Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The 21st Century Teacher: A Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

The 21st Century Teacher: A Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt

Over the last several decades, teacher education's central challenge has been to prepare teachers for the rising heterogeneity and the changing demographics of U.S. classrooms. Demographic changes have highlighted the need to focus on cultural and linguistic issues in classrooms across the country. A common response to this challenge has been the compartmentalization of university-based teacher education programs into different specializations, which are typically organized around various student characteristics such as language background, presumed learning ability, ethnic background, and so on. Thus, rather than talking about "education" in teacher education, we tend to talk about "regular education," "bilingual education," "special education," "multicultural education," and so on.

The overarching intent in this article is to consider the relationship between multiple diversities from the perspective of preparing teachers to serve English Learners (ELs). In particular, we focus on the issue of culture and the role it has traditionally played in teacher preparation. Although ELs are typically thought of narrowly in terms of language differences alone, we depart from that practice and propose that cultural issues are equally important to consider. As we will argue, a cultural focus would enhance education for not only these students but for all students as well.

Specifically, we note that tendencies among teacher education programs to compartmentalize courses, learning experiences, degrees, and preservice teachers result from reductive notions of culture that frame students as possessing a set of fixed traits that require specific types of educational interventions. In this article, we explore more dynamic notions of culture that emphasize what Gutierrez and Rogoff (2003) refer to as students' cultural repertoires of practice, and draw on these to explore what common knowledge and expertise might be required of teachers across all educational specializations. With this focus in mind, we first consider the relationship between ELs and special education in existing research and as it plays out in teacher preparation.

ELs and Special Education

ELs represent the fastest growing student population in U.S. public schools. Whereas the general student population rose by only 2.6% between 1995 and 2005, the percentage of EL students in U.S. schools increased by more than 57%. EL students speak hundreds of different languages; however, 85% of them speak one of five languages: Spanish, Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, and Korean, with 75% of all ELs speaking Spanish (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs, 2007). Schools in urban centers, such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami, and U.S. regions, such as the Southwest and Northeast--all longtime immigrant destinations--continue to see increases in the EL student population. However, following shifts in the economy and job availability, the most rapid growth of ELs is currently taking place in schools in southern states, such as Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee; rural schools throughout the United States are also experiencing significant increases in the EL student population (Education Week, 2009). In other words, although the education of ELs used to be viewed primarily as a regional concern, it has become a topic of growing national import.

In addition to demographic shifts, research points to the considerable achievement and opportunity gaps that ELs who attend U.S. schools commonly experience. The results of National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data from 2005, for example, indicate that nearly half (46%) of fourth-grade students in the EL category scored below basic in mathematics--the lowest possible level--with nearly three quarters (73%) scoring below basic in reading. Middle school achievement in mathematics and reading were also very low, with more than two thirds (71%) of eighth-grade ELs scoring below basic in math and an equal percentage of these students scoring below basic in reading (Fry, 2007). …

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