Pre-service teachers' understanding of culture in multicultural education: A qualitative content analysis

February 2022

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 110

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The current paper contributes to the discussion on why preservice teachers lack a sophisticated understanding of multicultural issues by analyzing their definitions of culture, which is the central concept in multicultural education.
The author also discusses the implications of pre-service teachers’ understanding of culture for multicultural education.
Furthermore, she investigates the unexplored topic of how generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers define culture.
The current research, then, investigates in detail the differences in how generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers conceptualize culture and discusses the implications for how teacher education programs should address multicultural education.
This mixed-methods research has two goals:
(1) to examine 231 early childhood (EC) through eighth grade (EC-8) generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers’ definitions of culture in South Texas; and
(2) to investigate if the certification program in which the pre-service teachers are enrolled and whether they speak a language other than English or not influences the number of descriptors they use to define culture. The assumption is that the higher the number of descriptors, the more complex their idea of culture.
This study posed the following research questions:
(1) What are the descriptors used by generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers to describe culture? and
(2) What is the impact of certification program and knowledge of a second language on the number of descriptors of culture?

This research adopts a qualitative constructivist approach on the premise that “each individual holds different views, and the role of research is to uncover these multiple views” (Creswell, 2016, p. 42).
The author is a teacher educator who believes in, and wants to understand the concept of, multicultural education to better inform her teaching practices.
As such, she considers it of fundamental importance to uncover the multiple views of culture that pre-service teachers have, as they might impact how such teachers implement multicultural education.

Research and sampling design
This study employed a mixed-methods design.
The phenomenon being studied, the definition of culture, is qualitative in nature; however, the data gathered was quantified to identify the elements that describe culture and run a statistical test.
The qualitative definitions were analyzed and decomposed in terms of descriptors (categories) and the frequency with which they occurred.
This study is part of a larger project (Silva, 2018) employing a sample survey design that “provides a quantitative description of trends, attitudes, and opinions of a population, or tests for associations among variables of a population, by studying a sample of that population” (Creswell & Creswell, 2018, p. 147).
The survey includes a variety of closed-ended questions to measure preservice teachers’ cultural and linguistic self-efficacy beliefs and an open-ended question about their definition of culture.
In this article, the author only analyzes the open-ended responses to the question “What is your definition of culture?”
The author used convenience sampling because the population of interest was accessible geographically and immediately (Miles et al., 2019).

Participants and context
The participants in this study (N = 231) were EC-8 pre-service teachers seeking generalist or bilingual certification who were enrolled in teacher education programs across two four-year Hispanic-serving institutions in South Texas.
The participants were in their junior and senior years (often the third and fourth year of their undergraduate degree) and reported no formal EC-8 teaching experience.

The participants took approximately 15-20 min to complete the survey in class.
Although data was predominantly collected through face-to-face interaction, some participants completed an online version of the survey via an online course interface in four courses at one of the university sites.

Data analyses
The author conducted a qualitative content analysis (QCA) to answer the first research question: “What are the descriptors used by generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers to describe culture?” She ran a 2X2 factorial analysis of variance (ANOVA) to answer the second research question: “What is the impact of certification program and knowledge of a second language on the number of descriptors of culture?”

Findings and discussion
The findings in answer to the first research question: “What are the descriptors used by generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers to describe culture?” suggest that pre-service teachers believe that culture is individual and represented mainly by practice and perspective characteristics.
Instead of describing what culture is in terms of its components, most pre-service teachers described it in the sense of association, stating that culture is individual.
This view might reflect a core value of the U.S.society, which is individualism.
When pre-service or in-service teachers focus on their students only as individuals, they do not take account of the fact that such students belong to groups which might experience social struggles, structural racism, privilege, and discrimination.
Moreover, teachers who do not consider the power issues that occur within and across groups of people might not be effective at promoting multicultural education in their classrooms, which could contribute to creating a more just society.
Ladson-Billings’ (2006) understanding of a culturally relevant pedagogy goes beyond the individual level and has collective empowerment as its goal.
Gay (2018) stated that “the individuality of students is deeply entwined with their ethnic identity and cultural socialization” (p. 30).
Thus, teachers need to be aware of their students' cultural backgrounds, not only at the individual level but also at the group level.
Only then can they incorporate their students' background knowledge into their teaching practices and avoid the risk of ignoring students’ cultural heritages (Gay, 2018).
Culture, then, is individual, but highly collective as well.
The main findings in answer to the second research question: “What is the impact of certification program and knowledge of a second language on the number of descriptors of culture?” The findings suggest that neither predictor influences the number of descriptors used by generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers.
However, bilingual pre-service teachers and those who speak a language other than English tend to show a deeper understanding of culture.
Although this study did not find a statistically significant difference between generalist and bilingual pre-service teachers concerning the number of descriptors used to describe culture, preservice teachers, in general, demonstrated a great variety of descriptor combinations.
This might indicate that pre-service teachers do not all share a similar understanding of culture.
Thus, it is important to understand the difference in the descriptors the teachers chose because, when they become responsible for their own classrooms, they might address culture in different ways that could influence students' outcomes either positively or negatively.
Rogoff (2003) stated that we need to develop a deeper sense of how and why people carry out their practices in their respective ways, separate from value judgments about cultural differences.
Learning more about teachers’ practices, especially as concerns the teaching of culture, can provide the multicultural education field with more information about how teachers conceptualize culture and the factors that influence this understanding.

Creswell, J. W. (2016). 30 essential skills for the qualitative researcher. SAGE Publications.
Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (5th ed.). SAGE Publications.
Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). Teachers College Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (2006). It's not the culture of poverty, it's the poverty of culture: The problem with teacher education. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 37(2), 104-109.
Miles, M. B., Huberman, A. M., & Saldana, J. (2019). ~ Qualitative data analysis: A methods sourcebook. SAGE Publications.
Rogoff, B. (2003). The cultural nature of human development. Oxford University Press.
Silva, D. (2018). The influence of schooling and life experiences on pre-service teachers' cultural and linguistic self-efficacy beliefs [Unpublished doctoral's thesis]. University of Texas at San Antonio. 

Updated: May. 08, 2022