Multicultural Teacher Education: Examining the Perceptions, Practices, and Coherence in One Teacher Preparation Program

Article excerpt

With the nation's shifting ethnic and cultural texture, multicultural education has become imperative in the 21st century. As an outcome of the shifting diversity in our country, more than 6.3 million students with English as their second language and as many as 13 million students living in poverty are enrolled in pre-K through 12th grade public schools (Children's Defense Fund, 2005). In contrast to student diversity in the U.S., most of the current teaching force, those coming into teaching, and those who teach prospective teachers are White females who have been raised in middle class homes in rural and suburban communities (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/ind_1_1.asp). With such dramatic changes in our nation's cultural landscape, it is not surprising that one major goal of many teacher education programs is to better prepare a mostly White, female monolingual teaching force to work effectively with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Yet, even though most teacher education programs report that they have thoroughly incorporated diversity perspectives and multicultural content into the curriculum, external examinations often prove the contrary (Bartolome, 2004; Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust, & Shulman, 2005).

Many teacher preparation programs attempt to infuse multicultural perspectives by simply adding one or two courses in multicultural education and/or requiring teacher candidates to complete assignments that explore surface level differences in culture and language such as sampling different "cultural" foods or learning to say hello in several languages. Such practices can be superficial and partial rather than infused into a coherent multicultural curriculum (Irvine, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 1999;Villegas & Lucas, 2002; Zeichner & Hoeft, 1996) and can reinforce the idea that only a few individuals are responsible for preparing teacher candidates for a diverse society. Even when multicultural courses are thoroughly infused into the curriculum, many teacher educators in the same teacher preparation program tend to have very different ideas about multicultural perspectives on teaching and teacher education and how important they are.

According to Darling-Hammond, Hammerness, Grossman, Rust, and Shulman (2005) one way to make long-lasting changes in the way teacher candidates are prepared to work with diverse students is to create coherent programs where teacher educators build a shared vision of good teaching, use common standards of practice that guide and assess coursework and clinical work, and demonstrate shared knowledge and common beliefs about teaching and learning. For Tatto (1996), having a coherent program does not necessarily suggest that all faculty think alike, instead the coherence of a program should consider how faculty members can reach common ground around professional norms and expectations, as well as in the way that learning experiences are organized and conceptualized.

In other words, creating a coherent multicultural teacher education program requires faculty members to strive for and identify a central focus for teacher learning, to be collectively responsible, and to have the opportunity to influence policies and practices. Such program coherence is sustained by a collective purpose and promotes focused and sustained program development (King & Newmann, 2000). Although the literature on multicultural teacher education asserts that coherence may be one of the most critical aspects of teacher preparation programs (Nieto, 2000; Villegas & Lucas, 2002), there is very little research on this topic. And like Gay and Howard (2000), we believe that teacher education programs and the faculty who teach in these programs "must be held accountable for implementing quality multicultural education as they expect their students in K-12 classrooms" (p. 15).

The purpose of this study was to examine teacher educators' perspectives about multicultural education in an elementary and middle school teacher preparation program. …