VIEWING THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS: RECOGNIZING FACTORS: AFFECTING MULTICULTURAL AWARENESS AND COMPETENCE OF PRE-SERVICE TEACHERS IN EARLY CHILDHOOD TEACHER EDUCATION PROGRAM
Basanti Dey Chakraborty
Consider the following views of pre-service teachers on multiculturalism:” Multicultural education is important because it can help to eliminate the stereotypes and discrimination in the world’s classrooms and possibly outside the classroom as well.” “Children learn about the world through their classmate’s presence, when the teacher chooses to teach various ethnic back grounds. It is a great way to learn about world culture in a non-threatening way. Children become well rounded at an earlier age and eventually become competent young adults.” “Make sure to teach each individual with respect and make sure you highlight/emphasize something significant and important from each culture that is meaningful for the child.” “The more those teachers will incorporate ideas on multiculturalism in their teaching and curriculum, the better the people will get along and coexist peacefully. Children will know that people are more alike than different and those differences make the world more interesting.” These voices resonate some of the views of leading scholar in multicultural education. Consider the following: Thinking, caring, and acting are the heart of my teaching of multicultural education. It is assumed that in addition to the need for teachers who are well informed about their content areas and cultural diversity, the nation needs teachers who are fair minded, critical thinkers, who care about the welfare of their students and humanity in general, and who act in ways that encourage all students to learn and develop to their highest potential (Sleeter, 1995). Scholars (Banks, 1989; Bennett, 1995; Derman-Sparks & the A.B.C. Task Force, 1991; Haberman & Post, 1998; Irvine, 1994; Nieto, 1996; Sleeter, 1995, and Tatum, 1992) in the field of multicultural education have emphasized the need for culturally responsive teachers in the schools. How do culturally responsive teacher preparation programs look? Culturally responsive teacher education programs must include opportunities for pre-service teachers to work in schools where all students learn and develop to their highest potentiality; where students and teachers understand and begin to develop multiple ways of perceiving, behaving, and evaluating; and where students conform to those aspects of school culture necessary for harmonious social interaction while retaining their own ethnic identity (Irvine, 1994). Haberman and Post (1998) in their article “Teachers for multicultural schools: The Power of Selection,” emphasized on the following qualities of teachers: Self-knowledge, Self-acceptance, Relationship skills, Community knowledge, Empathy, Cultural human development, Cultural conflict, Relevant curriculum, Generating sustained effort, Coping with violence, Self-analysis, and Functioning in chaos. To fulfill these qualities as responsive teachers in 21st century schools, the pre-service teachers must become aware of the diversity among young children and their families, develop understanding and respect for diverse cultures and build partnerships with families in educating young children. Through early exposure to the concept of multiculturalism prior to entering into a teacher preparation program, pre-service teachers can learn to develop the right kind of attitude and skills to address the issues negatively affecting the education of young children. Preparation of pre-service teachers involves three major phases: liberal arts education, specialized subject-field education, and professional education. During these phases the students get exposures and opportunities to learn about the world around them, strengthen their personal knowledge on specific content, and develop critical thinking ability in making decisions and solving problems for themselves and others. Liberal arts education develops and refines the thinking process of individuals to accept rational explanation of phenomenon happening around them and to be able to accept and recognize diverse viewpoints with patience, respect and decency. This kind of refinement of the thought process facilitates students’ ability to make rational decisions and solve problems scientifically. Pre-service teachers in early childhood education courses are exposed to knowledge, skills and professional dispositions on diversity issues, teacher expectations of all students, professional and ethical qualities to become an empathetic teacher through clinical experiences, classroom activities, discussions and dialogs. It is with these assumptions, the investigator, explored perceptions of factors effecting the development of multicultural awareness and competence of pre-service teachers.
The following questions were explored in the study: What is multicultural competence? How is multicultural education valuable for prospective teachers? Which instructional strategies were effective in promoting awareness, understanding and appropriate attitude towards diversity/multiculturalism? What issues posed obstacle in the process of developing multicultural awareness and competence among the teacher candidates? The conclusion was based on the analysis of teacher candidates’ responses to the above research questions.
