Teachers play a critical role in the education of their students ...

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Becoming Teachers


Running Head: Becoming Teachers

Becoming Teachers: The Payne Effect

Azure Dee Smiley
, Ph.D.

University of Indianapolis


Robert J. Helfenbein
, Ph.D.

Indiana University


Becoming Teachers




s between preservice teacher
education curriculum and the developmen
t of teacher identity. Focus is given to

Ruby Payne’s

A Framework for Understanding Poverty

has on

ideological development and practice of preservice special educati
on teachers
embarking on an urban practicum

Implications for the field of teacher education
are discussed.

Becoming Teachers


Since 2001, Ruby Payne’s work on teaching children in poverty has been
increasingly present on the desks of educators across the
country. According to various
self reports (Payne, 2001), Ruby K. Payne has devoted her career to bridging the gap
between economic classes through the education of educators. Public K
12 schools and
university level schools of education have utilized Ru
by Payne’s (2001)

Understanding Poverty
(hereafter cited as
A Framework
to prepare middle class
educators for educating children

living in poverty
(Gorski, 2008).

This paper examines
the impact of
A Framework

on the pedagogical and profes
sional identity development of
preservice special education teachers through a course in multicultural education and in
an urban field experience. Connections between participants’ perceptions of urban youth,
urban education, and themselves as teachers and

the ways in which those perceptions are
informed by the text
A Framework
provides the basis for a critical exploration of teacher
education in urban settings.

Recent research has highlighted a common sense notion: Teachers play a critical
role in the educ
ation of their students. Porter
Magee (2004) notes that the lasting effects
of a teacher, positive or negative, could be measured for up to four years after the stud
had left that classroom (p.
27). Berry, Hoke, and Hirsch (2004) describe teachers as
most “school

related determinant of student achievement” (p.

684). Schools of
education have traditionally worked from this simple premise; teachers matter. Now, as
teachers strive to be “highly qualified,” as mandated by the No Child Left Behind Ac
(NCLB), attention has again focused on the education and preparation of classroom
teachers. As a result, the recent recommendations for education reform have landed
squarely at the feet of teacher preparation institutions (Cochran
Smith, 2004). Links

Becoming Teachers


etween the achievement of K
12 students and teacher preparation have continually
illustrated the impact of effective preservice teacher instruction. Student achievement
data directly reflects the importance of qualified teachers (
Brownell et al., 2005; Dar
Hammond, 2000;
Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995) but, certainly the numbers
only tell a portion of the story.

This shift in focus from teachers to teacher education has emerged in response to
state and federal mandates especially the No Child Left

Behind Act (Cochran
2004). However, the emphasis on improving teacher education pre
dates recent
based educational reform. Regulatory agencies including the National Council
for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), the Interstate
New Teachers
Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC), and the National Board for Professional
Teaching Standards have also focused on performance assessment of teacher candidates
(Goubeaud et al
, 2004). In 2001, NCATE increased the rigor of standards i
n content
areas for teacher candidates, emphasizing the importance of the content knowledge base
that candidates possess when exiting teacher education programs (
NCATE, 2001;
hn & Everhart, 2004
). Working within an environment driven by shifts in pol
rhetoric and policy debate, schools of education always have and continue to explore a
variety of ways to prepare preservice teachers for the classrooms that await them.

Context of the Study

At a large Midwestern university, the quest to develop “
highly qualified” special
education teachers manifests itself in a variety of ways. Within the department of special
education, a dual licensure program was developed allowing undergraduate students to
obtain a teaching license in both elementary and spec
ial education. This program stresses

Becoming Teachers


its capacity for preparing preservice teachers to teach all types of learners.
Upon entering
the program

during their sophomore ye

re put into cohorts.
During the spring semester of this first
year in the program, students engage in two
special education courses while finishing up basic requirements. The fall semester of
their junior year focuses on curriculum

and instruction
. This semester includes
elementary content area courses, a special e
ducation course, and a field experience
component in math and science.

The focal point of the spring semester of their junior year is assessment. Students
take two courses in assessment, one course in special education, two content area courses,
and hav
e a special education practicum within an urban setting

accompanied by a one
hour weekly seminar
The urban practicum is set up differently from the other practicum
experiences in that the entire cohort is transported an hour north to a nearby urban cente
one day a week over the course of a semester. The cohort is then equally divided over
four urban elementary schools and placed in individual classrooms.
The fall semester of
the senior year encourages students to examine their roles as future teachers,
to formalize
some thoughts on their own teacher identity. This final semester of coursework for the
program includes three special education courses, a course on culture, a course on
research, and a final field experience. Once students complete their co
urse work, they
spend their spring semester during their senior year student teaching. Half of their
student teaching takes place in an elementary school and the other half takes place in a
variety of settings with a special education focus.

