Preparing Teachers for Latino Children and Youth: Policies and Practice

By Tellez, Kip | High School Journal, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Preparing Teachers for Latino Children and Youth: Policies and Practice


Tellez, Kip, High School Journal


This paper explores the role teacher education can play in improving the education of Latino children and youth in the US. By first suggesting that preservice teachers cannot reasonably be prepared for each and every student population, it promotes reforms in three areas of teacher education policy and practice, each oriented towards improving the education of Latinos: (a) preservice teachers' acquisition of cultural knowledge, (b) preservice teachers' knowledge of second language teaching, and (c) the value of targeted recruitment of Latino teachers.

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The thought of preparing new teachers fills educators with an uncommon optimism. Hope springs especially in the minds of those who believe that flesh teachers fashioned from a reformed teacher education can help to erase the academic achievement gaps among ethnic groups in the US. We believe that better prepared teachers will work harder to liquefy the culture's rigid social hierarchy by injecting new methods, materials, and motivation into the nation's most underperforming students-students who are largely of color, many of whom are Latino.

Contrast this hope with the dreary school reality of many Latino students. They are told that success in school will ensure their participation in the wider economic and social life, but many find school to be a boring, even humiliating place. They are told that school is their only hope of "making it," but their immediate experience tells them otherwise. Their classroom needs repair, the books are old, and the teacher knows nothing of the lives of the students. After years of the same brutal routine, such promises for the future are hollow encouragement. For many students, the most adaptive response to such conditions is simply to drop out of school (Fine, 1991).

The gap between the hope we invest in teacher education and the continued academic underperformance of Latino children reveals that we may have overestimated teacher education's capacity for reform. And although teacher education has been characterized as resistant to change (Tom, 1997; Freiberg & Waxman, 1990), it has made significant efforts to change its placements, curriculum, and strategies to be more responsive to the needs of low-income, students of color. The "reflective" movement, for instance, widened the scope of the curriculum in teacher education (Clift, Houston, & Pugach, 1990). By encouraging preservice teachers to consider the larger moral and social implications of their profession, it represented a significant change from the purely technical skill orientation common to teacher education. Indeed, a reform effort known as multicultural teacher education (e.g., Hollins, 1995) has been embraced in many teacher education programs. Further, the primary national accreditation agency for teacher education has enacted standards for preparing teachers for diverse students (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, 2001).

Naturally, there are critics of teacher education who argue that teacher education has done little in the interest of low-income, students of color (Goodwin, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1999). Such criticisms may be valid, but it is very difficult to determine the effects of teacher education: student teachers are not typically well tracked by their home institutions and a host of confounding variables cloud the relationship between teacher education and student performance.

Irrespective of changes to teacher education, the academic achievement of Latinos troubles us. To wit, Latino ("Hispanic") students, who account for an ever greater proportion of the school age population, average scores well below their while counterparts (NCES, 1999). More distressing perhaps is that the gap between "Hispanic" and "White" scores has remained relatively constant during the last 30 years. Still more troubling is the "Hispanic" dropout rate, which is stuck at an unacceptable 30 percent (Hispanic Dropout Project, 1998). …

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