Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms


Diversity is an issue that is not going away. The number of students who are members of "minority" groups is on the rise. Yet few teachers are prepared to adequately address the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds. What can we do to better prepare the two million new teachers who are expected to enter these classrooms during the next decade? Just as the younger Joshua rather than Moses in the end led the Israelites into the Promised Land, it will be up to these new teachers to develop a ...

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Diversity is an issue that is not going away. The number of students who are members of "minority" groups is on the rise. Yet few teachers are prepared to adequately address the needs of students from different cultural backgrounds. What can we do to better prepare the two million new teachers who are expected to enter these classrooms during the next decade? Just as the younger Joshua rather than Moses in the end led the Israelites into the Promised Land, it will be up to these new teachers to develop a different model for teaching students who are not only multi-racial and multi-ethnic, but who differ in language, religion, learning ability, and economic backgrounds. How do you teach such a diverse group of students and unlock and inspire their innate love of learning? How do you help students achieve rigorous academic goals without sacrificing their cultural identities? Crossing Over to Canaan tells the story of eight novice teachers working in urban, elementary school settings. It details their struggles and triumphs as they confront challenges in the classroom and respond with innovative strategies that turn cultural strengths into academic assets. Gloria Ladson-Billings offers a model of teaching that focuses on academic achievement, cultural competence, and socio-political consciousness. Drawing from her own experiences as a young African-American teacher working in Philadelphia, she successfully weaves together narrative, observation, and scholarship to create an inspirational and practical book that will help teachers everywhere as they work to transcend labels and categories to support excellence among all students.The AuthorGloria Ladson-Billings is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked for a decade as a teacher and administrator in the Philadelphia Public Schools. She is the author of The Dreamkeepers (Jossey-Bass, 1997).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gloria Ladson-Billings provides a perceptive and interestingaccount of what is needed to prepare novice teachers to besuccessful with all students in our multicultural society. Thisbook is must reading for all those entering the profession ofteaching today and for those who prepare them for this importantwork."(Ken Zeichner, associate dean and professor of curriculum andinstruction, School of Education, University ofWisconsin-Madison)

"The multiple voices in Gloria Ladson-Billings's book arecompelling, provocative, and insightful-they provide a powerful'insider' perspective on what it really means to learn to teach allchildren well." (Marilyn Cochran-Smith, professor of education andeditor, Journal of Teacher Education, Boston College, School ofEducation)

"Ladson-Billings, one of the stellar researchers and mostpassionate advocates for social justice, has written yet anothermasterpiece. By weaving the novice teachers' voices, her personalteaching journey, and language rich in compelling research andinspiring metaphors, Ladson-Billings has documented how newteachers transform schools and teach poor children of color."(Jacquline Jordan Irvine, Candler Professor of Urban Education,Emory University, Division of Educational Studies)

"Masterful teacher and teacher-educator Gloria Ladson-Billings hasgiven us—in highly readable form—a brilliant vision of whatteacher education might become. In Crossing over to Canaan we get aglimpse of how a carefully constructed teacher education programfocused on teaching for social justice can produce excellentteaching, even by young, middle-class teachers-in-training, indiverse educational settings." (Lisa D. Delpit, Benjamin E. MaysProfessor of Educational Leadership, Georgia StateUniversity)

"...This study offers practical advice for both new teachers andadminstrators and would be an excellent choice for supplementaryreading in multicultural education programs." (Library Journal)

Children's Literature
America is a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse. Issues of race, ethnicity, religion, culture and socio-economic status all have combined to make the United States a much more varied society. Nowhere is this diversity more self-evident than in the nation's public schools. Yet, at a time when the learning needs of children are becoming more affected by diversity issues, teacher preparation programs generally pay little practical attention to the questions related to teaching in a multi-cultural classroom. In this educational monograph the author discusses the Teach for Diversity (TFD) master's program implemented at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In the TFD model, a cohort of eight students is recruited under the premise that they will be placed in a single school together. That school will be diverse in terms of the student population. Student teacher seminars, readings and research will all focus upon relevant issues of multicultural education. In describing this innovative approach to teacher training, the author pinpoints essential issues not only in teaching culturally diverse students, but also in pedagogy in general. Teaching is a noble but eminently challenging profession. More reflective and practical approaches to teacher preparation, such as the TFD model, will benefit both children and future educators. 2001, Jossey-Bass, $24.95. Ages 18 up. Reviewer: Greg M. Romaneck
Library Journal
Today's teacher certification programs make an honest effort to prepare teachers for multicultural classrooms, but Ladson-Billings (The Dreamkeepers) argues that most programs don't do enough to foster "culturally relevant pedagogy." In this ethnographic study, she describes Teach for Diversity (TFD), an experimental graduate program at the University of Wisconsin, which recruited participants whose ethnic backgrounds or experiences had given them a solid commitment to social justice and equality. She follows one group of TFD participants during their practicum at an inner-city school. While the challenges the new teachers overcome, as well as the author's memories of her own initiation into teaching three decades ago, make for compelling reading, most of the book is centered around the structure, development, and underlying philosophy of the program. Though hardly groundbreaking, this study offers practical advice for both new teachers and administrators and would be an excellent choice for supplementary reading in multicultural education programs. Susan M. Colowick, North Olympic Lib. Syst., Port Angeles, WA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787950019
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 3/29/2001
  • Series: Janice Vancleave Science for Fun Series
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 592,218
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Meet the Author

GLORIA LADSON-BILLINGS is a professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She worked for a decade as a teacher and administrator in the Philadelphia Public Schools. She is the author of The Dreamkeepers (Jossey-Bass, 1997).

