All in the family: community, class, and caring in an African American elementary school
The education and socialization of children occurs within the overlapping spheres of family, school and community. This dissertation explores how administrators and teachers within one elementary school sought to address the needs of their students, in response to perceived deficiencies of their students’ families and community. Data collected during two and a half years in the life of a predominately African American elementary school includes interviews with 61 teachers, administrators and school staff, observation of classroom and school events, and an analysis of existing school records. The principal’s deliberate recruitment of African American men teachers created a unique case for incorporating both women and men teachers’ understanding about their responses to students’ families and surrounding community. Teachers and other school personnel viewed their response to the perceived challenges within the community as vital in shaping their students to be successful, not only in the educational arena, but also in the larger society. Specific challenges school staff identified were high residential mobility, low-income family conditions, and a lack of male role models. Using family language was a primary mode employed by teachers to care for their students. Family language promoted connections within the classroom, indicated lines of authority, and in some cases, created an “alternate” family to that which students experienced at home. Men were recruited in part to serve as proxies for fathers; this research, however, cautions against viewing men teachers as a panacea, and instead calls for the critical examination of their involvement. In sum, teachers’ and administrators’ responses to the needs of the students were shaped and complicated by district and state policies, social class differences between teachers and families, and ideas about gender roles.