New Teachers Say They Are Prepared To Teach Ethnically Diverse Students

By Karen Diegmueller — September 26, 1990 3 min read

A large majority of graduates entering the classroom as teachers for the first time this fall believe their professional training has prepared them to instruct students from different ethnic backgrounds, according to a survey released last week.

Eighty percent of the 1,002 beginning teachers polled for the eighth Metropolitan Life survey of teachers agreed “strongly” or “somewhat” that their training had readied them for this potentially challenging assignment.

At the same time, 58 percent of the respondents said they wished they had had more practical training as an educator before being assigned their own classroom.

In recent years, many critics have charged that teacher-education schools are failing to instruct candidates adequately in the education of students from minority groups, a rapidly growing segment of the public-school population.

Whether the neophytes surveyed sustain their generally positive attitude on this and other issues raised in the poll will be determined when Louis Harris and Associates conducts a follow-up survey at the conclusion of their first year of teaching.

The poll, “The Metropolitan Life Survey of New Teachers: Expectations and Ideals,” represents the first time that the insurance company and its pollsters, who have surveyed teachers annually since 1984, have singled out new teachers for their views.

All of the respondents, who were polled by phone during July and August, graduated from college this year. They had either accepted positions to teach or expected to teach in public schools during the 1990-91 academic year.

The lion’s share of the teachers surveyed--90 percent--indicated that they viewed teaching as a long-term career choice. The response is in stark contrast to findings that a significant proportion of teachers drop out of the profession during the first five years.

Optimistic About Problems

Despite their lack of experience, the teachers polled did not appear naive in their assessment of the problems they might face in the classroom.

Three-fourths said that many children are so problem-plagued that it is difficult for them to be good students, and nearly half observed that even the best teachers would encounter difficulties in teaching more than two-thirds of their students.

Nevertheless, the respondents almost universally expressed the belief that all children can learn and that the teachers as individuals could make a difference in their students’ lives.

Only 19 percent of those polled agreed with the statement that a school’s only job is to teach children and that responsibility for their health and social problems lies with outside agencies.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers issued statements expressing their satisfaction with the level of idealism and optimism of the incoming teaching force as indicated by the findings.

But the teachers’ unions also voiced cautionary notes.

Albert Shanker, president of the AFT, said: “I can almost guarantee that unless government and other institutions start solving the out-of-school problems of kids--and unless our schools change dramatically to support teaching and learning--five years from now this idealistic and committed group of new teachers will be leaving the profession in droves.”

And Keith B. Geiger, president of the NEA, said he was “disturbed that one-fifth of those surveyed said they were not prepared to teach students from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.”

National Test Favored

In other highlights of the survey:

  • Two-thirds of the respondents agreed that teachers should be required to take a national, standardized test to demonstrate their qualifications.
  • While 99 percent said teachers need to work well with parents, 70 percent said that parents all too frequently treat teachers as adversaries.
  • Nearly all the teachers said they expected their principals to create a learning environment for students.
  • Forty percent indicated that teachers are not respected in today’s society.

A version of this article appeared in the September 26, 1990 edition of Education Week as New Teachers Say They Are Prepared To Teach Ethnically Diverse Students