Nicole was a European American woman in her first
year of teaching. A product of an upper-middle-class
family, Nicole was reared in a predominantly White
middle-class suburban community in a large metropolitan
area.... Her graduating class of 700 included
no more than 3 African American students. Nicole
graduated from a large university with a degree in
English education. Again, during her college years
she had limited contact with (and coursework on)
culturally diverse populations.
Nicole's first teaching assignment contrasted dramatically
with her background and preparatory experiences.
She found herself in an urban school
district, in a school with a majority African American,
inner-city population. One day, after beginning
her teaching duties, Nicole observed outside her
classroom two African American male adolescents
engaging in verbal repartee that appeared aggressive
and contentious. Being a dutiful and responsible
teacher, she immediately marched them to the
principal's office to be reprimanded. Much to her
surprise and dismay, the principal, an African American
woman, criticized Nicole rather than the students,
complaining that Nicole had misread the
situation and treated the boys prejudicially and unfairly.
What Nicole did not know and--with her limited
experience and training--had no way of knowing
was that she was observing a unique communication
style of African American youth, particularly
males. Nicole encountered what Irvine (1990) refers
to as "verbal sparring," also called "ribbing," "capping,"
"woofing," and so forth. Essentially, these interactions
are verbal battles characterized by Irvine
as Black male rituals that are valued and generally
conducted in an atmosphere of sport. (Cartledge &
Milburn, 1996, pp. 2-3)
Nicole's story illustrates the kinds of misinterpretations and unnecessary disciplinary interventions that can occur when teachers and students come from different cultural backgrounds--a situation that is becoming increasingly prevalent, Demographic data indicate that more than one third of the children in our elementary and secondary schools are students of color (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1996), 1 in 5 lives in poverty (Children's Defense Fund, 2001), and almost 1 in 10 has limited proficiency in English (Kindler, 2002). In sharp contrast, our teaching force remains overwhelmingly White, middle class, and monolingual English (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Approximately 90% of public school teachers are European American (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1993), and enrollment in schools, colleges, and departments of education is 86% White, 7% African American, and 3% Latino (Ladson-Billings, 2001). To compound the problem, most of these teachers come from White neighborhoods and attend predominantly White colleges of teacher education, where they are taught by White teacher educators (Howard, 1999).
A lack of multicultural competence can exacerbate the difficulties that novice teachers (and even more experienced teachers) have with classroom management. Definitions and expectations of appropriate behavior are culturally influenced, and conflicts are likely to occur when teachers and students come from different cultural backgrounds. European American teachers, for example, are generally accustomed to a "passive-receptive" discourse pattern; they expect students to listen quietly while the teacher is speaking and then respond individually to teacher-initiated questions (Gay, 2000). When some African American students, accustomed to a more active, participatory pattern ("call-response"), demonstrate their engagement by providing comments and reactions, teachers may interpret such behavior as rude and disruptive. Similarly, teachers who do not realize how strongly Pacific Islanders value interpersonal harmony may conclude that these students are lazy when they are reluctant to participate in competitive activities (Sileo & Prater, 1998). …