School context: implications for teachers of color

Jean Madsen, Reitumetse Obakeng Mabokela, Elisabeth A. Luevanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: By 2026, students of color will make up 54 percent of the school-age population. Literature on recruiting and retaining teachers of color reveal that teachers of color are underrepresented in US schools (Castro et al., 2018). Cultural differences between teachers and students result in higher number of students of color being expelled or suspended, low graduation rates and lower numbers of students of color in advanced math, science and gifted courses. With an emphasis on retaining teachers of color the purpose of this paper is to examine how traditional school contexts play a role in teacher retention. Design/methodology/approach: This was a qualitative case study that examined white teachers’ perceptions about their interactions with African American teachers (Merriam, 1998). A case study was useful in describing the boundaries of the school and how this type of context allowed the researchers to explore intergroup differences between both groups of teachers (Hays and Singh, 2011). Nine white teachers from predominantly white schools in the USA were interviewed (Seidman, 1998). The data were analyzed using what Glaser and Strauss (1967) call a constant comparative method. This process compared the intergroup theory with teachers’ responses. Findings: Findings indicated that white teachers had little or no experience interacting with people who were racially and culturally different from them. Because of their curiosity about race, African American teachers were categorized as the “black expert.” White teachers asked them to speak with African American parents, give expertise on areas of discipline and chair multicultural events. Group boundaries developed rapidly as white teachers overwhelmed teachers of color with only their racial problems. African American teachers were forced into roles, which prevented them from contributing in other areas. Thus, African American teachers grew tired of only playing one aspect of their teaching. Research limitations/implications: Upon entering their schools, teachers bring with them a broad array of experiences, knowledge, skills and abilities. This results in a form of assimilation where they become like-minded to their schools’ norms and values. As incoming teachers of color enter with different norms and culture, they mediate boundaries having both groups of teachers adjust to cultural differences (Madsen and Mabokela, 2013). Intergroup differences often occur due to changing demographics in schools. If teachers cannot work through these normative conflicts, it will be reflected in teacher turnover, absences, workplace disagreements and teachers of color leaving. Practical implications: If the focus is to recruit teachers of color, there needs to be an emphasis on preparing leaders on how to identify and address intergroup differences. As in Bell’s (2002) study and Achinstein’s (2002) research, when teachers have differences it will have influence how teachers will collaborate. Thus, teachers of color are prevented from sharing their philosophy about teaching students of color. These individuals also share the burden of being the only person who can advocate for students of color, but also serve as cultural translators for other students as well. Social implications: Future educators not only need to understand how to teach demographically diverse students, but it is important for them to understand how multicultural capital plays an inclusive role in getting all students to do academically well. The question becomes of how one teaches the importance of “humanistic” commitments for all children. Originality/value: Booysen (2014) believes that identity and workplace identity research only allows for integration of divergent perspectives. More study is needed to understand how do workers navigate their identity through the workplace. Workplace identity among group members results in power discrepancies and assimilation verses the preservation of micro cultural identity. Thus, both groups often have competing goals and there is a struggle for resources. Cox (1994) believes that these tensions cause group members to center on preserving of their own culture. Hence, groups are more aware of their need to protect their cultural identity which ultimately affects retention of workers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)56-70
Number of pages15
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 11 2019


  • Workplace context and retention of people of color
  • Workplace relationships and cultural differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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