Teacher Education Candidates Perceptions of Multicultural Preparedness

Teacher Education Candidates Perceptions of Multicultural Preparedness


Teacher Education Candidates’ Perceptions of Multicultural Preparedness

Ready or Not?

A Ppilot Sstudy of TTteacher EeEducation CCcandidates’ PPperceptions of Ttheir MMmulticultural PPpreparedness

Sonia DeLuca and Alina Wong

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Annual Meeting of the

ED 873: Race, Gender, and Ethnicity in Higher Education

Professor Sylvia Hurtado

December 16, 2003American Educational Research Association

2005 Annual Meeting

April 14, 2005

Montréal, Quebec, CA
Ready or Not?

A Pilot Study of Teacher Education Candidates’ Perceptions of their Multicultural Preparedness


As the population of children in the United States becomes more diverse, teachers remain overwhelmingly monocultural (The Condition of Education, 1994); that is, the majority of teachers are white, female, and monolingual, from middle-class backgrounds (Easter, Shultz, Neyhart, & Reck, 1999). Conservative estimates reflect a more than 20% gap between the number of students of color and the number of teachers of color (Taylor & Sobel, 2001), and there is no indication that this gap between students’ and teachers’ experiences will narrow. In fact, in the 1990s the percentage of teachers who were from underrepresented ethnic or racial groups actually decreased (Clark, Nystrom, & Perez, 1996). Additionally, poor students of color are not getting access to highly qualified teachers (Darling-Hammond, 1998). The preparation for teacher education candidates is under increasing scrutiny for the extent to which teachers are prepared prepared to instruct diverse populations of students, and in diverse teaching-learning environments (Leavell, Cowart, & Wilhelm, 1998; Sleeter, 2001). This discussion has examined experiences of preservice teachers, curriculum in schools of education, as well as state-level policy initiatives.

For example, only half of state certification agencies require multicultural coursework as a part of the teacher preparation program (Miller, Strosnider, & Dooley, 2000), though 80 % of states had some diversity requirement or standards (Miller, et al., 2002).

[MSOffice1]Researchers concerned with teacher education programs have promoted and expanded concepts of multicultural education (e.g. Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b),: exploring differing political orientations (e.g., Giroux, 1995; Sleeter & Grant, 1987; McLaren, 1997; Sleeter, 1996; Sleeter & McLaren, 1995), degrees of curricular inclusion (e.g., Banks, 1994; Cochran-Smith, 2000), and college-school-community partnerships (e.g., Banks, 1994; Clayton, 1995; Zeichner & Melnick, 1996). The prevailing hope has been that if teacher education candidates are exposed to learning theory and methodological research, complete a requisite multicultural education course, and are then placed in diverse classroom settings for practical experience, they will be sufficiently prepared for current classroom populations.

Although there have been a few empirical studies of the outcomes of various multicultural teacher preparation initiatives, the evidence suggests that what is being done in schools of education is not working. Is it possible that Ttraditional teacher preparation programs do little to improve the preparedness of teacher education candidates to teach in diverse classrooms?. Within the last 15 years, researchers have found evidence to support the disappointing results of teacher preparation programs: preservice teachers believe diversity is a problem (Goodlad, 1990); that children of color have challenges in learning (Middleton, 2002; Paine, 1990; Wiggins & Follo, 1999); and that racism does not aeffect the plight of individual minority students[ASW2]. Preservice teachers were are unaware as to how their beliefs and stereotypes might impact teaching and learning (Moultry, 1988; Wiggins & Follo, 1999), and believed that teachers can make conclusions about students’ racial and cultural background based on appearance (Gutierrez-Gomez, 2002). Moreover, these concerns do not address This does not even begin to approach the question of tteachers’ abilities to incorporate multicultural education into their classroom curriculum or develop culturally relevant teaching pedagogies.[MSOffice3]

While Although scholars and educators have done much to bring multicultural education and awareness to teacher preparation, many programs have not developed the intended outcomes among students (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). One challenge to multicultural education is the diverse incarnations of such programsmay rest in the lack of agreement as to what constitutes “good” multicultural teacher education, as well as differing perspectives on and how to best serve prepare teacher education candidates. as well as the children who will be educated by them. “Multicultural education” has been applied to both includes the curriculum of teacher preparation programs, as well as the course content to be used in curriculum of K-12 educationschooling. Moreover,multicultural Multicultural education initiatives often endeavor to train include training teachers to each in racially diverse classrooms, but recent research shows that schools are becoming more segregated (Frankenberg & Lee, 2002). These are high challenges (among others) place serious demands for on teacher education programs that average two to three years in length, and for on students who often come from racially homogenous, middle-class backgrounds, and have had with little experience interacting with diverse others (Zimpher & Ashburn, 1989).[MSOffice4]

