Inspiring Teacher Candidates to Embrace Cultural Diversity

Inspiring Teacher Candidates to Embrace Cultural Diversity

Judi Simmons Estes (Park University, USA) and Judith Lynne McConnell-Farmer (Washburn University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9232-7.ch008
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One of the challenges facing teachers in the United States is providing high-quality education for all students met in the classroom, including those who too often are underserved: students of color, low-income students, English-language learners, as well as students in urban and rural settings. Teachers report feeling unprepared and lack confidence in teaching students from culturally different backgrounds from themselves. This chapter suggests that in addition to becoming certified teachers, teacher candidates need to be inspired by teacher educators who are passionate about cultural learning and willing to share their own journey. Through sharing, teacher educators can provide practices that build cultural knowledge and increase cultural experiences of teacher candidates.
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There is no more important factor for student learning than having a great teacher, particularly in high-needs communities, so it is essential to have strong teacher preparation programs that can generate pipelines of new teachers with the right mix of knowledge and skills to meet the full range of needs in classrooms across the country (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). This is a not an easy task but can be made easier when faculty are on a journey, with teacher candidates, to explore a wide range of cultural diversity.

During the 2015-16 academic year, 77% of public school teachers were female and 23% male (McFarland, Hussar, Wang, Zhang, Wang, Rathbun, et. al., 2018). There is a fundamental mismatch between a predominantly white, middle-class, female PK-12 teaching force and the increasing diverse students they meet in their classrooms; as a result there is a need for teacher educators to prepare teacher candidates with knowledge, skills, and experiences with diverse student populations (Yuan, 2018). In 2011, within U.S. schools, White students made up 55 percent of the elementary school population, Hispanic students were 23 percent of those attending grades 1 to 12, and the proportion of Black elementary and secondary students was 14 percent (Davis & Bauman, 2013, p. 10). The increase in diversity within PK-12 schools has been steady for the past several years. Projections indicate that by 2050 the ethnic and racial minority groups in our schools will be the majority group (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008). The diversity teachers meet in the classroom includes socioeconomic diversity. In 2006, Darling-Hammond commented, “In classrooms most beginning teacher will enter, at least 25 percent of students live in poverty and many of them lack basic food, shelter, and health care; from 10 percent to 20 percent have identified learning differences; 15 percent speak a language other than English as their primary language; and nearly 40 percent are members of minority groups, many of them recent immigrants from countries with different educational systems and cultural traditions” (p. 300).

While there is a need for teacher preparation programs to develop the knowledge, skills, and varied experiences of teacher candidates, teacher educators must also help teacher candidates recognize and critically analyze important issues such as race, ethnicity, culture, and the impact of poverty, in shaping the learning experience of PK-12 students. Beyond building knowledge and skill base, it is equally important for faculty to model their own commitment to continually growing in cultural competence and culturally responsive teaching pedagogy.

This chapter posits that faculty in teacher preparation programs can inspire teacher candidates to work with underserved and diverse populations of students by sharing their own stories of seeking culturally diverse knowledge, skills, and experiences, as well as providing similar opportunities for students through course assignments, field experiences, and encouragement of study abroad opportunities.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Diversity: Differences among groups of people and individuals based on ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, gender, exceptionalities, language, religion, sexual orientations and geographical area and types of diversity necessary for addressing the effects of candidate’s interactions with diverse faculty, candidates, and students.

School Climate: Refers to the quality and character of school life. It includes students', parents' and school personnel's norms, beliefs, relationships, teaching and learning practices, as well as organizational and structural features of the school.

Funds of Knowledge: A term that encompasses the knowledge, skills, and experiences acquired through historical and cultural interactions of an individual in their community and family life and culture through everyday living.

Achievement Gap: An achievement gap occurs when an educational attainment is higher for one group than for another group, and the difference between the two groups’ outcomes is statistically significant.

Cultural Deficit Thinking: The assumption of poor performance and widespread underachievement is attributed by the students’ socioeconomic status and familial origin.

Culture: The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Culturally responsive teaching, also referred to as culturally relevant teaching, is defined as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference and learning styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning personally meaningful and effective for them.

Multiculturalism: A philosophy, process and educational approach that emphasizes acceptance, respect, and appreciation for the many kinds of diversity that children and families bring to a classroom, including race, ethnicity, language, and religion.

Cultural Diversity: Cultural diversity takes into account language, religion, race, sexual orientation, gender, age, and ethnicity.

Teacher Candidate: A student who is participating in a professional teacher education program and preparing to become a certificated educator, but is not yet graduated.

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