Our guest author today is Conra D. Gist, an assistant professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Arkansas, and 2016-2017 Spencer/National Academy of Education Post-Doctoral Fellow. The following blog describes the genesis of the Teacher Testimony Project, an American Educational Research Association (AERA) Education Service Project designed to work with aspiring and current Teachers of Color.
Given the wealth of research indicating the value Teachers of Color* add to the teaching profession (Villegas and Irvine 2010), it is always surprising to encounter critiques that overlook their contributions. Yet, the Teacher Testimony Project was developed in a hostile political climate in which a deficit narrative began to arise about a grow-your-own program committed to their recruitment and retention. This was troubling since numerous education scholars have noted the potential of home-grown programs to address teacher shortages (Learning Policy Institute 2016) and high attrition (Shanker Institute 2015), as well as to increase the likelihood of producing community minded teachers with cultural capital that benefits students’ learning experiences (Sleeter and Milner 2011). Scholarship further indicates that Teachers of Color often have knowledge of community and ethics of care (Skinner et al. 2011), positively impact academic and nonacademic outcomes for students of color (Gershenson et al. 2016), and have commitments to racial and social justice (Gist 2014). Despite this research base, the negative rhetoric that began circulating about these teachers threatened to misrepresent their strengths and contributions. Thus, a pressing question arose: how could Teachers of Color reframe the discourse in ways that are authentic to their strengths and lived experiences?
One answer seemed to be the development and circulation of teacher testimonies. As a critical education scholar, I created the Teacher Testimony Project to: (a) document and feature teacher testimonies by Teachers of Color committed to social justice efforts in education; (b) develop qualitative maps of unseen resources and strengths being invested in schools and local communities by Teachers of Color; (c) challenge and debunk deficit perspectives about the value that community-based Teachers of Color add to the teaching profession; (d) create communal spaces of healing and renewal for Teachers of Color through the writing and sharing of testimonies; and (e) center the voices of Teachers of Color to speak the truth about the ways in which they can work to be change agents in their communities.