Player, G., Bachoo, G., & Lopez, C. (2022). “All the talks, all the bonding, all the love”: Women of color feminist multimodalities as interruptions to the whiteness of teacher education. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 22(1).

“All the Talks, All the Bonding, All the Love”: Women of Color Feminist Multimodalities as Interruptions to the Whiteness of Teacher Education

by Grace Player, University of Connecticut; Gabby Bachoo, East Hartford Public Schools; & Cindy Lopez, Waterside School


Teacher education (TE) programs have been historically white spaces that too often devalue and marginalize women of color (WOC) and their intellectual contributions. This paper, cowritten by two graduates of a predominantly White institution TE program and one of their professors –all three authors WOC with familial roots in Latin America – traces the ways that the centering of WOC knowledges and ways of knowing in teacher education can serve as an interruption to whiteness and a salve to the racial trauma too often inflicted on WOC in these programs. Specifically, it takes a WOC feminist lens to analyze the ways that multimodal projects, at times aided by digital technologies, provided WOC opportunities to utilize and explore their raced, cultured, and gendered experiences and knowledges within their TE program. This work suggests shifts in teacher education that allow for the centering of WOC perspectives, theories, and ways of knowing to reimagine TE built for and by WOC and their future students of color.

In the small airless classroom in the corner of the second floor of the education building, a class of 16 preservice teachers, students in first author Grace’s Introduction to Critical Pedagogies class, sat around tables piled high with magazines, scissors, glue, printouts of poems, and construction paper. Students snipped apart, colored over, and highlighted words and phrases of texts like “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “My Country Tis of Thee,” and “This is America” by Childish Gambino, the music video they had watched and analyzed earlier in the meeting. They layered words with magazine clippings and handwritten words and drawings. From their clipping, scribbling, drawing, and writing, palimpsests that offered analytical explorations of “Americanness” emerged. (The idea of the palimpsest as a pedagogical tool evolved from work introduced to by Dr. Amy Stornaioulo’s Theories of Writing Class at the University of Pennsylvania.)

Two women of color (WOC) students, Gabby and Cindy, were creating multimodal tellings of their perceptions of Americanness as they reflected upon their own lives and histories as WOC in the American context. Gabby carefully cut out images of Black women to pair with the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” highlighting the centrality of Black women, of Black culture in America (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Gabby’s Collage

Nearby, sat Cindy, who created a blackout poem on the paper before her as she reconfigured the words of “America, My Country Tis of Thee” (Figure 2). She renamed it “My Papi’s Country,” and she’s added words clipped from a magazine, reading “How I Survived Our World.” The words left on the page described her Mexican immigrant father’s relationship to nation, to Mexico, his home country, and to the United States, the place he now lives and has raised two daughters. Later, she reflected on this poem and said, “Regardless of spending most of his life here, like, this is not his home and it’s like a guilty feeling that he’s here because of me, because of [my sister].”

Figure 2.  Cindy’s Collage

Gabby’s and Cindy’s critical examinations of the United States and definitions of Americanness were rooted in their cultures, in their raced and gendered experiences, in their histories, in their familial lineages. With the threads of conversation engendered by our viewing of “This Is America” on their minds, with their personal raced-gendered experiences in their hearts, with pens and markers, glue and scissors, and piles of magazines and printouts in their hand, they created interruptions to the ways Americanness and whiteness are taken for granted, are normalized, in too many teacher education programs, in too many schools. 

These two critical texts, born of the interaction between materials, texts, and the raced-gendered experiences, knowledges, and creative power of Gabby and Cindy, existed amongst many multimodal projects pursued in the Critical Pedagogies class. This class, taught by a WOC to master’s level students pursuing careers in teaching, was aimed at illuminating and engaging critical knowledges born of and developed by marginalized people, particularly WOC, to coenvision curriculum that was more expansive, more creative, more dynamic, more rooted in the realities, identities, and relationships of people of color (POC).

The class was relatively diverse compared to the program at large — about half of the students here were POC — perhaps because Grace had relationships with several of the POC students who elected to join the course. This was a class where Bad Bunny and Cardi B’s music videos were explored as dynamic and complicated through critical feminist-of-color lenses, where videos of POC spoken word was shared to deepen theoretical understandings, where almost all reading were written by POC, where sketching, collaging, and poetry were considered the norm, where social media was positioned as a source of valuable counternarrative. In this class, aided by the affordances of the digital world, various modalities were utilized and explored, and various content, sourced from the vast terrain of the internet, was built upon and critically analyzed. In this paper, we describe the class, its curriculum, and its multimodal projects through a feminist of color lens that illuminates the importance of WOC multiliteracies and knowledges in teacher education (TE) programs.

Literature Review

This work is situated in a lineage of scholarship that inquires into the practices and experiences of TE students of color. This literature confronts and interrupts the problem with whiteness that surrounds TE. TE enrollment remains about 80% White, even as the K-12 population is approximately 50% of color and rising (Barnum, 2018). The field of education has been defined by the White teachers and, in turn, too often by White hegemonic values (Haddix, 2017; Navarro et al., 2019; Player & Irizarry, in press; Sleeter, 2001).

The literature overwhelmingly suggests that TE programs need to transform programs to suit the needs, desires, and knowledges of POC (Brown, 2014) and to serve as interruptions to whiteness in TE (Navarro et al., 2019). Souto-Manning and Emdin (2020) inquired into programs that used language around social justice and equity in their program websites. Their work found that amongst teachers of color, racial trauma, including invisibilization and presumptions of incompetence, was persistent and prevalent throughout TE programs.

Pham (2018) similarly found that TE students of color experienced race-based aggression from their White peers, including forced color blindness, shallow understandings of diversity and resistance to pushing those understandings, vocal resistance to faculty of color, and pressure to assimilate to whiteness. These aggressions lead to pain and fear and detrimental changes to behavior that possibly impeded learning.

Kohli (2014) argued that educators must develop more complex understandings of how to support POC in TE programs, noting the tension that exists between POC desiring to change systems while navigating and participating in the very structures they are attempting to change. This argument indicates that teacher educators need to provide teachers of color with supports in developing critical tools both to help them unpack their own educational experiences and to heal from those experiences.

