Now That I'm out in the Field: Student Teaching and Valuing Diversity

Article excerpt

The move to address the inequity in our nation's schools continues to be all issue of concern for many in Education. While the NCLB Act spotlights our nations public schools, universities and colleges are not immune to the new law. Many schools of higher Education continue to look for effective ways to better prepare future teachers for the students they are likely to encounter in the classroom.

The present study involved an effort to assess pre-service teachers' perceptions and attitudes regarding issues of cultural diversity, once the student has moved from the traditional college classroom. Pre-service teachers (N = 295) were asked to complete several questionnaires during their student teaching assignment. Information was gathered regarding personal and professional attitudes toward diversity and diversity issues. Results revealed a wide range of perceptions and attitudes with some students expressing a higher value for diversity and working in an environment with diverse students. Additionally, students" appreciation for diversity is clearly evident in their own personal attitudes and behaviors. This personal appreciation seems to resonate within the school environment.

As professionals in Education, we have a responsibility to better understand and prepare for the dynamic changes taking place across the nation. According to census data. American classrooms will continue to see an increase in the number of minority students at all levels. Estimates of minority enrollment in public schools by the year 2025 are as high as 35 to 50 percent (Colville-Hall, MacDonald, & Smolen, 1995: Grant & Secada, 1990). Interestingly, the demographics of the teaching population have not changed in a similar fashion. Statistics continue to show that students enrolled in teacher preparation programs come from monocultural backgrounds with over 90% from white middle-class environments, who have little or no experience working with minority populations (Jordan, 1995: Van Hook. 2002).

One of the more significant changes of the NCLB Act was the mandate that public schools in our nation report the achievement of all students. Unlike in the past, where many schools were able to report significant achievement among their student population, enactment of the new law provided a very different picture. It was clear that many students across our nation, particularly those of minority and low soctoeconomic status, were not achieving. As a result, many schools that were once deemed a success within their state were now considered a failure by the standards of the law.

Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools across the nation are working diligently to meet standards imposed by the act. While some standards are much easier to address than others, many agree that meeting the challenge has proved to be a daunting task. The primary goal has been to decrease the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged youth in our nation's public schools. Many of the schools in our nation have known about and failed to address the achievement gap for years (Ipka, 20(14). While the expressed attitude has been that All Children Can Learn, this has not been the result for many schools. Many children, particularly those of diverse groups, have not witnessed this in their own school environments. With the NCLB Act, schools are now forced to look more closely at the existing achievement gaps.

Higher Education is not immune to the NCLB Act. There are important implications for teacher Education programs and universities across the nation. Many colleges across the nation are being asked to address the gap issue by preparing pre-service teachers to recognize that many of them will be working in a diverse school setting, with little or no experience with persons from another ethnic background or social class (Causey et al., 2000: Finney & Orr, 1995: Pohan, 1996; Van Hook, 2002). However. pre-service teachers who leave higher education and move into the classroom have reported that they are ill-prepared to deal with the diversity of students that they encounter (Aaronsohn et al. …