Talk among student teachers in an urban high school: Questioning dimensions of difference

Michelle Yvonne Denise Szpara, University of Pennsylvania


According to Lave and Wenger (1991/1996), the world is socially constituted, and learning and knowing arise in relation among people engaged in talk. Race and other forms of difference are socially constructed concepts, continually reproduced and redefined in interaction (Omi & Winant 1986). It is important to focus on how race and class are constructed by future teachers, because the ways in which they perceive their students may affect their interactions in the classroom, including having lower expectations for certain minority groups. This study focussed on how two cohorts of interns—predominantly Caucasian and middle-class—made sense of racial and class differences while teaching in an urban, low-income, minority high school. Each cohort negotiated understandings of difference through talk in a range of activities throughout the Teacher Education Program. The research questions were as follows: (1) What was the nature of the talk among the interns in two cohorts of an urban teacher education program? (2) How did each cohort use conversational interaction to make sense of the racial and class differences encountered while teaching in an urban high school? Ethnographically oriented discourse analysis was employed to examine the interns' representations of difference. This method involved the context-sensitive microanalysis of language in interaction (Tannen 1993). The major findings were as follows: (1) explicit discourse about race and class was rare among interns; (2) they utilized various discourse strategies to circumvent explicit discussions; and (3) dominant representations in the interns' discourse reflected a deficit model approach to educating low income, minority students. The findings contribute to an understanding of how interns make sense of difference and how contextual factors are related to talk about difference. This information is useful to teacher educators who prepare teachers to work with students from backgrounds that are linguistically, culturally, and/or socioeconomically different. The findings also have implications for teachers who study their own classroom practices with students who are different from them, for intercultural communication experts who facilitate discussions of sensitive topics, and for educational psychologists and other researchers who focus on the construction of race and other forms of difference in groups.

Subject Area

Teacher education|Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Linguistics|Communication|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Szpara, Michelle Yvonne Denise, "Talk among student teachers in an urban high school: Questioning dimensions of difference" (1999). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9937785.