Kohli (2019) discussed the absence of critical frameworks, which both marginalizes teachers of color in their programs and hinders their future professional development as working teachers. Teachers of color are, thus, often required to develop tools to navigate a predominantly White profession on their own or with other POC, with little programmatic support. As Navarro et al. (2019) discussed, TE classrooms must be transformed so POC are positioned as assets to the field of education who bring a rich cultural and linguistic resources to learning contexts. With these shifts, TE would be positioned to create more robust learning environments, minimize the race-gendered violence so often experienced, and provide built-in supports, rather than creating conditions where POC must do the extra labor of fashioning these supports on their own.

WOC and WOC Feminisms in TE

WOC and their theoretical frameworks matter within TE. Work that looks specifically at the intersections of race and gender in TE unearths the importance of coalition and collaborative learning and healing amongst WOC, particularly in the face of the overwhelming whiteness of TE. WOC preservice teachers bring a host of complex raced, cultured, and gendered identities that aid in the development of sophisticated practices in their evolving practices as teachers. Yet, White dominant spaces do not always recognize these practices for their worth (Haddix, 2010). Thus, WOC often find support in one another and in their POC and WOC faculty. WOC’s intersectionally raced and gendered identities can be fertile grounds for building sisterhood amongst one another and for building relationships with faculty of color. In these relationships, they are able to codevelop critical understandings of antiracist and antibias teaching in education (Wynter-Hoyt et al., 2020). 

Importantly, research has shown that not only the presence of WOC preservice teachers matters, but also WOC professors and feminist of color pedagogies within TE. Cruz (2018) found that through a WOC feminist pedagogy, informed by her identity as a WOC, she was able to invite students in her program to “a multidimensional framework in which to read our world critically in coalition” (p. 147), a platform off of which to “remediate their experiences in creative ways that are full of possibilities” (p. 147). González Ybarra and Saavedra (2021) also suggested the Anzaldúan concept of autohistoria-teoria as an important foundation to an educator’s work in a field that remains vastly occupied by White middle-class women, providing a pathway to centering the multifaceted lives of students of color.

Multimodality in Teacher Education

Some scholars have unpacked the engagement of multimodal, cultured, and embodied literacies and pedagogies in TE, many of these scholars building on WOC feminist informed frameworks. For instance, Caldas (2019) examined the ways that Latinx bilingual preservice teachers used theater arts to process the emotional terrain of exploring racism, linguicism, and discrimination and to create, plan, and strategize ways forward. Ohito (2019) issued a call for “embodied pedagogy” in teacher education, a call to “take corporeality seriously by prompting teaching and learning about and through the body as enfleshed and re-membered” (p. 263).

Smith et al. (2021) added that racial storytelling through multigenre journaling with Black women preservice teachers can serve as an act of love and as an antidote to the raced-gendered violences they experienced in their programs and beyond. In addition, Brochin’s (2012) study reported that Mexican American preservice teachers using multimodal and multilingual literacy narratives and language history maps created rich counterstories that highlighted the rich linguistic and cultural learning within Mexican families at the border.

In the current era, more teacher educators are taking note of the role of the digital in multimodal work that attends to the raced experiences of TE students. Price-Dennis and Sealey-Ruiz (2021) explored the importance of developing the racial and digital literacies in TE. They noted that students continue to encounter racial violence in both physical and digital spaces and that it often goes unseen or ignored in the classroom. Simultaneously, digital activist movements like #BLM, #TakeaKnee, #MeToo, and so on, have erupted on social media and can be built upon within classrooms to engage youth in multimodal projects toward justice.

Cumulatively, this literature points to the raced and gendered traumas experienced by preservice teachers of color, as well as the inadequacy of programs to address their needs and desires as they prepare to work with young POC. However, it also demonstrates that these preservice teachers often strategically find individual and collective strategies for surviving TE, at times supported by select members of faculty, particularly POC faculty. Certain structural changes in TE must be made so that students of color are better supported, protected, mentored, and taught. We stand by this work, adding the additional layers of specificity around the utility of WOC multiple literacies in TE programs. 

Theoretical Framework

We understand literacies as sociocultural practices informed by one’s identities, experiences, and culture. Literacies are multiple, contextual, and imbued with power (Street, 2005), and they invite a diverse understanding of what counts as “texts,” “reading,” and “writing” (Alverman, 2010; Gee, 1989). So too, multimodality involves the utilization of multiple technologies, which include digital and analog tools. Computers and the internet as well as pencils and scissors are technologies whose uses are consistently reinvented and hybridized for meaning making.

Moreover, and of crucial importance, as discussed by Garcia (2019), multimodal literacy practices involve human interaction with these technologies within a time and place. These entanglements between the human, the nonhuman, and the context collectively engender meaning.

Following the call of Campano et al. (2020), we challenge

the ways in which multimodal inquiry, decoupled from critical and postcolonial perspectives [and, we would add, WOC feminist theories], can reproduce the conventional hermeneutic it has claimed to upend: the individual, rational subject transacting with an autonomous text; the Eurocentric, liberal humanist subject. Indeed, multimodality can potentially re-inscribe schooling as usual. (p. 137)

Multimodality, therefore, is “ancient” (Campano et al., 2020) and not solely the property of those in the digital sphere. Rather, multimodality is rooted in and deeply tied to hybridized and rhizomatic identities; to cultural practices of survival, joy, and resistance; and to collective engagement with POC future-envisioning and building. As part of their rhizomatic nature, multimodal literacies are also constantly shifting — simultaneously rooted in the ancient, in cultural traditions, and growing alongside, and even pushing forward the invention of and the evolving uses of new technologies. This paper coarticulates WOC feminist theories with theories of multimodality to nuance understandings of the specific ways hybridized literacies are intersectionality raced, cultured, and gendered and how meaning-making bridges the digital, analog, and human. 

We understand WOC knowledges as arising from the practices invented, cultivated, passed down, and evolved across time by WOC surviving and seeking to thrive and create pathways for future generations. These knowledges are frequently literacies, often not codified as such, that WOC have engendered as creative and intellectual outlets when they were denied access to the modalities of the White, the male, and the wealthy (Walker, 1983). WOC literacies do take form in more traditionally conceived ideas of literacy — text-based reading and writing — but also in a variety of creative and cultural, embodied, and relational practices of meaning making and interpretation, at times, taking advantage of digital technologies.

