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The racial difference between the demographic profiles of most public school teachers and their students in primarily poor and urban areas elicits great concern. The concern emanates from the differences between the cultural values and attitudes held by some White female teachers and their poor minority students, particularly African American students. There is ample reason for such concern, as numerous investigations of interaction patterns between White teachers and poor, minority students have often indicated negative outcomes for both teachers and especially for the students.
For example, Mark and Terrill (2000) found White teachers who lacked exposure to African American culture were prone to negatively characterize African American students--reported characterizations included terms such as lackadaisical, violent, and unmotivated. These same students, however, when described by African American teachers emerged as cooperative and free loving. Such discrepancies between teacher perceptions strongly suggest teachers are more likely to hold positive attitudes toward students who are culturally and ethnically like themselves, since they can more readily relate to their culture (Mark & Terrill, 2000).
Perceiving students as lazy and unmotivated presupposes the students are not likely to want to learn and, therefore, will not put forth an effort to learn. Several researchers (Jussim, 1986, 1991; Rist, 1970) found that teachers judged children from higher socio-economic status (SES) more favorably than children lower SES, even when student performance was similar. Yet lower SES is too often a reality for many minority students who comprise the majority of the nation's urban school population. Such findings illustrate the existence of teacher perceptions and demonstrates the potential for teachers to act based on their perceptions.
The characterization of students as violent leads to speculation that White teachers may actually fear African American students. Delpit (2006) offers some support for this speculation when she relates the observations of a twelve-year-old friend who concisely categorized the teachers in his middle school:
... the Black teachers, none of whom are afraid of Black kids; the White teachers, a few of whom are not afraid of Black kid, and the largest group of White teachers, who are all afraid of Black kids. (p. 168)
The youth further stated that it was the last group of teachers who experienced difficulties teaching, and whose students consistently experienced difficulties learning (Delpit, 2006). The question then arises: is it fear of African American students that causes some White teachers to be ineffective in teaching this population? Are there additional factors that contribute to low student achievement within this group, such as teacher dispositions and lack of cultural awareness?
A further examination of White teachers instructing racially and linguistically diverse students other than African American students indicates similar difficulties. Numerous researchers have observed White, predominately middleclass female teachers struggle to educate culturally diverse students because of a clash of cultures and language barriers within the classroom (Delpit, 2006). Spring (2008) also reported data from the 2004 National Education Association (NEA) report, Assessment of Diversity in America's Teaching Force: a Call to Action, which indicated:
* Students of color tend to have higher academic, personal, and social performance when taught by teachers from their own ethnic groups.
* Teachers from different ethnic groups have demonstrated that when students of color are taught with culturally responsive techniques and content-specific approaches, their academic performance improves significantly.
* Teachers of color have higher performance expectations for students of color from their own ethnic group. (p. 265)
Such findings make urgent the need to have more diversity in the teaching workforce, and if lacking that, there is a heightened need for preparing White teachers with the dispositions and skills to be effective teachers of poor and minority students.
A Goal That Eludes
The goal of having a more diverse teaching workforce continues to elude the nation. Having a diverse teaching workforce reflecting an increased number of minorities could also increase the probability of having teachers who have the dispositions needed to educate minority students more effectively. A quick overview of teacher workforce data indicated, in a 2006 report by the National Center for Education Statistics, some 84% percent of teachers in public schools were White and of these, 83.7 percent were females.
More often than not there is a cultural and economic divide between the White teaching workforce and children of urban schools. Such a divide may make it difficult for White teachers to form meaningful relationships with families of color, ascribing in particular to African American families a lack of value for education (Irvine & York, 1993). Perhaps most significantly, White teachers are more likely to hold lower expectations for students of color than they hold for White students (Garcia & Gauerra, 2004).
In order for some minority groups to perform well academically, they need to develop a positive relationship with their teachers. That finding is in keeping with research that suggests that some minority students, particularly African Americans, are field-dependent learners (Irvine & York, 1995). Such learners tend to learn more easily working in groups, accessing materials more easily through use of humor and within a social context. However, this particular learning style often conflicts with the traditional learning environment common in most schools. Such teacher-student mismatches can contribute to the academic difficulties of minority students and to the high attrition rates of White teachers from urban schools.
Given the ongoing cultural difference between the majority of the teaching workforce and the student population, the question for teacher education programs is how they might assist future teachers in developing those dispositions that will increase their ability to interact and teach diverse students effectively and in a culturally responsive manner. Ritchhart (2001) views dispositions as a collection of cognitive tendencies that capture one's patterns of thinking. Ritchhart's definition is grounded in a dispositional view of intelligence and is premised on the concept that "intelligent performance is more than an exercise of ability--dispositions concern not only what one can do, one's abilities, but also what one is disposed to do.
Thus dispositions address the often-noticed gap between our abilities and our actions" (Ritchhart, 2001, p. 3). Wasicsko (2002) maintains that dispositions are attitudes, perceptions, and/or beliefs that form the basis …