Teachers' Perceptions of Their Preparation for Teaching Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in Rural Eastern North Carolina

Article excerpt

The number of English language learners (ELL) students in the US is increasing dramatically. The growth is even more evident in rural areas of the United States such as North Carolina where teachers are facing classrooms with a majority of second language learners. The authors conducted a study interviewing 24 teachers at a rural elementary school in eastern North Carolina. Teachers were interviewed regarding their perceptions of their preparedness to teach English language learners in the mainstream classrooms. Findings revealed that teacher training programs have not prepared these individuals for the student population they face today regardless of the year in which they received their teaching licenses. All teachers showed a strong desire to learn more at this time in their careers, but emphasized their lack of prior training. The study found that even though teachers lacked confidence, they were effectively educating this growing population. The authors discuss the responsibility of Institutions of Higher Education (IHE) to provide formal education in teaching students from diverse language backgrounds.

Introduction

The role of teacher preparation programs has traditionally been to prepare future teachers with content knowledge, understanding of cognitive, psychological, and linguistic development, as well as the current and historic pedagogical theories and methodologies. In recent years, multiculturalism and diversity have been added to the curriculum of teacher preparation programs; however, the topics have been treated only as a way through which all students could begin to "see themselves" in the curriculum. These new faces of color showed up in the textbooks, in the storybooks and on the classroom bulletin boards, but have teacher preparation programs missed the mark by not preparing teachers to directly teach these students and instead just teach about these students? Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess teachers' perceptions of their preparedness to teach English language learners (ELL) in the mainstream rural classrooms that have a large population of ELLs. Additionally, the study attempts to determine teachers' perceptions of the role institutions of higher education could play in addressing teacher quality as it relates to ESL education in the mainstream classroom.

In the past, Garcia (1991) and Milk, Mercado and Sapiens (1992) have argued about how to best educate our second language learners. Arguments can be found in the literature for and against bilingual education, English as a second language, immersion, pull-out, and sheltered instruction. California went so far as to ban bilingual education with the passage of Proposition 227 in 1998. This decision was a politically motivated one based on sentiment and not empirical data. Yet with all of the public debate on how to best deliver instruction, Garcia (1991)reminds us that the effectiveness of who delivers this instruction has often been ignored . According to Cummins (1997), "teacher education institutions ... have sent new teachers into the classroom with minimal information regarding patterns of language and social development among such pupils and few pedagogical strategies for helping pupils learn (p.l 10)."

Villegas and Lucas (2002) address this issue by advocating for a "...coherent approach to educating culturally responsive teachers (p. xxi)." Their discussion questions the effectiveness of multicultural and diversity education courses that have been added to the teacher education programs. Are these courses required and are the faculty members teaching them prepared to do so? If they are elective courses, what assurance is there that future teachers are actually taking them? If the material is infused into all of the teacher education courses, what assurance is there that the material is covered comprehensively? In creating thenconcept of a culturally responsive teacher, Villegas and Lucas describe the ideally prepared teacher as one who would not only understand, value and embrace the students' diversity, but would also activate the students' prior knowledge and would design instruction that would build on students' prior knowledge. …