Now that I'm out in the field: student teaching and valuing diversity.
The present study involved an effort to assess pre-service teachers' perceptions and attitudes regarding issues of cultural diversity, once the student has moved from the traditional college classroom. Pre-service teachers (N = 295) were asked to complete several questionnaires during their student teaching assignment. Information was gathered regarding personal and professional attitudes toward diversity and diversity issues. Results revealed a wide range of perceptions and attitudes with some students expressing a higher value for diversity and working in an environment with diverse students. Additionally, students" appreciation for diversity is clearly evident in their own personal attitudes and behaviors. This personal appreciation seems to resonate within the school environment.
As professionals in Education, we have a responsibility to better understand and prepare for the dynamic changes taking place across the nation. According to census data. American classrooms will continue to see an increase in the number of minority students at all levels. Estimates of minority enrollment in public schools by the year 2025 are as high as 35 to 50 percent (Colville-Hall, MacDonald, & Smolen, 1995: Grant & Secada, 1990). Interestingly, the demographics of the teaching population have not changed in a similar fashion. Statistics continue to show that students enrolled in teacher preparation programs come from monocultural backgrounds with over 90% from white middle-class environments, who have little or no experience working with minority populations (Jordan, 1995: Van Hook. 2002).
One of the more significant changes of the NCLB Act was the mandate that public schools in our nation report the achievement of all students. Unlike in the past, where many schools were able to report significant achievement among their student population, enactment of the new law provided a very different picture. It was clear that many students across our nation, particularly those of minority and low soctoeconomic status, were not achieving. As a result, many schools that were once deemed a success within their state were now considered a failure by the standards of the law.
Since the inception of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools across the nation are working diligently to meet standards imposed by the act. While some standards are much easier to address than others, many agree that meeting the challenge has proved to be a daunting task. The primary goal has been to decrease the achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged youth in our nation's public schools. Many of the schools in our nation have known about and failed to address the achievement gap for years (Ipka, 20(14). While the expressed attitude has been that All Children Can Learn, this has not been the result for many schools. Many children, particularly those of diverse groups, have not witnessed this in their own school environments. With the NCLB Act, schools are now forced to look more closely at the existing achievement gaps.
Higher Education is not immune to the NCLB Act. There are important implications for teacher Education programs and universities across the nation. Many colleges across the nation are being asked to address the gap issue by preparing pre-service teachers to recognize that many of them will be working in a diverse school setting, with little or no experience with persons from another ethnic background or social class (Causey et al., 2000: Finney & Orr, 1995: Pohan, 1996; Van Hook, 2002). However. pre-service teachers who leave higher education and move into the classroom have reported that they are ill-prepared to deal with the diversity of students that they encounter (Aaronsohn et al., 1995).
Teacher educators continue to focus on ways to better prepare teachers to serve students of diverse backgrounds and experiences (Cabello & Burstein, 1995) and those same programs have a responsibility to ensure that pre-service teachers leave the college classroom prepared to work with diverse populations in the school setting (Van Hook, 2002). Newer programs in higher education are offering more intense courses and applied experiences for students to become more cultural sensitive and aware of diverse others (Jones, 2004: Mastrilli & Sardo-Brown, 2002).
What teachers know and think about their diverse students can impact their performance and relationship with their students (Ladson-Billings, 1994). Causey, Thomas & Armento (2000) reported that many pre-service teachers cling to pre-existing beliefs that include optimistic individualism, absolute democracy, and naive egalitarianism, which cause them to fail lo fully appreciate the complexity of obstacles that many students of diverse backgrounds have experienced. They point out that cognitive change is essential for pre-service teachers to become effective teachers of culturally diverse classrooms.
As Banks (1994) points out, teachers must employ the skills and attitudes to accommodate their students cultural characteristics. There is a reciprocal relationship, in that, "teacher attitudes and beliefs influence teaching behaviors, which affect student learning and behavior" (Wiest, 1998, p.358). A number of researchers acknowledge that it is important for teachers to have attitudes, knowledge, and skills that help them to be sensitive and responsive to the increasing diversity that we see in our nation's schools (Banks & Banks, 1993: Nieto, 1996: Sleeter, 1993).
The present study was developed in an attempt to assess sensitivity and awareness of diversity among a group of pre-service teachers who had embarked on their student teaching experience. While many programs often speak to the issues of diversity during the teacher preparation program, very few research studies have assessed the issue once students have moved into the school environment. Of particular interest was the degree to which student teachers recognize and appreciate the diversity that they encountered in the school environment. Additionally, the authors attempted to gather data regarding participants personal experiences with diversity, which could possibly influence their attitudes and behavior in the classroom setting.
