AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The racial/ethnic populations in public schools have changed dramatically in recent years and will continue to shift to a majority non-White population (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010). In 2001, 61% of school-aged children in the United States were White; this percentage decreased to 56% by 2007 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2010) and it is projected that by 2035 students of color will be the majority (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Furthermore, the number of students of color served by urban school districts is disproportionately high. The National Center for Education Statistics (2010) reports 67.3% of the student population in urban districts is composed of students of color. Yet, the population of teachers in the United States is 83% White (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011), the majority of whom are from middle class English-only backgrounds (Amatea, 2009). These differing life experiences can create borders between students and their teachers. Often, White teachers will interpret differences in life experiences, cultural frames of reference, race, class, and gender as a deficit on the part of students, which leads to inequitable educational opportunities for our nation's children.
The changing demographics within our schools create an immediate need for teacher preparation programs to better prepare all teachers for the diversity that exists within our schools. Several recommendations for teacher preparation call for opportunities for teacher candidates to cross cultural borders and gain a broad and deep understanding of urban students. Recommendations include opportunities to get to know their students outside of school and opportunities to work and socialize within the urban community (Cooper, 2007; Gay, 2004; Haberman, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2001; Weiner, 1999; Zeichner, 2003). Teacher candidates' perceptions of both urban schools and K-12 students can be positively changed by experience (Cooper, 2007). Through direct experience of other cultures, teacher candidates can begin knowing students fully and gain a broad understanding of cultural diversity (Baldwin, Buchanan, & Rudisill, 2007; Grant, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2001; Weiner, 1999).
This article focuses on one elementary teacher education program that has responded to the call from the literature by redesigning teacher preparation specifically for urban schools. Like many urban areas across the country, the Midwestern city in which the university is located has failing school systems, racially segregated communities, and socioeconomic divides between the inner city and outlying communities (Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, 2011). The population of the county is 70% White and the central city population is 61% White (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009). However, the population of the city school district is composed of 91.3% students of color (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009). Likewise, while only 15.4% of people in the county live in poverty (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2009), 25% of the children in the city school district live in poverty and 80.3% of the students in the district qualify for free and/or reduced lunch (Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education, 2011).
These cultural barriers create borders between urban students and the teacher candidates in the elementary education program under study. Similar to the demographics of teacher education nationwide, the program candidates are primarily White. Over the last two years, the population of the program has consisted of approximately 100 candidates. Within this population, 62% of candidates were White, 38% of the candidates were of color, and 14% of the candidates were male. The cultural borders that exist between candidate and student highlight the need for teacher candidates to gain a broad understanding of urban communities, cultural diversity, and the role schools and communities have on the educational opportunities for urban youth. Candidates need to learn how to cross borders and examine schools, their own backgrounds, the educational system, and how the intersection of these factors will manifest in their future classrooms.
Candidates within the program are aware of these borders between their backgrounds and the urban community. One candidate stated:
Those of us that grew up in the [city] area were taught that there were certain parts of the city that one just didn't venture into.
Another candidate described her perception at the beginning of her program:
I am honestly not used to places in [city] beyond [named] Road ... you always hear bad things about [named street]. This is where many of the placements are [for this class]. I honestly freaked out.
The teacher education program is committed to preparing candidates for the global diversity extant in our nation's schools, with a specific focus on the complex nature of teaching in urban environments. The two-year curriculum is heavily field- and experience-based (Dewey, 1938) and grounded in social constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978): candidates are exposed to multiple …