What Teacher Preparation Programs Can Do to Better Prepare Teachers to Meet the Challenges of Educating Students Living in Poverty

Spring 2010

Source: Action in Teacher Education, v. 32 no. 1, (Spring 2010) p. 54-64.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

A preliminary analysis of the literature on diversity, state and national program standards for teacher preparation, and teacher preparation programs in the United States suggests a lack of emphasis on social class (Banks, 2004; Jennings, 2007; Larkin & Sleeter, 1995; Nieto, 2000; Spring, 2002; Tabachnick & Zeichner, 1993; Villegas & Lucas, 2002).
The data indicate that economic status (class) was ranked quite low in comparison to the categories of race and ethnicity. This reflects the tendency to extrapolate issues of poverty around diversity, an approach that capitulates diversity as a stand-alone, important issue in education.

The author argues that if any educational reforms or legislative mandates are to be enacted to provide students equal access to quality education, they must place more emphasis on the SES of students, coupled with a determined effort to integrate its impact on socially disadvantaged students. To this end, this article seeks to point out the necessity for changes to be made to teacher education programs in an effort to better prepare teachers to address the effects of poverty in their classroom.

This focus in teacher preparation will enhance preservice teachers' ability to effectively educate children who live in poverty. It is this increase in effectiveness with poor children that will likely increase students' academic performance (McKenzie & Scheurich, 2007).
Characteristics of teachers who are effective with poor children include a genuine belief that their students can learn; a persistent urge to identify, integrate, and create ways to motivate their students to learn; and a strong motivation to gain an accurate understanding of their students' lives and the communities where they live.

Educating Children Living in Poverty: A Programmatic Approach

A teacher preparation program can implement several approaches and strategies to better prepare their student teachers to meet the needs of poor urban students. Faculty members in teacher preparation programs should examine their program's goals and mission statements for emphasis on social class and poverty; assess the relevance and feasibility of the program's curriculum to achieve the program goals; and, finally, evaluate the faculty to determine whether they possess the requisite skills, knowledge, and commitment to achieve the program's goals.

Therefore, the challenge for teacher educators is to develop in their teacher candidates a strong sense of compassion for the poor and a willingness to teach them (Ediger, 2004). The challenge for teacher educators lies in how to develop this characteristic in their teacher candidates. Once developed, a sense of compassion and incentives (e.g., higher salaries, signing bonuses to teach at schools with a high-poverty population, or a classroom aide) may increase the retention rate of quality teachers at high-poverty schools.
To accomplish this goal, teacher preparation programs must be reformed to place greater emphasis on the concept of poverty and how it relates to education and academic achievement of students who live in poverty.

Banks, J. A. (2004). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimension, and practice. In J. A. Banks & C. A. M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (2nd ed., pp. 3-9). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ediger, M. (2004). What makes for failing schools? Journal of Instructional Psychology, 31(2), 170-174.

Jennings, T. (2007). Addressing diversity in US teacher preparation programs: A survey of elementary and secondary programs' priorities and challenges from across the United States of America. Teaching and Teacher Education, 23, 1258-1271.

Larkin, J. M., & Sleeter, C. (Eds.). (1995). Developing multicultural teacher education curricula. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Nieto, S. (2000). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (3rd ed.). New York: Longman.

Spring, J. (2002). American education (10th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Tabachnick, R. B., & Zeichner, K. M. (1993). Preparing teachers for cultural diversity. Journal of Education for Teaching-Supplement International, 19(2), 113-125.

Villegas, A., & Lucas, T. (2002). Preparing culturally responsive teachers: Rethinking the curriculum. Journal of Teacher Education, 53(1), 20-32.

Updated: Jul. 05, 2011


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