Participants for the study were pre-service teachers enrolled at a mid-sized, south-central university in the U.S. The students participating were completing their final course for the Teacher Education major. All participants were student teaching at the time they participated in the study. The sample was 80% (N = 236) females and 20% (N = 59) males. The mean age of the participants was 26 years of age with a range of 21-50 years of age. More than hall of the sample (57%) were elementary Education majors, 10% were middle grades education, and 29% were secondary Education.
Valuing Diversity in Education Survey. The Valuing Diversity in Education survey (VDS) is a shortened version of the original scale used to assess issues of diversity within the school environment (NAME, 1992). A principal-component analysis revealed one primary factor which accounted for 42% of the variance. The corrected item-total correlations were moderately strong and positive, with an internal reliability coefficient of .93.
The response format included a Likert scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. Participants who scored on the extreme of this instrument (top and bottom third of the sample) were classified as High Value for Diversity (HVD) and Low Value for Diversity (LVD) respectively.
During the academic school year, the Teacher Education Coordinator provided the school sites for all students who were student teaching. Surveys were mailed to students at their teaching site, with a return envelope to the College of Education. Two weeks after the first survey was mailed, a follow-up letter was sent to each school site reminding students to please return the survey.
VDS-SF and Correlation with Related Construct
When addressing a topic such as cultural diversity, there can be a tendency lot participants to produce socially desirable responses. In order to ensure that the answers provided did not simply represent socially desirable responses on the part of the participants, the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale was included as part of the survey. As expected, there was no significant relationship between the VDS-SF and Social Desirability, r (288) = -.007. p=.89.
Demographic Characteristics of the Groups
The demographic characteristics of the High Value Diversity (HVD) and Low Value Diversity (LVD) groups are presented in Table 1. The sample in both groups was primarily Caucasian females and was most dominate in the area of elementary education. Our sample was representative of those seen in many colleges/universities across the nation.
Personal Experience in Diverse Settings
Participants were asked about their personal interaction with individuals from diverse groups in several social situations, which included church, community, and social events. There was a significant difference between the two groups across several social settings (see Table 2). More specifically, those who were high in valuing diversity expressed slightly more interaction with diverse others in church, F (1,288) = 6.93, [eta.sup.2]=.04 and at social events, F (1,290) = 11.20, [eta.sup.2]=.04.
When asked about their experiences with diverse others during their student-teaching experience, those who were high in valuing diversity express a small, but significant difference in their interaction in the student-teaching classroom, F (1,290) = 4.93, [eta.sup.2]=04 and the student-teaching school, F (1,291) = 6.67, [eta.sup.2]=.04. Interestingly, there was greater difference between the groups when asked about their interaction with diverse others during the parent-teacher encounters, with HVD participants expressing more frequent contact during these interactions, F (1, 280) = 19.1, [eta.sup.2]=.14.
Diversity. Discussion and Reading
Pre-service teachers were asked about the discussion of diversity issues in the classroom during their student teaching experience. Specifically, participants were asked, "During student teaching, how frequently did you discuss diversity issues related to students in the classroom, and how frequently did you discuss diversity issues related to school issues?" As shown in Table 3, those HVD reported more frequent conversations in the classroom regarding diversity issues than those LVD, F (1,290) = 12.78, [eta.sup.2]=.05. Likewise, HVD participants reported a greater frequency of diversity discussion related to school issues, F (1,288) = 26.80, [eta.sup.2]=.06.
When participants were asked about diversity-related discussion in reference to community concerns, those HVD still reported a slightly greater frequency of discussion, F (1,288) = 20.33, [eta.sup.2]=.05 than those LVD. Finally, participants high in valuing diversity reported that they spent more time reading articles or information related to diversity issues during their student teaching experience than those low in valuing diversity, F (1,290) = 15.74, [eta.sup.2]=.05.
Diversity and Working Environment
Participants were asked about their comtbrt level in working with diverse student populations. While the groups did not significantly differ in their response to working with diverse students in the classroom setting (HVD: M=1.33, SD=.84 vs. LVD: M=l.50, SD=.89), those high in valuing diversity reported that they would feel a bit more comfortable working in a diverse environment.
When asked about their comfort level when working with individuals who are predominantly of another race, high valuing diversity participants (M=1.66, SD=.92) reported that they would feel somewhat comfortable working with individuals who were predominantly of another race. Those low in valuing diversity (M=1.90, SD=.98) were a bit more unsure of their comfort level in this situation, F (I, 293) = 4.17, p<.04, [eta.sup.2] = .05.
