Poetry, Prose, and Portraiture: Voices of 21st Century Black English Teachers on Impacting Black Student Achievement
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This dissertation study utilized Critical Race Theory (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995) and Portraiture (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2005) to investigate five African American English teachers' perceptions of how they impact Black student achievement. Study participants included teachers who taught in two neighboring school districts located in a large metropolitan area in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Teachers' years of experience ranged from 2 to 15. Data collection methods included journal writing, focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and a questionnaire. Findings are presented in the form of individual poetic portraits for each teacher (Childers, 2007; Hill, 2003, 2005; Schendel, 2009) and emergent themes (Lawrence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997). Teachers viewed themselves as impacting Black student achievement by employing a more-than-content teaching philosophy that emphasized helping students develop life skills and knowledge that would be beneficial post high school. Teachers found it difficult, however, to positively impact Black student achievement because of frustrating situations they faced in their school settings. Teachers' frustrations are organized into five categories: institutional frustration, pedagogical frustration, relational frustration, positional frustration, and cultural frustration. Situated within the literature on Black teachers published post-1970, the findings add complexity to the common portrayal of Black teachers as culturally-synchronized (Irvine, 1990) othermothers (Foster, 1993; Irvine, 2002), mentors, and role models (Irvine, 1989) for Black students. Findings also deepen the scholarly conversation surrounding the negative, unintended consequences the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas (1954) court ruling had for Black teachers and Black students. The study's implications call for intra-racial professional development workshops and teacher education initiatives designed specifically for African American teachers; long-term ethnographic studies investigating the experiences and relationships between Black teachers and Black students in contemporary resegregated schools; policy initiatives aimed at creating a Brown v. Board of Education agenda for contemporary times; and theories that reconceptualize racial uplift pedagogy for 21st century schools.