Teacher-talk about students and families of color

Pollack, T. (2012). Unpacking everyday teacher-talk about students and families of color: Implications for teacher and school leader development. Urban Education. Vol. 48. Issue 6.


This article examines daily dialog between teachers about their perceptions and conceptions of students of color. The author refers to this daily dialog as informal “teacher talk”. The article was well organized and well written, while the argument was developed and the analysis was informative and refreshing.The author critically examines the casual, teacher discourse about student’s racial and cultural differences. The data was collected through participants’ journal entries, group discussion, and interviews. The article reported that the findings revealed three dominant deficit-based discursive themes embedded in informal teacher discourse about students of color.

The findings of the article reported the need to heighten educators’ critical awareness of deficit discourse and its relationship to teaching, learning, and issues of equity. According to Pollack, the research does outline some assumptions about culturally relevant pedagogy and its meaning for intercultural learning. He states that “this article will likely be of interest to educational administration faculty, teacher educators, K-12 educators, and those studying school culture”. The article clearly demonstrated a coherent theoretical framework. And provides a formula for creating a successful analysis of dialog between teachers to create a more culturally sensitive environment classroom.


The article had a profound impact on the field based on the persuasive power of “stories” or conversations. The assertion was made that stories are particularly relevant to understanding how racist views are asserted in less overt and more socially acceptable ways through everyday discourse about others. This concept made me think of how deeply racial jokes are connected to racism. As if it’s possible for a person to refer to them self as “not racist”, but be ok with telling racist jokes. The example the author gave was Van Dijk (1987) found that many conversational stories told by whites about people of color “make negative conclusions credible and defensible, so that the general norm of an ethnic of tolerance is, apparently, not violated”. The author also referenced Denzin (1994), who said stories can also represent individual and group identity in opposition to the “Others” we portray; in this way we communicate who we are by making clear who we are not.


This study offers a sobering look at the nature and content of teacher talk about students of color, their families. The article was of particular interest to me and my former community of practice, as I have experienced (overheard) the racist and discriminatory rants by teachers. It was fascinating to know that someone had researched the effects of this damming dialog and wrote about it. I agree with the claim the article makes that deeply engrained in the everyday culture of schools, these narratives are often unheard, unacknowledged, or seen as harmless. This could have a devastating effective on everyone at the school if the information landed on the wrong ears. I could especially identify with the author’s claim that deficit-based teacher discourse is not harmless and is supported by the participants’ reflections on the deficit narratives they have heard. The crux of the article dismantles the deficit-based teacher talk about students and families of color and shines a light on teachers’ low expectations and negative assumptions about students of color. Personally, I feel that low expectations for students may destroy teachers’ ability teacher with a “blinders off” approach. It stifles their creativity and sense of self-efficacy. Moreover, justifying differential treatment and teaching practices, policies, and teacher behavior are all associated with inferior educational experiences and opportunities for students of color.


Denzin, N. K. (1994). The art and politics of interpretation. (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Van Dijk, T. A. (1987). Communicating racism: Ethnic prejudice in thought and talk. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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