Nurturing Multicultural Competence in an Early Childhood Graduate Teacher Licensure Program

Spring 2007

Source: Action in Teacher Education 29 no1 32-41 Spr 2007

This study was designed to describe effective ways to address cultural competency in the education of early childhood teachers in a graduate-level alternative preparation program. The study's 2 major questions were as follows: Can a 15-month graduate-level intensive alternative licensure program's coursework and field experiences provide students with the knowledge and dispositions to teach in culturally competent ways? Is it possible for a teacher preparation institution, through an alternative educational program, to provide schools with culturally competent teachers?

Both quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate that students perceive that they have the knowledge and dispositions to interact appropriately with diverse classroom populations. Implications for future programs, as well as a description of the graduate-level program, are provided.


The cultural competency Problem 

The issue of teacher shortages within the United States today has reached near-crisis proportions. Speaking to the issue of what can be done to fix the problems related to recruitment and retention that persist in American public education, Gerstner (2004) states in Teaching at Risk: A Call to Action, "The missing link has been an intense, sustained and effective campaign to revamp our country's teaching force" (p. 14). In addition, the reasons for the teaching shortages are seldom analyzed, but every September over 200,000 new hires begin in public school classrooms and by the time summer rolls around, at least 22,000 have quit--about 30% of new teachers flee the profession after just three years and more than 45% leave after five years (Graziano, 2005).

Nationwide, the numbers vary, but reports suggest the possibility of 2 million teaching vacancies by 2010 (National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, 1996). In the Midwestern state where this article is based, the numbers match the national trends, with an expected 25,000 openings in the next 5 years. Despite the various reasons behind the growing need for teachers (i.e., retirement, attrition, growing enrollments, smaller class sizes), the reality exists and the classrooms will need to be staffed.

Coupled with the call for additional teachers are the changing demographics of the nation. The United States is the most demographically diverse nation in the world (Gerstner, 2004). In an era of teacher shortage, changing demographics, and externally imposed standards and high-stakes testing, the recruitment, retention, and nurturing of resilient teachers who can teach and advocate for all children is imperative. Yet, study after study confirms that the majority of teachers are still overwhelmingly White and middle class (Nieto, 2000) and are entering the teaching field still entrenched in traditional ways of teaching, based on their 16-year apprenticeship by observation (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Lortie, 1975). When monocultural teachers are faced with an increasingly diverse student population, without appropriate preparation, they encounter difficulties teaching and advocating for children who are different from themselves (Chavez Chavez, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995).

In recent years, however, a growing number of teacher preparation programs have begun responding to these issues. Across the nation, some departments and colleges of education have moved past traditional teacher preparation in significant ways at the graduate and undergraduate levels and are beginning to make a difference.

Darling-Hammond (2000), in discussing needed reforms in teacher preparation and essential elements for alternative licensure programs, states that universities need to pursue these ideals of knowledge building and truth finding by creating a genuine praxis between ideas and experiences, by honoring practice in conjunction with reflection and research, and by helping teachers reach beyond their personal boundaries to appreciate the perspectives of those whom they would teach. (p. 171)  Thus, one of the needs would be to explore the influence of experience on practice in classrooms where there is an increasingly diverse student population.



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Gerstner, L. V. (2004). Teaching at risk: A call to action. New York: Teaching Commission.
Graziano, C. (2005). School's out. Washington, DC: Catholic University
Hammond, L. (2000). How teacher education matters. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), 166-173.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Lortie, D. C. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago
Nieto, S. (2000). Placing equity front and center: Some thoughts on transforming teacher education for a new century. Journal of Teacher Education, 510(3), 180-187.

Updated: Dec. 17, 2007