Across history, WOC literacies of resistance and survival have taken form through poetry and essay and academic work (Anzaldúa, 1983, 2007; Christian, 1988; Smith, forthcoming); drawing, painting, cooking, collaging, weaving, stitching, and dancing (Anzaldúa, 2007; Walker 1983); the tingling in the spine, the reddening of cheeks, the flutter of the heart, the screams, the laughter, the rolling of eyes (Anzaldúa, 2007; De Nicolo & González Ybarra, 2015; Ife, 2017); chismes, dichos, pláticas, and kitchen table talk (Delgado Bernal, 2001; Haddix et al., 2016; Player & González Ybarra, 2021; Player et al., 2021); and social media, website development, digital story writing, and group chats (Griffin, 2021; Kynard, 2010; Price-Dennis, 2016; Price-Dennis & Sealey-Ruiz, 2021).

Often, these literacies are relegated out of academic classrooms. Thus, for WOC, in sharing stories, in sharing memories, in sharing knowledges and ways of knowing, college classrooms and other traditionally male and White spaces can become safer (Evans-Winters, 2019). These understandings of WOC literacies transform conceptions of education and learning, challenging the Eurocentric ideologies of pedagogy to something more suited to the cultivation of WOC teachers and learners. Building on theories of culturally sustaining and responsive pedagogies (Ladson Billings, 1995; Paris & Alim, 2017) and abolitionist teaching (Love, 2019), through this paper we suggest that when WOC cultural knowledges, stories, and literacies are centered in curriculum, the goals of liberatory education become more attainable. As Love (2019) discussed, abolitionist teaching is about

mattering, surviving, resisting, thriving, healing, imagining, freedom, love, and joy… Abolitionist teaching is the practice of working in solidarity with communities of Color while drawing on the imagination, creativity, refusal, (re)membering, visionary thinking, healing, rebellious spirit, boldness, determination, and subversiveness of abolitionists to eradicate injustice in and outside of school. (p. 2)

WOC multiple literacies reflect these goals. 

Methods and Methodologies

We are committed to the refusal of white gaze, white framings, and white voices in our work. We cocreated this paper taking on what Filipiak & Caraballo (2019) described as a “partnership stance,” a positioning that centers collaboration to develop transformational agency and promote change-oriented agency amongst all who participated. We attempted to destabilize the researcher-researched paradigms that too often remove the voices, desires, interpretations and theories of communities in favor of a univocal institutionalized voice (Campano et al., 2016; Paris & Winn, 2014; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999). 

Appropriately, we drew from methodologies rooted in WOC knowledges and ways of knowing. As Evans-Winters (2019) has discussed, research aimed at social justice must “give attention to how non-White women make sense of contemporary and historical patterns” (p.14). Further, research must center the ways that WOC question, understand, and challenge research in ways that destabilize whiteness and racism in society at large, but also academia, specifically.

We created a mosaic of data, as described by Evans-Winters (2019) as “a piece of artwork composed of a combination of diverse elements, patterns, and forms… a gender-and race-based approach to qualitative inquiry and analysis” (p. 15). Building from this metaphor of mosaic, our work was a piecing together of our multiple WOC perspectives, voices, modes and genre of meaning making and storytelling in dialogue with one another, in conversation with WOC theory, and within a layered context that shaped the meanings that arose. 

To create this mosaic, we gathered data from multiple sources and coanalyzed it through a series of dialogues. Data included multimodal texts Cindy and Gabby created for the class; other artifacts such as lesson plans and the syllabus; and notes we collectively took on a shared Google Docs document. We approached these data engaging in reflective discussion, finding meaning in what emerged between us, in what might be considered a “dialogic spiral” (Kinloch & San Pedro, 2014). Thus, we derived meaning from pláticas, in this case, online conversations facilitated by Google Meet (Figure 3), to center the cocreative and reciprocal nature of WoC research (González Ybarra, 2020; Mendoza Aviña, 2016; Player et al., 2021).

Figure 3. Screenshot of Google Meet Session

We understood meaning making as a collaborative and relational process that arose through dialogues in which our individual lenses comingled to make more nuanced meaning. These conversations took place over four recorded 1-1.5 hour conversations, where we looked at and discussed the data and shared various accounts of the TE program in relationship to the multimodal work of the class. These conversations wove in and out of focused conversations on the data, through vulnerable memories of the class and other moments through their TE program, and through our conversations about our daily lives — what was occurring in the now — and how we were feeling and coping with the realities of the destabilized world of 2020. 

In addition, the writing of this paper was, in and of itself, part of the analytic process (Richardson, 2000). Writing served as the piecing together of the mosaic, the spackling together of pieces, the composing of an ultimate image of WOC knowledges in TE presented in this paper. After Grace physically wrote a draft, all three authors returned to the paper, offering feedback, further analysis, and revisions to the work. 

Though this analysis does not fit neatly in the codified ways of making meaning so often centered in Eurocentric academic traditions, it is born of a more organic, WOC-centered, creative process that more honestly captures the actuality of our collective and individual experiences. In what follows, we will first present a context, our coming together in this work, then a detailed tracing of the work Cindy and Gabby did. This storying will be layered in with our collective analysis. 

Our Learnings

The Story of Grace, Cindy, and Gabby: Embodied and Relational Survival of TE

Because the knowledge we built is so rooted in our relationships, we must start by contextualizing our interpersonal connections and by engaging a deeper description of who we are. We all identify as WOC educators with familial roots in Latin America.

Gabby is the mixed-race daughter of a Puerto Rican woman and a Black man, both of whom moved from their islands of birth, Puerto Rico and St. Croix, in their young adult years. She is currently a public school fifth-grade teacher, a writer, and a dancer.

Cindy is a Mexican American woman, daughter, and sister. She is currently a homeschool teacher in her hometown and will soon begin work as a kindergarten teacher.

Grace is the mixed-race daughter of a Japanese-Brazilian immigrant woman who came to the US in her 20s and a White father from the United States South. She is a teacher educator, literacy researcher, artist, and writer.

