Teacher literacies in the age of reform: Teach for America, urban schooling and the methods course as a site of productive disruption
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As a proposed solution to the issues plaguing urban schools in the United States, Teach for America (TFA) continues to garner national attention and attract an increasingly competitive pool of applicants from the nation's most elite colleges. In fact, TFA has become the nation's largest provider of teachers to low-income communities and the network of alumni is over 17,000 strong, and growing. Although the reach and prestige of the program has continued to expand, little scholarly attention has been paid to the experience of the corps members themselves, who, despite their varied accomplishments, contend daily with a number of significant challenges. Not only are they expected to meet the academic needs of a diverse student body while negotiating a number of strict curricular mandates but, in most cases, they must also mediate a range of cultural, racial and socioeconomic differences between them and their students. In this qualitative study which draws upon ethnographic and practitioner inquiry methods, I explore how one cohort of first-year TFA teachers attempt to make sense of the urban contexts they enter, how they reconcile their hopes for their students with institutional mandates, and how they respond to invitations within a university methods course to make their teaching practice a site of critical inquiry. Findings from this study indicate that 1) corps members rely upon dominant educational discourses to theorize their experiences in urban contexts even when these discourses inhibit their ability to meet the needs of their students; 2) the institutional contexts which inform their daily reality hinder corps members' ability to problematize, question and reconsider their discourses; 3) the university methods course can serve as a site of re-professionalization by introducing alternative discourses which help corps members re-conceptualize their relationship to their practice, their colleagues, their students and themselves. If our goal as teacher educators is to prepare thoughtful and inquiring practitioners, then we must design and teach courses that reflect their ambitions. Thus, teacher education courses must serve as a site from which to challenge and re-imagine dominant discourses in an effort to expand what corps members consider "possible" within urban schools and classrooms.