Acting on Beliefs in Teacher Education for Cultural Diversity

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, Volume 61, No. 1-2, p. 143–152. (January/February 2010). (Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This discussion focuses on an aspect of teacher education for diversity. It is preservice teachers’ and teacher educators’ attitudes and beliefs about racial, cultural, and ethnic differences. These are the ideological anchors of teaching decisions and behaviors and meet Cuban’s criteria of deep structures and second-order targets of educational reform.
Throughout this discussion, problematic attitudes and beliefs about various dimensions of cultural diversity are identified; explanations about how they are manifested among teacher education students are presented; their effects and consequences are proposed; and some suggestions are made for developing more positive attitudes and actions toward cultural diversity in teaching.

Attitudes, Beliefs, and the Cultural Divide

One of the attitudinal messages is the fact that most culturally diverse students and their teachers live in different worlds, and they do not fully understand or appreciate one another’s experiential realities. Hence, teacher education programs need to help their students examine the causes and character of the different attitudes and beliefs they hold toward specific ethnic groups and cultures.

Beliefs About Engaging Cultural Diversity

Many prospective teachers do not think deeply about their attitudes and beliefs toward ethnic, cultural, and racial diversity; some even deliberately resist doing so. Part of the problem here is lack of experience with people who are different, conceptual confusion between acknowledging differences and discriminating against students of color, and the fallacious assumptions that conversations about race with people of color will always be contentious.

Teacher educators and teachers must believe, and act accordingly, that problems related to teaching for, to, and through cultural diversity cannot be solved until they are recognized and confronted, their causes and characteristics are understood, and deliberate strategies for their resolution are developed.
They also need to understand that what they consider problematic about certain manifestations of cultural diversity may be quite natural and normal to members of other ethnic groups and communities of practice.

Understanding How Beliefs Affect Teaching Behaviors

Another important need in preparing teachers for cultural diversity is understanding how beliefs about race, class, culture, ethnicity, and experience affect instructional behaviors. Most prospective teachers are unaware of the power and prominence of examples in teaching. They tend to equate instructional examples and illustrations with formal curricula and written materials and overlook the informal personal ones.

Education programs and personnel should teach prospective teachers how to become cognizant of their habits of using examples and how to modify them to be more culturally diverse.

Analyzing video recordings of teacher educators’ practices, the learning behaviors of prospective teachers, and samples of instruction from practicing classroom teachers to identify patterns and trends in example usage, and to extract the beliefs underlying them, can be useful transformative strategies.

Other ways to develop these skills include prospective teachers
(a) analyzing their own and others’ habits of referencing ethnically and culturally diverse examples in various learning situations;
(b) developing descriptive protocols that characterize different types of examples that self and others use, and then replicating them from different ethnic experiences;
(c) creating or collecting teaching examples from ethnically diverse orientations that differ from what is customarily used in classrooms; and
(d) habitually using multiple culturally diverse examples to illustrate teaching concepts, knowledge, and skills.

Continuing Challenges

The challenges and mandates of this new age of cultural diversity are too extensive to expect only a few select faculty members, programmatic units, and curricular components to meet them. All personnel and programs aspects involved in teacher education must participate, but not necessarily in the same way or to the same degree. Principles of systemic reform, differentiated instruction, and holistic learning are as applicable to teacher education for cultural diversity as they are to the effective implementation of multicultural education in P-12 classrooms.

The author concludes that examining beliefs and attitudes about cultural diversity, along with developing cognitive knowledge and pedagogical skills, should be included as essential elements of teacher education. They are deeply connected, interactive, and complementary.

Cuban, L. (1988). A fundamental puzzle of school reform. Phi Delta Kappan, 69(5), 341-344.

Updated: Apr. 27, 2010