Ellyce Nieves ’19
“The Underrepresentation of Teachers of Color: Using Narrative Inquiry to Address the Imagination Gap”
Major: English, secondary education certification
Hometown: Bethlehem, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Tristan Gleason
Describe your project.
My project is an exploration of my experiences pursuing a career in education as a young Puerto Rican woman. I took a dual approach to doing this educational research. It combined Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR), which is treating my own practice as a site of inquiry, and also included the voices of other individuals. I interviewed ninth grade students, pre-service teachers from Moravian College and the Lehigh Valley Summerbridge program, and a practicing teacher of color. Conducting interviews helped me to think beyond my own experiences. In addition to interviewing students and teachers from the Lehigh Valley, I also read the book, Borderlands, by Gloria Anzaldúa as well as the article, “Wide-Awakeness: Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Imagination, Humanism, Agency, and Becoming” to frame my thinking for the problem, which is the underrepresentation of teachers of color. I used the information gathered from interviews with my participants, several additional articles, and my own journal entries about my experience teaching this summer to consider the reason why there is a lack of teachers of color, which we called the imagination gap (one’s inability to imagine the possibility of becoming a teacher), through the use of narrative inquiry.
How did your project come about?
Dr. Gleason approached me with the idea for this project, and we had also discussed the lack of teachers of color in his Reflective Teaching (EDUC 260) class in the fall. It was a topic that was interesting and exciting for me to consider because I had never thought about how being a student of color impacted my journey to becoming a teacher. Before taking EDUC 260, I never thought about why I typically did not have any teachers of color. However, I know that I was always surprised by the rare occasions I did have a teacher from my own cultural background. After speaking with Dr. Gleason, looking at the statistics, and reflecting on my own experiences in school, I knew this would be a project I would be passionate about.
What was the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights did he bring to your project?
The best part about working with my faculty mentor was how much he supported me in deciding what my project looked like. Dr. Gleason truly emphasized the fact that this was my project and that I could take it wherever I wanted it to go. He always reminded me that he was there to help me with anything I needed, and that he was going to help get me to where I wanted to be with my research.
What was your biggest obstacle?
My biggest obstacle was conducting a group interview with my ninth grade participants. While they were one of the most important sources of information for my project, I ran into a few problems along the way. One of those problems was conducting the interview itself. I did not expect so many students to bring in their waiver forms on the day of the interview. I was expecting maybe five students or so, but all 15 of them were prepared, and I just interviewed them all at the same time, since I only had 30 minutes to do so. There were just too many students and too little time. I also struggled with transcribing the interview because the students spoke so quietly that there were parts of the interview I could not hear. I would also have liked to interview more pre-service teachers of color, but unfortunately there were not many teachers that I was able to come into contact with over the summer.
What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?
My biggest takeaway from this experience was my personal and academic growth. In terms of personal growth, I think that this experience allowed me to make connections with the people I interviewed and to learn more about myself throughout the process. I also think that the project helped to fuel my interest in becoming a teacher. However, in terms of academic growth, this experience helped me learn how to conduct educational research, which is something that I had never done before. I think that doing the project helped me learn more about my field of study, which I would not have been able to explore otherwise.
What was the result of your project?
After completing this project, my tentative conclusion is that the “pipeline” metaphor is insufficient for addressing the underrepresentation of teachers of color, and that the bigger picture is that students are more concerned with their teachers sharing the same culture with them instead of just being the same race. Out of the 11 college bound ninth grade participants of color I interviewed, most of them indicated that they wished they had teachers who could relate to their own lived experiences. They mentioned that having a teacher with the same skin color was not enough, and that they wished they had teachers who were immigrants. For that reason, I think that this revelation was the biggest result from my project.
Overall, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian College?
I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to complete this research project. Doing this project allowed me to learn about educational research, to gain practice doing interviews and analyzing the results, and to explore my own experiences as a pre-service teacher of color. Being able to do this research was beneficial because it gave me the opportunity to gain experience conducting research in my own field of study. I think that other students should take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian College because it allows you to conduct research about a topic that is not only of interest to you, but also relates to your future career goals.
Do you plan to expand upon your research?
Now that SOAR is over, I would like to expand upon my research by talking to students and members of the community about the underrepresentation of teachers of color. I could do this by creating a multimedia presentation that would be posted online. I am also open to the possibility of talking to middle and high school students about going to college. An important aspect of this research is that most students and people in general are not aware of the underrepresentation of teachers of color or understand the importance of having a diverse set of teachers without first having a conversation about it. This project taught me that interviews and conversations are a form of intervention to help people understand the issue, and I would like to follow through with this research by talking to students and other people who will listen.
Will you present this research outside the SOAR presentations?
I would like to submit a proposal to present my research at the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry Conference. Of course the proposal would have to be accepted, so presenting the project a second time is not set in stone. However, the conference would happen during the month of May after the spring semester ends.