Why can*t immigrant parents and their children*s teachers

Why can’t immigrant
parents and their
children’s teachers
talk to each other?
CIDEC Seminar
Jan. 30, 2013
What is the problem?
• Canada received 52,868 immigrants children of 0-14
years in 2011
(cic.gc.ca, 2013)
• Immigrant children fail, drop-out, are suspended,
streamed into non-academic courses, and diagnosed
with learning disabilities in disproportionate numbers
(Anisef et al, 2008; Glick & Hohmann-Marriott, 2007)
What do we already
• Parent-teacher relationships make a crucial
difference to children’s academic and social
integration in schools
(e.g. Englund et. al 2004; Lawson, 2003)
• Racial, cultural and socio-economic
differences between teachers and parents are
a factor in this relationship
(e.g. Dei, 2006; Turney & Kao, 2009)
What are the
• Most teachers in North America are White, middleclass women who have not had sustained close contact
with immigrant families, or sufficient preparation for
working with them
(Bernhard, 2010; Graue, 2005)
• Recent immigrants to Canada have come mostly from
former European colonies
(Statistics Canada, 2010)
What did we try to
find out?
• Why and how do these differences shape this
• What do immigrant parents and their children’s teachers
think about each other?
• What do they expect from each other?
• How do they communicate?
• What may help to improve their relationships?
What theoretical
frameworks did we
draw upon?
• Socio-cultural theories:
• Historical, socio-political, cultural contexts are important
in learning & teaching
(Lim & Renshaw, 2001; Suárez-Orozco, 2001)
• Post-colonial perspectives:
• Legacies of colonialism continue to shape relations
between nation-states
• Colonizers and the colonized have internalized images of
themselves and the Other
(Hage, 2000; Porter, 2009)
• Communities of practice
• Norms about academic and social conduct in Canadian
schools shaped by Anglo-American traditions.
Immigrants are often unaware of these norms.
(Crozier, 2000)
• Ethic of care
• A relationship rather than a role
• A substantial knowledge of the other
(Noddings, 2002, 2005)
How did we conduct
the inquiry?
• A qualitative approach to elicit perceptions,
expectations, and communication patterns
• University & school board ethics approvals
• Five schools (two secondary and three elementary) in
high immigration neighbourhoods
• 29 teachers (including some administrators / ESL
• Six groups of parents (32) who spoke Arabic, Creole,
Mandarin, Russian, Somali, and Urdu
• Loosely structured interview guide
• Video-taped focus group sessions in first languages
conducted by bi-lingual graduate students /
community-based researchers
• Transcribed and translated by the above
• Analytical codes guided by questions, web diagrams,
hierarchical categorization & memos
Teachers’ views about
immigrant parents
• Acknowledgment of limited contact but tendency to
• “It’s a guessing game because you patch it together”
• “And just speaking with some parents, I know about the
• General comments about immigrant parents
Work for long hours in low-income, low-status jobs
Live in cramped apartments
Very ambitious for their children
Always respectful in their interactions with teachers
Perceptions about
specific groups
• Mandarin: Overly ambitious, hard working, children
didn’t know how to share materials or teachers’
• Urdu: Conservative, from war-torn rural environments,
oppressive gender relations
• Somali: refugees, academically poorly prepared
• Creole: Split families, harsh discipline, high drop-out
Immigrant parents’
views about teachers
• Acknowledgment of individual acts of sensitivity &
generosity but also readily generalized
• Have low expectations of immigrant children
• Prejudiced against them because of race, ethnicity,
religion, and presumed low educational and socioeconomic status
Immigrant parents’
“…the person is respected because you know the rules,
culture and habits, and you have more resources …if a
person does not speak the language or does not
understand the system, and is Black, the children and
their parents will not be respected in the school”
“I just want to tell the teachers here, please don’t look
down on our culture. Don’t look at someone wearing a
veil and degrade her. Learn more. We are people who
have an excellent history..”
Teachers’ perceptions
about location of
• Teachers:
• “We are in a position to decide by, sort of, controlling the
flow of information”
• “[They] ask us to do what in our perception is their job
around parenting”
• “They want their children to be successful…they just
don’t know how to do it.”
• “They need to protect themselves, or they want to
pretend or show you that they know, okay, they are not
from nowhere, they have a background, they just need
Parents’ perceptions
about location of
“But teachers at school must have a role, not only to
teacher subjects.. That students don’t raise their voice,
don’t take things that don’t belong to them, teach them
some morals and manners”
“[Because of ‘the magic teacher’] all of a sudden her
English improved a lot and she became much more
“We had such trust in the system, trust in teachers, trust
in people who take the child and are responsible for his
In summary …
• Teachers see immigrant parents through lens of deficits
• Immigrant parents show high levels of dependency on
• Differences in beliefs and practices acknowledged but
no expectation of reciprocal accommodation or
• Asymmetrical relations due to historical and current
imbalances in power and privilege, as well as
institutional cultures
Why should teachers
• Professional ethic of care – moral ideal of self as a
“As teacher, I am, first, one-caring” (Noddings, 2005,
What can teachers
• Acknowledge :
• Power differential due to historical and current sociocultural, economic and political locations
• Few implicitly shared bodies of knowledge
• Question assumptions about individual, group, and
universal characteristics of immigrant parents
• Learn the details about a small number of immigrant
families at a time (see Ali, Corson & Frankel, 2008)
How can teachers do
• In formal settings:
• Jointly identify, examine, and challenge assumptions
about each other, locating these in historical and current
power imbalances
• Build consensus about content and forms of
communication that are both desirable and feasible
• In informal settings:
• Listen to each other’s life stories
• Engage in joint activities the teacher is not necessarily
the expert (e.g. sports, arts and crafts, languages, cooking
• Thanks to Antoinette Gagné for her leadership of the
project from which the data were collected, her
graduate students for their contributions to the datacollection and analysis, and Canadian Heritage for
funding the project.
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Mehrunnisa Ahmad Ali
Ryerson University
[email protected]
For a slightly different version of this work check out
Ali, M. (2012) The shadow of colonialism on relations between
immigrant parents and their children’s teachers. Alberta Journal of
Education 53 (2) 198-215

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