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Cultural Diversity in the Classroom in Pre-service Teacher Training

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The main goal of a pre-service program in the field of education is preparing student-teachers to become certified teachers which are pedagogically equipped with the right theories and skills that will help them meet the continuous demands of the teaching profession in the future (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005). With recent issues in preparedness and the recruitment of education graduates, the system is being challenged to prepare teacher candidates to overcome misconceptions and malpractices in the field. And although the aforementioned issue has also pushed ongoing debates about how to best prepare future facilitators and instructors for such responsibilities (Zeichner, Payne, & Brayko, 2015), prominent scholars such as Gay (2010) and Milner (2010), discovered that preparation for teaching usually begins with the act of embracing diverse beliefs and practices that are embedded in what Gellel (2010) coined as ‘community of practice’ or where prospective teachers connect with the social structure through “short residential periods, social activities, and discussion groups” (p.173).

Education is viewed to be a process where the central goal is anchored in the development of biological, emotional, mental, social, and moral aspects of human beings (Thornburg, 1984) in a form of regular and planned structures that are systematically executed. Schools then become the most important part of this structure for not only do they collectively carry out paradigms for institutions but also various organizations in the society. As known, an organization is composed of two or more people that serve as a form of social association to achieve a specific goal or end in mind. From this perspective, we can note that an educational system is an administrative organization with various disciplines and practices. and as its sub-institution, it can be analyzed that schools and the people behind them are part of such an organization (Kornblum and Julian, 1992).

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Sociological theory suggests that as organizations grow, human beings with different beliefs and practices have interactions and form ties that are more formal (Weber, 1947) generating new bureaucratic but less personal structures. Different schools have a different social structures. Yet, such structures cannot be fully reduced to that, nor can they be reduced to only having a particular set of beliefs and practices that are based upon its culture. It may be that the individuals in communities of practice link various elements forming the society with each other, but they also, knowingly and unknowingly, influence and shape the structure in a way. In line with this, another part of the professional teaching development is the need for teachers to engage in explicit reflection on these beliefs and practices, as well as to understand the possible consequences embedded in them (Fives & Buehl, 2016). For their beliefs form the foundation of the very relationship among the institution they belong to, their fellow teachers, and their own students (Ulluci, 2007), and their practices in the learning environment reflect or shape their overall performance as well as the way they hold about the children in their care (Nelson & Guerra, 2014).

However, beliefs and practices are mostly seen as individual cognitive conceptions related to the behavior of the external environment and reciprocate different activities under different circumstances (Bandura, 1997) and hence, making them either dynamic and prone to change or relatively stable and resistant to alter, depending on an individual’s experience. Thus, it is during the formal teaching development and preparation that these beliefs and practices are more susceptible to change (Milner, 2010) for pre-service teachers can be confronted with both affirming and negating concepts (Gay & Kirkland, 2003) that will not be further addressed in their immersion or field experience (del Prado, Hill, Friedland, & Phelps, 2012) affecting the way they synthesize the common culture. Paulo Freire (1970), in his work The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, explained that in synthesizing culture, one should be aware of the action which operates upon a particular social structure and its objective of whether preserving or transforming it that further leads to either of the two opposing cultural actions: dialogical and antidialogical.

Dialogical cultural action, to put it simply, aims to overcome “the antagonistic contradictions of the social structure” (Freire, 1970, para. 3, p.179). In the context of education, teacher’s beliefs may be cultivated oftentimes by the influence of the social, cultural, and historical contexts that they experience firsthand, reflecting the values of the mainstream society and inciting change. On the other hand, antidialogical cultural action aims at enveloping such contradictions in hope of avoiding transformations of their reality, which in a sense both explicitly and implicitly preserves “the social structure that favors its own agents” (Freire, 1970, para. 4, p.179). For instance, seasoned teachers may already have stereotypical ethnic biases (Glock, 2016), or tend to hold on to their beliefs by rejecting the cultural capital that practice teachers bring about into their social structure, as well as the learning environment (Ladson-Billings, 1995) to an extent of instigating permanence of existing culture.