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Read an Excerpt

Crossing Over to Canaan
The Journey of New Teachers in
Diverse Classrooms


As was true for many African Americans, an important part of my education took place in the black church. Every Sunday morning meant putting on my best clothes, getting a special hairdo, and spending almost four hours at White Rock Baptist Church in West Philadelphia. We always went to Sunday School at 9:30 A.M. and to Sunday morning services from 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M. I do not think I was alone in experiencing a weird combination of boredom and fascination with the weekly going-to-church ritual.

Depending on the quality of one's Sunday School teacher, it was possible to learn quite a bit about the mystery of faith, even if it was difficult to understand the homiletic proclamations of the preacher. Sunday School teachers often told Bible stories in ways that made sense to children and young people. One of the stories that always puzzled me was that of Moses and the exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt.

I understood the miraculous burning bush, the various plagues that were visited upon Egypt, and the parting of the Red Sea. Indeed, Cecil B. DeMille helped me to see and understand them. What I could not understand was why, after all he had done to whip the children of Israel into shape, Moses was being denied the opportunity to lead them into Canaan. Instead, the younger, less-experienced Joshua was chosen to direct the crossing into Canaan. Why couldn't Moses go into the promised land?

Crossing Over to Canaan: The Metaphor

I probably do not have enough theological knowledge to understand the subtleties of biblical exegesis. But I do know how to recognize a good metaphor when I see one. The passing of leadership from the old to the young is what those Bible stories—and what Crossing Over to Canaan—is all about.

We are in the midst of spirited discussions in this country about teachers and their preparation. There are reasons to be pessimistic about the future of our schools. In the midst of this information age, fewer and fewer of our best and brightest students choose teaching as a career. Of those who do, only a small percentage want to teach in urban communities serving poor children of color.

This book is about that small number of prospective teachers who want to teach poor children of color. It is about a group of modern-day Joshuas who are excited about the possibilities for transformation that lie just beneath the surface of most urban communities.

As I did in my previous book, The Dreamkeepers, I have written this one in three voices—the voice of a teacher, a teacher educator, and a researcher. I reflect on my own early teaching career and the many mistakes I made. I reflect on my work with prospective teachers struggling to work effectively with diverse groups of students. And I attempt to systematically study the practice of novice teachers who are committed to principles of equity and social justice and high achievement for all students.

In this book I describe how prospective teachers who attempt to develop a culturally relevant pedagogy negotiate their first year. But the book is not about personalities. It is about a process—a process of change that can happen in a teacher education program.

Contents of the Book

Crossing Over to Canaan begins with an Introduction that describes my perspective on the state of teacher education in the United States. As one might imagine, my description is not particularly flattering. I explain what I see as a persistent resistance to change in teacher education that keeps the field in a reactive mode. Rather than innovate, teacher education tends to imitate. The book tells part of the story of an innovative teacher education program we call Teach for Diversity (TFD).

Chapter One focuses on the nature of teaching in the twenty-first century and the despair people seem to feel about trying to teach "these children." In this chapter I reveal my inspiration for deciding to focus on novice teachers as a part of the solution to invigorating teaching and supporting success in urban schools.

Chapter Two introduces the novice teachers who agreed to participate in this study. As I stated, I did not attempt to focus on the teachers in great detail, lest the reader become seduced by their individual personality traits. I attempted instead to tell a bit about the teachers' backgrounds and how they came to make the decision to participate in a teacher education program focused on diversity, equity, and social justice.

Chapter Three describes the first of three propositions that support culturally relevant teaching—academic achievement. In this chapter I describe how the novice teachers attempted to take up the academic responsibilities of teaching. They were all bright, knowledgeable young women who wanted to do stimulating, creative things in the classroom. However, their foremost concern was whether or not students were learning, not whether they were being entertained.

Chapter Four addresses the concept of cultural competence. The novice teachers understood that students of color may become alienated from the schooling process because schooling often asks children to be something or someone other than who they really are. It asks them to use language other than the one they come to school with. It asks them to dismiss their community and cultural knowledge. It erases things that the students hold dear. The novice teachers were attempting to recruit the students' cultural knowledge as a vehicle for learning, as well as for understanding how their own cultural background provide a very specific lens for seeing the world.

Chapter Five explores the citizenship function of teaching in public schools. It describes aspects of the community service portion of the teacher education program, as well as the novice teachers' attempts at integrating social justice and civic participation activities into their curriculum.

Chapter Six analyzes some of the shortcomings of the TFD program and creates a vision of a teacher education program that I compare to a promised land. This vision is culled from elements of a variety of teacher education programs I have observed or read about. The chapter offers some cautionary notes to teacher educators about the difficulty of maintaining the effort to innovate in teacher education. However, I trust that it does not act as a deterrent to energetic and creative colleagues who are committed to a transformative agenda for teaching and teacher education.

I have included two appendixes at the end of the book. One describes the methodology employed in the study; the other provides a more detailed description of the TFD program. I include them because I invite teachers, teacher educators, administrators, and qualitative researchers to participate in similar research and practice activities. Ultimately, I want us all to find a way to cross over to Canaan.

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Table of Contents



The Author.


Can Anybody Teach These Children?


They're Supposed to Learn Something.

Nobody Wants to Be Urkel.

Apathy Is Not an Option.

A Vision of the Promised Land.

Appendix A: Methodology.

Appendix B: The Teach for Diversity Program.



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