Academic journal article
By Weinstein, Carol S.; Tomlinson-Clarke, Saundra; Curran, Mary
Journal of Teacher Education , Vol. 55, No. 1
Nicole was a European American woman in her first year of teaching. A product of an upper-middle-class family, Nicole was reared in a predominantly White middle-class suburban community in a large metropolitan area.... Her graduating class of 700 included no more than 3 African American students. Nicole graduated from a large university with a degree in English education. Again, during her college years she had limited contact with (and coursework on) culturally diverse populations. Nicole's first teaching assignment contrasted dramatically with her background and preparatory experiences. She found herself in an urban school district, in a school with a majority African American, inner-city population. One day, after beginning her teaching duties, Nicole observed outside her classroom two African American male adolescents engaging in verbal repartee that appeared aggressive and contentious. Being a dutiful and responsible teacher, she immediately marched them to the principal's office to be reprimanded. Much to her surprise and dismay, the principal, an African American woman, criticized Nicole rather than the students, complaining that Nicole had misread the situation and treated the boys prejudicially and unfairly. What Nicole did not know and--with her limited experience and training--had no way of knowing was that she was observing a unique communication style of African American youth, particularly males. Nicole encountered what Irvine (1990) refers to as "verbal sparring," also called "ribbing," "capping," "woofing," and so forth. Essentially, these interactions are verbal battles characterized by Irvine as Black male rituals that are valued and generally conducted in an atmosphere of sport. (Cartledge & Milburn, 1996, pp. 2-3)
Nicole's story illustrates the kinds of misinterpretations and unnecessary disciplinary interventions that can occur when teachers and students come from different cultural backgrounds--a situation that is becoming increasingly prevalent, Demographic data indicate that more than one third of the children in our elementary and secondary schools are students of color (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996), 1 in 5 lives in poverty (Children's Defense Fund, 2001), and almost 1 in 10 has limited proficiency in English (Kindler, 2002). In sharp contrast, our teaching force remains overwhelmingly White, middle class, and monolingual English (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Approximately 90% of public school teachers are European American (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1993), and enrollment in schools, colleges, and departments of education is 86% White, 7% African American, and 3% Latino (Ladson-Billings, 2001). To compound the problem, most of these teachers come from White neighborhoods and attend predominantly White colleges of teacher education, where they are taught by White teacher educators (Howard, 1999).
A lack of multicultural competence can exacerbate the difficulties that novice teachers (and even more experienced teachers) have with classroom management. Definitions and expectations of appropriate behavior are culturally influenced, and conflicts are likely to occur when teachers and students come from different cultural backgrounds. European American teachers, for example, are generally accustomed to a "passive-receptive" discourse pattern; they expect students to listen quietly while the teacher is speaking and then respond individually to teacher-initiated questions (Gay, 2000). When some African American students, accustomed to a more active, participatory pattern ("call-response"), demonstrate their engagement by providing comments and reactions, teachers may interpret such behavior as rude and disruptive. Similarly, teachers who do not realize how strongly Pacific Islanders value interpersonal harmony may conclude that these students are lazy when they are reluctant to participate in competitive activities (Sileo & Prater, 1998). …