers' roles in the
classroom, particularly noting the "control" one teacher had
over her class as a sign of a "good teacher." However, it also
seems that Laura is beginning to notice the classroom conditions, an
important noticing for learning about the urban context.
The role of the teacher and the learning conditions created in the
school context were competing for Laura's attention early in the
semester as she further explored both ideas. In another reflection,
Laura highlighted how her ninth-grade cooperating teacher accommodates
for English language learners (ELLs), who made up about half of the
school's population, as well as what she described as the absurdity
of the state's English-only legislation. Laura stated her
cooperating teacher visits with ELL students after the class begins an
activity to clarify the directions and check for their understanding.
She also pairs ELLs with an accomplished English student to practice
their English skills rather than have ELLs work in groups of three or
four where they may not have to speak. The teacher has the ELLs sit near
the front during whole class instruction to observe their
reactions/expressions and limit distractions. Laura's stance on the
teaching of English language learners in mainstream classes in English
only was very pointed.
Though Laura witnessed her cooperating teacher making
accommodations for ELLs, she expressed outrage over implementation of
the state law--a larger policy issue--showing her developing ability to
reflect on policy and practice issues in the urban classroom. Laura
noticed the uncomfortable and crowded learning conditions earlier in her
prepracticum, but she did not strongly critique this situation.
Laura's critique of how ELLs are educated in an English-only state
shows a move toward viewing teaching as a political act, mentioned
earlier as a department goal for education students' learning and a
cornerstone of social justice education (Cochran-Smith, 1999). Taking
this nascent knowledge of urban schooling and applying it to classroom
practice was the next step for Laura on her journey.
Urban Professionalism in Action
Laura's developing professionalism for urban teaching was most
evident in an observation of her teaching and follow-up interview. In
co-teaching a whole class lesson several weeks into the semester, she
and her partner focused on issues of race and class with both blocks of
ninth-grade students. The lesson they designed fit into their
cooperating teacher's unit on the Harlem Renaissance; as mentioned
earlier, this unit came about after a survey of students'
interests. Laura and Cara used rap lyrics to discuss figurative
language, played jazz and blues music to create a mood in the classroom,
and asked students to imitate Hughes's style by writing a poem
about their own struggles. Among the many culturally responsive
classroom activities, two stood out.
First, early in the lesson, Laura and Cara spent some time sharing
how the Harlem real estate market was restricted to Whites at the turn
of the twentieth century--a surprising revelation for the students who
had just completed a word association activity for "Harlem"
that included Walter Dean Myers, gangs, and African Americans. They told
the students about a developer who made home ownership a reality for
Blacks in Harlem after World War I, which led to the influx of African
Americans to this section of New York and, consequently, the rebirth of
African American culture in the United States known as the "Harlem
Renaissance." Here, Laura and Cara connected social issues with
English literature, what Ladson-Billings (1994) had in mind when she
explained "culturally relevant teaching is a pedagogy that empowers
students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using
cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (p.
Second, Laura and Cara selected two of Hughes's poems for
their lesson that express the struggles of African Americans to achieve
the American Dream: "Deferred" and "I, Too, Sing
America." These poems were not part of the required curriculum at
the school, but the beginning teachers selected them after getting to
know their students. Laura and Cara used these poems not only to teach
the literary elements of metaphor and simile, but also to underscore how
literature from the time period reflects the difficult situations faced
by African Americans. As Laura said in our post-observation interview
about what her students learned,
Laura and Cara made conscious decisions to teach students about the
inequities of the time period by sharing some history and sharing some
poetry. It also is evident that the partners used knowledge of their
students to make curricular and instructional decisions. Some teachers
prefer not to address racism and discrimination, choosing to strictly
follow the prescribed curricular content, but Laura (and her partner)
were beginning to see the power of engaging in difficult content and
conversations that were relevant to their audience--primarily African
American and Latino students living in poverty in a large, U.S. city--as
an important aspect of how professional educators teach the content.
