Promoting Cross-Cultural Competence in Preservice Teachers through Second Language Use

Article excerpt

Prospective teachers enter their teacher education programs with many years of personal experiences in the schools, along with strongly held beliefs about teaching. The experiences and beliefs of preservice teachers interact with the curriculum of teacher education in preparation for future teaching. Among the important curricular issues in teacher education is the increasingly diverse student population.

Future teachers will be faced with greater diversity in their classrooms, schools, and communities as a result of over five hundred distinct ethnic groups in the United States. One large school district in Texas identified more than sixty languages spoken in the homes of its students (Ligons, Rosado & Houston, 1998). In 1996, the state of California classified 1.3 million of its students as English learners. As a result, California has mandated more thorough preparation of its future teachers to meet the needs of this diverse student population through its Crosscultural, Language and Academic Development (CLAD) and Bilingual Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development (BCLAD) credentialing requirements (Guillame, Zuniga, & Yee, 1998).

Despite the increasingly diverse student population of our nation, the teaching force continues to be predominantly European-American, middle class, and female. Approximately 10 percent of the teaching force is comprised of ethnic minorities. A related concern is the lack of interest among preservice teachers in teaching in our country's urban areas, where a greater diversity of ethnicities, cultures, and languages exists (Taylor & Sobel, 2001).

Teachers' responses to diversity among their students affect the performance of their students. Their expectations are influenced by students' ethnicities, cultures, languages and socio-economic situations (Ligons, Rosado & Houston, 1998). Will the expectations of teachers teaching students who are culturally different from themselves be strongly oriented toward high performance? How might teacher education programs positively influence the expectations of teachers in ways that will enhance the achievement of our nation's diverse student population?

Today's teacher education programs must prepare preservice teachers for working with culturally and linguistically diverse students. Identification and periodic revision by preservice teachers of their beliefs about teaching has emerged as an important curricular foundation in teacher education (Calderhead & Robson, 1991; Dunkin, Precians, & Nettle, 1994; Hollingsworth, 1989; Holt-Reynolds, 1992; Hutchinson & Johnson, 1994; Pajares 1992, 1993).

Dewey (1933) described beliefs as covering, "All the matters of which we have no sure knowledge and yet which we are sufficiently confident to act upon and also the matters that we now accept as certainly true, as knowledge, but which nevertheless may be questioned in the future." One's beliefs tend to have a stronger hold than does knowledge. Beliefs are able to operate independently of knowledge. Nespor (1987) likened this relationship to that of feelings about oneself in comparison to knowing about oneself. She maintained that beliefs develop from previous personal experiences and have great power to influence subsequent events.

"A well-informed belief system is the most credible basis for rational teacher decisions" (Wilen, et al., 2000). The teacher's ability as an instructional leader and classroom manager will be greatly influenced by his or her deep-rooted belief system. Research studies have shown that the beliefs about teaching with which preservice teachers enter their teacher education programs are highly resistant to change. The more central one's belief is, however, the more resistant to change it will be. Change that occurs in one's central, deep-rooted beliefs has greater potential for more widespread impact on the rest of the belief system (Rokeach, 1968). …