Developing Responsive Teachers: A Challenge for a Demographic Reality

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 61, No. 1-2, p.132–142. (January/February 2010).
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the authors reflect on the preparation of teachers for English learners (ELs) and articulate the importance of enhancing teacher knowledge through contact and collaboration with diverse ethnolinguistic communities.

The authors build on recent research on the preparation of teachers for cultural responsiveness and linguistic diversity.

Educational Context

Seven dimensions of inadequate schooling for ELs have recently been documented (Gándara, Maxwell-Jolly, & Rumberger, 2008).
These include (a) inadequate access to appropriately trained teachers,
(b) inadequate professional development opportunities to help teachers address their instructional needs,
(c) inequitable access to appropriate assessment,
(d) inadequate instructional time to accomplish learning goals,
(e) inequitable access to instructional materials and curriculum,
(f) inequitable access to adequate facilities, and
(g) intense segregation into schools and classrooms that place them at risk.

The authors recommend a situated preparation within EL communities that fosters the development of teacher knowledge of the dynamics of language in children’s lives and communities.

Developing Teachers for ELs

Effective teachers are key to meeting the needs of diverse learners and critical in preparing these learners for the 21st century. Teacher preparation programs can help prepare prospective teachers to teach these learners successfully.

Darling-Hammond and Bransford (2005) presented a framework for exploring the kinds of knowledge, skills, and commitment that enable teachers to be effective. Specifically, these scholars identified three general areas of knowledge that teachers must acquire:
• knowledge of learners and how they learn and develop within social context,
• conceptions of curriculum and social purposes of education, and
• understanding of teaching.
This framework may be used to support teachers in improving their teaching practice.

The authors highlight the commonalities between the knowledge related to learners, curriculum, and understanding teaching as they are applied to developing knowledge for culturally responsive teachers and knowledge of ELs. The literatures on preparing culturally responsive teachers and knowledge related to ELs focus on contextualizing knowledge of students within their communities, along with understanding the nexus between identity and language and the sociocultural impact of communities on students and classrooms. The authors recognize that teachers develop this knowledge by guided experience situated in EL communities. Hence, the authors call for teacher preparation to promote understanding of ELs through field experiences grounded in EL communities.


In summary, the authors suggest that developing responsive teachers requires a setting for developing teacher knowledge that has its roots both the school community and the university setting. A focus on developing responsive teachers encourages teacher educators to support prospective teachers to construct and reconstruct meaning and to seek reinterpretations and augmentations to past knowledge within compatible and nurturing schooling contexts. This mission requires an understanding of how individuals with diverse sets of experiences, packaged individually into cultures, make meaning, communicate that meaning, and extend that meaning, particularly in the social contexts we call schools.

The authors’ review of the literature underscores the need to prepare all teachers for culturally and linguistically diverse students. The authors have presented evidence that there is a demographic and intellectual imperative that motivates teacher preparation to become more connected to the schools and communities where ELs reside. The authors envision EL communities as sites for guided teacher preparation that require collaboration between universities and school districts and look forward to building the knowledge base that supports teacher learning in EL communities.

Darling-Hammond, L., & Bransford, J. (Eds.). (2005). Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Gándara, P., Maxwell-Jolly, J., & Rumberger, R. (2008). Resource needs of English learners: Getting down to policy recommendations. Santa Barbara: University of California Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

Updated: Apr. 27, 2010