We met in a TE program at a large public predominantly white institution in the rural Northeast. At our time of meeting, Grace was a 1st-year assistant professor at the education school, while Gabby and Cindy were in their senior year of an integrated bachelors/masters (IB/M) teacher certification program for elementary educators. The IB/M program spans 2 years of undergraduate and 1 year of graduate school, which includes coursework as well as clinical experiences and student teaching. 

Understanding TE Through Embodied and Relational Literacies    

Gabby and Cindy had differing but nonetheless connected relationships to the program. Yet, it was apparent that their raced-gendered literacies helped them to understand and navigate racialized and gendered spaces of the IB/M program. For Gabby, during the first years of the program, although she struggled to feel completely accepted and comfortable, she felt loved by certain members of the faculty, all of whom were white. Cindy, on the other hand, entered the school as a transfer student her junior year and did not find the same sort of bonding with her professors. She did, however, form a close group of Latinx and Black friends. For Cindy, her survival is attributed to “the few WOC professors and classmates that helped me see me for me and heal from those who did not.” 

Gabby, who grew up in a middle class, majority White town and attended K-12 school with mostly White students and teachers, proposed that feeling loved by White people, such as some of her professors, is in part a survival mechanism that she has developed over time and, simultaneously, it is always marked by a preparedness to be betrayed. She described her close friendships with White students as being important and loving, but a source of guilt, of feeling like she is “that POC who only hangs out with White people.” This feeling, too, was layered with issues of class, as she recalled being shut out by the Latinx cultural center students when they found out the town where she grew up. Within our program, Gabby eventually became close to many of the other students of color, including Cindy. Both Gabby and Cindy narrated these POC friendships as vital to their survival in the program.

Gabby and Cindy did not solidify their friendship until the last months of their senior year, as each started to understand the other as an ally and confidant as they traversed racialized and gendered experiences in both their classes and in their student teaching experiences. As Gabby and Cindy described it, their relationship developed as, at the school where they were both placed for student teaching, they had to learn to take care of their students and, in turn, take care of each other.

Cindy, in particular, was faced with traumatic experiences in her placement, that involved the racist rebukes from her teacher who, for example, demanded she not speak Spanish to the students or their families and told Cindy she had to yell at the Brown and Black children in her class. Gabby explained that they began to question, “How do we keep each other safe and happy, because student teaching had already gone so down the line, and it became the question of are student teachers of color safe in that school?” This safety was a concern of many of the student teachers, some of whom transferred out of their placements in that building because of the racial trauma they experienced.

Despite reports back to the TE program, little was done to support Cindy. In fact, the class designed for students to process their student teaching experience was held at the very school where Cindy and Gabby were teaching. It was held in a room with large glass windows to the hallway through which they could be surveilled by the teachers who were causing Cindy and others trauma. Cindy recalls wanting to cry but knowing that her teacher could walk by at any moment, so she would remain silent. Her embodied knowledges were actively being suppressed by the structure of the course and the lack of protective measures for TE students of color. Both Gabby and Cindy have sophisticated knowledges and tools to navigate and help children navigate the raced-gendered terrain of schooling, but rather than cultivating these tools, the program suppressed and ignored them.

Cindy, though, despite this suppression within the official spaces of the TE program, found ways to capture and analyze some of her experiences and support her students. Through the following passage written for a presentation on WOC preservice and early career teachers done with a group of WOC students and graduates of our program at the University of Pennsylvania Ethnography Forum, she narrated the ways she and her students cultivated spaces for themselves despite the violences they were experiencing. She read the following while playing a digital slideshow of pictures she had collected of her students and their positioning in her student teaching placement:

The moments when she [the classroom teacher] would leave the classroom, we could all feel the tension leave with her. I would take advantage of those times to talk to my students. Real talk. Talk to them about their hopes and dreams. Whether they wanted to be a vet or a plumber like their father, all goals were valued. … As Black and Brown kids that would grow up into Black and Brown adults, I explained to them that there will always be people, family members, teachers, and strangers trying to bring us down. At the end of the day it was our life on the line. Our hopes and dreams. No matter what, we had to stand up every day and find a way to cope and succeed in order to become those vets, and plumbers and to one day say, “Mom, I got you.” After these conversations we would all be in tears. Tears of pain, love, hope, and encouragement. Ironically, the person who would be touched the most was the sweet brown boy that was tucked away in the corner, away from the board and covered by an easel, by Her. In the moments when she would leave the classroom, we could all feel the tension leave with her… In the moments she would leave the classroom, we could all feel the love. In these moments we all belonged.

Cindy, here, captured her own and her students’ embodied literacies and her cultural intuitions (Delgado Bernal, 1998) that helped her work with her students toward surviving the racial traumas inflicted by the teacher. These knowledges and ways of knowing were purposefully shut out and ignored in the TE program and at her student teaching placement. Cindy’s cultural, gendered, and racial intuitions in relationship to her students’ experiences, coupled with her commitment to a radical love in teaching (Ohito, 2018), allowed for intergenerational teaching and correlated protective measures WOC are so often positioned to do (Dariotis & Yoo, 2019).

Grace and Cindy

Grace met Cindy after another female student of color introduced her as a potential source of support to Cindy as she navigated the very White terrain of their TE program. She described being brought to Grace’s office:

I was going through a hard time during student teaching and my friend who was in one of Grace’s classes said, “Let’s go talk to Grace. We need to go talk to her.” And that’s how she brought me to Grace’s office. Like, to talk about everything. And yeah, a little meeting, like, so many to come.

Grace remembers being struck immediately by Cindy’s quiet intelligence, but also the visceral pain she was experiencing in the program. After that, Cindy, Grace, and some other WOC students began to meet weekly to process, read, and write together, attempting to coproduce new understandings and strategies of survival and healing with one another, working from the model set forth by WOC feminist theorists and writers, who have long used spaces on the margins to theorize, develop coalitional politics, and share counternarratives to the discourses of the dominant spaces which we navigate (Smith & Taylor, 2017).

Gabby and Grace

Grace and Gabby met each other through a literacy methods course that Grace cotaught with Gabby’s faculty advisor. Gabby recalled,

It was like, “And who’s Grace? Who is this name on here?” Because I could talk to my advisor, and he was just like, “She’s going to be your best friend. Like, I promise you. That’s going to be the only teacher you ever care about liking you.” And I was like, “Alright, I don’t care if anybody likes me.” And then Grace walked in. I was like, “Oh, I actually really care if Grace likes me.” Like not only was she a WOC, but like, she had tattoos. And then the way she dressed is very similar to, like, it’s not what people consider professional. It’s just her.

