Faculty Member Receives CATE Dissertation Award

Christine Massing web Image-081
Dr. Christine Massing

Assistant Professor in Early Childhood Education, Dr. Christine Massing, was recognized by the Canadian Association of Teacher Education (CATE) with the CATE Award for her doctoral dissertation, An Ethnographic Study of Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Knowledge Construction in an Early Childhood Teacher Education Program at the Canadian Society for the Study of Education (CSSE) Congress held in Calgary in May, 2016.

This honor acknowledges Christine’s excellent work and important contribution to Canadian teacher education research.

The following is an interview with Christine about her research, which explored how immigrant and refugee women construct understandings of the authoritative or dominant discourse of early childhood in relation to their own beliefs, values, knowledges, and experiences:

What circumstances/situation led you to research the topic of your dissertation?

At the time I was contemplating doctoral studies, I was teaching in an early childhood program specifically designed for immigrants and refugees. At the end of my first year, one of my students, a refugee from Somalia who had raised 10 university-educated children, expressed to me that she now realized that her approach to mediating her children’s disputes had been “wrong.” Through conversations with my students over the next year, I came to understand that some of the theories and practices they were learning in the program were dissonant with their own understandings. Because I have also lived and taught in diverse contexts—Japan, Egypt, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala, and in two First Nations communities here in Canada—their comments resonated with me to some extent (although as a temporary visitor I did not experience such discontinuities between worldviews as acutely as my students did). I felt concerned that many of these women—all of whom had extensive experience as mothers, teachers, or caregivers in their home countries—might believe that they needed to abandon all that they knew about teaching and caring for young children to be accepted in Canadian school and preschool settings. Despite their candor, I sensed that they were reticent to be too critical of the program and, by extension, me as an instructor so I felt I might elicit more details as a researcher.

How has your research impacted your personal and/or professional life?

On a personal level, I have appreciated the friendships I have developed with many of my research participants and I have learned so much from them. Professionally, this research has assisted me in identifying some of the funds of knowledge that immigrants and refugees bring to early childhood theory and practice, which, in turn, enriches my own work with teacher candidates. I hope to mobilize these new understandings to guide teacher candidates toward being more responsive to culturally and linguistically diverse children and their families. This research has also deepened my understanding of how teacher candidates navigate unfamiliar content in their coursework and internships and inflect their practice with their own beliefs and values. If students have time and space for dialogue with the content and practices they are learning, they can populate their practice with their own intentions and meanings and make it their own.

What do you hope your research might accomplish in the field of education?

When I undertook this research, I had the impression that my immigrant and refugee students simply appropriated the dominant practices because they wanted to “fit in” and be seen as professionals. However, I was surprised to find that in some situations the participants rebelled against the authoritative practices, instead enacting their own beliefs and practices when their supervisors were not looking. Therefore, they risked failing their placements because they strongly believed that some of the dominant practices were not in the best interests of the children.  It is my hope that early childhood sites and teacher education programs will begin to acknowledge the validity of what Bakhtin refers to as “multiple, polyphonic voices” so culturally and linguistically diverse teacher candidates can imbue their practice with their own knowledges and beliefs. I believe that such practices will provide richer and more meaningful experiences for immigrant and refugee children and their families who will be supported in their diverse ways of being and becoming.

Was it difficult to achieve your research goals? How did you overcome obstacles (if any), whether personal or professional?

The primary concern I had in doing this research was gaining the trust of participants because I was researching in a program for immigrant and refugee early childhood students and was very obviously an outsider. Although the participants knew that I was a doctoral student and early childhood instructor, for three semesters, I sat in classes alongside them and participated in all of the course experiences as a student in the program. Many of my participants were Muslim so the fact that I had lived and worked in Egypt was particularly helpful in building trust. They did come to accept me as “one of them” so much so that they invited me to participate in their activities and transgressions (such as skipping class!).

An Excerpt

The following excerpt from Christine’s dissertation illustrates the tensions faced by immigrant/refugee early childhood students, something she considers to be at the heart of her research:

Ameena’s explanation actualizes this tension between personal or cultural ways of being with children and the authoritative discourse of professionalism: “Professional means you do how they teach you [in the ECTE program] even if they (supervisor or instructors) don’t see you…. Joanne [an educator], she’s more professional in how she talks to the kids, how the kids love her. Everything she does in a real way, the right way, and a real way” (Interview, February 28, 2013). Joanne is perceived as holding the “right” professional knowledge, but she is also “real,” acting intuitively and applying what she personally knows about children. Consistent with Wenger’s (2000) work, the professional educator must be able to mobilize her personal understandings and refine the expected competencies. Since the practical knowledges of immigrant and refugee students or educators are excluded from the authoritative discourse, it is difficult for them to legitimately apply their own understandings in this manner. Essentially, these women are positioned as needing to change themselves otherwise their learning trajectory will never lead to full, legitimate participation in the early childhood community of practice (Wenger, 1998).

Abstract:  In my former role as an early childhood education instructor working with immigrant and refugee women, I came to understand that they might experience a dissonance between the authoritative discourse (Bahktin, 1981) of early childhood, inscribed with western theories and values, taught in the program and their own intuitive, tacit, and practical knowledges. The purpose of this study, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Killam Trusts, was to explore how twenty immigrant/refugee women constructed understandings of this authoritative discourse as they negotiated their professional identities during their coursework and field placements in an early childhood teacher education program. Using an ethnographic methodology, I was immersed in the participants’ coursework and practicum experiences for two to three days a week over three semesters of study, collecting qualitative data through field notes, spatial mapping, interviews, focus groups, and artifacts/documents. One of the most significant findings of this research pertained to the participants’ own responses when confronted by discontinuities between the professional expectations in the field and their own knowledges, practices, beliefs, and values. Consistent with the limited scholarship in this field, the participants did sometimes feel compelled to suppress their own beliefs and enact what they had learned in the program in order to be seen as professionals. However, this research elucidated two additional responses. First, the participants sometimes resisted or rejected the authoritative discourse in favour of their own cultural practices. On other occasions, they authored their own hybridized professional identities derived both from the professional expectations in the community of practice as well as from their own cultural and religious beliefs and values about how to teach and care for young children. This research contributes to our understanding of the knowledges and experiences immigrant and refugee women bring to the field which can be mobilized to support the meaningful inclusion of immigrant/refugee children and their families in schools or early childhood settings.

Supervisor: Dr. Anna Kirova, professor of early childhood education at the University of Alberta,
Committee members: Dr. Heather Blair and Dr. Lynne Wiltse.
Date defended: October 26

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