Exploring elementary teacher self-efficacy and teacher beliefs: are we preparing teachers to teach culturally diverse students?

February, 2021

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 49:1, 128-142

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current study examines teacher self-efficacy across six programs.
This allows a broader perspective of how teacher education influences the self-efficacy of preservice teachers across one state.
Second, there are no studies that determine what happens to the self-efficacy and beliefs of teachers after they graduate.
Previous studies only included either preservice or in-service teachers (separate groups) as participants, but there were no studies that followed teachers as they made the transition.
Therefore, the following research questions were employed in the current study:
(1) How do teacher education programs organise coursework and student teaching experiences to prepare preservice teachers to meet the needs of diverse learners?
(2) How do teachers at the preservice and in-service stages rate their feelings self-efficacy to meet the needs of diverse learners?
(3) Do preservice teachers vary in their self-efficacy to meet the needs of diverse learners based on the teacher education program attended?
(4) Does preservice teacher self-efficacy to meet the needs of diverse learners change after one year of teaching in an elementary (Grades K-6, ages 5–12) school classroom?


Study design
An exploratory research design was used to explore and examine how six different teacher education programs in a Western state in the United States organised coursework and experiences related to multicultural and diversity education.
Exploratory research is defined as research designed to investigate a problem that has not yet been clearly articulated or there is a lack of information on the topic (Creswell, 2009).
Exploratory research is used to gather data, identify issues, and explore problems on a given topic that can be the focus in future research.
In this exploratory study, preservice and in-service teacher self-efficacy beliefs were explored at two different points in time.
First, teacher education program descriptions were gathered to understand what might be influencing preservice and inservice teacher feelings of self-efficacy.
Information provided on program websites (the term program refers to each teacher education program housed within each college of education and university in the Western state of the U.S.
Teacher education programs consisted of a compilation of courses and a student teaching assignment completed in elementary classrooms), and semi-structured interviews with faculty members who were responsible for the multicultural education courses.
These interview responses and program website descriptions were used to determine similarities and differences in program characteristics and requirements.

The participants (N = 523) were elementary education preservice teachers representing six teacher education programs from a Western state in the U.S. Participation was voluntary.
After participants had completed one year of teaching, another copy of the survey was sent to all original participants.
The elementary education in-service teachers (N = 162) who responded to the second survey represented 31% of the original sample of teachers who were included in the first analysis.
Not all of the teachers included in the first analysis secured teaching jobs in the state where the study took place, and so not all were available for the second stage of the analysis.

Instrumentation and data collection
The survey data in this study were collected using the Diversity and Multicultural Beliefs Self-Efficacy Scale, a subscale of the Self-Assessment of Proficiency to Perform Reading Tasks (SPPRT).

