Preservice Teachers' Perceptions of Culture in Early Care and Education Programs on a Native American Indian Reservation

January 2007

Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 1 January 2007, pages 17 - 30

Four early childhood preservice teachers interviewed and observed teachers and children in early learning centers on the Salish and Kootenai Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana. The purpose of this study was to explore the perceptions of preservice teachers versus those of the caregivers (in-service teachers) regarding the presence of family and community culture in early childhood curriculum at three tribal early care and education centers.

Classroom observations and open-ended interview questions with eight early childhood teachers were conducted at three early care and education programs, two infant and toddler programs and one toddler and preschool program. Data analysis revealed that the preservice teachers focused on the physical environment of the classrooms rather than on the subtle nuances of cultural communication and ritual between early childhood teachers, families and children that the in-service teachers consistently emphasized as being important to preserving the cultural integrity of the curriculum.

The preservice teachers struggled with the difference between infusing culture into curriculum and delivering curriculum in a culturally responsive context. The interview responses from the early childhood educators strongly suggest that physical representation of culture was not particularly relevant in shaping curriculum; rather, the focus was on types of interactions and communication between teachers and children. Maintaining ongoing communication with parents and community about teaching within a culturally responsive and relevant context appeared integral to defining the American Indian culture within these early learning settings.

Updated: Jan. 24, 2008