The principal

researcher for this study (Smiley) supervised students within the
special education program previously described. Given a background teaching special

Becoming Teachers


education in the urban center that the students entered for their urban practicum, the
researcher not on
ly supervised several groups of undergraduate students, but also often
interacted as a guest speaker in a variety of the courses, and consulted on curriculum.
During service to this program, the researcher decided to do a study (Smiley, 2006) on
the impact

of the program goal of successfully meshing multicultural education and
special education preparation into one program. While embarking on this project several

began to emerge regarding the alignment of curriculum and program


paper presents the detailed analysis of one component of the larger
qualitative data set: the impact and resonance of the work of Ruby Payne for these pre
service teachers, or, what we call the Payne Effect.

Working with students during their urban practi
cum involved an intriguing
exploration of the curriculum utilized to prepare them for this experience in the
accompanying seminar. The overview of this specific experience as taken from the
course syllabus states: “This seminar is a compendium for the urb
an field experience.
Topics in this course will focus on urban and multiracial schools and relate to the urban
practicum.” To great surprise, the researchers learned that one of the textbooks utilized in
the teaching of this course was Ruby Payne’s (2001)

A Framework.

Ruby Payne’s self
published book
A Framework

proclaims her to be the
U.S. Expert on the Mindsets of Poverty, Middle Class, and Wealth”

on the cover
. She
goes on to
describe in great detail for educators the “culture of poverty” and

has been
widely accepted by K
12 educators nationally (Gorski, 2008). Though very popular with
practitioners, very few academic critiques of Dr. Payne’s “research” seem to exist. An

Becoming Teachers


extensive review of scholarly work reveals only a few passionate discuss
ions beginning
to take place. In a recent book review, Osei
Kofi (2005), notes,

Drawing upon sociological and psychological theories that have long ago been
challenged and for their simplistic ahistorical, acontextual, classist, racist, sexist
, Payne, in what I believe is probably more about opportunism and
ideology than an incomprehensible profound lack of knowledge, presents this
work as though it were something new that provides all the answers necessary in
today’s education reform environme
nt. (p.


Similarly, at several national conferences on education (2005, 2006, & 2007) and in a
recent article (2008) Dr. Paul Gorski presents in detail how Payne’s work not only
blames the victims of poverty (i.e. families and children), but also reite
rated stereotypical
notions of people living in poverty. Additionally, Dr. Jwanaza Kunjufu, a highly
respected multicultural educational scholar has also addressed this work and its broad
acceptance in schools. Even though in previous works he had
Payne’s research, he
now begins to examine her book through a more critical lens. Kunjufu (2006) says,

Her theory is based on the idea that there is something wrong with African
American children. The deficit model is prescribed and based on the idea tha
there is something wrong with our children, and we need a workshop to describe
what is wrong with them. When schools bring me in, I quickly inform them that
this consultant does not believe that our children are broken or that they have a
genetic flaw.

The problem is systemic. (p.xv)

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An informal analysis of the impact of Ruby P
ayne’s work surfaces in Weis et

, (2006).
In chapter five entitled,

Are We Making Progress?: Ideology and Curriculum in the Age
of No Child Left Behind,

Dennis Carlson notes,

When teachers tell me about these (Ruby Payne) workshops and the book, it is
often because they felt, as one teacher remarked, “it opened my eyes.” Now this is
a very interesting choice of words, for it implies that the teacher had become
enlightened, and

that previously she had been blind to the truth about why poor
kids did so poorly in school. Yet, one might argue that what this white, middle
class teacher was exposed to in staff development was enlightening only because
it confirmed what she already kn
ew, about poor kids, but had not been able to
articulate in a professional discourse. (p. 106)

In a more formalized study of Payne’
s workshops, Bomer and colleagues

We have found that her (Payne’s) truth claims, offered without any
evidence, are contradicted by anthropological, sociological, and other research on
poverty. We have demonstrated through our analysis that teachers may be
misinformed by Payne’s claims.

(pg. 2497)

While these academicians express great concern

about the use and popularity of Payne’s
work among K
12 educators, only recently have these critiques formally surfaced and
little to no research exists on the actual effects of this ideology on pre and in
teachers (
Bomer et al., 2008;
Gorski, 200
Kunjufu, 2006
Kofi, 2005
; Weis et al.,

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Over the course of this larger study many conversations with students took place
in which they cited Ruby Payne’s work in ways that contradicted the specified goals of
the course and the program. Here
, the connections between preservice teacher education
curriculum and the development of teacher identity became an object of inquiry and
preparations for this smaller stu


This study represents a small piece of a larger research effort on preser
teachers and special education preparation for urban settings (Smiley, 2006). The
original intent of the project revolved around conversations with pre
service special
education candidates that would lead to better understandings of the degree to whi
teacher preparation influenced the development of preservice special educators
embarking on work in urban settings. After the initial data analysis for this study had
been conducted, the impact of
A Framework

on the ideological development of the
cipants began to emerge as a generative theme that needed further exploration
(Denzin & Lincoln, 2000).