Findings and discussion
All programs in the current study required at least one course on the general topic of attending to diversity in the classroom, but only Programs A and E required courses that focused on specific strategies used to meet the needs of English language learners (ELLs).
While English as a Second Language (ESL) endorsements were generally available and often times encouraged, Program A was the only program requiring all preservice teachers to get an endorsement and Program E was unique in requiring that all preservice teachers take one course on teaching ELLs.
Another interesting characteristic of the teacher education programs was their handling of student teaching assignments and efforts made to ensure preservice teachers had authentic student teaching experiences with diverse students.
The majority of programs had no system in place to ensure that their pre-service teachers were provided with any opportunities to work in diverse classrooms.
Two programs were an exception.
Preservice teachers in Program A were intentionally placed in a classroom with multiple ELLs for the first four weeks of their student teaching and Program E identified schools that had diverse student populations, and then assigned preservice teachers to one of these schools.
The overall scale mean score for preservice and in-service teachers was 35.28 and 34.09 respectively.
This suggests that, in general, both groups felt “adequately” to “well prepared” to teach diverse students regardless of the stage of teaching.
However, the individual item means provide a slightly different picture of preservice and in-service teacher self-efficacy to teach diverse learners, and prior research has suggested that when drawing conclusions, more weight should be placed on individual item responses than on the overall score (Siwatu, 2011).
The preservice and in-service teachers surveyed seemed to feel most efficacious about the more social tasks (e.g., implement strategies to help students form different cultures interact positively with each other, or work with parents and families to help me understand students and support their learning), while rating themselves lower in areas related to more academic tasks directly related to lesson planning and instruction.
These findings coincide with the findings of Siwatu (2011) and Frye et al. (2010) who suggested courses that require time on theory and building positive attitudes and beliefs and relationships with diverse learners are critical, but perhaps the courses in the current study were not emphasising enough how to instruct diverse learners.
While there may be no magic strategies that will work in every situation, and no foolproof lesson plans, preservice teachers do need concrete ideas in order to develop and adapt curriculum to meet the needs of diverse learners (Frye et al., 2010; Jimenez-Silva et al., 2012).
Programs B and E produced preservice teachers with higher feelings of self-efficacy than the other programs at the preservice stage.
The authors wondered what these programs did differently that enabled them to produce more efficacious teachers of diverse learners.
According to the descriptive information gathered about the teacher education programs, Programs B and E did not differ much from the other programs.
In fact, Program B was very similar to the other programs, thus the higher self-efficacy ratings from Program B may be a result of the small sample size.
The findings from research question two suggested that preservice teachers felt some uncertainty about how to support the needs of ELLs similar to the findings of Jimenez-Silva et al. (2012). Moreover, the work of de Jong and Harper (2005) suggested that most teacher education programs were lacking explicit attention to the linguistic and cultural needs of ELLs.
Program E addressed the concerns of teaching ELLs in its general requirements where many of the other programs did not focus on how to teach ELLs in any required courses.
This may explain why preservice teachers from Program E rated their self-efficacy higher than students from Programs C, D and F.
However, Program A had even more classes on teaching ELLs than program E, and this program still reported the lowest overall mean score of any program.
Preservice teachers from Program A had at least four weeks of time spent working in a classroom with large numbers of ELLs, whereas pre-service teachers from Program E had no such guaranteed experience.
This lack of authentic experience with teaching diverse learners may account for Program E’s high self-efficacy mean score, meaning the preservice teachers had enough classes to feel confident about what they should do in a classroom of diverse learners without having had the field-based experiences that revealed the truth that it is “easier said than done.”
This line of thought indicates that field-based experiences with diverse learners that are required allow for more realistic views and self-efficacy to develop.
However, the only other program with an intentional student teaching assignment in a culturally diverse classroom was Program F, and this program reported the second lowest overall mean.
This finding suggests that simply being placed in a diverse classroom may not be sufficient.
Preservice teachers may need help making sense of their diverse classroom experiences and how these field-based experiences influence their attitudes and beliefs.
Finally, while the differences are not statistically significant, descriptive statistics did show a decrease in self-efficacy ratings across all items as teachers moved from the preservice stage to the in-service stage.
This indicates that the reality of teaching a class of diverse students affected participants’ feelings of self-efficacy more negatively.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
de Jong, E. J., & Harper, C. A. (2005). Preparing mainstream teachers for English language learners. Teacher Education Quarterly, 32(2), 101–124.
Frye, B., Button, L., Kelly, C., & Button, G. (2010). Preservice teachers’ self-perceptions and attitudes toward culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Praxis in Multicultural Education, 5(1), 1–22.
Jimenez-Silva, M., Olson, K., & Jimenez Hernandez, N. (2012). The confidence to teach english language learners: Exploring coursework’s role in developing preservice teachers’ efficacy. The Teacher Educator, 47(1), 9–28.
Siwatu, K. O. (2011). Preservice teachers’ culturally responsive teaching self-efficacy-forming experiences: A mixed methods study. The Journal of Educational Research, 104(5), 360–369. 

Updated: Jul. 20, 2021