Developing Self- and Cultural-Awareness Through Introductory Education Courses: The “Me” Semester

Developing Self- and Cultural-Awareness Through Introductory Education Courses: The “Me” Semester

Heather Coffey (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Susan B. Harden (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Erik Jon Byker (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA), Amy J. Good (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA) and Larry B. Fisher (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3068-8.ch005


Using case study method, this project examines the perceptions and practices related to development of self and cultural awareness among a cohort of 104 (n=104) first-year students, all aspiring to become future teachers. Over the course of one academic semester, first year students who planned to enter the teacher education program participated in readings, activities, assignments, field based observations, and discussions developed to facilitate self and cultural awareness. The findings from analyses of these artifacts indicate that pre-service teachers began to demonstrate deeper awareness of how personal opinions and biases influenced their interactions with others and the types of characteristics related to appreciating diversity (Akiba, 2011) in urban classrooms. This study has implications for engaging first year students in early field-based clinical experiences in order to develop self and cultural awareness in preparation for teaching.
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I don’t think I would do anything differently. I mean honestly. I learned as I went on and now I know what to expect. It was kind of like a “me” semester. You have to learn about yourself because you are on your own. I’m not at home with my mom and all this kind of stuff. I thought it was about learning about me and my dedication to school.

Despite decades of systematic recruiting, teacher education programs are failing to graduate a racially, ethnically, linguistically, religiously, or gender diverse teaching corp. This lack of diversity starkly contrasts with the diverse public school students these future teachers will someday have in their classes (Schools and Staffing Survey, 2011-12). As instructors in an introductory education course primarily offered to first-semester, first-year undergraduates, we noticed students enrolled in our teacher education programs are representative of the national teaching demographics, which are consistently White (72%) and female (89%). Knowing that K-12 students in the urban schools with which we partner are primarily African American, Latinx, and Asian, we began to consider ways in which we could broach this student-teacher demographic discontinuity. We began to ask, “how can we prepare predominately White and female pre-service teachers to be effective educators of diverse student populations? How might we start this journey into self-evaluation and awareness the very first semester these pre-service teachers begin thinking from the perspective of teachers?”

Knowing that longitudinal studies have shown that race and gender influences biases regarding the expectations of the educational attainment of students (Gershenson, Holt, & Papageorge, 2016), we sought to create a curriculum and pedagogy that challenged pre-service teachers to think intentionally about how these biases and perspectives influence the ways in which they look at the field of education and the profession of teaching. As former classroom teachers, community partners, now college instructors, and researchers, we know that it is critical that teacher education programs provide opportunities for students to confront their biases, both implicit and explicit. However, in our theory-heavy teacher education curriculums, content area instruction comprises a significant portion of the course of study, and investigation into bias occurs within the context of disciplinary content. We revised our introductory education courses to create spaces where self- and cultural-exploration take priority over content and pedagogy. Providing meaningful opportunities for teacher education students to confront their biases requires dedicated time and a new lens through which to view the curriculum.

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