Grace was immediately drawn to Gabby, her energy, her passion for writing, her intelligence, her humor. She recalled knowing that Gabby was someone who would be honest with her and who would help her become a better professor. 

Learning Together

In the literacy methods course, our relationship concretized, in part as a survival mechanism against racist events perpetuated by some White students in the class. In one instance, Grace publicly confronted racist discourse around Brown children voiced by a group of students presenting on their experiences teaching abroad. This confrontation led to a prolonged class conversation about the role of the educator in dismantling white supremacist ideologies, including tearful responses from some of the students of color describing the pain they had endured in the TE program as racist ideologies continued to go unchecked.

In the following days in class, more racist events transpired and some of the White students continued to feign White innocence to the harm they were doing to their classmates of color. A group of WOC gathered with Grace to process. Gabby described,

With that racist experience in [the class] … we brought it to Grace. And Grace just gave us that time and that circle together. And I was like, this is it. Like this is what I’ve been looking for the past, like 19 years.

The final semester of their master’s program year, Gabby and Cindy took Grace’s Critical Pedagogies class, and their relationships deepened. We bonded through the class and beyond, in part, because of the combined strength of shared experiences and shared commitments, but also because of an understanding of one another’s differences, how they might learn from and with one another. Over time, we shared laughter, tears, stories, art, poetry, in class, in Grace’s office, through a connected research project and book club with other women from the program and Grace’s sister-colleague, Danielle Filipiak.

Now, as Cindy and Gabby have graduated and are entering their second year of their teaching career, we have maintained a bond, largely through the technologies of group text messaging and video conferencing, which has engendered continued coalitional learning, teaching, building, and this paper.

Critical Pedagogies Coursework and Multimodal Projects

Throughout the Critical Pedagogies course, students were invited to engage a variety of multimodal explorations and expressions of their critical inquiries. For instance, students kept a multimodal journal where they responded to class readings (almost all of which were rooted in scholarship from marginalized scholars) and conversations through their choice of modes, including, but not limited to, drawing, writing (any genre of the students’ choice), and collaging. In addition, various in-class work involved critical readings of music videos, websites, poems, paintings, and songs.

Students were also invited to projects like the one described in the introduction to explore their ever-evolving theoretical lenses by experimenting with different modalities to analyze texts. The class attempted to be a space of vulnerability, stories, laughter, exchange of advice, sharing, and care, where relationships and trust were built as fundamental to the co-creation of knowledge. In other words, this space was designed as a place where a variety of cultural, gendered, racialized knowledges, literacies, and technologies were harnessed toward critical learning.

The final project for the course was the creation of a multimodal statement, described in the syllabus as such (see Figure 4 for a more detailed assignment description): 

You will create a multimodal statement that challenges your audience to think beyond the constraints of the written and/or spoken word. You will create a multimodal text to pushback against a dominant ideology of your choosing.


The class was interrupted by the campus shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The students’ final presentations ended up being recorded videos shared and discussed in an online discussion board, adding an unpredicted dependence on digital technology.

In the following projects, there is a movement toward taking up healing and resistant WOC literate practices. This is a healing and resistance that focused on self, on family, on finding community, on recentering WOC-hood. The multiliterate acts described here demonstrate the ways that both Gabby and Cindy interrupted the overwhelming whiteness of TE with a fullness and complexity of their WOC-hood.

“In My Love I Am Free”

Gabby created a piece of art that collaged together poems she had written over the years (Figure 5). Laid over the collage, she painted streaks of color, a bright yellow emanating from the center, mimicking something like a tie-dyed sunburst. In the middle of the yellow burst, is a piece called “For the Real Me,” which she claimed was “written straight from my falling apart writing notebook with no edits.” She wrote,

I have spent most of my life writing for other people. Writing their stories, reflecting on their lessons, building on their lives on my notebook paper. For my last project in college I wanted to write for me. I want to live here in my own notebook and have a place in the space between my own words.

I am no longer scared to be in my own space anymore. To feel the joy of my accomplishments, and freedom as we set off to graduate. The only thing I ever wanted as a kid was freedom. To not feel labeled, controlled, or manipulated. My education has given me that. Given me space for all of me, the parts that are scary, still growing, stubborn, determined, loud, excited, and moving into spaces that value all of those things. I have never felt more human than I do right now, more ready. 

For a while I never knew if I’d feel like this, achieve all of this contentment and clarity. I also don’t know if it lasts. Do I stay like this forever or slowly drift further and further away? Either way I’m proud of this moment. Proud of my frizzy hair, and broke bank account. Proud of my stomach rolls and gummy smile. Proud that the pen between my fingers is writing to my name and not someone else’s. I have freed myself and in turn am blessing me with the truth, and turmoil of a story.

Because I am as important as all of them. And in my love I am free. 

Figure 5. Gabby’s Final Project

Video 1 is the accompanying video Gabby created (transcript in the Appendix A)

Video 1. Gabby’s Video


In her poem and recorded commentary, Gabby utilized various technologies — pen and paper (where the original texts were written, although not presented here), a word processor, scissors and glue, paint and brushes, her camera phone — to explore her experiences as a WOC. She put forth a critique of the undue burden WOC find themselves under, as a product of the uncompensated and overlooked emotional, intellectual, and activist labor they are often called to do, while also highlighting the importance and beauty of care work.

This critique is important in the context of teacher education and the academy, as often WOC teachers are asked to do so much, including the standard roles of care that all teachers take on, but also the racialized and gendered work of caring for colleagues, students, and families of color in the face of white supremacy. All the while, these TE students are also often experiencing raced-gendered violence themselves in their programs (Kohli, 2014; 2019), which systemically misunderstand or ignore the cultural practices of care and learning that WOC teachers continuously exercise within TE classrooms and student teaching placements (Pham, 2018). This excess labor and the lack of value placed on it can leave WOC teachers worn out and with little capacity to care for themselves. Through her project, Gabby demonstrated a resistance to this positioning that she too often found herself in, in her caring, intellectual, and creative work. 

