Multicultural Education: Teacher Conceptualization and Approach to Implementation

Article excerpt


Generally, teachers are able to recognize and identify children's cultural and linguistic differences. Sometime throughout their career, most teachers read diversity educational literature, purchase culturally inclusive instructional resources, attend professional development workshops, and/or take courses in their teacher credential programs. However, developing the skills needed to sustain and apply multicultural understandings in classrooms can be, at times, illusive.

While teachers can acknowledge the importance of diversity, competency in classrooms is often determined by the their ability to create conditions that enable students to learn. While theorizing of diversity ideologies in education instills hope of improving the quality of schooling for more children (e.g., Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 2001; Nieto, 2000); many underserved students continue to face severe academic and social problems in our public schools. Therefore, it is not surprising that multiculturalists concede that the application of multicultural theory to schooling is often inconsistent and ineffective (Gay, 1995; Sleeter, 2001).

While the commitment to address diversity issues is seemingly pervasive in the field of education, a formidable chasm among the promises of multicultural education, the intentions of teacher educators, the skills of teachers, and the realities of achievement outcomes for underrepresented children persists (Sheets, 2003). The widespread information about diversity, evident in the abundance of publications, position papers, conferences, and teacher preparation requirements does not seem to influence the achievement of underrepresented children attending public schools (Sleeter, 2001).

Assumptions can be made that most teachers in the field act with the best intentions and much of the responsibility for improving the learning outcomes of diverse children lies with teachers. This study examines teacher conceptualization of multicultural education and describes their approaches to implementation.

A case study of two kindergarten teachers in an urban public school in Northern California uses a collaborative approach to investigate the issues contributing to the multicultural theory-practice gap. The article is divided into four parts: methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusion.

Research Design

This research used a teacher-inquiry approach (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993) and followed rigorous qualitative methodology (Miles & Huberman, 1984; Silverman, 1993). Teacher-inquiry provided a non-threatening approach for teachers to question their positions about culture and examine their practice. In this case, teacher-inquiry helped teachers identify their cultural knowledge, acknowledge the diversity present in their classrooms, and construct meanings to their pedagogical responses to the particular diversity elements in their classrooms.


The two kindergarten teachers, selected from a single school, met the study's requirements-minimum of ten years teaching experience and exposure to at least one university/college course and one inservice workshop on diversity. Claire (Chinese American) and Gwen (European American), each taught 20 children in separate, adjacent rooms. They planned collaboratively and often grouped children for various activities.1

Claire (Chinese American), in her early-forties, is bilingual (Cantonese/English), has a Cantonese bilingual credential, and 15 years teaching experience. The children in Claire's class include: 16 Chinese Americans, one Danish American, one Armenian American, and two European Americans. Twelve of the children were labeled, English Language Learners (ELL). Gwen (European American), in her mid-fifties, has a Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development (CLAD) certificate and has also taught for 15 years. The children in Gwen's class were: 14 Chinese Americans, three European Americans, one Russian American, one Japanese American, and one Vietnamese American. …