Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Development of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Commitment to Teach Diverse Student Populations

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Development of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Commitment to Teach Diverse Student Populations

Article excerpt

Student populations are becoming increasingly diverse as the teaching force remains essentially homogeneous; 31.5% of students are minorities, and only 13.5% of teachers are minorities (National Center for Education Statistics, 1996). In city schools, 54% of the students are minority and 25% of the teachers are minority. Vigorous recruitment and incentives for minority teachers may improve these ratios somewhat, but current evidence indicates that the limited presence of African American teachers is a current challenge displaying little promise of solution in this country (King, 1993, p. 115). The Carnegie Forum (1986) and the Education Commission on the States (1990) earlier documented the relatively few teachers of color in the teaching profession.

A long-term solution may result from a better understanding of what it means to be a successful teacher in a culturally diverse classroom. Successful teachers are those able to provide what Ladson-Billings (1994) calls culturally relevant instruction (p. 17). She sees this requiring a sensitivity to cultural differences and, for a vast majority of the teachers, a deep understanding of cultural norms other than their own.

Oakland University has included components of diversity awareness and experience in its teacher education program for many years. Students must complete pre-student teaching field placements in at least two urban settings. There is no specific undergraduate course in multicultural education, but students study the knowledge and skills necessary to teach in diverse settings in a variety of courses. In addition, faculty in the department have been engaged in research on diversity issues (Eckart & Tracy, 1993; Gibson & Follo, 1998; Hoerr, 1998; Pickard, 1994).

Despite feedback that program graduates are successful teaching in culturally diverse settings, we recently raised questions about whether the teacher preparation programs adequately develop the abilities and the desire to teach in these settings. We decided to assess our program to determine its impact in this area. In this article, we report the results of a study investigating the preparation and commitment of preservice teachers to teach in culturally diverse settings. In the sections that follow, we provide a brief literature review, describe the methodology and data analysis of our assessment efforts, and present a discussion of our findings and suggest conclusions and implications for both our program and future research.

Literature Review

Understanding concepts of diversity and their implications is difficult for beginning teachers. An important issue in the field of multicultural education is the potential cultural mismatch between teachers and students from increasingly diverse cultures (Boyer, 1996). Hollins (1995) posits that similarities between school culture and home culture facilitate communication whereas differences interfere in communication and learning. Because of Oakland University's proximity to two major urban environments, preparing students to teach in diverse school settings is an important program goal. However, most of the prospective elementary teachers are White females in their 20s who have spent the majority of their lives in suburban communities. Improving our program depends on a better understanding of preservice teachers' perspectives on cultural diversity and our attempts to influence those perspectives (Marshall, 1996; Nel, 1993; Paine, 1990).

Scholars recommend multiple approaches to prepare students to teach in culturally diverse settings. Some advocate an emphasis on pedagogical techniques (Au & Kawakami, 1991; Erickson & Mohatt, 1977; Garibaldi, 1992); others stress field experiences (Coballes-Vega, 1992; Heinemann, Obi, Pagano, & Weiner, 1992; Sleeter, 1995). Wlodkowski (1995) insists that student teachers must acquire experience with students from backgrounds different from theirs, but this alone may not be enough. …

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