In our coanalysis of Gabby’s work, a theme that arose is the ways we learned from our mothers and grandmothers, all WOC, to either resist or to fall into these roles without caring for ourselves. This speaks to intergenerational teaching amongst WOC — teaching of both freedom and of the traps of patriarchy. It speaks to the complex web of knowledges passed down to us —how we learn to care for others, but also learn not to care for ourselves; how we learn strength and resilience, but often at the sacrifice of being soft with ourselves. We learn to be teachers and holders of knowledge, but sometimes we do not honor in ourselves. Cindy reflected on Gabby’s project and the ways it helped her understand herself and her mother:

So when I thought of your project, I instantly thought about my mom and I was like, could it be that my mom had also been like that caring person when she was younger, like caring for her six brothers, you know? And now, like always cooking, always cleaning, always like, “You can’t go out. You can’t do this. You can’t wear that. You can’t have a boyfriend.” Always like the “machismo” way of living in Mexico, that maybe traumatized her, and just turned her into this cold angry person all the time. So, that’s what I thought about when I saw your project. I was like, I need to start taking care of me because I don’t think my mom ever took care of herself. And now, she has daughters. And now it’s, like, she doesn’t know how to deal with that. Like, it’s so hard for her. So I feel like that culture of women having to do everything, women have to care for everyone and, like, number one, serve the man. … But now that I’m older, I feel like I have to be a mom to my mom, a mom to my sister, a mom to my dad when it comes to, like, his health. So it’s like, who’s being a mom for me? I just need to make sure that I don’t end up like that for my students, for my own kids, and just like for people, in general. 

Grace connected this to a recollection of her own mother:

My mom was also like that her whole life, caring for everyone else, never herself. I think so much of our tension and the problems we have between each other is because of that. The kind of stuff that she did for us, like always doing everything for us, like washing our clothes, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and also having a full-time job, sometimes two jobs, like, all of the stuff. She was, like, worn thin. And that’s how she thought she was supposed to care for us. As a woman in the house, having a lot of siblings, one brother and then five sisters, and she grew up poor and on a farm. It was like farm life, that was just, like, always working, working, working, working, working. And it took until she was about probably in her 60s until she finally started taking care of herself, like exercising, going for walks, doing things she wanted, that she just never did all her life. And since she’s doing that, our relationship is so much better.

Gabby contrasted this story with her own mother’s story: 

My mom has gotten to this place of such self-care that she’s like, “This is how I was when I first had you, because I knew, like, all you had was me. So I needed to take care of myself, because if I didn’t, you would have nothing. And I couldn’t imagine leaving you with nothing.” And so I’m sad that her marriage ended. Like, it was good that her and my dad split up, because she always knew her worth, but it gave her the space to appreciate it and love herself for it and find who she was again. Because even with my stepdad, like, she wouldn’t let him call the shots when it came to me, like, it was her and it was her relationship with me. And she didn’t care if someone said that they were babying me. Like, I was her best friend.

Our reflections on these complicated legacies of care brought forth by the creation of and engagement with Gabby’s poetry collage and video engendered theorizations of the power of care and its entanglements with patriarchy. This multimodal project allowed us to theorize the ways we care for one another and for our students and how we must care for ourselves. We felt through engagement with this project, a call to follow in the steps of Audre Lorde (1988), who claimed, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” [PROVIDE PAGE # FOR QUOTATION] For WOC educators, self-preservation is necessary as we engage the political act of teaching toward justice (Love, 2019).  

It is important to mention, too, the multiple literacies that Gabby used — poetry, collaging, painting, digitally recorded oral reflection, and a host of embodied and literacies — gave way to a multilayered exploration that was iteratively powered by an emotive and intellectual response from all three of the authors. We highlighted, first, that her work was fundamentally rooted in embodied, emotional, and relational literacies she has practiced and developed as a WOC. As Ohito (2018) pointed out, in TE, it is with love and care, much like that which we collectively explored and put to use through our interactions with Gabby’s text, that we might move toward more pleasurable, liberatory work that rebels against painful racialized and gendered violences.

Further, as explored by Dillard (2012), for WOC teachers, remembering through storytelling helps us acknowledge the unchangeability of the past, while helping to build connections between the past, the present, and the future, in turn, creating opportunities to reimagine the present and future self. This process, for racialized women, can be restorative, healing, and celebratory (Johnson, 2017; Smith, 2018; Smith et al., 2021). Gabby’s writing, the visuals she created, and our subsequent pláticas created pathways toward reflection, learning, feeling, and evolution in ways that likely would not be available through assignments more typical to TE. 

“Healing Through Talking, Through Listening, Through Hearing One Another”

For her project, Cindy created a collage of pictures, phrases, and memories which she brought together on a poster, glued together with gold masking tape (Figure 6). In a video she created, using the app, Screencast-O-Matic, she recorded a narration, zooming in on various parts of her collage (See Video 2; transcript in Appendix B).

Video 2. Cindy’s Video.

Figure 6. Video Still of Cindy’s Project


Cindy, in her multimodal project, explored the multiple knowledges that she and her family have coconstructed at their shared space of the kitchen table. These knowledges and capacities are too often ignored in TE (Pham, 2018). They that are often marginalized in classrooms, and yet beautifully maintained, extended, and evolved in spaces like the kitchen. She included a robust understanding of intergenerational teaching and learning: food, language, formal and informal talk (including chismes and pláticas, as well as conversations about school), memories (ancestral, as well as memories of home), relationships, and care.

She also explored a sense of futurity, as Towi expressed his hopes for his daughters to someday make a movie of his life, “El Milagro de Towi,” that would share his legacy with, not only future generations in their family, but perhaps also a wider audience. They understand each other as educators, as the passers on of familial knowledge, of migration histories, of the miracles of their family. Learning, here, is complex, hopeful, and rooted in positive understandings of family knowledge than schools often understand of their marginalized families.

Importantly, Cindy demonstrated that the boundaries of these knowledges are not rigid, pointing to the ways that, just as the kitchen table evolves to include schooled knowledges, the classroom, too, can be a place of evolution, where its stubborn adherence to one kind of knowledge can be dislodged and replaced with hybridized knowledges. Classrooms can be places that work from, in the language of Yosso (2005), community cultural knowledges, which are expansive, drawn from multiple sources, built from the complex webs of social and education networks that marginalized people have always skillfully drawn from.

