This week, I had an experience with a student that impacted me deeply. I continue to process this encounter, and will not soon forget it. Earlier in the week, I had been alerted by one of my field experience supervisors that there were difficulties arising between this candidate and her mentor teacher. Without divulging the details, I will share that some close to the situation were making connections to recent high profile news stories. Knowing this candidate as her mentor and advisor for several semesters, I sensed that this situation was a bit more complex. Sure enough, as we sat down to talk, she was very emotional in expressing her high level of discomfort as the only person of color in the school, including teachers and students. Her description of the school was confirmed by my clinical coordinator who had made the placement when all other options had been exhausted for this semester. Needless to say, this is the first time this particular situation has arisen, as the vast majority of our placements are in diverse settings. As you can imagine, all hands are on deck as we are now working together to support our candidate and her mentor teacher together to provide a meaningful growth experience for all. This includes a full commitment to the voice of the candidate herself, as she takes an active role in the discussions and problem solving. We believe that there are many opportunities for positive results for this candidate as well as for her mentor teacher and students. As my dean pointed out, it is an important experience for the students to have her as their student teacher.
The phrase “implicit bias” is getting a lot of press lately. Hillary Clinton’s discussion of this concept in the recent debate drew some criticism, with one news publication proposing that this idea should “scare every American.” (1) Receiving less attention by popular media is a study released this past week by the Yale Child Study Center. The primary goal of the study, according to principal investigator Walter Gilliam, was to get a more accurate view of implicit bias in preschool teachers. In short, the study found that teachers spent undue time focusing on the behaviors of their African American students, and expected bad behavior. The study revealed that they identified problematic behavior from these students even when there was none. This study should come as no surprise to those of us who are familiar with similar previous studies, and there are obvious ways that it should inform our preparation of teacher candidates for their work with students. But how does it inform other elements of our teaching? That is to say, how does it inform how we teach in the context of our own diverse classrooms? How does it inform our mentoring and advising? Our work as coordinators of field experiences and student teaching? Reflecting on the experience of my teacher candidate this week in light of this research report, I am left with some questions that are not new, but have resurfaced with a greater sense of urgency:
- As we continue to recruit more diverse teacher candidates, what tangible supports have we put in place to support them in their movement throughout the program, and into their first few years of teaching?
- How seriously do we take our commitment to identifying and recruiting a more diverse cadre of mentor teachers and teaching faculty?
- How authentically do we seek to personally connect with the past experiences of our candidates in ways that acknowledge the impact of implicit bias? How then does this acknowledgement shape our programming and teaching? How does it inform the work of our mentor teachers?
How are you and your colleagues answering these questions? What resources or personal experiences can you share?
(1) “Hillary’s Talk of ‘Implicit Bias’ Should Scare Every American”
David French, National Review, September 28, 2016