What Can We Learn from Big Mama?

  • Cleveland Hayes University of La Verne
  • Brenda Juarez University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Paulette Cross The University of Utah
Keywords: Critical Race Theory, Counterstories, Women Educators, Multigenerational, Leadership, Educational Leadership, Black Education, Cultural Studies, African Americans


Taking a multi-generational view, this study draws on oral-life histories and a qualitative, critical race analysis to explore thematic patterns over time and across the educational ideals and pedagogical practices of two African American educators from different generations of the same family---Olivia Smith (Big Mama) and her granddaughter Christie Hayes.  We examine how the personal and professional experiences of these two teachers influence[d] their respective understandings of their work and provide[d] the basis of successful teaching for African American learners.  By examining the lessons Big Mama taught and Christie learned and subsequently brought into her own classroom, it becomes possible to better understand how to more effectively prepare future teachers to draw on cultural and historical knowledge and thus successfully teach all students.