African -American teacher beliefs about learning and teaching: Portraits and perspectives of six urban school educators

Michele Jean Sims, University of Pennsylvania


Since the 1970s, the study of teacher beliefs has been broadly conceptualized, in part, because of the concept complexity. Beliefs are commonly linked to knowledge, but are as likely to refer to beliefs, and discrete phenomena, apart from knowledge. Regardless of the differing views of beliefs, what teachers believe has extraordinary ramifications for students and all those involved in the educational process. Yet, little is known about the beliefs and attitudes of African-American teachers. This study investigates the personal and professional contexts of six Black teachers in order to ascertain their beliefs and understandings of themselves both as learners and teachers. Developed on a qualitative, life-history model, the study used a semi-structured interview protocol and analysis consistent with investigations of aspects of teachers' lives. Interviews were conducted with six female African-American teachers at one urban middle school in the deep South, located within an urban community undergoing a major revitalization effort which resulted in a partnership with a nearby large, predominantly White university. Findings from the study suggest that the teachers' personal and professional experiences, knowledge, and attitudes significantly influenced their daily decision-making and mediated the choices they made. The findings also indicate that these Black teachers are under tremendous pressure—personally and publicly—to succeed with Black children. Their remembrances of segregation and the responsibility of and connectedness to the Black community drive their aspirations. To varying degrees, the teachers incorporate tenets of culturally relevant pedagogy and teaching into their practice, nonetheless, they continue to struggle daily with some students and parents who do not always seem to share the teachers' sense of purpose and community connectedness. Some of the teachers conclude that more Black students learned when schools were segregated. Yet, their school system—superintendent, teachers, and students—is almost exclusively African-American. The study suggests that the nurturing and proactive environments created by the teachers' families and teachers' teachers served both as lifelines in the changing landscape of urban schools and as sources of dissonance as they work towards mediating their beliefs about what should and can happen in schools.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology|African Americans

Recommended Citation

Sims, Michele Jean, "African -American teacher beliefs about learning and teaching: Portraits and perspectives of six urban school educators" (2003). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3112560.