Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Factors Contributing to Preservice Teachers' Beliefs about Diversity

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Factors Contributing to Preservice Teachers' Beliefs about Diversity

Article excerpt

The cultural makeup of educational professionals in the United States does not necessarily represent the students that walk through the front doors of the school each day. The majority of teaching professionals identify as White, female, heterosexual, and middle-class (Sleeter, 2008) with little to no experience working with diverse populations (Hollins & Torres-Guzman, 2005); thus the cultural values and experiences that teachers bring in to the classroom may not match those of the students they are serving. Although the profession is attempting to recruit more diverse educators and school leaders, diversifying the teaching force is not the only answer to meeting the needs of students. Conducting research that examines teachers' beliefs about diversity is a vital step towards developing more culturally competent educators who practice teaching in a way that understands all students to be individuals with valuable knowledge and experiences (Banks, McGee, & Cherry, 2001; Gay, 2010; Plata, 2011; Trent, Kea & Oh, 2008).

Cultural Competence and Teacher Education

Although researchers have been debating the operational definition of cultural competence for several decades, there are several basic tenets that are agreed upon within the field of education (Liang & Zhang, 2009). First, cultural competency is not an easily achievable static state that one can reach by completing a diversity training, taking a multicultural education course, or by experiencing other cultures. It is a continuous pursuit that requires thoughtful and constant development and growth of one's beliefs, skills, and knowledge of systems of power, privilege, and positionality (Howard, 2003). Second, cultural competence can vary according to environmental context and an individual's level of comfort. Diller and Moule (2005) conceptualize cultural competency as possessing and employing awareness and sensitivity of cultural differences as well as being able to respond to those differences appropriately. And finally, research in the field of teacher education has consistently revealed that cultural competence includes beliefs, awareness, and knowledge of diversity and multicultural education necessary to effectively employ the skills and pedagogical practices to teach culturally diverse students (Banks et al., 2001; Diller & Moule, 2005; Gay, 2000; Landson-Billings, 1999).

The field of teacher education has explored many ways to effectively prepare teachers to practice culturally responsive pedagogy. Hollins and Guzman (2005) conducted a review of over one hundred empirical studies focused on the design of teacher education programs related to cultural competence. They found two major categories of existing research: (a) studies of preservice teachers attitudes, beliefs, dispositions, and experiences with diversity, and (b) examinations of various methods of preparing teachers for working with diverse groups. This review also found a large number of studies that explored ways in which coursework and cross-cultural experiences affected preservice teachers' beliefs about diversity and cultural competency. Sleeter (2008) conducted a similar review of teacher education literature and found that the majority of White preservice teachers were unaware of the ways in which systematic oppression (predominantly racism) perpetuates inequalities within education and schools.

Despite the focus on cultural competence in teacher education, there is a very little research that compares cultural competence of general to special education teachers. While studying attitudes of preservice teachers as they entered a graduate program in education, Dee and Henkin (2002) found that preservice teachers preparing to become special education teachers reported significantly lower levels of comfort with cultural diversity than their colleagues preparing to become general education teachers. They also found that teachers enrolled in a special teacher education program reported significantly lower levels of agreement that assimilation to the dominant culture is necessary for student success (Dee & Henkin, 2002). …

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