Fresh out of college with a mandate to effect change through the gift of educating the nation’s youth, teachers of every level come into the profession with great intentions.
So many of them, however, have come through educator preparation programs that have not properly prepared them for the diversity they will face in today’s classrooms, and consequently they will not meet with the success that could be—an unfortunate outcome for both the teachers and the students. The composition of students of color in public schools in the U.S. is 52 percent, while the share of teachers of color is only 21 percent, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, and many institutions of higher education have not been effectively addressing the challenge.
A question that I am often asked is, “Why aren’t teacher prep programs preparing their candidates to deal with diversity?” My response to that is: A majority of programs think they are preparing them. Their leaders believe this because they are taking the approach that all children can learn, and if we have a set of instructional practices that we are teaching all of our candidates to implement, then they will be successful.
Yet, many of the nation’s educators walk into the classroom teaching under the influence of assumptions and stereotypes. They have been indoctrinated in a system that leaves them naïve about the meaning of the country’s changing demographics, ill-equipped to address cultural differences, and ultimately unaware of how they are perpetuating the marginalization of students of color.
Legendary poet Juan Felipe Herrera, a Californian and son of farm workers, made a lot of sense when he said, “We speak about understanding each other, having those conversations nationwide—culturally, historically—and yet there’s a lot of gaps.”
But, it does not have to be that way. It is past time for educator preparation programs to prepare teachers to shift: away from operating within the assumptions they have made about students and their families who are culturally different than themselves and toward engaging in a culture of curiosity and inquiry. At Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity, our stance is that preparing teachers for diverse classrooms cannot be an implicit treatment. Educator preparation programs must explicitly discuss diversity, equity and inclusion across the spectrum.
Language, Behavior, Culture
Take, for example, students who are linguistically different from their English-speaking teachers. These children may face educators’ assumptions that not speaking grammatically correct English means their intelligence level is not as high as that of their English-speaking peers.