WITHIN THE TERRAIN: A PHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF WHITE TEACHERS BEING AND BECOMING IN BLACK SCHOOLS

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Date

2022

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Abstract

In this hermeneutic phenomenological study, I explore the identity experiences of White teachers who work in Black schools. Specifically, I ask “What is the lived experience of White teachers as they name and continue to construct their identities while working in Black schools?” Given the ontological nature of phenomenological work, I rely on the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Emmanuel Levinas, and Edward Casey. Max van Manen provides a systematic approach that guides my methodological work. In order to investigate the lived experiences of White teachers working in Black schools, I had conversations with five White, women teachers and collected written anecdotes from two of these five teachers. These White women had varying years of experience as teachers and taught different grade levels, but all worked in predominantly Black schools. At the onset of this study, I engage with scholarly sources, etymological investigations, and works of fiction to open up what may possibly be essential to White identity experiences. This initial exploration led me to suggest that White teachers’ identity experiences could be likened to a journey, one that would lead teachers back to a point where they now know themselves better. However, through conversations with my five participants, the metaphorical terrain of Black schools revealed itself as an essential element of their identity experiences. Rather than moving along a continuum like a journey, the White teacher participants of this study were engaged, to varying degrees, in a visionary project of seeing themselves as part of Black school systems, or terrains. I came to see that their experiences of their identities could be likened to landscapes, which can be seen as both nouns and verbs. These five White teachers both had an identity and were acting on or constructing an identity; landscapes are and are created. The life world of my participants involves the negotiation of their own position in Black schools, the vantage point from which they can see and understand the complexity of that terrain, and their experience of cultivating relationships with other members of their schools. Viewing Black schools as terrains, and reflecting on my participants’ positions within this terrain, led me to think about the ways in which White teachers may act on their identities in anti-racist ways. This reflection connected me with Kendi’s (2019) explanation of an anti-racist as one who “locates the roots of problems in powers and policies” rather than “in groups of people” (p. 8). At the conclusion of this work, I open up possibilities for teacher educators and school districts as they consider how to guide White teachers towards anti-racist ways of being.

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