The findings in the study indicate that many of the students in our sample exhibited awareness of diversity, however those high in valuing diversity expressed significantly greater awareness and appreciation in a number of situations. Those high in valuing diversity had more frequent personal interaction with diverse others across several social situations and were more likely to notice and appreciate diversity in their social surroundings, whether in the school or community settings. The resulting behavior may be the ability to work comfortably with diverse students and others in the school setting.
The question remains as to whether value for diversity is something that can be taught in the classroom and enhanced throughout teacher preparation programs? Our findings seemed to indicate that some students enter the teacher education program with an awareness for diversity and diverse others. It is likely that programs that teach the value of diversity will enhance those skills that one may already possess. Additionally, helping the student focus more specifically on his/her diversity skills within the classroom setting will only enhance the classroom experience.
The findings also showed that there are still a number of pre-service teachers who continue to express little value for the diversity that they are likely to encounter. This group may prove to be a more challenging task for the teacher educator. The programs ability to identify individuals at this level would likely help educators see where they need to focus their energy, and the type of diversity training that may be appropriate and needed for the group.
Jordan (1995) indicates that the question teacher educators must consider is "how realistic is the assumption that we can achieve any significant changes in the racist and prejudicial attitudes of Anglo-American pre-service teachers within the short span of time they spend in teacher preparation programs" (373). He points out that teacher educators continue to face a demanding challenge by pushing students to confront their pre-existing attitudes and beliefs regarding diversity. Teacher preparation programs continue to struggle with the most effective ways to deal with issues of diversity (Jones, 2004). Early identification of one's value for diversity may allow educators to measure and redefine teachers' knowledge and schemata regarding cultural diversity and diversity issues, particularly in areas where one's assumptions are based upon myths and incorrect assumptions. Additionally, many more teacher education programs are being asked to help prospective teachers apply the diversity skills they have acquired in the classroom setting (Stevens & Charles, 2005).
Likewise, continued follow-up of graduates is essential if we wish to support sensitivity to cultural diversity in classroom settings over the career path of teacher educators (Causey et al., 2000). This is crucial for our graduates as well as the students in their classrooms. Teachers who are sensitive to the issues of cultural diversity may be much better teachers for their students. Their understanding of the different characteristics of each student, as well as his/her cultural background can only enhance their relationship, and help the teacher to improve the learning environment for the student. Future research endeavors should include continued assessment of teachers' attitudes regarding diversity and diversity issues, once they have moved into the classroom setting.
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Dr. Jacqueline Pope and Dr. Joyce Wilder, Faculty, Department of Psychology, Western Kentucky University.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addresssed to Dr. Jacqueline Pope. Department of Psychology, 273 Tate Page Hall, Bowling Green, KY 42101: Email: Jacqueline.email@example.com
Table 1 Demographic Characteristics for the High Value Diversity (HVD) and Low Value Diversity (LVD) Groups LVD HVD Gender F 126 F 110 M 26 M 33 Student Teaching Area Eled 97 Eled 64 MGE 17 MGE 11 SecEd 27 SecEd 55 VDS * M 73.5 (SD= 13.8) M 36.6 (SD=6.1) Range 59-133 Range 25-46 * Valuing Diversity Scale (VDS) = Lower score reflects higher value for diversity. Table 2 Means & Standard Deviations for Interaction with Diverse Others in Various Social Settings HVD LVD Interaction with Diverse Others: M SD M SD Church 2.05 0.75 1.81 .75 ** Community 2.47 0.65 2.33 0.67 Social Events 2.32 0.69 2.04 .69 ** Student-Teaching Classroom 2.60 0.64 2.42 .72 * Student-Teaching School 2.61 0.64 2.41 .69 ** Parent-Teacher Meetings 2.24 0.74 1.84 0.76 *p < .05. **p < .01. Response format for questions above: 1=rarely 2=sometimes, 3=often. Table 3 Means & Standard Deviations for Discussion of Diversity Issues and Reading Diversity-related Materials HVD M SD Diversity issues in the classroom 2.17 0.84 Diversity issues related to school 2.45 0.78 concerns Diversity issues related to community 2.68 0.88 concerns Read articles or information related to 2.68 0.72 diversity issues LVD M SD Diversity issues in the classroom 2.54 0.91 Diversity issues related to school 2.96 0.90 concerns Diversity issues related to community 3.14 0.83 concerns Read articles or information related to 3.03 0.76 diversity issues * All means above significantly different at p<.001. Response format for questions above: 1 =Daily, 2=Weekly, 3=Monthly, 4=Never
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|Title Annotation:||educational psychology research; includes statistical tables|
|Publication:||Journal of Instructional Psychology|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2005|
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