Critical Teacher Reflection – Teaching Who We are

What does one see when they look in the mirror and is what they see a true reflection? One of the most powerful quotes in the article, “Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection” by Tyrone C. Howard (2003) for me is, “effective reflection of race within a diverse cultural context requires teachers to engage in one of the more difficult processes for all individuals – honest reflection and critique of their own thoughts and behaviors. Critical reflection requires one to seek deeper levels of self-knowledge, and to acknowledge how one’s own worldview can shape students’ conceptions of self” (Howard, p. 198). The reason why I find myself in agreement with this passage is because I equated this to Palmer’s statement, “we teach who we are” (p. 198, Howard 2003).

I was raised in a culturally diverse home. My father is Hispanic and my mother is Irish, with family from the Kentucky/Tennessee border. Both of my parents have strong accents and were raised in vastly different homes. My father was born in 1940 and was raised by an aunt and uncle. His mother had passed away soon after childbirth. My father did not have any siblings and no possessions of his own as he moved around a lot. He entered the military soon after turning 18. My mother was the youngest of seven children. Being from a large family she could not wait to leave her family home. My parents met while working at a factory in Northern Illinois. Back when they fell in love, it was still “taboo” to be in a mixed-race relationship. However, they made it work and are still happily married and in love to this day.

The phrase, “We teach who we are” hits home for me. I was fortunate enough to have my multi-cultural training begin in my home at a very early age. The reflective process questions posed in the article by (Howard, 2003) can result in a terrifying journey if one does not prepare for what they may uncover. I believe the sooner a person takes the time to self-reflect, the better impact they will have personally and in the classroom, either as a teacher or a student.

One of my son’s closest friends, Casey, is about to complete his first year as an elementary school teacher for the Chicago public school (CPS) system. Recently, Casey and I were discussing his first year as a teacher. Some of the challenges that he spoke about was that he was raised in a small farming community that was 98 percent Caucasian and two percent “other” as the school district’s student body. He said that while he is not racist in the slightest way, he felt unprepared for the menagerie of race, ethnicity and culture. Even though he student-taught in the CPS system, he felt that once he was the teacher responsible for his own students, the stakes became much higher and the ability to make the largest impact became increasingly elusive.

One suggestion that the author makes is to, “avoid reductive notions of culture” (p. 201). In a story that Casey related to me during our discussion was when he assumed that he could make an impact on a student just as simply as he could the next. In one lesson he planned to introduce a subject using a pop culture reference. He said that he just assumed that all of the students watched this particular TV show because it was “popular.” He soon realized that some of the students did not know what he was referring to. He felt terrible that his exercise to learn something, but to also to have fun, highlighted the differences in home lives, culture, etc.

The author’s statement, “critical teacher reflection is essential to culturally relevant pedagogy because it can ultimately measure teachers’ levels of concern and care for their students. A teacher’s willingness to ask tough questions about his or her own attitudes toward diverse students can reflect a true commitment that the individual has toward students’ academic success and emotional well-being (Howard, 2003, p. 199). Because of this statement, it is my belief that if pre-service teachers are exposed to the practice of self-reflection they may have a greater likelihood of developing personally and professionally in a way that will greatly benefit the student and themselves.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy : Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195–202.

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2 comments — post a comment

Jeffrey Cook

It seems that there are so many things to be aware of when we teach, race, age, gender, socio-economic difference. How is this possible? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a reference to something in my childhood and all I got back were blank stares. I guess awareness is a good first step.


One thing that I think about a lot is the saying, “everyone is fighting a battle.” I think this saying correlates to you never know what the differences others may have. I try very hard to keep an open mind and heart in my everyday life.
I completely understand about the blank stares!
Thanks for the comment.

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