Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Early Childhood Education

First Advisor

Lou Edward Matthews, Ph.D. - Chair

Second Advisor

Joyce King, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Joya Carter Hicks, Ph.D.

Fourth Advisor

Julie Dangel, Ph.D.


ABSTRACT FINDING THEIR WAY: A CRITICAL ETHNOGRAPHY OF FIVE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN EDUCATORS’ EARLY EXPERIENCES TO DEVELOP INTO CULTURALLY RELEVANT PEGAGOGUES by Rachel Beatrice Dunbar Teacher education programs have been charged with the responsibility to equip all teachers to work successfully in increasingly diverse elementary classrooms around the nation (NCES, 1996). However, the composition of the nation’s teaching force has not kept pace with these changes. Additionally, there is concern that many Pre-service teachers are ill prepared to work with culturally diverse students, partly because teacher education programs (TEPs) often adopt a monocultural, one-size-fits-all approach to preparation, ignoring race, class, and gender considerations (King & Castnell, 2001). African American women who seek preparation are greatly impacted by this singular approach to teacher education, which influences the way in which they experience their training. Consequently, they are often underserved in TEPs (Cozart & Price, 2005). It has been argued that TEPs will have to broaden their approaches to preparation by using a culturally relevant approach to teaching (Gay & Kirkland, 2003). Given the necessity for teachers to be equipped to meet the needs of culturally diverse learners in the classroom, it is imperative that TEPs are designed to cultivate culturally appropriate practices within Pre-service teachers. The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore the nature of the diversity preparation of five African American women and their teaching experiences following the completion of their teacher education training. The critical ethnographic case studies that developed were theoretically framed in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995), Black Feminist Thought (Collins, 1990), and Womanism (Phillips, 2006). Data were collected from classroom observations, individual, and group interviews. Using a system of open coding (Strauss & Corbin, 1998), data analysis resulted in the emergence of three overarching themes: a) the formal diversity preparation offered by the university, b) the women’s individual perspectives of cultural relevance, and c) the ways in which the women incorporated their perspectives into their classroom practices. The experiences the young women encountered significantly influenced their understandings of culture and its impact on learning for diverse student populations. The results of this study suggest the need for teacher educators to reconsider how TEPs are structured to better prepare minority Pre-service teachers in the future to teach culturally diverse students.