A small sample was selected from a large cohort to allow for more in
interviews and observations.
The students for this sample were purposefully

selected by
two criteria. They were not currently under the supervision of, nor had they previously
been students of the researchers

but both had indicated the importance of
A Framework

in their preparation for teaching in multicultural settings.

criteria were put into
place in attempts to control for conflicts of interest, specific self
study hindrances, as well
as address power dynamics (Merriam, 1998). Additionally, the identity of this smaller
sample was kept confidential from faculty members a
nd other supervisors teaching

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within the program (McMillan & Schumacher, 2001).

In order to capture the complexity
of information available and gain insight, multiple types of data were collected to
safeguard the representation of disparate views and broad
en the context. By analyzing
various personal portrayals this research relies on inductive reasoning to document
emerging themes.


Vicki and Linda

are two

special education teachers interested in
teaching in an urban school commun
ity. They are juniors receiving dual licensure in
y and special education
. Both women expressed an interest in eventually
teaching in an urban setting and took part in th

study as a way to enhance their
urban practicum experience.


grew up in a small town about an hour outside of a large metropolis in the
Eastern part of the US. She and her younger brother grew up in a middle class European
American family. She reports that she always wanted to be a teacher and that a few
riences with kids with special needs influenced her decision to pursue a degree in
special education. She is curious about cultural issues and discovering whether teaching
in an urban setting is something she may like to do.


grew up in a small t
own in the Midwest. She and her brothers grew up in a
middle class European American family. She began college as a physical education
major then switched to secondary education. Her interactions with a family member with
a disability led her to pursue
a deg
ree in special education. Linda

is concerned with
making a difference in the lives of children. She is also interested in possibly living in an
urban setting after she graduates.

Becoming Teachers



The researchers and both participants identify as European
American with middle
class origins. Initial interviews ranged from forty five minutes to over an hour in length
and were conducted face to face using a discussion format in order to create the
opportunity to explore meanings. Interviews were audio taped
and transcribed in their
entirety. Interview transcriptions were returned to the interviewee to check for accuracy
and to seek additional response. Once initial interviews were completed a field
observation was conducted. Participants were observed duri
ng their first entire day
student teaching in a large Midwestern urban public school district. At the end of the
first day a small focus group was held with both participants.
The focus group
discussion, while intentionally emergent in nature, centered o
n a discussion of the pre
service candidates reflections of their own evolving practice and specific examples of
how the work of Ruby Payne informed their practice in the urban experience.

This final
interview lasted for an hour and was also transcribed an
d member checked utilizing the
same procedures as the initial interview.
After collecting data from the initial interview,
observational field notes, and final interview

emerging themes were selected from the
data and coded according to prevalence and fre
quency (Denzi
n & Lincoln, 2000;
McMillan & Schumacher, 2001; see also,
McIntyre, 1997).
Additionally, once all
identifying factors had been removed from the data, faculty members and doctoral
students from other departments within the school of education
were used as peer
debriefers to ensure triangulation of the various types of data and enhance credibility
measures (Merriam, 1998).


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Five themes emerged from the data in this study:
Encouraged Separation, Deficit
Mode, Messiah Mentality, Urban E
ducation, and Contradiction
. Each theme contains
the voices of Vicki and Linda and relevant passages from
A Framework

by the

during interviews or observations. Results are shared in this way to allow the
curriculum, in

this case
ayne’s boo

the developmental thought processes of the
in relation to multicultural education
to be explored simultaneously.

Initially, Vicki and Linda were asked which classes or pieces of curriculum were
most influential in helping pr
epare them for th
e upcoming practicum. Both women

immediately referred to Ruby Payne’s book and, it is important to note, that this
immediate enthusiasm provided the impetus for this research. Even though both
participants had recently read pieces


with issues of inequity and education by
other authors


James Banks and Vivian Paley as part of their coursework,
neither was mentioned. Vicki shares,

I think Ruby Payne’s work helped a lot. I really liked that one. It just explained a
lot. I

could think back and say, oh that’s why that was like that.

Linda expressed similar interpretations of Payne’s work and the impact it had on
her development as a teacher. She says,

The poverty book by Ruby Payne. It’s a really good book. I really li
ke it. I could
relate it to my life and really see where I stand or my family stands.

I think that’s
the only class (the course using Payne’s book)

so far that has taught me to be
more understanding and deal with poverty. It taught me about diversity. It

me open my eyes and kind of understand what to expect.

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Fully understanding the credence Vicki and Linda give to the work of Ruby Payne is
essential for understanding the context of the themes explored in the following sections.
Both participants f
elt that Payne’s book was able to offer tangible answers to their
questions about teaching and solve many of the problems our field currently faces. This
sense of relief in finally knowing all the answers appears to be one of Payne’s purposes in
writing h
er book. She shares,

An understanding of the culture and values of poverty will lessen the anger and
frustration that educators may periodically feel when dealing with these students
and parents. (p.62)

Unfortunately for the students of Vicki

and Linda,
as well as the women

themselves, the
conclusions they seem to draw upon are not best practice or evidence based. Often times
Vicki and Linda appear to struggle with Payne’s notion of “dealing with” students and
families living in poverty rather then authe
ntically engaging with them.

