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Teaching and Cultural Competence

Teaching          and Cultural Competence

One of the current concerns plaguing the nation's schools is how to find teachers who are capable of teaching successfully in diverse classrooms. Although teacher education programs throughout the nation purport to offer preparation for meeting the needs of racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse students, scholars have documented the fact that these efforts are uneven and unproved.

Several factors interfere with the ability of teacher education programs to prepare teachers for diverse classroom settings. One factor that is rarely discussed in the literature is that most of the teacher education faculty are white. As I said earlier, there are approximately 35,000 faculty in the United States; 88 percent of the full-time education faculty are white; 81 percent are between the ages of 45 and 60 (or older). These numbers alone do not prove anything about the ability of the teacher education faculty. However, they may cause us to wonder about the incentive of teacher education programs to ensure that all of its graduates are prepared to teach all students.

One of my former graduate students decided to pursue a teaching credential after completing his master's degree. He chose a credentialing program close to his home, which was in one of the nation's most diverse sites. A month after he began his program, I received a letter from him:

    I wish that I could tell you that I have found an outlet for [the] excitement [for learning I experienced in the master's program] here. ... Unfortunately, my experience here has been quite frustrating. ... [A]lmost none of the students or faculty hold high expectations for student teachers. It has been depressing to go from reading authors like [Michael] Apple and [Bill] Ayers to studying in a program that constantly reinforces the notion that we are not intellectuals. ...

    At the first meeting with our university supervisor, we were told to "watch out for 6th graders. They run around like a bunch of wild Indians." The supervisor ... also warned us about the evils of middle schools (as opposed to junior highs) and block scheduling. Finally he responded to a student's concern that she would not know her content area well enough by saying, "You're smarter than the students. Don't worry. Besides, if you are stumped you can go on the Internet and get wonderful lesson plans."

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