Resolving a Cultural Conflict in the Classroom: An Exploration of Preservice Teachers' Perceptions of Effective Interventions

Article excerpt

This study employed qualitative research methods to explore preservice teachers' thoughts about the effectiveness of interventions designed to resolve a cultural conflict involving an African American student. Ninety-five preservice teachers in the Southwest read a 300-word case study that was followed by four experienced teachers' responses and their proposed culturally or non-culturally responsive interventions. Participants were asked to identify which of the four interventions were most and least effective and supplement their responses with an explanation. The results revealed that most preservice teachers were aware of the effectiveness of interventions that incorporated the student's culture into the teaching and learning process. A few preservice teachers however, questioned the effectiveness of interventions that "overemphasized the role of culture." The implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: teacher education, culturally responsive teaching, teacher self-efficacy

The disproportionate number of African American children in special education and the differential administration of discipline involving African American children have been well documented (Artiles, Harry, Reschly, & Chinn, 2002; Klinger et al., 2005, Skiba, Michael, Nardo, & Peterson, 2000). Unfortunately, despite the amount of discussion addressing these issues, the problem of disproportionality and the differential administration of discipline involving African American children remain (Salend & Duhaney, 2005). The longevity of these issues has prompted members of the educational research community to question special education referral policies and practices, school disciplinary practices, and the factors that lead to these actions (Artiles et al., 2002).

When examining the factors mat contribute to the overrepresentation of African American children in special education, scholars have scrutinized African American students' schooling experiences (Artiles et al., 2002; Blanche«, 2006; Klinger et al., 2005). With a critical eye focused on what happens in the classroom, researchers contend that African American students are often taught by teachers who do not understand the cultural context of classroom behavior and the role of culture in the teaching and learning process (Artiles et al., 2002). Without this understanding these teachers may not be able to teach in culturally responsive ways (Gay, 2002a). According to Gay (2000), teaching in culturally responsive ways is the process of, "using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them" (p. 29).

In a review of literature examining the key competencies of culturally responsive teachers, Siwatu (2007a) concluded mat culturally responsive teachers, among other things, developed a rich knowledge base of their students' cultural background and home life. In addition, culturally responsive teachers know that all students bring to school a set of cultural practices, norms, and preferences that influence classroom behavior and the teaching and learning process. Unfortunately, since many teachers do not have a rich knowledge base of their students' cultural background, African American students' cultural practices, norms, and preferences are often not valued, reinforced, or affirmed at school (Irvine, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Shade, Kelly, & Oberg, 2001). Failure to infuse African American students' culture in the teaching and learning process can have negative outcomes such as student withdrawal and low academic achievement (Irvine, 1990; Irvine & Armento, 2001).

Another negative outcome of not understanding the cultural context of class behavior and the role of culture in the teaching and learning process is the overrepresentation of African American students in special education (Gay, 2000). …