Oakes and her colleagues (2002) suggest:
Evidence from Laura's classroom observation reveals her
professionalism in action, the type of culturally relevant pedagogy
(Ladson-Billings, 1994) that accounts for knowledge of content,
pedagogy, students, and inequities.
Concluding (the Beginning of) the Journey
At the conclusion of the semester, Laura expressed the most
important things she learned during her Urban Immersion experience. She
noted the importance of knowing your content and effectively managing
your classroom, but she cited knowing your students well, their learning
styles and interests, as the greatest thing she learned throughout the
Laura said that lessons she and her partner taught earlier in the
semester were not as effective because they didn't know the
students well, even their names: "We were kind of like,
'Alright, go ahead. You, answer.'" (Interview 12/16/05,
p. 7). However, Laura equated knowing the students with the success of
the lesson I observed them teaching about the Harlem Renaissance. She
wrote about this in her final journal reflection:
This excerpt reveals Laura's ability to recognize the
connection between knowing students and successfully teaching them.
Laura's experience typifies the way preservice teachers in
Urban Immersion began to develop a we-oriented vision of teaching as
conceptualized by Donnell (2007). They began to see a direct connection
between relationships with students and effective teaching of these
students. Participants in Donnell's study similarly "learned
about teaching with and from their pupils" (p. 241). She argues,
Neither Laura nor her peers developed to the point of
transformative urban teaching practice as Donnell has conceptualized it
(teachers and students learning from one another as a matter of course),
but they did begin to view students as a resource for planning
curriculum and instruction, a first step in becoming a transformative
Laura concluded the beginning her journey to become a professional
educator by expressing an interest in urban teaching: "I am glad
that I had the opportunity to work at CHS. The experience was so great
that I could actually see myself teaching in an urban setting in the
future" (Final Journal, p. 5). This shift toward viewing urban
teaching as a possibility was typical for about two-thirds of
participants, and an outcome that the school and university partners
hoped for when requiring Urban Immersion at the beginning of the teacher
education program. If preservice teachers can envision themselves
working in a context different from what they experienced in school,
perhaps they will be more willing to pursue a career in that context.
The Process of Developing Urban Professionalism
This case study analysis suggests that there were four perspectives
from which preservice teachers operated during their semester in an
urban school-university partnership: (1) Noticing, (2) Critiquing, (3)
Enacting, and (4) Reflecting. These four perspectives served to scaffold
preservice teachers' learning about professionalism in urban
teaching from merely observing the context and conditions to critiquing
them, to enacting urban teaching knowledge, all the while reflecting
upon their perspectives. Evidence from this study suggests Laura engaged
in these four perspectives over the course of the semester, representing
the typical experience for most participants. Laura began the semester
by noticing teachers' roles in classrooms, their interactions with
students, and the crowded conditions. Then, Laura began critiquing what
she noticed, such as the implications of English-only policy for ELL
students' learning. Next, Laura began enacting culturally relevant
pedagogy and student-centered, getting to we practices to address
inequities. Throughout this process, Laura was reflecting upon elements
of one's developing transformative teaching practice and commitment
to urban teaching.
This is not to suggest that all beginning urban teachers would
neatly assume each perspective in a linear fashion, as it is quite
possible that one might enact appropriate pedagogies without critiquing
inequities or reflecting deeply upon one's own assumptions and
beliefs. However, Laura was developing her knowledge base for urban
professionalism as she assumed each perspective, sometimes in a
synergistic, cyclical fashion, and addressed head-on the complex nature
of teaching in urban schools. Laura moved from noticing to critiquing
the status quo of the context and conditions urban students are expected
to endure in school. She showed she was beginning to enact practices
that challenge the status quo and make teaching a political act for
expanding opportunities and life chances for urban students. Like her
peers, Laura was beginning to tackle difficult concepts, but these
moments were just that--moments over the course of one semester. It
remains to be seen if Laura will continue using what she knows about
urban culture to teach her students and engage in professional teaching
and learning. Some developed as professional educators more or less than
Laura, but the majority of participants' experiences looked similar
to Laura's. One purpose of Urban Immersion is for preservice
teachers to learn about their students and consider students' needs
when planning curriculum and instruction, which the majority did, and
the case of Laura typified.
