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What does being an “educator” look like? To me, being an educator extends beyond a classroom. It starts with building a community with other teachers, teacher candidates, students, professors, and professionals. This community, just like knowledge, continuously expands with more experience and time.
Being an educator takes initiative, perseverance, and confidence. Placing myself in new, uncomfortable positions is a part of the learning process. Seeking out resources and listening to others' perspectives keep me grounded and alert. "Fake it until you make it" is my daily mantra. I recognize the spaces for growth within the education system, research, and my practice.
I learned to question what "effective practice" looks like. Experience in a classroom confirms or denies what is taught in my textbooks and curriculum. I am an agent of change. I am creative, adaptable, and capable. I push the boundaries of what it means to be an "educator" through my everyday actions. However, being an “educator” looks different for each teacher and teacher candidate. There is no one right way to be or become an educator.
Throughout the past year, I researched the changing perception of effective early childhood practice I understand that it takes an anti-racist, critical lens --constantly questioning myself and providing curricula-- to progress my field and classroom. I can contribute to systemic change through my everyday actions, decisions, conversations, and read-alouds.
My research project --“Stories, Values and Children's Books: Portraits of Three White Preschool Teachers Committed to Anti-Racist Pedagogy”-- is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning, growing, and acting as an agent of change. Although my formal research is (almost) complete, I am just getting started.
Come along with me as I take you through the tumultuous journey of my undergraduate capstone research project!
Personal and professional development
When I started my research project, I felt like I didn’t belong. I was unfamiliar with the research process, the appropriate language, and ways to approach methodology. As I interviewed teachers and built connections with other teacher candidates in research, I realized that research and teaching go hand in hand.
I quickly learned to take initiative and to use my voice to fight for my ideas and work. I was challenged to depend on myself for meeting deadlines, editing transcriptions, and drafting my literature review. I needed to commit to myself as much as I needed to commit to the research.
Throughout the past year, I have hit several points where I questioned whether I could finish the project -- whether it was based on self-doubt, isolation, or burnout from the semester. One of the biggest hurdles I faced happened last October as I scheduled the interviews. My advisor was out of the country for almost a month, so it was up to me to finalize the interview questions, schedule and conduct the interviews, and write the transcriptions.
When my advisor returned, I felt proud of showing up for myself and my research. I conducted myself professionally in the interviews and successfully collected the data I needed to move forward with the project. Those small accomplishments were a reminder that I was capable. I then promised myself to finish the research in the only way I know how: with 100% effort.
As I transitioned into writing the research report, I began to draw firm boundaries on the time I spent writing each week. I designated Sunday mornings as the only time I would work on research. So, every Sunday, I would visit Yellow Bike Coffee, put in my headphones, drink my latte, and work for 3 hours straight. I let the world fade away as the words flowed from my brain to my keyboard.
At the end of these work periods, I felt confident in the work I presented to my advisor. A reunited team, we tossed feedback back and forth as we edited each part of the written report. The next few months consisted of arduous reformatting, deleting, and collecting new resources. By the final draft was complete, we felt confident in the project's contributions, structure, and message.
Overall, this research endeavor has strengthened my confidence and voice as an educator, researcher, and person. I held myself accountable, advocated for the research and boundaries, fought to be seen and heard by faculty and methodologists, and presented my research to the honors and education communities.
This project also pushed me to grow as a white person. Listening to three white teachers’ stories pushed me to constantly reflect on my implicit biases. As I enter student teaching and begin my study abroad adventures, I will continue to explore my identity as a teacher. I am grateful for this research experience and the connections I have made!
Contributions of this research project
One of my summer side projects is publishing my written report in an early childhood journal in partnership with my advisor. If it is published, it offers unique contributions to the early childhood education field and the body of anti-racist research.
The purpose of the project, for starters, is a compelling contribution. Research on effective anti-racist early childhood practice needs to include the perspectives of real teachers involved in the work. The three detailed portraits of real white preschool teachers prove that anti-racist pedagogy is possible to integrate. There is strong hesitancy among white educators to implement anti-racist practices in classrooms due to political sensitivity, worry of offending others, or concern of confronting personal biases and racism.
These feelings of hesitancy and discomfort are the barriers to mainstream implementation of anti-racist pedagogy. As my research argues, anti-racist education is a necessary step toward a more equitable society. Before many white educators consider integrating anti-racist practices, they must first come to terms with their whiteness and how it influences their teaching.
The field of early childhood education is always evolving. The definition of effective practice constantly changes to uphold the code of ethics and reflect updated research. Early childhood teachers must adapt. Teacher education programs must adapt to integrate anti-racist practice and teaching into courses. Anti-racism is not superficial; it fights against the systemic racism embedded in everything, explicit or implicit.
As a society, we must recognize children as young agents of change. Young children are ready to talk about race in developmentally appropriate ways. They are keen observers of their environment and communities and are naturally curious about the world around them. By not talking with them about race and racism, we will continue to perpetuate our implicit biases that contribute to systemic racism.
taking action: Resources and guides
I have provided several links to reputable websites discussing children's books and anti-racist action. I also created a comprehensive guide titled "Children's Book Recommendations," which includes anti-racist actions you can take when selecting and using children's books.
I encourage you to engage in self-reflection of your identity, biases, and actions. Anti-racism is a lifelong commitment and process. There are no boxes to check. Take the initiative in finding research or resources that challenge and interest you. There is so much more work to do.
Special thanks to Dr. Lynn Brice for your guidance on research methodology and interview questions. Thank you to Dr. Ariri Onchwari for your constant support and insight into this body of research.
Resources mentioned in this post
Children's Book Recommendations: A Comprehensive Guide (Free PDF Download)
Cooperative Children's Book Center: Book Lists
The Brown Bookshelf: Bookshelf Resources
We Need Diverse Books
Diverse Bookfinder: Our Categories
NAEYC: Advancing Equity in Early Childhood Position Statement
NAEYC: "Creating Early Childhood Spaces"
Education Week: "What is Critical Race Theory, and Why is it Under Attack?"
Education Post: "The Truth About Critical Race Theory and How it Shows Up in Your Child's Classroom"
Meghan Hesterman (she/her) is a child advocate and education blogger. While a student at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), she created Journal of a Future Teacher to share her journey in becoming an early childhood teacher.