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Teachers as a Context of Reception for Immigrant Youth: Adaptations in "Sheltered" and "Mainstream" Classrooms


Immigrant integration has largely been framed as a matter of how immigrants' characteristics interact with broadly defined "contexts of reception" within host societies (Portes & Rumbaut, 1996). This dissertation locates contexts of reception within contact zones where teachers receive and adapt to immigrant youth, as "institutional agents" (Stanton Salazar, 2001) in particular settings. One such setting is "sheltered instruction" (SI or SDAIE, Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English), which is a programmatic response intended to provide students who are not fluent in English (English learners) access to academic content.

Using qualitative interviews, focal observations, surveys, and case studies, this research is an account of 20 social studies, mathematics, and science teachers who simultaneously taught in "sheltered" and "mainstream" tracks across 7 urban California comprehensive secondary schools: how teachers were assigned to teach within the specialized sheltered institutional context, how they interpreted their students' perceptions of sheltered classes, and how social studies teachers in particular adapted between their mainstream and sheltered courses. Analysis examined the points of intersection for three dimensions: institutional opportunities and constraints, teacher disposition, and teacher repertoire.

Teachers' use of text emerged as a major site of teacher adaptation. While some teachers modified curriculum in ways that enhanced access and drew on students' linguistic resources, others adapted to students in ways that potentially jeopardized access. Furthermore, due to departmental norms of seniority and credentialing constraints, the least experienced teachers were often placed in sheltered courses, unless more senior teachers requested these placements. Teacher surveys from one school site (N=43) revealed that teachers in traditionally text-heavy subjects (i.e., social studies) were most likely to reject English learner (EL) placements, suggesting that teachers' subject matter interacts with their preferences for EL courses. Additional analyses revealed that long-term EL students internalized bureaucratic labels of sheltered class placements and associated these classes with a lack of cognitive ability. Teachers' dispositions and practices varied greatly, ultimately providing distinct contexts for students within their classrooms.

With the rise of bureaucratic categories and school policies intended to serve bilingual youth, this dissertation contributes a contextualized account of teachers' roles within the processes of immigrant schooling.

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