Theme One: Encouraged Separation

Vicki and Linda do not envision their teaching as a process of sharing experiences
with their students in the urban settings. Even though they, at the very least, share
physical space with thei
r students and have taken course work discussing the importance
of building relationships with students, Vicki and Linda still see themselves very clearly
separated from their students in a variet
y of ways. Given that the women

board a bus in
the mornings

and leave their community to visit the urban setting, it is not surprising that
these notions of being a visitor of a foreign place begin to appear. Both participants are
easily able to separate their lived experience from their students and describe the

Becoming Teachers


as very different. Vicki describes her own schooling experience and discusses fears
about her upcoming practicum in the urban setting,

It [her home] was white suburbia, so the kids I graduated with were white. There
were one or two token black ki
ds, a couple of Asians and that was it. So it’s not
too “real world.” I want to be PC. Do you think they like to be called black or
African American? I don’t hear them calling themselves African American. I
don’t have many relationships with them, but

in high school I went to prom with a
group of people and one of the guys was black, but he wasn’t really part of the
black culture. His friends were all white and he acted white.

Linda also describes her home as different then the urban setting she is ab
out to embark
upon. She shares, “in high school we only had 3 or 4 African Americans and no
Mexicans or anything”. She expressed her concerns of the children she would be
encountering in her upcoming practicum. She says,

a lot of kids (in the urban sett

could explode and go off at anytime. You never
ow what to expect from anybody (in the urban setting)
. You gotta be on your
toes at all times.

Since neither participant grew up or had many experiences with urban settings or various

classes they rely heavily on the information their coursework provides
them. Linda has obviously been impacted by Payne’s emphasis on crime in
erished areas. While
connections between certain types of criminal activity and
poverty exist, the emphas
is on crime and poverty
to the exclusion of other type of
criminal activity, most notably white
collar crime

serves to discursively construct the
“culture of poverty” that Payne claims to merely describe. Payne tells readers,

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“Criminality in this country

is a class issue” (p.178) implying that crime only exists
within the conditions of poverty. Linda, thinking of her possible students from poor,
urban communities, now sees them as explosive, literally at any time likely to “go off.”

According to Payne’
s book Vicki and Linda are on the right track for
understanding their experience of teaching students living in poverty. Payne reminds
Vicki and Linda how different they and their lives are from the students they will interact
with on a daily basis. Payn
e shares,

There is, in short, a language of the poor, a psychology of the poor, a view of the
poor. To be impoverished is to be an internal alien, to grow up in a culture that is
radically different from the one that dominates society. (p. 181)

This idea

seems to resonate with Vicki and Linda. They begin to see poverty as more of
a lifestyle

one in which they are fundamentally separated from


then a
manifestation of a larger system within which they may play a role. Armed with the
Payne book, prov
ided to them by their university instructors, Vicki and Linda become
more able
relinquish any blame from themselves for problems in education and begin
to believe it is the result of the choices their students and families have made. The
language, psyc
hology, and views of the poor

all ultimately individual in nature and
potentially “overcome” in a narrative of competition and choice

lead these two
preservice teachers to the natural conclusion: deficit thinking. These deficit theories
e even more e
vident as the women

begin to discuss their perceptions of and
interactions with students in the urban practicum.

Theme Two: Deficit Mode

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The participants know very little about the school system that is welcoming them
for their practicum experience. Vick
i and Linda want to be good teachers and they want
to have a positive experience with the students they are going to encounter in their urban
placements. They are looking for strategies that will help make them successful teachers.
Vicki discusses her co
ncerns about herself and strategies she believes may not work in
this setting as opposed to her other placements in her own community. She says,

I am worried about one stereotype I think I hold. I am expecting all the students
will be black and the maj
ority will be poor. I don’t know why, but that’s what I
think about. I do wor
ry it will be hard to get them (students from urban settings)

to focus. I worry that small groups and partners may not work in this setting.

Linda also has concerns about the st
udents she may encounter. Linda discusses how her
own family experiences may be different from that of her students. She believes this will
play a major role in her teaching. She shares,

I hope that the kids know and feel that they are loved and that th
ey are important.
They may come in and not feel that way because of their lifestyle and
background. Reiterate to them that they are important and that there are people
who love them. It would just be hard to see that with the background I have.
With al
l the love and support I have had with my family. To see that happen to
young kids and to see students come to school with bad attitudes and not care.

Linda goes on to share a tip she picked up from the Ruby Payne’s book that she believes
will help her un
derstand and interact with her students better. She states,

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Just being introduced in poverty. Like when you’re being introduced you stand
back and you don’t introduce yourself or no one introduces you, that’s part of

After Vicki and Linda had

completed their first day they had many things to share about
their students. Even though the school they were placed at was a high achieving,
nationally recognized school with brand new facilities and a welcoming staff, they began
to look for confirmati
ons of the deficit perspectives they brought to the experience. Vicki

They remind me of my campers (
students she

works with during summer break)
There’s a comfort level there. They were accepting but they were a challenge. I
like a challenge.

