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

reviewed by Marshall George - 2002

coverTitle: Crossing Over to Canaan: The Journey of New Teachers in Diverse Classrooms
Author(s): Gloria Ladson-Billings
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: 0787950017, Pages: 192, Year: 2001
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 A well-known teacher educator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Gloria Ladsen-Billings, author of The Dreamkeepers (Jossey-Bass, 1997) has again written about the need to prepare pre-service teachers to meet the needs of an ever-growing diverse population in our nation’s public schools. This is a book of stories: stories of the author’s journey as a teacher and teacher educator, and stories of the journeys of a group of her teacher education students. In telling these stories, Ladson-Billings advocates an approach to teaching that focuses on a blending of academics, culture, and social justice.

In Crossing Over to Canaan, Gloria Ladson-Billings describes the experiences of a cohort of eight female teacher education students in the Teach for Diversity (TDF) Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Using a biblical metaphor that compares the struggles of these eight novice teachers to that of Old Testament figure Joshua, the author attempts to chronicle the experiences of these eight young women as they face the challenges of teaching in culturally diverse urban schools. Near the beginning of the book, she suggests that her work is "the story of a subcohort of TFD, not a blueprint for building teacher education programs" (p. 31). Nevertheless, teacher educators who read this book will find useful theories, ideas, and practices related to the preparation of pre-service teachers for culturally diverse schools in America today.

The work presented in this book is the result of a year-long ethnographic research project in which the author examines and tests the TDF teacher education program built on her theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. The research questions that guided her research were stated as the following (p. 144):

  1. What is the role of teacher education in preparing teachers for diverse classrooms?
  2. What is the role of teacher background in ensuring teacher effectiveness in diverse classrooms?
  3. What is the process of change experienced by teachers who decide to work in diverse classrooms?

She begins the book by asking the question, "Can Anybody Teach These Children?" "These children" refers to the racially, ethnically, linguistically, and culturally diverse students that make up an ever-increasing part of our population in American schools in the twenty-first century. As she interweaves her own story of teaching such children with those of the eight young women in the TDF cohort, Ladson-Billings suggests that in order to teach well, teachers must promote academic achievement, must have cultural competencies, and must achieve sociopolitical consciousness. As the book unfolds, she defines each of these concepts, and suggests indicators of these competencies for both pre-service and in-service teachers. By relating vignettes of the eight TDF students, the author provides examples of how teachers can successfully confront the challenges of teaching diverse students.

This book focuses on a very important issue and provides a solid insight into the complexities of teaching in today’s diverse schools. However, at times the organization of the book is cumbersome, and the extensive details provided are hard to manage. For example, in addition to describing each of the eight women and the settings in which they teach in enormous detail, Ladson-Billings also relates a number of specific incidents occurring with multiple students in these classrooms with meticulous detail. These vignettes are often interwoven with recollections of the author’s own teaching experiences, making it difficult to keep all the "characters" straight at times. Each chapter has several subheadings, with additional sub-subheadings. More than once, I found myself confused by the lack of explicit transition between the multiple sections and subsections within each chapter. Indeed, when I had some of the pre-service teachers with whom I work read the book, they suggested that the organization of the book was difficult to negotiate. One teacher candidate suggested, "I really like what she had to say, but I sometimes found it difficult to get to the "meat" of what she was saying."

Despite the sometimes cumbersome structure of the book, the content is timely and the message right on target. The author suggests in the preface to the book that she writes in three voices—that of teacher, teacher educator, and researcher. I suspect that readers who have experience as all three of these "characters" will find it easier to negotiate the three voices than will the pre-service and in-service teacher-readers. Nevertheless, the lessons Gloria Ladsen-Billings learned through this research and shares in this book are crucial to consider. In the concluding chapter, she suggests the following, all of which are solidly supported in the research she shares in the book (pp. 135-137).

  1. Prospective teachers working in diverse communities need the chance to learn about the students in the context of the community.
  2. Prospective teachers working in diverse community schools need an opportunity to apprentice with skilled cooperating teachers.
  3. Prospective teachers working in diverse school communities need an opportunity to ask lots of questions about teachers and teaching.
  4. Prospective teachers need the opportunity to do serious intellectual work..

These lessons must be taken seriously by all teacher educators who prepare teachers to work in diverse communities. Therefore, Crossing Over into Canaan is a must-read, especially for those of us who face the challenge of preparing the "Joshuas" of today and tomorrow.


Ladsen-Billings, Gloria. (1997). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 5, 2002, p. 1019-1021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10853, Date Accessed: 11/29/2021 12:47:38 AM

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About the Author
  • Marshall George
    Fordham University
    E-mail Author
    Marshall A. George taught middle and high school English language arts for eight years before completing a Doctor of Education at the University of Tennessee. For the past five years, he has been on the faculty of The Graduate School of Education at Fordham University in New York City, where he teaches courses in adolescent literature, middle school literacy, and secondary English methods to pre-service and in-service teachers, and serves as Director of Adolescence Education. Recently elected to the Board of Directors of the Adolescent Literature Assembly of the National Council of Teachers of English (ALAN), Dr. George has recently written articles related to his interest and research in the areas of adolescent literature and the field of teacher education. His work has recently appeared in The English Journal (2001), The ALAN Review (2000), The Social Studies (2000), College Teaching (2000) , and English Leadership Quarterly (1999). In addition, he has contributed a chapter to the Writers for Young Adults series (Scribners, 2000) and Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Classics (Christopher-Gordon, 2000).
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