Decentering whiteness in teacher education

February 25, 2020

Back in 2017, the University of Washington’s Elementary Teacher Education Program (ELTEP) enrolled its first cohort of teacher candidates in which more than half were people of color and more than half spoke a language in addition to English.

While the diversity of the cohort was welcome — particularly in a state where 89 percent of teachers are white but students of color make up nearly 50 percent of public school enrollment — it also meant UW teacher educators needed to reassess their program.

“When we admitted our first group of very diverse students, I went to the faculty and said ‘We’ve got a gift’,” said Teddi Beam-Conroy, director of the UW’s Elementary Teacher Education Program. “Most efforts [to diversify the teaching workforce] concentrate on recruiting students, and they’re here. So now we have to talk about how we’re going to change to meet their needs. What do we need to do in order to sustain and learn from the students we have with us?”

In a new podcast, Beam-Conroy and Cristina Betancourt, a graduate student in teaching and curriculum, discuss the College of Education’s work to decenter whiteness in its teacher education program over the past three years. Beam-Conroy and Betancourt are part of a team that will present a case study of the College’s work at the 2020 meeting of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

The 2017 ELTEP cohort marked the beginning of the program’s system and instructional moves to decenter whiteness and center pluralism by using a critical race and LatCrit framework.

“That was the beginning of both the multilingual pedagogies and also the idea of decentering whiteness,” Beam-Conroy said. “Looking at our course make-up, looking at our syllabi, looking at the experiences we expected students to have and decentering the idea that we were preparing a largely white teaching force.”

For example, every ELTEP teacher candidate now has the option of submitting their work in any language they wish, even if their language skills aren’t at a high level.

“So we’re looking at what systems in the P-12 area of our field have done to disenfranchise and marginalize our [candidates], so they can turn around and not do that to their own students,” Beam-Conroy said.

To assess the impact of ELTEP’s efforts, the program is looking at changes in candidates’ professional growth plans and edTPA data such as their context for learning and planning commentary, which can show how deeply they know and understand their students.

“We’ve seen changes in how descriptive students are when it comes to naming who in their classroom speaks multiple languages, what are their home lives like,” Beam-Conroy said.

The program also is looking at shifts in teacher candidates’ end-of-year capstone projects, Betancourt said, in which they tackle a research question about their own classroom or teaching.

“We’re looking at the types of themes candidates are exploring and how those themes relate to a critical theory framework,” Betancourt said. “What we’ve seen so far is that the broadening of the types of critical dimensions that teacher candidates are seeing is much broader in the last year’s class than it was, for example, three years ago before these changes had taken place.”

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Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications