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DISRUPTING THE DISCOURSE:

CANADIAN BLACK WOMEN TEACHERS IN THE LIVES OF MARGINALIZED .
STUDENTS

KIMBERLEY TAVARES

A DISSERTATION SUBMITTED TO THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

GRADUATE PROGRAM IN EDUCATION
YORK UNIVERSITY

TORONTO, ONT ARIO

· December 2013

©Kimberley Tavares, 2013

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ABSTRACT

This dissertation begins with a specific question: What can education learn from experiences of
Black women teachers about meeting the educational needs of marginalized learners? It explores
this question by focusing on the pedagogical practices five Canadian Black women teachers
employ to meet the learning needs of their students, particularly those most marginalized and
underserviced. While their voices are generally missing in Canadian educational research
literature, the present inquiry is guided by an understanding that the teaching practices of Black
women teachers are individualized and contextual; they encounter and develop professional
expertise from many different subjective and educational trajectories, and they learn to teach
students, on multiple terms and at varied levels of success. The research pursues three lines of
investigation organized by the diverse experiences of Black women teacher respondents: (1)
biographical and identity formation as teachers who are Black women; (2) attitudes, strategies
and negotiations as "minority" teachers in a white majority profession; (3) and what matters most
to these Black women about the academic success of marginalized students while teaching and
interacting with them in the classroom. Drawing upon observations and interviews, insights from
the teachers highlight the educational problematic as more about the long-standing "teaching-
gap" than about challenges students present. The study yields recommendations toward closing
this "teaching gap" to more generally improve educational provision to all students, and more
specifically to marginalized students in Canadian schools.

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Solomon 1997). This study finds that a striking feature of Black female teachers'

practices is their commitment to provide for Black students othermothering

practices of care.

On Being (Black) Teachers

Despite seeing their role as othermothers to and advocates of Black

children as critical to their teaching practice, the respondents, for the most part,

did not elevate othermothering to their professional role as teachers. In fact,

during the focus group interview, most saw the three roles as conflated and further

acknowledged the complicated politic that this conflation creates.

When asked to discuss her role as teacher, Melanie explained:

I am who I am and I teach children regardless of colour or whatever.

(pause) But I have a soft spot in my heart for Black kids, and I try to reach

them, I guess, within the parameters of the classroom (Individual

Interview, Melanie, p. 6).

Angela, too, had a similar response about being a teacher. She said:

Well, I have no choice because that's what I am. But I am Black. [Pause]

I'm a Black woman but I am a teacher who happens to be Black ... .! didn't

come into teaching just to support Black kids at all. I came because I loved

language learning, and I didn't see that as a Black thing. [Pause] I do take

care of my Black children though. [Pause] What I notice with me, as soon

as I get a Black student, male or female, I automatically take more of an

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interest. [Pause] I am interested in all my students. [Pause] I'm the only, or

the first, Black [Subject] head in this school and you become aware of

that. There is one other Black head now and so we call each other 'the

Black heads' (Individual Interview, Angela, p. 7).

The responses indicate that the teachers experienced conflict when trying

to reconcile their identity with their understanding of the role of Black women

teachers. For example, rather than respond to the question in terms of her own

identity, Melanie conflated the questions with having a "soft spot for Black kids."

Her conflation of her own identity with those of her students is interesting given

that she begins responding to the question with a 'colour-blind' orientation,

suggesting that she is focused on teaching all students. After making this caveat,

she quickly made links between her Black teacher identity and what she can "try"

for Black children. And as discussed earlier, Melanie's use of the verb "try", like

Angela's use of the verb phrase "take care" suggest an active politic, a politic of

community othermothering (Troester, 1984). Further, Melanie's "soft spot" for

Black children, makes murky her argument that her main motivation is care and

not race.

Angela too articulated her understanding of the role of the teacher by

repeatedly stressing that her priority is to teach all children. Angela seemed at first

to imply that being a Black teacher was a 'biological accident' - "Well, I have no

choice because that's what I am. But I am Black". Yet, like Melanie, the politics

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APPENDIXC:

EXPLORING THE ROLE OF BLACK WOMEN TEACHERS IN THE LIVES
OF BLACK MALE STUDENTS

FOCUS GROUP

INTERVIEW GUIDING QUESTIONS

(Sent by e-mail)

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Thank-you again for agreeing to take part in my research project on the Black
Female Teacher.

As discussed there will be a second session where all participants will get
together to discuss common themes found amongst your individual interviews.

187

In preparation for that session, attached you will find a copy of your interview
transcript. Please review the data making any changes, deletions or additions you
feel relevant.

Also note I have pulled 5 themes from the individual interviews that, should you
agree, will serve as the catalyst for our discussion during the focus group session.

The themes are:

• Empathy for Black learners

• Paying attention- focus on the Black learner

• Relationship building with parents, staff and students

• Culturally relevant and engaging pedagogy

• Identity and burdens of the Black female teacher

These themes were chosen as they seemed to be ideas that were repeatedly
discussed by each of you. Again, as with your transcripts, if you are not
comfortable with any theme or do not think the theme captures your ideas about
being a Black woman teacher, please let me know.

With respect and thanks,

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