On average, the confidence of the teacher candidatesto teach in multicultural classrooms waxes and wanes. Research has shown that upon entering teacher education programs, 45-52% about half of preservice teachers have had confidence in their abilities to “create a classroom atmosphere that allows for a variety of learning styles,” “identify the ways in which language can affect the learner’s performance on test items,” and “adapt instructional methods for learners of diverse backgrounds” (Taylor & Sobel, 2001, pp. 494-495). At the same time, only one third of these same students “felt competent about knowing the historical contributions made by individuals of diverse backgrounds” (p. 495). Vacarr (2002) argued that a gap exists between preservice teachers’ conceptual understandings, and their abilities to apply these understandings to classroom situations. Furthermore, Aafter progressing through a teacher preparation program, students may gain confidence around curricular contentinthrough their coursework; however teacher education professionals suggest that practical and student teaching experiences serve to instill a modicum of fear regarding the students’ actual preparedness to teach (J. J. Mueller, 2004)personal communication, October 2003).[ASW5]

We maintain that in order to construct effective teacher preparation programs, it is critical to assess students’ perceptions of that preparation. In this investigation we are concerned with identifying those conditions, activities, and characteristics that inform teacher education candidates’ feelings of preparedness to teach in racially diverse classroom environments. A review of the literature suggests thate neither coursework nor fieldwork is sufficient interventions to prepare teachers for a multicultural classroom. Often If multicultural education courses are additives to the “core” curriculum so are students are exposed to relevant issues in one class and are not encouraged to bring “critical cultural” questions to other discussionsclasses?. In addition, Such classes are not widely distributed across Courses in schools of education are not infused with multicultural content, and the majority of the teacher education professorate is not trained to teach or choose not to support multicultural education (Easter, et al., 1999[ASW6]).[MSOffice7] Mmany student teachers placed in urban settings choose not to return to those environments as professional teachers because of poor experiences or lack of preparation.[MSOffice8] Research has shown that people of color are more open to multicultural perspectives and pedagogies, often because of lived experience (Haberman & Post, 1998; Merryfield, 2000); . but teachers of color should not bear the burden of educational reform for teacher preparation. As the number of students of color in teacher preparation declines, then, wHow should hat are the implications for teacher education programs responde to current trends, when new teachers are overwhelmingly white, students are becoming more racially diverse, and the schools are becoming more segregated?and K-12 schools? If coursework and fieldwork inof teacher education programs is are ineffective, or haves a negative impact on students (Bollin & Finkel, 1995), what will contribute must be done to students’ prepareationteachers to teach in racially diverse classrooms? [ASW9]

Literature Review

Many schools of education include missions of multicultural teacher preparedness as part of overall competencies (Price & Valli, 1998; Zeichner, Grant, Gay, Gillette, Valli, & Villegas, 1998). Yet, recent scholarship on this issue suggests that teacher education has failed in part, and that most teachers lack adequate multicultural preparation (e.g., Haberman & Post, 1998; Kitano, Lewis, Lynch, & Graves, 1996; Leavell, et al., 1998; Merryfield, 2000; Wallace, 2000). Most commonly, teacher preparation for diverse environments includes two prongs: 1) coursework that contains multicultural content, and 2) practicum experiences that place students in culturally diverse environments. A substantial body of research on multicultural teacher education explores the effectiveness of these two strategies, paying careful attention to inconsistency between courses and programs[MSOffice10], as well as the strengths and challenges of such approaches (e.g., Gay & Kirkland, 2003)[MSOffice11]. Empirical studies focus on assessing changes in attitudes and beliefs before and after coursework or practicum experiences, and ask students to identify activities with the most impact[MSOffice12] (e.g., Brown, 2004[ASW13]). These works have not looked at how these experiences affected students’ confidence or skills in teaching in multicultural classrooms.

