The divergence between a predominately White teacher education population and a diverse public school system poses this question: how do universities best prepare teacher candidates to teach children of racially and linguistically different backgrounds than their own? Teacher education programs have been struggling with this issue for several years. In her article "Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools: Research and the overwhelming presence of whiteness," Christine Sleeter (2001) raises this issue, pointing out the growing cultural gap between public school children and their teachers.
Teacher education programs have addressed this issue in a variety of ways, such as requiring multicultural coursework and/or requiring placements in urban schools (Melnick & Zeichner, 1998; Seidl & Friend, 2002; Sleeter, 2001). States, too, vary with respect to their requirements for diversity. In many states, students are tested on their development of a multicultural perspective on a standardized test. A test, immersion placements, stand-alone multicultural education courses may all be one forms of teacher preparation and accountability in many states, but what are the ways to develop a critical understanding of diversity in order for students to not only pass a standardized teacher's test, but more importantly, to integrate culturally responsive teaching strategies into their public school classroom? The purpose of this article is to describe how online discussions between diverse ethnically and linguistic groups of teachers, over a one-year period, allowed teacher candidates and teachers to openly discuss issues of race, culture, and language.
As students in the United States become more racially and linguistically diverse, the pool of prospective teachers remains primarily White, female, and middle class (Banks, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1999; Zeichner, 1996). Even though we live in a very multicultural world, most of us, especially Whites, tend to live an essentially monocultural life (Seidl & Friend, 2002). Many people of all backgrounds tend to associate with others who have the same racial, linguistic, or socioeconomic back-ground. In many teacher education programs, White middle-class professors teach White teacher candidates about how to best teach children of color (Ducharme & Agne, 1989; Villegas, 1993; Sleeter, 2001). Even though many of these professors may do an exceptional job discussing the profound multicultural literature, voices of difference may not be heard. Or voices may be stifled. Furthermore, discussing issues of diversity are often fraught with conflict as students move out of their comfort zones and encounter conflicting beliefs and values.
To address the issue of how to best prepare White teacher candidates for multicultural schools, many universities develop multicultural classes and field-work placement in urban schools (Melnick & Zeichner, 1998). At times, this does help White middle-class teacher candidates realize how very different their lives are than the children they observe in the urban classrooms, and in some cases, the teacher candidates decide not to teach based on being immersed in an environment that is so very different than their own educational experiences. Most multicultural college classes focus on curriculum and teaching methods (Whitaker et al., 2002).
Many multicultural college classes include small-group and whole-group discussions, critical readings, and paper and journal assignments (Sheets & Chew, 2002), but few programs offer on-going dialogue between teacher candidates and students or teachers from diverse backgrounds. Sleeter (2001) suggests that preservice education needs to be linked with "community-based learning and with ongoing professional development and school reform"(p.10). This research project does exactly that. It moves beyond theat margins and into ways that teacher candidates actually integrate what they learn from a college class into their classroom. …