Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Crossing Borders by "Walking Around" Culture: Three Ethnographic Reflections on Teacher Preparation

Academic journal article Issues in Teacher Education

Crossing Borders by "Walking Around" Culture: Three Ethnographic Reflections on Teacher Preparation

Article excerpt


We live in a global society and because of recent trends in immigration and other factors, the demographics of the world have changed dramatically. This is especially true (Futrell, Gomez, & Bedden, 2003; Hodgkinson, 2000/2001) now. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) documents that the world has become increasingly multicultural and multilingual as international migration rates grow each year (He, Phillion, Chan, & Xu, 2008).

The cultural and language diversity in the United States (Daniel, 2007) exemplifies this world phenomenon. In 2000, for example, the foreign-born population of the United States was 31.1 million which represented 11.1% of the total population. Of that 11.1% foreign-born population, Latin Americans represented 52%, Asians 26%, Europeans 16%, and other countries of the world 6.0% (He, et al., 2008); and this trend is continuing. Census data from 2009 showed that the foreignborn population of the United States had grown significantly, to 38.5 million, which represented 12.5% of the total population. Of that 12.5% foreign-born population, Latin Americans represented 53%, Asians 27%, Europeans 12.7%, and other countries 6.6% (Grieco & Trevelyan, 2010; Pew Hispanic Center, 2011). Further, at present, the 10 leading countries by birth, of the foreign-born population are (in order) Mexico, China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong), Philippines, India, Viet Nam, El Salvador, Korea, Cuba, Canada, and Dominican Republic (Grieco & Trevelyan, 2010; Kandell, 2011).

The United States of the twenty-first century is possibly the most culturally/racially diverse country of any nation in history (Howard, 2007), and families that are culturally/racially different from mainstream society do not always see that schools are meeting the needs of their children (Monahan, Oesterlie, & Hawkins, 2010; Wadsworth & Remaley, 2007).

This diversity in culture and language means that each person is different and students bring that difference into the classroom. Culture is discourse. It is our belief that in order to understand that discourse, teachers have the responsibility of learning how to cross cultural boundaries. If teachers can learn to do that, they will begin to understand the culture of their students and, perhaps, be more effective as teachers. In order to understand this diversity, researchers engage in ethnography. Ethnography means "a picture of the 'way of life' of some identified group of people" (Wolcott, 1997, p. 329). Ethnographers collect observational data in order to understand how ordinary people live their lives in everyday settings.

Teachers do not live in a vacuum. They work with people, i.e., students. It is essential for teachers to recognize that a person's cultural/racial background is not checked at the classroom door. Often attitudes and experiences are different, which can result in a communication disconnect between teachers and students (Daley, Buchanan, Dasch, Eichen, & Lenhart, 2010). Communication is at the heart of any learning community (Clemmensen, Sparapani, & Booth, 2009; Ross McClain, 2009; Silverman, 2010).

Culture is communal and shared. To fully understand that communal, shared culture, and to connect to the customs, traditions, thinking, spirituality, social activity, and interactions inherent to the varieties of cultures and races teachers encounter in their classrooms each day, we suggest that teachers must learn to "walk around" culture. By "walking around" culture, we mean that teachers need to put feet to pavement and purposefully "walk around" the neighborhoods of their students, similar to ethnographic study. Central to ethnography is participant observation (Best & Kahn, 2006).

Participant observation suggests that the researcher live in the participants' situation for a length of time (usually a year) and observe their lives. Ethnographers purposefully talk to people. …

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