They were well behaved but, some of their little habits I don’t
think would fly with me……. Working especially with the one kid, Juan, he was
like my little pet for the day. He’s so turned off to education. After I prompted
him like 12 times he would do
what he was suppose to be doing and that was
more then he had to do. You can tell there’s something in there, a button that just
needs to be turned on.

Linda also began to look for signs of poverty and portrayals of students that she had
become more accus
tomed to after reading Payne’s work. Linda shared,

They’re really nice. I think they have big hearts and I think a lot of them come
from poverty families. At least that’s what my teacher told me.
One boy’s mom
is in jail and he

has like 6 brothers and
sisters and they live with grandma. She
told me which kids had lice and who to watch out for….. It was eye opening and
feel like I was in the right profession. I was unaware how many black students

Becoming Teachers


went to the school. I went to lunch and I saw how hung
ry the kids were. They
seemed really hungry. That caught my eye and shocked me.

Even though Vicki and Linda were in an ideal school for a practicum experience and had
read many scholars discussing best practice from a multicultural perspective, they
inued to return to Payne’s deficit notions. In the face of examples of positive urban
school experiences f
or students and staff, the women

remained steadfast in their beliefs
that their understanding of diversity had not changed. Linda shared,

I don’t th
ink my opinion has changed. Diversity is not just race and color. I think
just different learning styles and backgro
unds you come from. Different (from
her own)

beliefs about things.

Vicki reiterates Linda’s assessment of the experience and leaves us w
ith the impression
that diversity no longer means different, but actually means deficit. In the following
statement we begin to see how Vicki uses the word diversity to place a negative value on
the neighborhood of the students,

I don’t know that my idea

of diversity has changed either. I’m gonna say the
same thing Linda said. It was an interesting diversity we saw on the way out (of
the school area) with the different kinds of houses right next to each other.

The participant’s views appear to be deeply

impacted by the variety of examples of
deficit perspectives offered in Payne’s book. Vicki’s disgust of her students “little
habits” are validated by Payne’s text. Vicki believes her students will display the
behaviors Payne so specifically outlines and

she looked specifically for them throughout
the day. Payne says behaviors related to poverty are,

Becoming Teachers


laugh when disciplined, argue loudly with the teacher, angry response,
inappropriate or vulgar comments, physically fight, hands always on someone
else, can
not follow directions, extremely disorganized, complete only part of a
task, disrespectful to teacher, harm other students, verbally, or physically, cheat or
steal, and talk incessantly. (p


Payne goes on to discuss behaviors more broadly and rel
ate them to the values held by
families living in impoverished conditions. Payne states,

Many problems of today’s children do stem from detrimental behavior patterns,
either those of parents or of young people themselves. Liberals should
acknowledge the
truth of the conservative contention that many problems of
today’s children and families have their roots in detrimental behavior patterns,
rather than in a lack of opportunity or a lack of resources. (p. 164)

Linda also appears to be looking for examples

of the family as Payne describes them.
Linda’s discussion about a mother in jail with multiple children is indicative of the
portrayals Payne gives us of families struggling to survive in poverty. Payne states,

The role model theory holds that because o
f their position at the bottom of the
social hierarchy, low income parents develop values, norms, and behaviors that
cause them to be ‘bad’ role models for their children. (p.165)

Payne goes on to describe to Vicki and Linda how their upbringing, in the mi
ddle class, is
different from that of their students. Payne states,

One of the most confusing things about understanding generational poverty is the
family patterns. In the middle
class family, even with divorce, lineage is fairly
easy to trace because o
f the legal documents. In generational poverty, on the

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other hand, many marital arrangements are common law. (p.72; see also diagrams

The deviant portrayals of mothers and fathers living in impoverished conditions continue
to become more scathing
. Payne continues,

The mother is always at the center (of the family structure), though she may have
multiple sexual relations. Many of her children will also have multiple
relationships, which may or may not produce children. (p.73)

Men (from poverty)

tend to have two social outlets: bars and work….. A real man
is (viewed as) ruggedly good
looking, is a lover, can physically fight, works hard,
takes no crap….A real woman (viewed as) takes care of her man by feeding him
and downplaying his shortcomings.

The primary role of a real man (from poverty)
is to physically work hard, to be a fighter, and to be a lover. In middle class, a
real man is a provider. (p.77)

After reading passages like this in a college course focused on educating future teachers
ut issues of diversity with primarily emphasis on this urban practicum experience
specifically, it is not completely unrealistic that Linda walked into an elementary lunch
room and believed the children were hungry, not because it is natural for growing
ildren to be hungry throughout the day, but because their “bad” parents were not
feeding them.