Similarly, this change or permanence of action may eventually lead to what Freire (1970) determined as cultural immersion or cultural invasion which can happen with an individual and a group or vice versa. Immersion happens when agents from ‘another world’ come not to teach or to transmit anything, but rather to learn, with other people and about these people’s world – integrating with people who are seen as coauthors of action in the community of practice. While in the cultural invasion, agents draw the content of their action from their own values and ideology, with their own world as the starting point, when they enter the world of those they seemingly ‘invade’ – superimposing themselves on people who were given the role of spectators or mere objects.

In the last few decades, several types of research have reviewed the need for practice teacher training to prepare future educators for cultural diversity (both) inside (and outside) the social structure (Castro, 2010; del Prado Hill, Friedland, & Phelps, 2012; Gay, 2015; Sleeter & Owuor, 2011; Trent, Kea, & Oh, 2008). In comparison with in-service teachers, prospective teachers clearly lack real experiences, and their cognition, as well as means of evaluation of the teaching profession, are more inclined on their view of teachers from their education about teaching. For this reason, many scholars believe that pre-service teachers are yet to essentially form their own professional identity (Beauchamp and Thomas, 2006; Flores and Day, 2006; Levin and He, 2008). Pre-service teachers may not embrace various misconceptions, false beliefs, stereotypes, and inaccurate attitudes about minorities (Vaughn, 2005) but the aforementioned may influence or affect how they conduct themselves in the classroom and the institution (Sadker et al.,2008). If not addressed at once, pre-service teachers’ lack of competence or ignorance about different cultural expressions and practices may eventually lead to students’ failures in the classroom. (Neito & Bode, 2008). With these in mind, exposure to both rural and urban schools, faculty, and students is an obvious cure for such discrepancies, yet the most successful professional development and preparation comes from a combination of coursework and field experience (Groulx, 2001; Lee & Radner, 2006; Nieto, 2000; Simons & Cleary, 2006; Sleeter, 2001).

The teacher’s behavior serves as a guide for students in the classroom by sending powerful messages of what is and is not acceptable ways of behaving – more so for pre-service teachers in their wing because it is through these observations, that they are given somehow reborn with new knowledge and a new course of action. Lortie (1975) explained this phenomenon as the “apprenticeship of observation,” or simply the experience that pre-service teachers have had with both teaching the students and working alongside other faculty – giving them the sense of already understanding the work and being able to do what they have seen the seasoned teachers do. And based on what the pre-service teachers, like myself, had witnessed and experienced during the practicum, it can be noted that being immersed in a social structure with a pre-existing set of beliefs and practices could either teach or transform oneself.

There were also particular skills essential for teaching that pre-service teachers wished to have been emphasized in pre-service teachers education programs such as critical questioning skills, listening skills, and the ability to recognize individual differences both in the classroom and the workplace itself, to differentiate learning and practice accordingly. One may also hypothesize that a different group of preservice teachers might have had different experiences working with both students and fellow teachers, therefore, having a different set of concepts and skills they wish to learn and unlearn through their field immersion. Although, similar researches about teacher training which focused on cultural diversity (Gay, 2015), concerning beliefs and practices operationalized in many ways (Trent, Kea, & Oh, 2008), brought about the conclusion that further exploration is needed to grasp the if there are real changes and permanence in the values and ideology of pre-service teachers during formal preparation (Castro, 2010). Furthermore, in the last chapter of his book, Freire (1970) highlighted that both modalities can happen in a community of practice, for:

What makes a structure a social structure (thus historical-cultural) is neither permanence nor change, taken absolutely, but the dialectical relations between the two. In the last analysis, what endures in the social structure is neither permanence nor change; it is the permanence-change dialectic itself. (p.53)

If such notion does apply in reality and that society, as well as the structural elements it constitutes such as the environment, the economy, education, politics, religion, and morality – hasty generalizations made without considering an individual’s personal beliefs about cultural diversity like his or her social justice orientation, as well as the effects of his or her demographics (e.g., age, gender, or cultural background) (Civitillo, Schachner, & Juang, 2018), may cause wrong impressions, and implementing abrupt policies may result to negative consequences to everyone within the social structure. Moreover, for an individual and the society to achieve development and progress, an educational system must carry out critical teaching activities and approaches that will benefit not only the community but also both its in-service and prospective teachers. To conclude, field teaching practice, both as a course bridging theory and immersion, plays an important part in teacher education programs, and in the formation and development of future professionals.

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