On June 12, 2017, I (JR) had the honor of sitting down with Dr. Gail Thompson (GT) and Rufus Thompson (RT) to discuss their book: Yes, You Can!: Advice for Teachers Who Want a Great Start and a Great Finish With Their Students of Color (Thompson & Thompson, 2014). Thompson and Thompson have won numerous awards in the field of education and are tireless advocates for students. Their extensive careers in education – including being teachers themselves – give them each the powerful perspective of both the educator and the researcher.
Their recent book offers too many strategies to fit within a single piece, but in this eight-part interview they offer a sampling that can be used to acquire added insight and start crucial conversations. See previous posts (beginning with Part 1) of this interview for previous questions. Additional posts in this series will address additional questions.
Interview Part 3 of 8
(Question 4 of 10)
Your book features original research you conducted on teachers’ confidence levels. What was the biggest “aha!” you discovered in this study?
I collected nearly 300 (293) questionnaires from teachers: veteran teachers, teachers who had been teaching for 5 years or less, and then preterm teachers who would be going into the classroom in September (I called them interns in the book). They were more confident about their ability to work effectively with parents, with students, with the low achievers, with struggling readers (and in math) than the veteran teachers. What it told me was they were going to get a reality check when they actually got into their own classrooms, especially if they ended up in urban schools or predominantly low income schools. But the other thing is that teachers’ confident levels decrease over time as they get those reality checks. So, the confidence of the interns: that really surprised me.
It’s a good statistic to share with teachers and future teachers (e.g., those in teacher preparation programs) to brace themselves. I write a lot about teacher burnout, and I cite the American Federation of Teachers (2015), which found 100% of teachers “agreed” or "strongly agreed" they were enthusiastic about the profession when they began their careers, yet only 53% agreed at the point in their careers when they took the survey. If teachers’ confidence is out of proportion with what they will experience, it does speak to the need for teacher preparation programs to address this and help teachers with their expectations.
And so many new teachers do enter urban schools, where there is greater attrition rate. There is a real need for teacher preparation programs to hit this topic hard with new teachers.
I know UCLA does it. They actually place teachers in their programs in urban areas for their training as student teachers. That way they will know what to expect. I wish more would do that.
Cal Poly Pomona did that. The unfortunate thing is that because I was person of color, I could pick whatever school I wanted to go to, whereas the others had to pick a school that had a socio-economically disadvantaged population. There was some resistance to that.
I think in addition to this, the “aha” for us outside of the statistics was teachers are gung-ho and cocky about going in as new teachers, but their focus is primarily on the classroom. When they realize the other things (the bureaucracy; the respect of the senior teachers and how you have to go through a pecking order so to speak, because if you come in with too much enthusiasm there’s resistance from your colleagues; as well as you have to know how to respect your principal, who may or may not be one of those folks you can get along with; and then you have to deal with the community and if you aren’t accepted by the community) you could be the best teacher in the world. So, the research doesn’t necessarily show that, but in addition to that a new teacher needs to be aware of all these other things than just walking into a classroom.
Yes, there are so many variables, and many that aren’t even talked about in some teacher preparation programs.
In my next post for this column (Part 4), Dr. Thompson and Thompson will answer more questions concerning how teachers can best support students of color.
American Federation of Teachers (2015). Quality of worklife survey. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/sites/default/files/worklifesurveyresults2015.pdf
Thompson, G. L., & Thompson, R. (2014). Yes, you can!: Advice for teachers who want a great start and a great finish with their students of color. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.