Unlikely teachers: redefining the best and the brightest

Mary Cain Fehr (Curriculum and Instruction, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, USA)

Multicultural Education & Technology Journal

ISSN: 1750-497X

Publication date: 16 November 2010



The purpose of this case study is to explore the unique perspectives of a teacher candidate who did not have the life experiences typical of most individuals who choose to become teachers. Specifically, the author was interested in exploring information that future teachers, practicing teachers, and teacher educators can learn from this atypical perspective to improve their practices.


This is a case study of one teacher candidate. Specifically, it can be considered an instrumental case study because it can help the researcher better understand a theoretical question such as how to prepare new teachers for diverse classrooms. Data sources included five interviews and one written response. Member checks were conducted at each stage of the study.


Findings and recommendations include information on how and why someone who dropped out of school after ninth grade became a teacher, important perspectives on educating Hispanic females, teaching students coping skills, understanding the realities that many students face in their personal lives, allowing teacher candidates to be completely honest in their reflections and using that as a springboard for dialogue, approaching teaching with eyes wide open, being honest with students, going beyond a concern about test scores to address the grittier needs of students, and recruiting teacher candidates from the Job Corps.

Research limitations/implications

Limitations of the study include a fairly short‐time frame of two months. However, the study will continue over another ten months. Preliminary results are presented here. Data gathered after the participant has completed her first year of teaching, and perhaps later, will illustrate her changing perspectives as she gains teaching experience and the results of testing her approaches to teaching.

Practical implications

The information in this study is a wake‐up call to educators, reminding us that individuals with troubled youths can become enlightened, compassionate, and wise teachers. Implications include valuable perspectives about teaching students whose lives differ greatly from those of most teacher candidates, informing future teachers, practicing teachers, and teacher educators as we prepare for a future in which student demographics will shift dramatically and teachers will be increasingly challenged to step out of their comfort zones for the sake of diverse children.

Social implications

It is predicted that after 2050, Whites will be the new demographic minority. Yet, over 90 percent of teacher candidates are White, middle‐class, and monolingual individuals. We must turn our attention to preparing them for diverse classrooms, but also to recognizing the unique strengths of and the recruitment of diverse teachers, even those who have experienced difficulties in life such as drugs, abuse, and dropping out, if they possess the intelligence, maturity, wisdom, and insight to make schooling “work” for students like they were. It can reshape the futures of these children, giving them hope, inspiration, and the tools to succeed.


This study is unique in its focus on the motivation and capabilities of someone who does not fit the mold of a typical teacher candidate. She did not “play school” with dolls, make straight A's, or have a good time at school. Instead she grew up with drug addicted parents, quit school after ninth grade, and ran away […] for good. After living on the streets for a while, she joined the Job Corps and earned a General Educational Development. Now, having finished college and becoming certified to teach, her goal is to make a difference in the lives of kids like she was.



Cain Fehr, M. (2010), "Unlikely teachers: redefining the best and the brightest", Multicultural Education & Technology Journal, Vol. 4 No. 4, pp. 272-281. https://doi.org/10.1108/17504971011087568

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