Notes on : Darwich,L.  (2021) Whom Do I See in the Staff Room Every Day? The Sources of Resilience of Teachers of Color. Teacher Education Quarterly, Spring 2021: 69--89

Dave Harris

Lots of students never see a single teacher of colour (TOC) yet all might benefit. Some TOCs stay but often persist 'in the face of racism or alienation in schools', and this examines how they do it, after in-depth interviews with 10 of them in different parts of the USA (but mostly California).

The first one is a veteran and the only Black teacher in school. More than half the students in American schools are students of colour (SOC) yet TOC are less than 20%. Turnover among new TOC is significantly higher despite a focus on diversifying the teaching workforce and evidence that this has benefits for example in having higher expectations for SOC and in being more likely to work in urban schools and valuing the 'community cultural wealth' they find there (70).

Resilience began as a concept in child development and psychiatry, initially based on the individual traits of children who faced adversity. Later it looked at underlying processes. Teacher resilience is fairly recent and turns on 'continued sense of purpose and capacity to flourish in the face of stressors and difficult school circumstances' (71) although recent work focuses more critically on the social and ecological environment as well. There is a model (Jordan) based on 'relational cultural theory' (RCT) stressing relationships, rooted in counselling psychology, which focused especially on POC and other marginalised groups, and stressed 'mutually empathic growth fostering relationships… mutuality, empowerment, and the development of courage'. This would support social justice. Racism is an institutional problem but it is experienced with daily interactions and as a source of personal pain.

She drew on CRT, which is summarised: race is central, the voices of people are important. There are five principles, three of which are especially important — centrality of race, experiential knowledge, commitment to social justice, especially the role of schools.

Most teachers drop out from job dissatisfaction. The highest percentage of White teacher turnover 'is linked to the percentage of SOC in school' (72) but not TOC. Teacher diversity seems to be 'linked to higher levels of academic achievement and social emotional well-being for SOC', and even one TOC can have an effect [references to studies here]. However, TOC are often particularly challenged in terms of credentials and expertise or preparedness. TOC's can be 'role models for all students, especially SOC' (73). It is 'unreasonable' to have an overwhelmingly White teaching force. Being a role model is important for keeping TOC in schools. The varying need of SOC are more likely to be met by teachers from different backgrounds. TOC are often 'advocates', even if this means disapproval and antagonism. Schools 'continue to be unkind, even hostile', especially in predominantly White workplaces.

She used 'qualitative thematic analysis[ after] semistructured in-depth interviews'. She got rich data after following up probing and asking for clarification. All the TOC had taught for five or more years. They were recruited through a publisher of social justice materials and teacher education programs. Seven taught in schools where SOC were a majority. The interviews took place via zoom. Questions asked what the sources of strength were, those sources of strength accessed regularly, and what teacher educators can do in support of candidates who were TOC. She outlines her own position, including experience of some micro-aggressions like surprise that she could speak English and questions of her ability [she is an immigrant with Middle Eastern/Arab background]. [Not all her samples were African-American — only three were]. She familiarised herself with the data, generated codes looking at themes, refined them, did multiple readings of the data, used open coding and further refined codes then fine tuned them 'using CRT and RCT as analytical lenses'. Three themes were identified: '(a) sources of support, (b) kinship in relationships at school, and (c) the importance of social justice education' (75).

More specifically participants identified support from family, mentors of colour and mutual support with peers mostly TOCs [detailed examples follow, including support from family even though they were first to go into teaching or college, drawing on their own experience of being racialised in other work contexts, and how to navigate White spaces, raising consciousness about racism, overcoming fear, not giving up, taking on the role of fighting injustice. Mentors were warm and encouraging and often provided specialist support as cultural brokers showing the way to interact with White teachers with courage and wisdom, including meeting senior management. Peer support included especially other TOC, were sources of comfort and learning and empowerment, affinity groups. There was less support from White peers. There is a need to develop 'relationship reciprocity' (78). Relationships will develop outside school. They observed each other and adopted suitable teaching approaches including working collaboratively. Others who did not have that support stressed the negative effects.

A particular benefit was being able to reflect back to each other, not explaining themselves, but feeling kinship, with TOC and SOC, forming instant connection with others who understood struggles and provided support, overcoming isolation not having to worry, recognising each other's humanity, overcoming being written off. SOC were often particular '"sources of strength"' (81), and sometimes POC chose teaching so they could work with them and share cultural understandings and trust.

They also found it important to have a sense of social justice integrated in the teacher education program, to have dialogues around race and to share experiences of race and reflections on them. Sometimes these happened in postgrad educational courses. Some saw the importance of involving experienced TOC. Some had managed to integrate social justice issues into their (science and maths) curriculum, looking at cancer cells [and the issue of the Black woman whose cells have been cultivated without consent], or listing the contribution of the 'Moors'.

So overall, racist attitudes towards SOC affects TOC, but some of them persisted and we now know some of the factors that sustain. Race is central and is an important factor in their resilience, but they also need [support networks]. CRT is essential to recognise 'the indivisible role of race' in TOC experience. Commitment to social justice is important. So are cultural brokers and those who can reflect back. SOC can be important in the network. Educational institutions can have a far more positive role through 'social justice oriented education' (85) in teacher preparation programs linked to pedagogical knowledge.

The study acknowledges limitations of a small sample size and local recruitment, self-selected participants.