There exists a plethora of conceptual literature that promotes the necessity of curricular inclusion of diverse materials, pedagogies, and multicultural content (e.g., Banks, Cookson, Gay, Hawley, Irvine, Nieto, Schofield, & Stephan, 2001; Fox & Gay, 1995; Nevárez, Sanford, & Parker, 1997; Nieto, 1994; Phuntsog, 1995, Sleeter, 2001; Wade, 1998; Zeichner, et al., 1998). However, such courses are often “add-ons” in the department and multicultural perspectives are not infused across the curriculum. Thus, the study of oppressed groups is marginalized within schools themselves. Additionally, some schools offer multicultural programs external to students’ regular coursework, such a symposium or summer programs (Cooney & Akintunde, 1999; Jennings & Smith, 2002). These programs are usually not required and attendance is initiated (and financed) by students themselves.[MSOffice14]

We must consider the context of multicultural education within schools of education because it affects student perceptions of the importance of such work. Some schools offer multicultural programs external to students’ regular coursework, such a symposium or summer programs (Cooney & Akintunde, 1999; Jennings & Smith, 2002). One- time courses and symposia expose students to critical questions, but do not sustain student interest or education in these areas. In fact, despite well-intentioned efforts, Bollin and Finkel (1995) found that despite well-intentioned efforts, short-term exposure to information about diverse cultural groups could actually “worsen attitudes and affirm existing stereotypes rather than change ways of thinking” (as cited in Leavell, et al., 1998, p. 64). Good teacher preparation programs should make every attempt to integrate practical experience, with curricular content, and provide ample opportunity for critical reflection and investigation (Melnick & Zeichner, 1998).

The marginalization of multicultural education courses and research speaks to the low priority many schools of education place on preparing teachers for diverse environments. Many schools include statements regarding the importance of diversity in missions or goals, but such rhetoric is often not actualized in resource allocation, course requirements, or faculty hiring (Melnick & Zeichner, 1998; Sleeter, 2001; Wallace, 2000; Zeichner, et al., 1998). Several researchers have underscored the necessity for institutional coherence, or alignment of mission with practice (Melnick & Zeichner, 1997, 1998; Pang, Anderson, & Martuza, 1997; Price & Valli, 1998; Tatto, 1996; Villegas, Clewell, Anderson, Goertz, Joy, Bruschi, & Irvine, 1995; Ward, 2002; Zeichner, et al., 1998). This “internal consistency” considers the intention of teacher education programs in light of the impact to students and the schools they enter. Schools of education that incorporate a multicultural mission into the entire curriculum, support a research mission of diversity and equity, recruit and retain faculty of color, provide ample opportunities for in-school experiences, and connect with schools and communities, are in better positions to adequately prepare preservice teachers for diverse classroom settings.

Programs that endeavor to prepare students for diverse teaching environments also consider the importance of practical experience in diverse classrooms. Although it is laudable, and necessary, to construct a diversity of practical classroom experiences for the preservice teacher, several researchers caution that these practical experiences with diverse classrooms are not sufficient for adequate teacher preparation. In a study of 75 pre-service teachers placed in diverse classroom settings, Goodwin (1997) found that “despite lengthy exposure to a multicultural setting, [the pre-service teachers] felt helpless and doubtful about their ability to deal with multicultural conflicts and issues” (as cited in Leavell, et al., 1998, p. 64). Additionally, she concluded that pre-service student teachers favored a reactive, as opposed to a proactive, approach to dealing with multicultural conflicts, and that these students were unable to connect conflict in the classroom with broader school, community, or societal issues.

Other studies have found that while students were enthusiastic to teach in diverse environments at the beginning of their studies, by the time they taught, their concern eventually shifted to merely surviving the classroom (Sleeter, 2001). Similarly,Indeed, Nieto (2003) came to a similar conclusion when she declaredoncluded “despite good intentions, many teachers who work with students of racial and cultural backgrounds different from their own have limited experience in teaching them and become frustrated and angry at the conditions in which they must work” (p. 15).