Qualitative approach with a small sample was used to generate data from a survey questionnaire. The questionnaire was administered to pre-service teachers in an undergraduate early childhood program of a north-eastern university in U.S.A. Participants were surveyed on their personal exposure to diversity, the impact of a liberal arts education in exposing them to the process of critical thinking and the teacher education program in training them to address the needs of diverse young children. Participants were surveyed on conditions and factors that facilitated their multicultural awareness and competence. The questionnaire included items that tapped demographic characteristics (age, sex, ethnic background) and exposure to diversity.
The responses to the questions in the questionnaire consisting of objective and open-ended questions served as the primary data source. Descriptive statistics were used to analyze the students’ responses to objective questions in the survey. Content analysis was used to analyze open-ended survey questions. The survey involved undergraduate students (Total n=302; male=9 and female=293) in early childhood teacher preparation program. The ages ranged from 22 to the late fifties. There were 16 Asian American, 46 African American, 122 Hispanic, 101 Caucasian, and 17 who designated their background as other, in the sample.
Exposure to Diversity
The personal life experiences of students played a vital role in their acceptance and understanding of diverse issues discussed either in liberal arts or in teacher education program courses. These personal experiences also facilitated students’ acceptance, and understanding of diversity among young children and their families. 97% of the participants reported having prior exposure to multiculturalism while 3% reported having no exposure. 93% reported having exposure to multicultural experiences in education courses. Pre-service teachers reported their source of exposure to: experience with people of different ethnicities, multicultural activities in both liberal arts and early childhood teacher education courses experience of working in school systems, university environment, reading diverse/multicultural literature
Value of Multicultural Education
Pre-service teachers reported that multicultural education is extremely valuable, should be taught at an early age, and be a part of every students’ life. According to them:
“Multicultural education helps one to become a better person, to develop insight into other culture, and to get to know each other.” “Multicultural education is essential to living in 21st century, and is a novel way to learn about the world culture in a non-threatening way. Multicultural education will work towards eliminating stereotypes and discrimination in the classrooms. This will help children to be tolerant of others, and help teachers in dealing with children and parents effectively.”
The strategies found successful in developing multicultural awareness and competence of the pre-service teachers were: Observations, meetings and discussions with parents; Debates on complex issues like “Gay and Lesbians;” Group work and interviews; Dramatization and role-playing about different culture; Learning about multiculturalism thorough content and the process of reflection/conflict resolution; and Reading of controversial books.
Effective Multicultural Activities as perceived by Pre-service teachers
Participants responded with powerful messages about effective activities:
“Writing an essay on our lives and culture was the best activity.” In addition, participants’ suggested the following activities as powerful and meaningful: “Doing an activity on stereotype misconception. Having the DISCOMFORT in doing this activity pushed the pre-service teachers’ boundaries forcing them to think beyond the box”; Activities with young children in schools to understand their cultural background, to understand the “Special needs child”; Activities on “White Prejudice” ; Watching the video “Class Divided” and writing reflection paper; Annotated bibliography on multicultural children’s literature; Discussing peer’s background; and Creating a multicultural tree with children’s handprints.
The results of the survey on strategies, activities and perception of participants on the value of multicultural education provide critical information for the teacher educators. The result demonstrates the use of reflective activities, group work, interviews, discussions and reading of books as important factors in enhancing participants’ critical thinking. Perceptions of the participants suggest that certain activities are more powerful than others in evoking the right kind of feelings and attitudes to think beyond the box and examine issues critically. The researcher believes that there is a need for evaluation at the beginning and end of the teacher education program to assess the entry and exit level awareness and competence of pre-service teachers on multicultural education. It is also felt that interdisciplinary collaboration between the content specific courses, liberal arts courses and teacher education courses may strengthen the competence of pre-service teachers in multicultural education. The following are some of the suggestions for further research: Interviewing pre-service teachers; Exploration of faculty views on the issue of multicultural awareness and competence; and Surveying and interviewing faculty members teaching various courses in subject specific courses; liberal arts courses and teacher education program may provide valuable information for further analysis.
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