To the Editor:
The Commentary by Corey Drake and Terry K. Flennaugh (“Increased Accountability of Teacher Prep Gives Equity the Back Seat”) gave several reasons why current testing changes will not improve new teachers’ abilities to cope with classroom diversity.
The authors recommend more diversity-sensitive coursework and field experiences in teacher education programs. They also propose accountability assessments that better align with the needs of diverse student populations.
However, their solutions will miss the mark. They are just too late. Before entering a teacher education program, applicants should confront their own experiences with various populations and living conditions that are considered marginal, such as bilingual homes and neighborhoods; English-language learners; ethnic and cultural definitions of personal identity; biases related to race, religion, or sexual orientation; poverty (including homelessness); inherited economic (or other) privilege; special physical, cognitive, and emotional needs or limitations; age differences within peer school groups; variations in physical ability or appearance; non-parental main caregivers; and an absence of home support for school learning.
To strengthen our teacher education programs, two actions should be taken before admission decisions are made. First, applicants should be asked to rate and comment honestly on their personal experiences with a catalog of classroom diversity issues such as those listed above. Second, program leaders should deliberately guide new applicants in learning about and working with the issues listed above, especially in those areas with which they do not have extensive prior personal experience.
Reflection and engagement with their personal experiences during the admissions process will strengthen preservice teachers’ abilities to understand the coursework and field expectations of a diversity-oriented program, especially if it includes any prior teaching experiences to challenge their interest in becoming a teacher.
Preservice teachers must be prepared to reach students from all backgrounds and circumstances to help them cope with the conditions of their lives.
J. Terry Gates
President and Chief Executive Officer
St. Louis, Mo.
A version of this article appeared in the March 23, 2016 edition of Education Week as Diversity Preparation Should Begin With Teacher-Training Admissions