Cultivating Community through Black Womanhood: An Exploratory Study of Black Women Pre-Service Teachers
Mariah Harmon

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Vanderbilt University

Primary Discipline

For years, educators have championed numerous strategies for supporting marginalized students in U.S. schools. Recently, researchers have identified racial matching—ensuring teachers of color work with students of similar racial backgrounds—to improve students’ achievement. However, calls to increase teacher diversity emphasize benefits to students without adequate consideration of minoritized teachers’ developmental needs or histories. Furthermore, while extensive literature describes the rich experiential knowledge that Black teachers bring to the teaching profession, the process of developing it into pedagogy is undertheorized—particularly in ways that will sustain them in the profession. My interest is in Black women pre-service teachers (BWPTSs) as a case of teachers of color learning to teach in U.S. schools. As with teachers from other marginalized groups, even when teacher education centers issues of equity and justice, it seldom considers their particular developmental needs. Rather than positioning BWPSTs as agentic learners, policymakers too often position them as objects to solve problems. By uncovering Black women’s unique development as teachers, my work offers one possible design for teacher education to invest in their development as culturally responsive educators. In this social design study, I investigate nine BWPSTs’ development of sociopolitical consciousness by tracing their conversations in a teacher education counterspace. Specifically, this space centers BWPSTs’ sensemaking about their sociopolitical consciousness as educators. Using interaction analysis and comparative case study design, my research documents BWPSTs’ experiences and development as critically conscious educators, offering an empirical basis for redesigning teacher education to decenter whiteness to better support minoritized teachers.
About Mariah Harmon
Mariah Harmon is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Teaching and Learning at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Her research examines how teacher education programs can better center the developmental needs of minoritized teachers. Specifically, she focuses on supporting Black women pre-service teachers (BWPSTs) as they prepare to enter their classrooms. BWPSTs (along with other minoritized teachers in U.S. schools) must contend with two essential dilemmas: How do you become an agent of power in a system that has historically done harm to people like you? And, how do you become a disruptor in a system that has benefited you? Her work expands current scholarship outlining BWPSTs’ vast experiential knowledge by focusing on the development of such knowledge into pedagogical competence. Using social design methodologies, she created a teacher education counterspace for BWPSTs as they explored different aspects of becoming critically conscious educators, reflecting on their personal histories and hopes for their own classrooms. Using Black feminist theory and learning sciences, her dissertation examines BWPSTs’ learning through analysis of fieldnotes, meeting transcripts, and participant interviews.Prior to her doctoral studies, Mariah was a middle school English/Language Arts Teacher in Okolona, Mississippi, teaching in the same school as her grandmother 40 years before. Outside of research, Mariah enjoys playing golf, going to brunch, and spending time with her husband and toddler. She received an M.A. in Education from the University of Mississippi and her B.A. in Political Science and Sociology from Vanderbilt University.

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