Crossing the Divide: A Phenomenological Study of Early Childhood Literacy Teachers Who Choose To Work With Children In High Poverty Schools

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In this phenomenological study, I explore the lived experiences of five early childhood educators, teaching literacy in high poverty schools. My work is guided by the research question: "What are the lived experiences of White early literacy teachers who choose to work with minority children in high poverty schools?" As phenomenology demands, my work is grounded in philosophy, and I turn to the writings of Sartre, Levinas, Derrida, Levin, and Gadamer. For methodological guidance, I rely on the work of Max van Manen.

Through the voices of my participants, I excavate the meaning beneath their experiences. In my initial conversations with two of my participants, Will and Paula, I detect their chosen dedication to working in Title I schools, and their respect for children's individual needs and multiple identities. 

Identity continues to emerge as a central structure, both in the lived experiences of each of my five participants and in their pedagogical practice. While each of my participants is White, each one conveys a sense of having a multiplicity of identities, which enables them to connect with their students and families. Through their pedagogy, my participants also attend to the various aspects of their students' identities. They address needs relating to language, family, literacy, community, and the difficult choices and challenges that await their students in society.

Throughout our conversations, the notions of choice and of crossing boundaries remain central. These teachers choose to work in low-income communities, where they move back-and-forth from their middle-class homes. As they teach a transformative curriculum, they also cross the boundary of curriculum, as they attend to the demands of standardization.

Finally, I suggest that teacher education programs examine how boundary-crossing might inform their own pedagogical practice. Through pre-service teachers' exploration of their own identities and their experiences with families in Title I neighborhoods, they can become boundary-crossers, comfortably moving between two divided worlds. And, by learning how to integrate reading, writing, listening, and speaking throughout all aspects of the curriculum, they can teach children about the socially transformative power of literacy.