After analyzing Laura's learning, questions remain, including,
"Whose definition of professionalism counts?" and "Who
decides?" Haberman (1994), in his critique of mainstream notions
about the professional knowledge base for teaching, argues "The
assumption that there is one knowledge base is nonsense. It is not true
that 'teaching is teaching,' 'learning is learning,'
and 'kids are kids'" (p. 163). Therefore, context
matters, and we need to appropriately theorize and conceptualize the
knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for teaching in various
educational contexts. For the urban context, Haberman (1995b) suggests
that the best urban teachers are a bit older and wiser, live in the
city, and are non-White. Though his formula for selecting successful
urban teachers presents opportunities for recruiting and retaining
successful teachers for city schools, I would argue that universities in
urban areas have a responsibility and an obligation to recruit and
retain their traditional teacher education students who may not have
considered urban teaching prior to enrolling in their preparation
program. Oakes et al. (2002) contend that young, high-achieving
university students are interested in meeting the social justice
challenges of urban teaching, "even in the face of realistic
portrayals of the political and economic realities that make urban
schools so challenging" (p. 231). Likewise, Sleeter (2001) suggests
that while it is essential to develop mechanisms for recruiting a more
diverse teaching force, "working with White prospective teachers is
also essential" (p. 102). As Laura rightly contended, "The
complexities of the teaching role are quite numerous in any setting, but
more so in an urban school" (Urban Teaching Course Paper, p. 1).
Spirited debates about what it means to be a professional educator
will continue within and without the education community, likely leading
to further debates, little consensus, and no one "right"
answer. While acknowledging and participating in the debates, teacher
educators in urban communities need to focus their attention on the
possibilities for urban teacher recruitment and retention at the
doorstep of the ivory tower. Many urban schools and districts are in
desperate need, not for teachers with only strong content knowledge and
little to no preparation on how to make meaning of the content with
students, but for teachers with strong content knowledge, strong
pedagogical knowledge, and strong urban culture knowledge. Teachers
alone cannot transform urban education, but they can certainly make a
difference in the current teaching and learning opportunities of their
students, as well as their students' future life chances.
Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon (1998) have argued that it is very
difficult to alter assumptions and beliefs that preservice teachers
bring with them to teacher preparation experiences. Nevertheless, Laura
learned the importance of teachers' making professional decisions
about secondary curriculum and instruction, especially balancing
curriculum requirements with engaging lessons that emerge from
students' cultures, interests, and needs. This outcome is typical
of preservice teachers prepared in school-university and professional
development school partnerships. In fact, Walling and Lewis (2000) found
that PDS preservice teachers showed a significant difference in their
development as professional educators. They found that PDS preparation
"may indeed foster beliefs and attitudes that represent a more
mature professionalism than that of traditional preservice
teachers" (p. 71). PDS preservice teachers in other studies also
exhibited greater professionalism (Kroll, Bowyer, Rutherford, &
Hauben, 1997; Sandholtz & Dadlez, 2000). However, these prior
studies do not problematize the context of the PDS, an important note in
the debatable definitions of "professionalism." This study
aimed to address the gap between evidence of preservice teachers'
learning to become professional educators and making explicit the
context in which the learning takes place.
