Dr. Zitlali Morales wins Spencer grant to rethink teacher preparation programs for students of color

The project will be co-led by education faculty at UC Davis and Stanford

Dr. P. Zitlali “Lali” Morales, associate professor of curriculum and instruction, is a co-principal investigator of a three-year Spencer Foundation grant. The $145,000 grant will focus on how centering the experiences and knowledge of pre-service teachers of color can change teacher education programs to better prepare teachers for working with racialized and diverse youth.

The project, “Centering Racialized Pre-Service Teachers: A Proleptic Re-Design of Teacher Education for Leveraging Linguistic Diversity,” will be conducted with Dr. Danny C. Martinez, associate professor at UC Davis as the principal investigator. In addition to Morales, Dr. Ramón Antonio Martínez, assistant professor at Stanford University, will also serve as co-principal investigator.

The overall grant for the project is $445,000, with $145,000 being UIC’s portion.

The project will look at how despite increasing diversity among teachers, teacher education programs remain geared toward white teachers, marginalizing teachers of color by ignoring their experiential knowledge and perspectives.

Centering the experiences of student-teachers of color to create better teacher prep programs

Dr. Zitlali Morales

Morales said that all teacher education programs should be learning from the racialized schooling experiences of pre-service teachers of color.

“Particularly in a city like Chicago, where we have a majority-minority student population, it is essential that we draw on the knowledge and experiences that our increasingly diverse pre-service teachers possess and learn with them, as they prepare to become the teachers that our current K-12 students need,” Morales said.

According to the researchers, this tension is especially evident in courses focusing on linguistic diversity that prepare pre-service teachers of color to work with students of color. Such language-focused courses represent potentially enriching spaces for re-imagining and re-designing teacher education experiences to center pre-service teachers.

Their research will explore how to use diversity as a resource for learning of the pre-service teachers in these courses that aim to prepare them to work in diverse classrooms without diminishing their experiences or “erasing important intra-group heterogeneity and variation.”

“We don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that all Latinx people, for example, have the same experiences or linguistic knowledge. We know that people of color have very different experiences, even while we often experience similarly marginalizing experiences,” Morales said.

The three-year project will focus on three cohorts of teachers at each of the university’s teacher education programs and will document their learning across a range of experiences, engaging them as co-designers of their own learning and pedagogy, according to the award.

Participants will be recruited from language-focused courses that centralize sociocultural perspectives, where cultural, contextual and linguistic diversity are viewed as essential for understanding learning.

This project seeks to transform learning experiences and environments to promote equity for the new teachers of color and their future students. The study will contribute to empirical and theoretical foundations for preparing teachers of color to teach in culturally and linguistically diverse contexts.