A critical task for public school teachers is to build and maintain productive relationships with their students, especially to facilitate learning. That task is particularly important in preparing new teachers for urban schools because cultural differences between the majority of urban teachers and their students can complicate and impair those relationships. Multicultural education literature often describes and analyzes preservice teachers—typically white, middle class, not urban, and often female—who are entering urban environments as being resistant to learning about race and class. That research has usually been conducted on preservice teachers in their coursework, often in the lone required diversity course, and apart from practice work in the schools.
This study is guided by the theory that in situations, people rely upon the habits of thought, feeling, attitude, and action they've developed through interaction with others, and that people experience a strong continuity in the use of those habits during life. Though these habits may help one to negotiate situations, they may also be a hindrance, especially in situations significantly different from familiar ones. I studied three interns from white, middle class, suburban and rural backgrounds who were placed in urban high schools with many nonwhite students from working class backgrounds, to examine this central question: How did the three interns use the habits they formed as honors students in mainly white, monolingual, middle-class, rural or suburban schools and communities with their characteristics, to forge conceptions and practices for teaching students in urban high schools and communities with characteristics that differ appreciably?
I conducted this study in the interns' placements using classroom observations, follow-up interviews, and data from university coursework to analyze the meaning of the intern's experiences for them. I highlight how interns' habitual views of race and class were consistent with descriptions in the literature and impacted their practices. However, I also analyze an important dimension not often considered: how interns' habits of being good students hindered their abilities to connect with their students, who generally did not have the same positive attitude toward schools as the interns. I then present a case study of each intern to analyze their teaching practices, which mostly involved lecture, worksheets, and recitation. In doing so, I demonstrate how resistance was operating, but also show a variety of factors that complicated interns' efforts to develop competence as teachers, including their efforts to form relationships with their students. I explore how the interns made sense of their situations in ways that negated issues of race and class.
Because the interns' struggles to learn how to teach included, but exceeded, the scope of the resistance argument, I argue for a reconceptualization of resistance that recognizes it as an expected reaction when a piece of an intern's valued identity is under assault by experiences for which habits are largely unequipped to deal. I argue that such a conceptualization can help teacher educators to work with interns more effectively as learners in very unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. I discuss some possible directions for teaching and research for teacher educators who undertake the charge of preparing future teachers to work with students from different backgrounds.