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Volume 8, Number 4: January 16, 2002

Promoting Multicultural Dispositions in Teacher Education Candidates

by Joseph Guenther, Rea Kirk, Tom Loguidice, and John Nkemnji
University of Wisconsin-Platteville

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As teachers of multicultural education, we have often encountered resistance from white students to the concepts we introduce in our courses. Greenman, Kimmel, Bannan and Radford-Curry (1992) have perhaps best summarized this problem by characterizing the road to multicultural education as one marked by "potholes" of resistance. Too often future teachers hold views of white superiority that preclude equal opportunity and fairness. Students' comments regularly reveal their prejudices, even when they consider themselves to be fairminded.

What could we, as educators, do to change these attitudes? Our university, the University of Wisconsin at Platteville (UW-P) is a small, rural school in the Midwest. More than 90% of the current UW-P students are the first in their families to attend college. Many of these students do not personally know other people whose ethnicity or socio-economic status is different from their own. We decided that technology could help our students unlearn some of the prejudices, stereotypes, and racism that they bring to our classrooms.

In 1998, the University of Wisconsin System funded technology grants to promote collaboration between PK-12 schools and the university. Because of this funding, faculty members from the UW-Platteville (UWP) School of Education were able to work with two Milwaukee middle schools, Audubon and Milwaukee Education Center. The activities of the grant have extended beyond the funding.

The first year of the grant focused on two goals:

1. Encouraging white students from Platteville to think about and broaden their cultural horizons.
2. Developing technology partners, i.e., sharing and growing in the use of technology.

White students at UWP are being encouraged to learn about urban middle schools in a variety of ways. Most of our technology sessions include teacher education candidates in the audience. The original observation in the middle school classroom using compressed video is done primarily for the benefit of the university students. People-to-people meetings on the university campus to provide further technology planning also include visits with students to talk about the Milwaukee middle schools. Separate funding also provided the opportunity for students to spend a week in the Milwaukee urban schools as part of a required multicultural field experience. In addition, UWP faculty members also work with Milwaukee teachers on a course of study about using technology to improve the links between teacher preparation institutions and supervising teachers.

Communication between the middle schools and the university, which are 150 miles apart, is enhanced by the use of picture-television (PIC-TEL). The PIC-TEL is a video-conferencing system that allows the schools and the university to communicate using compressed video signals at a reasonable cost. The technology allows faculty from the schools and university to conduct in-services, conferences, and planning sessions without the need to leave their respective geographic locations. The video conferencing system also allows faculty and students from the university to observe classrooms at Audubon Middle School.

Growing as partners in technology has resulted in Audubon and UWP students using computers and desktop video conferencing equipment. Participants are learning to use the picture telephone equipment, and to become creative in using electronic mail to promote communication between middle level faculty and university students and between university and middle school students.

Our project included three separate technology-based activities:

1. Tech Pals: University students volunteered to be "Tech Pals" with students from both middle schools. Faculty and administration from the two middle schools also participated by pairing up with UWP students. Each diad was expected to e-mail back and forth throughout the semester. Understanding of professional behavior, confidentiality, and privacy concerns when working with minors were prerequisites for this part of the project.

2. Virtual Classroom: Two UWP professors worked together while two middle school teachers were counterparts at Audubon for this activity. After research, PicTel was selected for the joint system. Students were able to observe the English/Language Arts classroom of a first year middle school teacher. This was an essential component of the program. Because of the demographics of our corner of the state, and because of the distance to any urban area from our location, this is the closest UWP can come to providing our students with "live" observations of an urban classroom.

3. Chat rooms: A third technology activity was the use of an educational chat room on the worldwide web through Nicenet org. site. This chat room was established specifically to provide a reflection forum for UWP students. This forum provided students opportunities to reflect on their experiences and interact with their peers for confirmation, validation, and insights. The medium allowed an equal voice for the student who does not like to speak up in class and for the student who prefers to process ideas for a while before committing to a response. It took away the feeling that one must either respond immediately to a group conversation or lose the opportunity. It also allowed students to read and respond in their own time frame. For instance they could respond any time of the night or day, if they so chose.

Four professional development activities were also conducted:

1. In-services: In-services were conducted via a video-conferencing system. Four inservices were conducted: (1) Dealing with Angry Parents; (2) Adapting Curriculum and Instruction to Meet the Needs of Learners with Exceptionalities; (3) Authentic Assessments; and (4) Experiences of First-year Teachers. The last activity was a "reverse inservice" with the faculty from Audubon Middle School providing professional development to future teachers by sharing their personal stories and offering advice to preservice teachers.

2. On-site visits: The highlights of the collaborative project were the on-site visits and classroom exchanges. One day each semester was spent in an actual on-site visit to the middle schools in Milwaukee. Thus, those who knew each other via virtual visits met in person. Two to three representatives from the faculty and staff at the middle schools spent at least one day per semester on the UWP campus, sharing personal stories and their schools' stories. In the process, they not only changed our students' minds about urban middle schoolers, but also won their hearts.

3. Classroom experiences for teacher candidates: Because of the in-person contact combined with the previous virtual contacts via video-conferencing and Tech Pals, ten students elected to spend one week of their winter break observing and participating in the classrooms at the two middle schools. These are the same students who earlier were afraid to go to "the crime-ridden big city."

One professor's role was to function as a supervisor and advisor. He visited the Milwaukee schools where the students were teaching and asked for feedback, questioned the students about any problems, and offered suggestions as appropriate. He observed that the students were thriving in a setting that was unique to them, and they creatively responded to new situations.

Some general impressions from the students taking part in this collaborative project were that they had not had much experience in multicultural settings before, and had little or no experience with students from diverse backgrounds. The experience was an eye-opener for many. Some students at UWP confided to a professor that they expected the classrooms and halls to be more disorderly than they were. On the contrary, "The halls were quite orderly and quiet, and students were well behaved in the classroom," they said.

Students also commented that they expected students to be less advanced and less articulate than they were. Students commented on what quick learners many of students were, how eager many were to respond in class, and how articulate students were in their responses. There was no evidence of the surly, unresponsive, or incapable urban student they had expected, according to the UW-Platteville students.

Summary

The partnership between our rural university and the urban middle schools has grown. There have been an increased number and sophistication of the activities in the second year of funding going beyond the first year. We believe that the project will continue after the funding period.

The expectations for teacher education students and previously held myths and stereotypes were challenged. They became interested in and confident with urban school teaching. This would not have happened without the use of the technology and communication tools used in the project.

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References

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Commission on Multicultural Education. (1973). "No One Model America." Journal of Teacher Education, 224(4), 264-65.

Campbell, D.E. Choosing Democracy: A Practical Multicultural Education. New Jersey:
Prentice-Hall Inc, Simon & Schuster Company, 1996.

Greenman, N. P. & Kimmel, E. B., Bannan, H. M. & Radford-Curry, B. "Institutional Inertia to Achieving Diversity: Transforming Resistance into Celebration." Educational Foundations 6 (1992): 89-111.

James, J. "Reflection on Teaching: Gender, Race, & Class." Feminist Teacher, 5 (1991): 9-15.

Sleeter, C. E., & Grant, C. A. Making Choices for Multicultural Education: Five Approaches to Race, Class and Gender (2nd ed.). New York: Maxwell Macmillian International, 1994.

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