Cindy’s poster became a fixture in her family’s home (Figure 7), hanging behind the kitchen table as her younger sister practiced serving her father as if at her job at the local yacht club. Cindy explained,

The poster stayed in my kitchen, I think, all of quarantine until like June, when we finally put them up on the wall (Figure 8). So we would always refer to it at dinner time or like breakfast, lunch when my dad would say something that was a quote that was already on the poster, he would point up to it, but like, “Look at it. Right there.” So it was just really nice to have it there.

Figure 7. Cindy’s Family With Her Project Hanging in the Background

Figure 8. Pictures From Cindy’s Project, Now Framed and Hanging in Her Stairwell

Just as Cindy brought in her family learning into our class, so too, her final project for a master’s level class became part of her family conversation and learning, part of her home. The reciprocal nature of this learning had been a continual striking part of Cindy’s learning. For example, when we read an article by Mendoza Aviña (2016) about “rasquache pedagogies” — learning and teaching rooted in the everyday experiences, realities, and praxis of Latinx families — an article Cindy claimed reflected the learning that occurred in her home, she shared it with her father. Her father, then, started sending her pictures of her grandmother’s house and the various ways he noticed her embodying “rasquache pedagogies” and modes of repurposing and creation. This response clearly highlights the idea that when TE centers the realities, knowing, and teaching of marginalized students and their families, rich networks of learning can be created as resistance to the exclusive nature of White-dominant pedagogies and practices too common in TE. 

Reflecting on Cindy’s work, Grace brought up bell hooks’s piece, “Homeplace,” and quoted her description of homeplace as

a special domain, not as property, but as places where all that mattered in life took place, the warmth and warmth and comfort of shelter, the feeding of our bodies, the nurturing of our souls. There we learned dignity, integrity of being there. We learn to have faith. (p. 383)

Grace continued, “I think it’s so true. That especially for people who don’t feel welcome in these White spaces, that we create our own sense of home. And those are the places I really feel like learning happens.” Gabby also reflected on the meaning of Cindy’s project for her, particularly as she is in her 1st year of teaching fifth grade: 

I’ve been doing Latinx Heritage Month with my kids, and I talk to them about how much of who I am is who my mother was and what she gave to me and who my grandfather was and what he gave to me. And, like, I thought about your project while I was teaching last week. Literally in the middle of my lesson, I was like, this is Cindy’s project, because I saw these sparks of joy going off in some of my kids’ faces. And when you brought up the trees and these generational places of growing together and producing together, I was like, this is the dream that when we talk about, like, how our parents did things to survive, like, that’s the dream that they’re talking about, like, that place where you never forget who you are and why you’re loved. And every time I look at it, I’m like, Cindy is so deeply loved and can experience that, and it just makes me feel so good, because I think we get in this place so much of the hate that everyone throws at us, that it’s hard to see yourself as something that’s worth being loved.

As Gabby pointed out, homeplace, as conceived by Cindy, is a place of learning imbued with survival, joy, and ancestry. Home is a place that we as WOC create and maintain alongside our families (found and biological), even in the face of raced-gendered hate. These homeplaces we create, whether in our actual homes or in our classrooms, in our offices, wherever, are built on foundations of love and joy and intergenerational creation. Cindy’s project helped highlight what this meant and how she might pass these celebrations on to her students in ways that mimic home, that honor ancestry, that celebrate familial love. 

Cindy’s multimodal exploration of home had properties and purposes that would not be captured by a traditional essay. The intertwining of the visual and oral language, all captured on a digital platform, allowed her to choose where to zoom in, when to shift the focus onto objects outside of the collage — the kitchen table and the family shrine to Mika — opened opportunities for Cindy to use some of the same literacies she used at that table, some of the same linguistic resources she used at that table, in her final project. Her project was able to emotively transport the viewer into Cindy’s home, to relate to her family, to feel a sense of tradition, language, food, relationships, and place.

Further, the project, because of its visual and tangible nature, became part of her family’s everyday life, part of their space. It became a teaching and learning tool that was used both to engage in continued learning as well as joyful reflection on their family’s brilliance and love. By tapping into her human experience and exploring it through both digital and analogue technologies, she was able to bidirectionally bridge school and home and offer a call for her classmates to do the same. And this outcome, indeed, was an interruption of the White hegemonic structures that work to maintain the status quo. 

Conclusion and Implications

As evidenced by Gabby and Cindy’s work, WOC have sophisticated frameworks that are too often sidelined and even, at times, explicitly demeaned, within TE programs. These knowledges and ways of knowing offer powerful frameworks through which to understand learning, schooling, and teaching, particularly for students and families of color. Gabby and Cindy’s projects point to the sophisticated ways they both pushed back against White heteropatriarchal norms of schooling by utilizing their WOC multimodalities in service of critique, self-exploration, and teaching their classmates. While some of this work was supported by digital modes, they also invented hybridized literacies that drew on familial, cultural, and feminized knowledges that transcend simple notions of multimodality as tied to the digital sphere (Campano et al., 2020). 

We call for the centering of WOC knowledges and ways of knowing, particularly as explored and aided by the utilization of multimodal literacies, in TE. We make this call understanding that it is not enough for teachers of color to be recruited into programs, which would certainly behoove the teaching profession, but understanding that without deep structural changes to TE, POC will continued to experience violences within their programs, have their learning impeded and impugned, and possibly even be pushed away from the teaching profession.

Creating environments that utilize multimodal literacy practices that include robust meaning making practices arising from the intermeshing of the human, the digital, and the analog (Garcia, 2019), we might provide teachers of color with opportunities to explore and express their racialized and gendered knowledges and experiences, engaging critiques, self-discovery, and tools to more safely navigate TE. TE programs must hire more WOC teacher educators with knowledges and commitments to WOC and POC learning. We call on teacher educators and education school administrators to let go of what they have done, and look, instead, to the historical and constantly evolving knowledge and ways of knowing of their WOC students to reevaluate and reenvision what TE can and should be. This is a call to think about the literacies and modes of meaning making used with a WOC feminist lens that prevents a simple repurposing of whiteness and masculinity into multimodal package.  