Theme Three: Messiah Mentality

During their practicum, Vicki and Linda seem to struggle with notions of
meritocracy and wanting to save the poor students from u
rban schools. They want to
make a difference in the lives of their students, but they do not seem to grasp that their

Becoming Teachers


preconceived notions influence their interactions with the students on a daily basis.
Before meeting the students in their practicum exp
eriences, Vicki and Linda begin
thinking about how they will fix all of the kids they are going to meet. Vicki shares,

I am afraid I would get too attached to them. I would probably bring their
problems home with me. I would have to realize that I could
n’t fix everything.

Vicki goes on and describes a previous experience she believes will be reflective of her
urban practicum experience. Vicki states,

At the camp I work at in the summers all of the kids are black and all of the
workers are white. I worr
y about that. One time I was sitting on a bench and a
little black girl came and sat down next to me. She said she hated being black.
She said she didn’t want to be black and told me I was very lucky. I felt bad and I
wonder if all the campers being bl
ack and all the workers being white has
something to do with that.

Linda also shares feelings of looking forward to saving the students in her urban
practicum from the hardships she believes they encounter on a daily basis. Linda says,

I want to make a d
ifference. It’s gonna be hard to make a difference for the short
amount of time I am there, but just to let the kids know there is so much out there
and not to give up. Study hard and work hard and it all pays off in the end.

Linda also discusses previ
ous lived experiences and how she believes they have prepared
her for the urban practicum. Linda states,

That’s my number one thing, I just want to help people. In high school and grade
school I wasn’t the most popular but I always stood out. I was a go
od athlete,
captain, on Homecoming court, and I just think I’m more of a leader and I set the

Becoming Teachers


example. Like my cousin, she had a baby when she had just gotten out of high
school. I’m very supportive and everything. I try to help her out. She never went
to college and just doesn’t have the experience I have. That’s the hard part. That
they (people struggling with poverty) don’t get to experience something like this.
They don’t know what else is out there and that’s hard for me.

Linda then discusses the

difference between her urban practicum comparatively with her
other practicum experiences. She believes her students in the urban setting have more
needs then the students she has seen in the practica that have taken place in her
community. She feels it

will be more difficult to be an urban teacher than a teacher in her
community. She shares,

I think this is more about what you can do to help. I don’t want to be one of those
teachers who sits there and knocks kids for their behavior. I’d try to spend
time and help them make a difference instead of sitting my ass in there (the
teachers lounge) and talking about them. I’d rather be out there helping them,
making a difference, and teaching them right from wrong. I like to make a
difference and make

them feel important and let them know that. I think those are
the kids I’d be more geared toward to help.

Vicki and Linda believe that they have knowledge about how to be successful in life that
their students do not have. They fail to recognize the live
d experiences of their students
or the resources they bring with them to school. They seem to have defined their roles as
teachers in an urban setting as dispensing their perceived wisdom about their perceptions
of what constitutes success. Unfortunately
, neither of the participants discusses asking

Becoming Teachers


students or families about their goals or visions of success. These notions are often
reaffirmed for them by Payne’s text. Payne notes,

Generally, in order to successfully move from one class to the next, it

is important
to have a spouse or mentor from the class to which you wish to move to model
and teach you the hidden rules. (p. 18)

Vicki and Linda believe that their lived experience is the goal of their students, and,
reinforced by Payne, the notion that

family or community members from the students
own experience might be positive is dismissed. The seperation between the teachers and
students explored earlier is not only natural but to be desired; students must separate from
their own in order to be suc
cessful. The preservice teachers want to try to help their
students attain the same success they feel they have experienced; they want to fill the
deficit. The participants want to “mentor” their students from a lower class status to their
middle class s
tatus and indeed they seem to welcome this aspect of their professions. But
certainly, this encouraged distance from the community not only reifies teacher
notions of education but also provides a convenient escape from any obligation to interact

with that community. Payne continues to reiterate this goal of teachers later in her text.
She states,

Schools are virtually the only places where students can learn the choices and
rules of the middle class. (p.80)

The greatest free resource available
to schools is the role
modeling provided by
teachers, administrators, and staff. (p.87)

After having this urban experience and completing coursework utilizing Ruby Payne’s
book, both participants report positive experiences and affirmation of their chosen

Becoming Teachers


careers. Initially Vicki was uncertain as to whether or not she wanted to pursue a
teaching position in an urban school. In her post interview, Vicki reports very strong
feelings about her future as a teacher. She exclaims, “I definitely want to go urba
Linda is not as certain about the urban setting specifically, but she does feel at ease with
her chosen profession. She says,

It made me realize I still want to be a teacher and I’m in it for the right reasons.
Ya know, just being a parent and showi
ng love and support.

