Preparing to Teach Diverse Students

Many teachers are poorly equipped to teach ethnically diverse student populations. Despite the growing numbers of culturally diverse students, some teacher education programs still hesitate to make multicultural education a focal point of their curriculum. Other programs are trying to figure out the most appropriate way to implement it. Only a few teacher preparation programs are actively and eagerly delivering multicultural education.

Culturally responsive teaching asserts that specific knowledge about cultural diversity is crucial to meeting the educational needs of ethnically diverse student populations. Part of this knowledge about cultural diversity includes understanding the cultural characteristics and contributions of different ethnic groups. Culture covers many aspects, some of which are more important for teachers to know than others because they have direct implications for teaching and learning.

Teachers should use culturally relevant instruction as a strategy for reaching all students and improving school success. The use of culture to convey knowledge, skills, and attitudes empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically. These cultural referents are not only a means for connecting or explaining the dominant culture; they are features of the curriculum in their own right.

Teaching that revolves around the student’s culture not only addresses the cognitive aspects of learning but the emotional as well. When a student’s culture is respected, she is inspired to learn because the negative self-image that comes with rejection is removed. Furthermore, an appreciation of what the student already knows encourages further learning by validating the idea that all students can learn.

One requirement for developing a knowledge base for culturally responsive teaching is learning about the history, traditions, and quirks of specific ethnic groups. The understanding that teachers need to have about cultural diversity should go beyond minimal awareness of, respect for, and general recognition of the fact that ethnic groups express their values in a variety of ways.

This increased knowledge of cultural habits is needed to make schooling more exciting and stimulating for ethnically diverse students. Too many teachers believe that their content areas and cultural diversity are incompatible and that combining them is a conceptual stretch that may prevent disciplinary integrity. That this is simply not true.

Misconceptions about multicultural instructional strategies arise from the fact that many teachers do not know enough about the contributions that different ethnic groups have made to their subject. They may be vaguely familiar with the accomplishments of certain well-known individuals, such as musicians in popular culture or politicians in the city, state, and national government. However, teachers are not likely to know much about the less publicly visible but highly significant contributions of ethnic groups to science, technology, medicine, math, law, and economics.

Teachers should be well-versed in their students’ cultural values, traditions, communication styles, learning styles, contributions, and relational patterns. When they do so, they increase the likelihood that all of their students will live up to their academic potential.

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