To the Editor:
A May 10 post on Education Week Teacher‘s Teaching Now blog cites a recent study which found that after a semester’s clinical experience in a diverse classroom, white teachers felt more comfortable with students of color but did not generally see a need to tailor their teaching practices to the needs of students from backgrounds different from their own (“Study: Teacher-Prep Programs Need to Deepen Educators’ Racial Awareness”).
The authors of the study proposed that teacher-preparation programs include more-explicit discussion of and reflection on race in the classroom. This good suggestion does not go far enough. Even when teacher-preparation programs integrate coursework on diversity and immersion in “diverse settings,” teacher-candidates still have too few clinical opportunities to work with teachers who bring a full spectrum of culturally relevant practices into their classrooms and who know how to reflect on this work.
It’s time for teacher-preparation programs to get specific about culturally responsive teaching and what it looks like. Cooperating teachers need to be carefully selected and prepared so that they can show novice teachers in clinical settings how to meet the varying needs of students in diverse classrooms.
Classroom-based discussions of “social justice” cannot take the place of real classroom practices that would ideally be influenced by race-sensitive pedagogy. This is a challenge on which school districts and universities must work collaboratively and purposefully. Both sides must theoretically acknowledge and concretely commit to a practice of teaching that sees and speaks to students’ array of backgrounds, learning styles, needs, and ways of connecting with knowledge.
Despite nearly a decade of laser-like focus on teacher quality, the United States has made few strides in improving academic outcomes for students of color. It is past time to show teacher-candidates, not tell them, how teachers work effectively with students who often come from backgrounds unlike their own.
Director of Mentoring & Induction Strategy
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation
A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2016 edition of Education Week as Diversity Training in Clinical Settings Is Key for Teachers