The Black Teachers Pedagogical Strategies Education Essay

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The purpose of this study was to examine and describe the experiences of the successes of minority women teachers who teach minority children. This study includes teachers who have had substantial and noted careers in poor urban school settings working with minority children as a focus. This study seeks to add to the body of work that currently exists by describing the knowledge, experiences, cultural and other various aspects of the Black teacher's pedagogical strategies and practices. Research suggests that the Black women teachers, who have effective pedagogical practices with minority students in poor and urban populations, can add to the existing framework and literature on quality instruction (Dixon & Dingus, 2008).

A review of literature in this section was located by searching many electronic databases including Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), Google, Thesis workshops, and Dissertations International. Many search terms included: Black teacher success, minority teachers and minority students, critical race theory, cultural pedagogy, teachers who look like their students and cultural proficiency. Some of the journals used in this search were the following: Educational Leadership, NEA Today, Urban Education, Journal of the Alliance of Black School Educators and American Journal of Education.

Kohli's (2008) research offers the opinion that the more students are exposed to educators from the same or similar ethnic/racial and cultural backgrounds, the more culturally relevant, meaningful and successful their education will be. As this argument is valid, it cannot be assumed that increasing the presence of teachers of color is enough. In tandem with minority teacher recruitment and retention, teacher education programs must shift the Euro-centric themes in teacher training programs and consider the Minority paradigm and needs of the teachers of color.

Numerous studies have considered and reported teachers' stories for various reasons, however the focus of this qualitative study will probe and extend the work of Elbaz (1983), Schubert and Ayers (1992) and Clandinin and Connelly (1992). In this method of research, teachers' strategies and events are framed within a context of a teacher's cultural and life history. Central themes include moral and philosophical, personal and cultural, images, aspirations and have more to do with personal meanings and relations than with teaching methods or structured curriculum.

While this study focuses on the Black female teacher's success teaching minority students, there are a number of themes in the literature linking teaching and Black female matriarchal performance. This style of teaching has been historically tied to the Black female educator but, in many instances has also been the approach used by teachers as a whole in helping students.


Historically, the education field was one of the few fields that Black American women could develop a profession. The matriarchal approach was a substantial way in which the African American female could relate to minority children's culture and education. The matriarchal approach related to the socioeconomic, emotional and the educational needs of their students.

Culturally, the matriarchal figure drew upon the traditions to help their students adjust to school life. In many instances, they bridged the gap between community, home and school so that the students became more engaged in the learning process. Many teachers played a role that was nurturing and wholesome that collectively helped their students and families in the many struggles for racial, ethnic, social and economic equality (Jefferies, 1995).

Mothering or a matriarchal approach in many cultures is what many children in the urban communities identify with most. Many of these children come from single parent or second generational parenting (such as grandmother) environments. But along with this archetype, there is also an additional common link to the "struggle" that many of these Black female educators are familiar with from their own heritage. Thus linking and bridging the gap between their students. The traditions of Black Americans and matriarchal roles have a deep connection to oppression in America. The dualities of these cultural histories are a direct result with being Black in America (Jefferies, 1995).

According to Etter-Lewis (1993):

Black women's experiences are influenced by their many social roles acted out simultaneously. They do not have the privilege of only being women, or of only being Black Americans in particular situations. Instead, their roles melded. Usually they must wear both hats at the same time. (p.56)

The Black female teacher in many urban cultures and communities operate under the umbrella of protection, surrogacy, and tough-love at times, all within the school system or classroom. Consistent with the historical context, the matriarch has been in charge of maintaining family, and in relation to education, this duty sometimes transcends the role of teacher due to the concern for continuity between the community and school. The term matriarch, when broken into parts, is defined as matri meaning mother and arch meaning support. History provides support in showing us that because education was one of the few professions where Blacks were allowed to work, the roles of mother and teacher easily became one role combining culture with education. Although this role had been viewed historically as a female role in the Black community, it is a structural tool used to bridge the gap between culture and supporting the many needs of the underserved youth in urban areas; this role could be and has been enacted by men on occasion (Jefferies, 1995).


In studying successful teachers of minority students in urban areas, it was discovered that exceptional teachers are those teachers who are mostly successful in terms of student achievement, are those who tend to be less-judgmental and those who are not moralistic (Haberman, 1995). These teachers' fortify their role by incorporating hearing and listening to what the students, parents and community offers as a whole. These teachers recognize the impact of their own feelings and try to overcome any bias that may hinder a working relationship with the student. They are teachers that see themselves as successful in their interactions and participations with the children, so much so, that they will often put up with the irrational and overwhelming demands of the school systems. The satisfaction from these teachers comes from actually teaching children and youth in these areas with the exception for the need of power (Haberman, 1995).

