Developing Teacher Candidates' Knowledge, Skills, and Dispositions to Teach Diverse Students

Article excerpt

Although many teacher educators have suggested multiple ways to prepare teacher candidates to teach for diversity, the knowledge, skills and dispositions are not easy to acquire. The purpose of this research is to investigate how an M.Ed licensure program prepared teacher candidates to teach with concern for equity and diversity. The prekindergarten to 3rd grade early childhood teacher candidates in urban school field placements with the first year Professional Development School (PDS) model were compared to 4th to 8tf grade middle childhood teacher candidates in urban and suburban schools without PDS experience. This study also aimed to identify issues and solutions to improve this teacher education program for diversity. Both quantitative and qualitative research were conducted to analyze the data collected from the diversity scale (Pohan & Aguilar, 1999), Faculty interviews, and teacher candidate focus group interviews. The data revealed slight differences between the early and the middle childhood teacher candidates' dispositions and practice toward diversity but no significant differences in understanding diversity. A future action plan stemming from these results has been created.

**********

Critics of teacher education have suggested that preservice and in-service teacher education has not done an adequate job preparing teachers to teach diverse populations including low-income students, students of color, English-language learners, and students with academic challenges (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Zeichner & Hoeft, 1996). We, as teacher educators in an area whose demographics are predominately rural and white, have also been facing significant challenges in preparing teacher candidates to teach diverse learners. The socio-cultural gaps between diverse students and primarily middle class, white teacher populations, and the academic achievement gaps among students have widened. In order to bridge such gaps there should be comprehensive and sustained support in the process of selecting and preparing teacher candidates, and hiring and retaining highly qualified teachers in diverse urban areas.

Becoming highly qualified teachers for diverse learners, as suggested by many multicultural education scholars (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Gay, 1997; Villegas & Lucas, 2002) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) requires developing knowledge about diverse learners, their families and communities. It also requires professional dispositions toward differences, including continuous and conscious examination and reconstruction of their own existing assumptions about differences and high expectations for all learners, along with skills to work with diverse learners, such as practicing equitable pedagogy. This includes critical selection of teaching materials, use of culturally responsive instruction, creation of a culturally sensitive classroom environment, and incorporation of various assessment tools.

The significance of preparing teacher candidates to work with diverse learners has been well recognized in many teacher education programs. Although multicultural education scholars suggest infusion of multicultural education into all areas of teacher education (Cochran-Smith, 2004; Gay, 1997; McAllister & Irvine, 2000) for better results, many teacher education programs continue using stand-alone multicultural education courses. Most teacher educators see a difference between academic content knowledge and learning strategies that create classroom equity (Tellez, 2007). It is difficult to foretell the exact strategies needed because each school and classroom has a unique makeup, but there are research-based strategies that can become part of the teacher candidates' knowledge base. These strategies give the teacher candidate an edge in learning about and responding to the diverse classroom.

Researchers have suggested specific pedagogical strategies to more effectively prepare teacher candidates to educate diverse learners: autobiography (Clark & Medina, 2000; Xu, 2000), simulation (Frykholm, 1997), debate (Marshall, 1998), action research (Buck & Cordes, 2005), and integration of technology (Schrum, Burbank, & Capps,2007). …