Examining the Perceptions, Beliefs, and Practices of Teacher Candidates Who Work With Diverse Learners

Examining the Perceptions, Beliefs, and Practices of Teacher Candidates Who Work With Diverse Learners

Salika A. Lawrence (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Tabora Johnson (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Keshia James (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Keturah Brooks (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Zoland Charles (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Woody-Aaron Duton (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA), Sherene Natasha Hodgson (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA) and Joanna Adams (CUNY Medgar Evers College, USA)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9989-0.ch007


This chapter examines teacher candidates' instructional decision-making and their perceptions of how instructional choices impact diverse learners. It describes strategies teacher candidates believe help to support the academic development of diverse learners. Data from semi-structured, face-to-face interviews, field notes from in-class observations, and classroom artifacts were used to examine how teacher candidates enacted culturally responsive teaching. The results show that teacher candidates who display culturally responsive practices in their classrooms can engage learners and foster trusting communities in their classrooms built upon teacher-student and student-student relationships. Furthermore, teacher candidates display a teaching identity that enables them to self-assess their decision-making, enact, and reconceptualize theories that shape their classroom practices. There is also some disconnect between teachers' ability to enact culturally responsive practices and their skills articulating their use of this theoretical framework.
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Educators around the globe face similar challenges when attempting to meet the multidimensional needs of diverse students (Levin, 2013) because diverse students bring a broad array of skills and cultural norms into schools. The percentage of students of color in public schools is increasing; causing a wide gap in proportion to the percent of teachers of color (Albert Shanker Institute, 2015). This is problematic because there are numerous benefits for students who have teachers of color (Vilson, 2016) and teachers who share similar demographic characteristics with their students (Albert Shanker Institute, 2015). Teachers who are aware of and understand the culture of their students are able to build relationships and engage students in learning by adapting the curriculum, so students are empowered and validated to feel like they are a member of the classroom community (Gay, 2018; Ladson-Billings, 2009). There is a need for more teachers of color, as well as teachers with backgrounds, demographics and experiences like diverse learners in public schools. There is also a need to identify strategies that can support the increasingly diverse student body in today’s classrooms (Souto-Manning & Mitchell, 2010).

Preparing teachers to work with diverse learners is a critical and timely need for teacher preparation programs. Understanding the ways in which teacher candidates frame their practice, and how their perceptions about themselves and their students can influence their practice, will help document strategies that are most effective for supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students. In order to better support diverse students, including those from varied cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and those with learning differences, teachers need to be prepared and culturally aware. Teacher preparation needs to provide opportunities for teacher candidates to develop an understanding of the local contexts and cultures of the students they serve. Doing so will help teacher candidates develop a critical teaching stance while enrolled in a teacher preparation program that enables them to better support and work with diverse learners. A critical teaching stance is grounded in an educational philosophy, such as Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), that helps educators empower learners by building upon students’ strengths. To enact a critical teaching stance, teacher candidates engage in critical reflection and self-assessment in order to consider the ways in which their instructional choices impact students. Furthermore, they are reflective of their own biases, the depth of their knowledge of students, and how to harness these to support all learners. Teacher candidates who develop a critical teaching stance also display a ‘teacher identity’ that includes personal knowledge of self and the communities they serve.

To explore strategies that help support the academic development of students from diverse backgrounds, we looked at the practices of teacher candidates enrolled in a teacher preparation program. We focus our inquiry on teacher candidates to examine what strategies they perceive as effective when working with diverse students. Our qualitative study had three purposes. First, it explored local factors impacting instructional decision-making in teacher candidates’ classrooms. Second, it examined the teacher candidates’ beliefs and professional identities to further unpack and understand (Furlong, 2013) how they reflect on their classroom practice. Third, it identified the strategies perceived to be most effective for diverse learners. Our work was guided by the question, what perceptions, beliefs, and knowledge about students are enacted by teacher candidates working with diverse students?

This chapter explores the beliefs of teacher candidates and how their perceptions are enacted through their classroom practices and instructional decision-making. First, we present background information from the literature on factors that shape teachers’ ability to support the needs of diverse students. With emphasis on teachers’ beliefs, knowledge of local practices, and CRT, we highlight the ways in which educators can enact CRT to employ strategies that build on students’ prior knowledge and interests. Next, we report findings from the current research study to document instructional choices and practices in classrooms where teacher candidates worked with students to support their academic development. Finally, solutions and recommendations are presented to identify the implications for preparing teachers to work with and support the academic development of students.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cultural Competence: A quality possessed by educators who have a high level of cultural awareness. These individuals understand local culture, consider the individual needs of students when planning and teaching the curriculum, and has a clear understanding of the ways in which local cultures influence education.

Field Experience: Authentic learning opportunity for teacher candidates to work with students.

Diverse Learners: Students who bring a broad array of learning styles, varying academic histories and needs, and may also have cultural and linguistic differences.

Teacher Identity: A quality possessed by educators who have a stance on teaching that is grounded in social justice, which shapes their instructional decisions. This stance is framed and guided by the educator’s desire to teach, their ability to self-assess and reflect on their practice.

Teacher Reflection: The ability of educators to self-assess and critically evaluate their practice.

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