Vicki and Linda have decided they want to be teachers and are open to becoming
teachers in an urban setting. Unfortunately they know very little about the urban setting
that they attribute so heavily to influencing their professiona
l development. Their only
experience with the community is a morning and afternoon bus ride in and out of the city,
limited at best. The students turned to the curriculum for guidance, opening the door for
their perceptions of urban schools to be largely

informed by their study of
A Framework

Theme Four: Urban Education

When asked to discuss their perceptions of the urban settin
g for their practicum
both women

began by discussing how their own homes and then the urban setting. This
serves as an opposit
ional frame, establishing one as the norm and the other as deviant.
However, Vicki specifically talks about her home and lived experience as non
problematic, indeed not even “the real world.”

hing ever really happens there (her home town)

at all like

the real world. My
mom would say look what happened and I would say no, that’s not bad at all. It’s
like rich kids stealing from their parents or doing drugs. And I’m like, that’s not

Becoming Teachers


like the real world. So I don’t know. It’s a sheltered city, but it

is a good place to
grow up.

Here, Vicki exposes a contradiction coming from a sympathetic view of the conditions of
urban communities while simultaneously dismissing the negative behaviors (i.e. stealing,
drug use) of youth in her own community. In contr
ast, the urban setting she describes
represents a reality that is not “shelte
red” and therefore violent. E
ven though Vicki
believes drug use in her hometown is not a serious issue, she seems concerned about this
type of exposure in an urban setting and wh
at it might mean for children growing up. .

I think you learn a lot and get exposed to drugs and violence. I think those kids
have to grow up faster. They see more things about sex and how men interact in
that culture.

Vicki clearly seems to have two di
fferent standards for similar behaviors. Stealing,
illegal drug use, and children disrespecting their parents is condonable when committed
by her suburban peers, but the same behaviors in an urban setting are cause for concern
and vilified. Linda, in sim
ilar fashion, worries more about the family situations she
perceives as part of urban settings. She believes her students come from families that are
deficient in comparison to her own. She shares,

A lot of family issues like divorce, maybe gay and lesb
ian parents. Students may
go home and not have food. They may be dealing with poverty… wearing the
same clothes to and from school weekly. Being loved, they may go home and
their parents may not care about their homework and teaching them right from

Becoming Teachers


Striking in this depiction is how the norms of sexuality and morality are inscribed on the
spatial marker of urban. For Linda, simply the fact of living in an urban community
implies not only poverty but also sexual deviance wrapped up in a rhetoric

of “right and
wrong.” Again, building on notions of the Other that serve to validate her own sense of

and presumably right and wrong

Linda defines the urban

Vicki also interjects values into her definition of the urban. She believes tha
students from urban schools do not value educa
tion as much as students from
practicum experiences in her own community. She states,

I think that’s a lot more the challenge you get with urban. The kids who think
learning isn’t cool.

Vicki and

Linda seem to be drawing conclusions about urban schools from their study of
Ruby Payne’s work, rather then lived experience. Payne reiterates these notions by
framing her discussions of poverty and deviant behavior specifically from an urban
. For example Payne writes,

If students from poverty don’t know how to fight physically, they are going to be
in danger on the streets. (p.100)

The typical ghetto resident has interrelated social and economic problems which
require the services of several

government agencies. (p. 167)

Given Payne’s emphasis on terminology typically used when referring to urban settings
such as “ghetto” and “streets” Vicki and Linda conclude that their suburban and rural
backgrounds are superior to the deviance of urban set
tings. They are also informed by
Payne’s book that they should expect students and families from urban settings to
devalue education. Payne writes,

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If generations of irregular employment and discrimination result in street skills
seeming more valuable th
an academic skills, parents will be more likely to
encourage their children to acquire street skills than to study or stay in school.

Vicki and Linda appear to connect with Payne’s work because it reiterates stereotypes
and preconceived notions the
y have developed over the course of their lived experience.
Payne’s work allows them to rationalize behaviors and place blame in a way that
relinquishes them from the struggles facing educators today. Yet at times, it appears that
Vicki and Linda still s
truggle with some of the answers they receive from Payne’s book.

Theme Five: Contradiction

Both Vicki and Linda are well intended future educators. They want to be good
teachers and do what is best for students. Neither of these

participants consci
ously place
a negative value on students in urban schools or living in poverty. Like many educators
across the country, they want quick
fix answers to large problems. In a variety of ways,
mainstream media and politically charged rhetoric has told Vicki
and Linda that teachers
are to blame for the failure of schools. Payne on the other hand tells them that the blame
should be placed on students and families. Vicki and Linda seem to find comfort in the
answers that Payne offers, but at times they still q
uestion them. Vicki shares,

I mean I know there have to be middle class people living in the city, but I’m not
sure why I don’t think they would go to the inner city school. I guess they could,
that’s just not what I’m expecting. I do think being in
volved with parents and the
community would be easier in a city because things are close. In rural areas
everything is so spread out.

Becoming Teachers


Both participants had negative preconceptions about their practicum in the urban setting.
After the experience Vicki a
nd Linda both reported unexpected positive experiences.
Vicki shares,

I think I was expecting a lot worse then it really was. The classroom was really
nice and they had a lot of resources around them. The teacher was awesome and
dressed very professio
nal. I kind of thought she’d be dressed down a little bit.