Gehrke (2005) established three major characteristics that appear to relate directly to effective teachers in those urban schools: self-realization, knowledge of the environment, in which they are teaching, and establishing and maintaining high expectations for their students. Many practicing teachers in those urban school environments often report the need for teachers to have an awareness of what they believe about the minority students' capabilities. These personal values often dictate and influence perceptions and can affect teaching expectations and practices (Perkins, 2002).

Highly successful and effective teachers typically adhere to high expectations. They refuse to change their expectations or attitudes for their students despite their students' race or ethnicity, position in the community, life experiences, cultural realizations and family economic status. The teachers, who produce the greatest gains from their students, are those who accept the task and responsibility for teaching these students. Teachers who question their own efficacy typically produce little effort in reshaping instruction to help urban and minority students. They have lower tolerance thresholds for learning curves, learning disabilities and usually are not persistent in helping these students through challenging educational settings.

Those educators with a high sense of efficacy tend to demonstrate the opposite tendencies. They are more likely to adapt instruction to the students' characteristics and show a higher tolerance for varying learning styles. There is an expanding area of research that suggests that the pedagogy successful urban teachers' use in reaching children of color or of impoverished communities can be described as culturally relevant (Gay, 2000). Along with being culturally relevant, these proficient educators realize that culture encompasses much more than differences in race. These teachers understand the discordance of diverse cultures each person experiences in a school setting (Linsey et al., 1999).

In research of meritorious Black women teachers, Lafontant (2002) derived that though issues of culture are paramount to culturally relevant literature, educators' political knowledge and understanding of education softens their actions and makes them more sensitive of the anti-racism and anti-oppression struggles of minority students and students of color. She further supposed that there is a specific form of caring shown by these teachers that assume a womanist pedagogy.


Womanism is a standpoint epistemology (P.Collins, 1991). It is a term derived from Alice Walker's (1983) term womanist that was used to synonymously represent the historical, cultural and political anthropology of the Black women. Womanism also examines the Black womens' response to these realities without viewing them as a derivation of the Black male or even the European female behavior and social position. Through this, Black women can create a space where their expression and exploitation can become academically and culturally recognized and articulate their life experiences (Walker, 1983).

There are three main themes that describe womanism. First, it is the understanding that oppression is an interlocking system, offering everyone various degrees of consequence and access or privilege. Then, the belief that personal empowerment combined with group action is the key to solid and lasting social change. Third, humanism is embodied that allows a freeing of all (Collins & Tamarkin, 1990). Because womanism endeavors to enlighten the experiences and behaviors of Black women in order to understand the position being demonstrated by Black women teachers, it is crucial that their thoughts and actions are contextualized within cultural and historical legacies.


Black women educators who effectively use this approach demonstrate three major characteristics: maternal role instinct, political cognizability and an ethic of risk. Maternal role instinct allows Black American female educators to use the familiar and familial mother-child relationship as a bridge for their interactions with urban students of color. Then, political brightness is the recognition that there are differing relationships between school and society that tend to structure the successes and the failures of specific cultural groups of students (Bartolome, 1994). Lastly, ethic of risk encompasses the recognition that too much has been lost and there is no evident path to restitution. The fundamental idea of ethic of risk is that decision to care and act even though there may not be any guarantee of success (Welch, 1990).

Clear expectations are the result of a pedagogy where successful educators invest in the belief that all children can learn and that the circumstance and/or environment is not an excuse or reason to lower expectations. These teachers are also able to make the belief penetrable to all the students involved. At least, teachers must be aware of the effects their own beliefs and instructional decisions have on their students' school experience. These educators should recognize and understand how these pedagogical strategies will transfer into their teaching environments (Haberman, 1995).

Research concludes that in keeping with a focus on quality instruction, researchers must constantly examine the teaching practices of the Black women teachers, who are effectively reaching their students with their prescribed pedagogical practices with the minority (black), poor populations. These finding further develop a need for researchers to examine how to incorporate these aspects of the Black female teacher pedagogy into mainstream success. Ward (1995) believed that if school failures are in direct relation to relational breakdowns between teachers and students, where there is no common interest or purpose, then the academic success of poor, minority children lies in the quality of the relationships that the teacher fosters with the student. Casey (1990) evaluates the Black female teachers' maternal identity to students as:

The relationship between mother and child is not isolated and private, but is part of the wider family which is one's people. Because of the social context out of which this understanding has been derived, the maternal is not seen as an individual burden, but as reciprocity among members of a group. Whatever nurturing the teacher provides, comes back to them. (p. 616)

Similar studies have implied that there is a cultural connection between the pedagogy of Black female teachers and the utilization of the concept of the maternal in their teaching methods. In keeping the Black cultural traditions of using kin terms as identification among their students such as mothers, aunts, and grandmothers with their students has become a long-standing practice within many Black neighborhoods and communities. Along with this practice, Black female teachers have embraced "othermothering", in which they are responsible for the care of children who are not their own biological children. These teachers commit themselves to the social and emotional development of these students in the community. This concept has also been known to alleviate some of the stresses that the biological mothers have inherent in their in-home family.

