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Listen to the Teacher: The Realities of Leading Ethnic Studies Classrooms


This study investigated the pedagogy and goals of Ethnic Studies as elucidated by Ethnic Studies teachers across three public school districts in California. Drawing upon the positive impacts of Ethnic Studies for students while analyzing teacher pedagogy through Sleeter and Zavala’s (2020) Hallmarks of Ethnic Studies, my research analyzed the dynamic multifaceted efforts that are on display daily in Ethnic Studies classrooms throughout California. Rooted in the knowledge and expertise of current Ethnic Studies teachers, my study focuses on the teacher, a lesser studied but very important element of Ethnic Studies instruction. My research design consisted of a recruitment survey with various open-ended questions, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis of course syllabi. Once the data was collected and analyzed, I identified Hallmarks of Ethnic Studies implemented in practice as well as growth areas for further consideration and support. I found that many of the Hallmarks of Ethnic Studies as described by Sleeter and Zavala (2020) were evident in participating Ethnic Studies teacher practice. Only one of the hallmarks was not indicated as a priority of the course by teachers in my sample. Additionally, Ethnic Studies teachers worked to mitigate curricular marginalization and discussed many of the benefits and drawbacks of teaching Ethnic Studies as a marginalized curriculum. The teachers succeeded in implementing Ethnic Studies in spite of challenges because of critical consciousness that they had established prior to teaching Ethnic Studies. Implementations for further research are also discussed, along with recommendations for systemic and structural support for Ethnic Studies. By centering the voices of Ethnic Studies teachers and learning from the productive struggle of those doing the work of bringing Ethnic Studies curriculum to life, this study honors those actively working to bring marginalized histories into K-12 classrooms and making Ethnic Studies a reality for our students.

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