Academic journal article Education

Addressing Diversity in Teacher Education Programs

Academic journal article Education

Addressing Diversity in Teacher Education Programs

Article excerpt

Introduction

The United States is a nation built from the richness of many cultures, languages, traditions and beliefs. This unique mixture has encouraged circumstances where awareness, tolerance and appreciation are fitting, as well as necessary for the purposes of strengthening and unifying the nation. Ultimately, the favorable outcome is an increased awareness stimulating a natural situation of diversity, which affects the masses. It becomes apparent that diversity is present in every aspect of our lives, and in no place is it more evident that in our classrooms where fundamental learning-primarily, but not exclusively-takes place.

Schools across the United States are a reflection of its vibrant, multifaceted society. As a result, the student population continues to become more and more diverse. Banks & Banks (2004) indicate that even though our nation's student population is more diverse, the majority of teachers continue to be white (87%), females (74%) and middle-class. Teachers are faced with the challenge of teaching all students, regardless of their differences. It is the teacher's responsibility-as a learned educator-to reach every student while providing students with appropriate, relevant and meaningful instruction. Therefore, it is the obligation of teacher education programs to prepare preservice teachers to be competent as they face the challenges of today's diverse classroom settings.

Interestingly, many preservice teachers enter teacher education programs with very limited-if any-first hand experiences with diversity. It is through their teacher education programs that preservice teachers have an opportunity to develop a greater understanding of diversity, as well as to share in various learning experiences that foster the awareness of diversity and diversity issues. This reality raises the following significant concerns about the integrity of teacher education (TED) programs:

* Are teacher education programs effectively preparing preservice teachers to be competent in meeting the challenges that diverse classrooms represent?

* Do preservice teachers feel prepared to meet the needs of their diverse student populations?

In order to focus on these concerns, the issue of diversity in teacher education programs must be carefully examined to better determine how diversity is being addressed. It is imperative that teacher education programs provide preservice teachers with the knowledge, skills and related learning experiences required to succeed in facilitating learning that will take place in diverse classroom settings.

Defining Culture and Diversity

Erickson (2005) has stated that attempts of formal definitions of culture have not been fruitful and that "even experts have not been able to agree on what culture really is" (p. 34). According to Cushner, McClelland & Safford (2003), one of the greatest difficulties people have when exploring concepts related to culture and culture learning is in agreeing on what it is they are talking about. They further indicate that one could come across hundreds of definitions for culture, but the common thread that ties each of the various definitions together is the idea that culture references a human-made part of the environment, as opposed to aspects that occur in nature. Cushner, McClelland & Safford (2003) have identified 12 sources of cultural identity (race, ethnicity/nationality, social class, sex/gender, health, age, geographic region, sexuality, religion, social status, language, and ability/disability) that influence teaching and learning, and are universal and present in every culture. Cultural knowledge is filtered or transmitted to the individual through different socializing agents such as family, school, church, community, etc. (Cushner, McClelland & Safford, 2003). These 12 sources of cultural identity are responsible for the numerous ways in which individuals are unique and diverse. …

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