This dissertation examines the lived experiences of white middle school teachers
in predominantly white rural communities as they discuss race and race issues with
students. Using methods of descriptive phenomenology, interviews were conducted with
teachers to explore what it was like for them to talk about race in classrooms comprised
of only white students, and when classes included one or two students of color. The
essence of the experience was determined through phenomenological analysis, making
meaning of how teachers’ experienced dialogue focused on race.
Findings reveal six themes illuminating how teachers’ experienced talking about
race and issues of race with students, whether the discussions were intentional or
unplanned. Their experiences were characterized by fear and discomfort, uncertainty,
anger, frustration, experience, and paralysis. Teachers experienced fear and discomfort as race became central to the discussion, especially concerned about how racial discourse
would negatively impact the one or two students of color in the classroom. Uncertainty
surfaced as teachers struggled with issues of colorblindness, “politically correct”
language, and the possibility of reinforcing white supremacy. Anger and frustration
emerged as teachers found they were unprepared and lacking experience in facilitating
lessons and discussions surrounding race. However, experience acquired through
exposure to aspects diversity in college, or years of integrating social justice issues into
lessons, made teachers more likely to have discussions of race with students. Finally, as a
result of the negative feelings they associated with discussions of race, some teachers experienced a sense of paralysis as they considered eliminating lessons in which issues of
race might surface.
This study contributes to an understanding of the experiences of white teachers as
participants’ in a racial society within a predominantly white rural setting. Implications of
the study suggest a need for teacher preparation programs to address race and racism
more directly through curriculum and practice. This will significantly impact how white
students and students of color make meaning of race in predominantly white
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. September 2012. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Timothy J. Lensmire. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 158 pages, appendices A-E.
Lee-Nichols, Mary Elizabeth.
Racial discourse in predominantly white classrooms: a phenomenological study of teachers' lived experiences discussing race.
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