Linda also was surprised at how the education of the students in this urban school was
fostered. She began to see things she connected with best practice. Linda said,

Just the school, the build
ing and how well kept it was. A lot of the student’s
artwork was displayed throughout the school. My teacher, I like her, she’s

The women

go on to talk about the importance of discussing this practicum experience
from more of a critical perspect
ive. Vicki said,

I was watching the rest of my class flip out. Actually I could sit down and voice
my expectations. Before you sat down and asked me about it, I hadn’t really
thought about it before. So, it helped me prepare.

Linda shared similar feeli
ngs about the importance of discussing their development as it
related to their lived experiences and the curriculum they were engaged with throughout
their program. Linda shared,

“It helped to talk about it and get my thoughts out”.


s abound on how to provide educational experiences for future teachers
in urban settings that do not reify stereotypes and biases of race and class. Certainly, the
notion that the “problem is us” deeply troubles those of us who refuse to give up on urban

Becoming Teachers


education. These s
tudents often make comments about the young people and teachers in
urban settings that are not only offensive, but in direct contrast with the mission of
teacher preparation programs. After comments have been made verbally or in written

form, often students cite
A Framework

as the source of their newfound epiphany

us to explore whether or not th

“Payne Effect”

meshes with the

desired effect of our
educational endeavors

Vicki and Linda seem to agree that this particular text

provided a welcome and
unique insight on teaching in areas of poverty

it was a favorite. Students (even those
who would be teachers!) come to
teacher education programs

with preconceived ideas
about the work they intend to take up, the people they want t
o be, and the communities
that they want to work with; this will never change. The work then for critical educators
remains that of challenging students to trouble those notions, critically engage with what
might be at stake, and make the decisions that,
in all hope, are good for kids.

Of course, the impact of university coursework on preservice teachers in regards
to preconceived notions has not gone unaddressed.
A recent volume explored the impact
and methods of courses in social foundations in teacher e
ducation and offered

on Dewey

that indeed part of the work resided in “unsettling beliefs” (Diem &
Helfenbein, 2008).
In a study of preservice special education teachers perspectives of
inclusive practices, Brantlinger (1996) found that “a major
influence on preservice
teachers’ labeling propensities appeared to be their categorically based (i.e. disability
specific) university courses” (p.29). The questions for critical educators come from the
difficulty of seeing the impact of the curricula we
teach and it is often this risky step that
gets skipped. Brantlinger (1996) went on to urge special education teacher educators to

Becoming Teachers


consider the beliefs held by preservice teachers when preparing them to teach, a notion
later reiterated by Artiles (2003) a
nd Harry (2005).
But, beyond consideration, we
suggest that a critical interrogation of these labels and th
e impact on the children we
teach hold a prominent place in our programs

in other words, taking seriously what is at

In this study, Payne’s w
ork did indeed provide “a

,” one in which the
preservice teachers made sense of the urban kids they worked with by justifying a
separation between them based on the culture of poverty. This separation easily slid into
deficit thinking, marking th
eir students not only as different but flawed and in need of
saving. Finally however, this framework was far from absolute as the teachers still
questioned some aspects of the implications of thinking in this way. Hope does prevail as
we recognize that t
hese teachers are in the process of
, taking up a teacher
identity that certainly involves contradictions.

The question for teacher educators
revolves around how we might help them in this process,
this becoming.

The experiences of Vicki and

Linda have been shared to begin larger discussions
on the impact of preservice teacher education curriculum, Ruby Payne’s book
Framework for Understanding Poverty

specifically, and on the identity development of
preservice teachers.

The ways in which te
achers see

themselves, their students, and the
communities they work in undoubtedly plays a powerful role in curriculum and
instruction. We contend that the work we do in preservice teacher education as a more
formalized space for identity work holds pote
ntial and peril, and as such, calls for careful
but courageous critique. Further, it should be noted that this text is not intended to
castigate one author or one set of opinions (though it arguably might look that way).

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Rather, the authors intend to tak
e that risky step of critically analyzing the knowledge and
dispositions of our students after our courses are done

through their own words. The
perceptions represented here might serve to push teacher educators in thinking through
how curriculum and iden
tity intertwine as our students become teachers.

We, as teacher educators, might turn to the words of Mahatma Ghandi (1924),
“As the means, so the end…. There is no wall of separation between the means and the
end” (pp.236
7) as we continue on the daunti
ng task of teaching teachers.

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The names of participants in this study are pseudonyms to protect anonymity.

Azure Dee Smiley is an assistant professor of Special Education in the Department of Teacher Education at
the University o
f Indianapolis,
1400 East Hanna Avenue,

Indianapolis, IN 46227; email

Her research interests include IEP meetings, family engagement, culturally
responsive practice,
critical studies of educatio
n, and
. She would like to thank Dr. Patricia
Payne, Director of Multicultural Education for the Indianapolis Public Schools, for her continued support
of this research.

Robert J. Helfenbein is an assistant professor of

education at

Indiana University

ES3116, 902 West New York Street, Indianapolis, IN 46202;
. His research interests
include critical geography, critical studies of education, urban education an
d youth culture, and curriculum