In addition to the traditional college curriculum supplemented by in-school student teaching experiences, preservice teachers are able to may further develop their skills in multicultural environments by becoming involved in the communities in which the schools are located (Carpenter-LaGattuta, 2002; Clayton, 1995; DeAcosta, 1994; Zeichner & Hoeft, 1996; Zeichner & Melnick, 1996). In a study conducted by Stachowski and Mahan (1998), student teachers who had student teaching experiences in schools on American Indian reservations reported community members as the most important resource for cross-cultural learning. This finding is in stark contrast to student teachers in “traditional” placements who rarely mentioned community members as important to their learning outcomes. Student teachers can enhance their experiences and increase their learning outcomes when the teacher education program incorporates a commitment to community knowledge and culture as requisite to serving children effectively. ,T though More recent research indicates that convincing students might be difficult. In ly, a study of graduate student preservice teachers Taylor and Sobel (2001) found that these students believed that “teachers have the responsibility to believe in students, to assess and direct students’ education needs, but not necessarily to visit students’ homes” (p. 493. XXX). (Taylor & Sobel, 2001).[MSOffice15]

The situation of teacher preparation is made further bleak challenging when considering the research of Gore and Zeichner (1991). These researchers found that teacher education programs have little impact on the attitudes, beliefs and values of preservice teachers[MSOffice16]. Wiggins and Follo (1999) surveyed 123 students in an elementary education program in Michigan at the beginning and end of the semester. Students viewed themselves as capable at the beginning of the semester and even more capable at the end of the semester to teach in diverse settings. Although students seemed comfortable to teach in multicultural classrooms, most changes were found in items that related to instructional issues, and there was little change in questions that indicated an understanding of cultural differences, or personal attitudes. They still felt uncomfortable in cultural settings other than their own, and neither coursework nor field placements contributed to a better understanding of cultural norms and expectations of diverse communities.

Although it is important to interrogate teacher preparation programs, and to develop “best practices” for teacher education, it is also useful to consider the characteristics of competent teachers in multicultural settings. Haberman and Post (1998) reflected on over 40 years of experience regarding successful teacher education programs, and more specifically, synthesized 7 years of data for a profile of “star” urban educators [MSOffice17]from[ASW18] a program titled “Metropolitan Multicultural Teacher Education.” Overwhelmingly, star teachers were not white, and they entered teaching after having held other careers. They attended an urban high school, and were cognizant of their own racism, sexism, classism, and other prejudices. As teachers, they expected to visit the homes of children and to find “the school bureaucracy [as] irrational and intrusive” (Haberman & Post, 1998, p. 101). Star teachers believed that they learned the most not in the classroom nor in their teacher preparation programs, but rather “on the job” after they had begun teaching full-time. Star teachers did not express the need for more content knowledge, more information on teaching methods, or more theory and research. Additionally, they attributed their relationships with teaching mentors as crucial to their development.

Furthermore, Haberman and Post (1998) posited that ideology is the most important source of teacher development. Ideology as an intellectual orientation encompasses what the teacher believes about the nature of teaching and learning, the nature of development, and the nature of the setting or environment. Those teachers with a transformative ideology constantly subject what they know to scrutiny, and are less resistant to new “input.” With this perspective on teaching and learning processes, they are more able to choose the trajectory of their growth and development. The entirety of the Haberman and Post hypotheses has critical implications for the future of teacher education programs.

Two studies of the teacher education program at Kutztown University (PA) from Easter, Shultz, Neyhart, and Reck (1996, 1999) emphasized the integral role of attitudes and beliefs toward diversity and multicultural education in helping education candidates become effect teachers (Easter, Shultz, Neyhart, and Reck, 1999; Shultz, Neyhart, Reck & Easter, 1996). Using the teacher education program at Kutztown University (PA), tUsing hey conducted quaquantitative and qualitative analyses of students’ attitudes toward urban children and teaching in urban environments, (Shultz, et al. 1996, p. 22[MSOffice19][ASW20]). What they found was that students’ attitudes toward urban classrooms and children affected their desire to teach in these settings, as well as their perceptions of the necessary skills to be effective teachers. However, their beliefs did not correlate with realistic notions of urban education. For instance, while many students expressed a desire to teach in urban areas, “student responses regarding learning ability and behavior attribute negative qualities to difference” ((Shultz, et al., p. 32). Teacher education students also expected urban children to be like themselves, despite the fact that students were predominantly white, female, and came from middle-class backgrounds. Finally, students cited prejudice, stereotypes and insensitivity as barriers to achievement among urban children, yet did not recognize their own assumptions and prejudices as teachers (Shultz, et al., p. 33). Despite coursework in multicultural education, students maintained inaccurate beliefs for teaching urban environments. These researchers underscored the importance of challenging student assumptions and values in teacher education programs.