Additionally, more research written from the perspectives of and centering the voices of preservice teachers of color is necessary. The wisdom that Cindy and Gabby bring to the field will deeply impact the students and families they have the fortune to work with but should also have wider influence on the field of educational research. They are, however, only two teachers amongst so many WOC teachers and preservice teachers who have important knowledges to share about what TE can and should be.

We hope that this article serves to remind teachers of color of their power within their institutions and the importance of their voices and to reify the ways they can shift and shape the field for one another and the students who follow them. So many teacher educators and preservice teachers are already doing this work, even in the face of White masculinity, and we hope this article amplifies this fact and encourages more POC to enter the field and create pathways forward. Our WOC preservice teachers can transform, have transformed, and will continue to transform TE programs, and this progress will continue to take shape as more teacher educators make space for the beautiful, theoretical, personal, emotional, embodied, cultural, ancestral, blossoming, evolving, multimodal theorizations of WOC teachers. 


We wrote this paper with gratitude to Kimberly Duhart, Claudia Hernandez, Anne Denerville, Shanza Hussain, Jenna Stone, Konatsu Sonokawa, and Danielle Filipiak, all of whom have been thought partners and sisters across time, making this work possible. 


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Appendix A
Excerpt Transcript of Gabby’s Video

So for my multi-modal project, I took every piece of creative writing that I’ve ever written for school, while I’ve been in college, and I put it together on a board. While I was going through my creative writing, I noticed that most of it was centered around other people and not centered around me. And what I’m pushing back against is this idea that we always have to be focused on others and helping others. And we sometimes overlook ourselves, especially as women and WOC. WOC tend to be put in a place where we have to serve other people or we have to take care of other people. I know my role and my family has very much been like someone who takes care of things, someone who can handle more than other people, like some of my brothers sometimes…. Of course, we want to make sure that we’re taking care of one another and we’re loving one another. But we can’t really do that without loving ourselves. So going through my stories, I realized that all of my stories were centered around people I really loved in my life, … but I very rarely include myself or write about myself because I don’t think I ever thought I was important enough to write about or I had enough things going on for me to write about.

So for my final project, I wanted to write something for me. So I wrote something about me in the middle of my project and I wanted to do the paint so it looked like tie dye because, to me, tie dye is about like a lot of flow and colors flowing from one another and flowing with each other. So I wanted to say that it was OK for me to be the epicenter of my universe and me to take care of myself while also taking care of all of these other people. And that by acknowledging myself and really taking this year and last year to focus on my needs and taking a step back, I’ve been able to love and help people I care about even more. And so like their stories have made me, but I’ve also made myself and I’ve also only been able to love and care for those other people what I have taken care of myself.  

Appendix B
Cindy’s Video Transcript

I made a collage of pictures and phrases that we see in my house. So what you’re looking at here is a picture of my kitchen table. This is where I got the idea for this collage. I was sitting here one day with my sister and she had mentioned that her legs always hit my mom’s legs when we’re all eating there at the same time. And then she went on to say that whenever she goes to a friend’s houses, they have long tables and they have a lot of space to sit. I then told her, yeah, it may be uncomfortable to not have enough space, but think of all the magic that has happened because of this table. I started describing those things and decided to put them on this collage.

The dominant ideology I am pushing back on is a lack of validation that we give to the embodied knowledge that our students of Color bring. At the same time, I want to shed light on the power of pláticas and chismes, as we had discussed earlier in class a few weeks ago, and how they are truly a healing practice. In order to shed light on the healing process that I have gone through because of this small table, I have to bring you all back to where it all started.

So I title this piece El Milagro de Towi. Towi has been my dad’s nickname since he was a little boy in Mexico and Milagro translates to the miracle. So the Miracle of Towi. He actually came up with this title. He has this idea that he wants me and my sister to write down all the stories that he has told us and create a movie out of it. And that would be his title for the movie. So around that title, we have pictures. So I have a picture of my grandma right here. She’s the one I always talk about in my discussion post. Next to it I have pictures, pictures of her, our ancestors, like her grandma, her grandma’s mom like and so on her grandpa. 

Down here, I have a picture of my dad and his little brother. I actually just found out the story behind it. My dad was sitting outside with his brother wearing their best clothes, and a man was taking pictures of people. And my grandma asked him to take a picture. So that’s where that photo came from. Next to that picture, we have one of my grandpa, another one of my grandma as a little girl, and my dad as a little boy.

This is my grandma’s front door in Mexico:

And this picture right here is her backyard. Those are trees that were planted by her, by her mom, by her grandma, by my dad. And this picture is just so powerful to me because it’s amazing to me that my grandma has been able to keep those trees living healthy and they have fruits in it all the time. So it’s just amazing to see that those are planted by generations before me. And I can only imagine the magic that happened in the process of that, like all the talks, all the bonding, all the love. 

So I also have pictures of food. So we have frijoles over here, jalapeños, tortilla, chile. So those are all things I like are always on my table. No matter what. They have to be on my table no matter what we’re eating. So I had to have those.  

Then, I have phrases. I have “coffee time”. I have tiempo de tarea which translates to homework time. So, you know, with the table we sit, we drink coffee, we talk, we do our homework, we do whatever we’re doing and we bond and we create space and we share more memories. This phrase over here “Hoy en el trabajo…” The phrase said by my mom all the time, we dread it because it means today at work. And that means she’s about to tell us every single detail that happened at her job. And although we make fun of her for it and we don’t want to hear every single little thing, it is a way of bonding and we love it. 

Down here we have “El Cine Jaral” which translates to the movie theater Jaral. Jaral is a city that my dad was born in, in Mexico. And so every single night after dinner, he acts like an announcer and he’ll say en El Cine Jaral presentamos “the Lion King” or whatever the movie is. So it’s a common phrase in my house now. 

I have two pictures of my dog, Mika, and I added those because we recently lost her a few months ago and we mourned her loss at this table together, sharing memories of her and, yeah, and just healing in front of the table. We actually have her memorial, so we are constantly reminded of her. She is still part of the family and will always be. And it’s just an example of how this table serves as literal healing and healing through talking through listening, through hearing one another. 

And overall, I wanted this project to serve as an example of the importance of opening up space for your students, especially students of Color, to bring those knowledges, to share them with each other and to bond and create space and share love in the classroom.