In light of this analysis, one might argue that authentic
collaboration in teacher preparation presents opportunities that cannot
be replicated when coursework is viewed as the domain of the university
and fieldwork is viewed as the domain of the schools. In Urban
Immersion, high school and university faculty assumed joint and equal
responsibility for preservice teachers' experiences. The local
knowledge high school teachers' possessed about what to teach and
how to teach it in their urban setting was shared with novices through
immediate interaction with urban students in classroom settings. Rather
than observing and reflecting on observations of classrooms, typical of
early field experiences, the UI participants were expected to get
involved with teachers' lessons from day one. Participants taught
individuals, small groups, and whole classes of high school students
throughout the semester, often modeling their practices after their
cooperating teachers' pedagogy. On course evaluations, participants
reported spending the majority of their time in CHS classrooms working
directly with students every Thursday. This is the kind of support the
administration was in search of when first inviting the university to
become more involved with teacher preparation at their site,
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Andrea J. Stairs is an assistant professor in the Department of
Professional Education at the University of Southern Maine, Gorham,
They need to understand local urban cultures, the urban political
economy, the bureaucratic structure of urban schools, and the
community and social service support networks serving urban
centers. They need skills to draw on and develop in urban youth
literacies across the academic content areas, promote college
access for first-generation college goers, build social capital
across schools and community organizations, and create alliances
and engage in joint work with other reform-minded teachers. (p.
[C]ritical to a beginning teacher's growth and confidence is the
development of a teaching practice in which the teacher focuses on
"we," highlighting the mutual learning between teacher and pupils.
The teacher learns about teaching with and from the pupils....As
teachers move toward getting to we, pupils are not seen as blank
slates or empty vessels; they are active agents in their own
learning and in the teacher's learning about teaching. (pp. 224-5)
The class was very crowded with not an empty chair and the
temperature was so hot. This is a downfall of CHS. The conditions,
though not bad, are not as comfortable as my high school. (Journal
2, p. 2)
How can these students possibly be receiving a maximum education if
they do not know what is going on? The state law is absurd.... In
my high school the ESL students as we called them had two classes
in learning to speak/write/read English in the morning and then
came into the regular classrooms to incorporate what they had
learned. They also had interpreters in the school if they were
needed, but the kids were greatly encouraged to use only English in
the classroom.... Granted, the CHS students pick up English quickly
by interacting with English students, but they are not receiving
the top grades that they could be in a Spanish setting. Is this
fair? ... CHS, but mostly the state law, must address this problem
in a different way. They claim to give all students equal education
but how can that be justified if one student does not even know
what is going on in the classroom? (Journal 3, p. 3)
I think they learned about the Harlem Renaissance and what was
going on through the poetry. They saw the prejudice and racism that
was shown through the literature and they wrote about that in their
responses to the questions. (Interview 12/16/05, p. 8)
In urban schools, competence cannot be parsed into teacher skills
and social action. An effective urban teacher cannot be skilled in
the classroom but lack skills and commitment to equity, access, and
democratic participation. Likewise, if one is to be a teacher, a
deep caring and democratic commitment must be accompanied by highly
developed subject matter and pedagogical skills. (p. 229)
The key to successful urban teaching is getting to know the lives
of each individual student and appreciating the differences he/she
possesses, having confidence in one's own abilities, and reflecting
on the best ways to teach the students so that every child has an
effective learning experience. (Urban Teaching Course Paper, p. 1)
As I got to know the needs and personalities of my students, I knew
which methods of teaching were effective or ineffective. In
addition, since I had made an effort to know each student, they
knew that I cared about their education and how well they did in
school. When a student knows that his teacher cares, he is more
willing to cooperate and learn because someone has an interest in
his life and actions. If I take the time to respect my students and
their needs and desires, they will respect me and the lesson I am
trying to teach them.... A two-way relationship based on mutual
respect is important, as is consideration and accommodation for all
students' abilities and needs. (Final Journal, pp. 4-5)
They developed relationships with pupils that were respectful,
trusting, and caring. Through these relationships, teachers learned
about how to adjust their teaching to respond to their pupils
rather than to prescribed instructional techniques and curriculum.