Othermothering is kindred to education because teaching in the Black communities, and also in other groups, has been dominated by women since the turn of the twentieth century. There are profound successes that are intrinsically connected to this other dimension -- the identity as a political being that makes a constant parallel between schooling and society, educational practices and social realities. The ways in which Black women have been involved historically and traditionally have had an impact on ways to help women and their children survive the degradations of socioeconomic and political captivity (Collins, 1991).


Political awareness among Black female teachers is a theme in a historical analysis where black schools were segregated but valued by their communities. Black female teachers took on the role of surrogate parents towards their students because they believed that they were ethically responsible for caring for the children while they were away from home during that challenging socially immoral period. These teachers believed that they were the educators that were responsible for "preparing the youth for future leadership and for making contributions to this unique mission, namely the liberation and enhancement of the quality of life for Black people" (as cited in Siddle-Walker, 1996, p. 206). Due to this ideal, the concern was for the whole child and not solely their academic existence.

Successful Black female teachers teaching Black students provide their students with social reality. Many of these educators consider that the students should not be sheltered from the social realities, but confronted with social reality. The teacher should be working to help them tap into their own consciousness by questioning reality in order to examine the implication on life in totality. According to research, Black female teacher-mothers believe that to censor and withhold information is to infringe upon students' power.

Being a womanist educator encompasses having a professional love for children and having a clear understanding of how and why society marginalizes some while embracing others.


One generation ago, Welch (1990), a White feminist theologian, commented on the "ethic of risk" that was prevalent in the literature of several noted Black authors who all described intergenerational struggles against injustice as:

Within an ethic of risk, actions start with the recognition that too much has been lost and there are no evident means of restitution. The most basic and fundamental risk of this ethic is the concept and decision to care and to act when there are no guarantees of success. (p.68)

Maternal care and the decision to act despite the non-guarantee of success was

notoriously exhibited by a Black female teacher, Corla Hawkins, known as "Momma Hawk". In an article Momma Knows Best, where Momma Hawk was featured, she clearly made it known that her purpose was to extend herself, in her vocation, to those children that needed her most. She recounted:

I felt I could take the dysfunctional family structure where these children were accustomed and replace it with a new family structure in the classroom that stressed structure, personal achievement and self-esteem… I literally saw myself going around the world and hugging and loving all of the children no one else wanted. (People Magazine, 1996, pp. 45-46)

Because their ethic of risk is intrinsic in their sense of existential interdependence, these Black female womanist educators recognize and accept that although the impression of life may seem unfair but, the creation of fairness is the charge of generations and the task of creating fairness is an essential part of being alive. Working towards justice has to come as an affirmation to the delight of living.

Many Black community activists have long recognized their own destiny as linked to the destiny of other Blacks and in so have forged ties of mutual support from the community so that a collective survival and racial progress could be achieved (Ward, 1995). The interdependence of caring relies on teachers seeing both aspects of teaching and change as an interpersonal process. Teachers are reminded that there must be a practical purpose and benefit to others as well as to themselves.

SUMMARY and Implications

This literature review exposes that there are many exemplary Black women who are educators and models of the types of teachers our underserved minority (black) youth need. When examining the multi-faceted role of a womanistic teacher we a compelled to further several assumptions made about women, caring, and education. Mostly that these findings suggest that caring can be demonstrated by all since caring is a human function. It can also be demonstrated by anyone/educator who is willing to examine their own personal beliefs about the children they are teaching, but especially those of color and poverty.

African American pedagogy is very powerful, but combined with power and caring so as not to be hurtful, exploitative or oppressing. The literature suggests that this pedagogy may not result in immediate, self - congratulatory success. In fact, the rewards come after long social struggle and are not an ego based service. The commitment is based on faith in the reality that the change will come when "life is lived on the edge, and that's when the best self emerges" (Beauboeuf, 1997, p. 150). Black female teachers come from the perspective of a greater good and hope in leading by example to forge successful, strong and future participatory figures in society.

Lastly, the literature review supports the unique theory and pedagogy of effective Black women educators who embody and embrace a belief in cultural relevancy and responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2000). The review also revealed a slight hindrance of material for training programs. This study could add to the literature available for those emerging Black female teachers preparing to work in poor urban school environments.