Challenges in Multicultural Teacher Education

Article excerpt

Multicultural courses for prospective teachers can go awry due to a number of factors. Teacher educators may aim to expose prospective teachers to all the "hot" topics related to individual and cultural diversity. Others may focus exclusively on a human relations approach. Others still may present a radical critique of the inequalities in school and society. Any of the above may fail to provide a comprehensive examination of the problems and possibilities inherent in multicultural education and may provoke student resistance.

In this article, I will offer some specific suggestions for teaching multicultural teacher education courses. I have been struggling with this issue from different vantage points over the past four years. As an instructor, I was puzzled and disturbed by student resistance to discussions of race and power. After conducting a semesterlong ethnographic study of a required multicultural course and then teaching the same course, I am able to offer promising practices from the point of view of both prospective teachers and their instructors. The following recommendations are based on my own practice and research:

First, the purposes of a multicultural teacher education course must be clarified and justified to the students enrolled.

Second, the issues associated with reforming schooling practices should be presented as controversies that derive from competing ideological viewpoints.

Third, students should be prepared for actual teaching situations by learning about teaching dilemmas and receiving methodological guidance.

Fourth, students' placements in local urban schools should be utilized and formally linked to the multicultural course.

Fifth, the students' own diversity, even if it is limited, should be recognized and incorporated into their teacher education course. Sixth, guest speakers who are currently teaching and administering in urban schools could serve as models.

And seventh, creating a safe classroom environment can promote more in-depth and honest discussion of taboo topics.

Clarify and Justify the Purposes of Multicultural Teacher Education

Why should K-12 teachers change the status quo and address multiculturalism in their classrooms in some way? There are a plethora of important reasons. But some prospective teachers will arrive with the tacit belief that multiculturalism is irrelevant or, worse still, a new kind of bias that favors minorities.

Teacher educators should explain the learning objectives of required multicultural courses explicitly. In addition, a course objective to promote open-mindedness and awareness is easily met and dismissed by many students. If students already consider themselves to be open-minded, they may discount the value of the course. The content should move beyond tolerance and awareness to dealing with sticky teaching situations, issues of underachievement and institutional discrimination, and understanding other perspectives.

These more extensive objectives are likely to increase oppositional interactions, but are also more likely to promote valuable learning. A range of goals may lead to the least opposition because the course structure can engage students regardless of their level of lived experience with cultural diversity. If students are already aware of basic multiculturalism, they can learn more critical analyses of schooling.

If the course is their first exposure, it will be comprehensive and instructive. I repeatedly told my students that I was giving them the tools to think through multicultural dilemmas, to develop a multi-cultural curriculum when they became teachers, and to avoid any unintended consequences of well-meaning policies or teaching behaviors.

Address the Controversies Inherent in Multicultural Education

Teacher educators should present multiculturalism as an on-going ideological debate between traditionalism and progressive radicalism. …