Preparing Our Teachers

In my career role, I play a large part in influencing how we prepare teachers at Arizona State University. I have been thinking about bias in teaching-our own biases as well as our assessment and measurement of student learning practices. How do we best prepare teachers to work in racially diverse schools?

Before jumping right in to address this question, I want to address the political nature of teaching and assessment measurements. Teachers are being held accountable for impacting student learning. Although this idea sounds practical and reasonable in nature, there are so many variables that play a role in this. The No Child Left Behind Act (2001), states that school and districts must disaggregate achievement data by race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, and disability. All of these variables affect how students perform, yet teachers are being unfairly judged using Value Added Measures that are biased. (Paufler, N.A. & Amrein-Beardsley, A. 2013).

With the political nature and high stakes of the teaching profession, teaching is quickly becoming one of the most challenging jobs. So, I revert back to my question- how are we preparing teachers to be ready for this battle, specifically, equipping them to teach all of their learners? Prior to answering this question, it is important to understand the makeup of the 21st century classroom.  Who are our students?  Tyrone C. Howard (2010) in his book, Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools, presents staggering data regarding the achievement gaps amongst different racial groups, as well as our demographic makeup of our schools.

Howard (2010) cites a study conducted by Concha (2006). The study exposed the role of race, specifically focusing on African American and Latino youth. Three prominent areas stood out as negatively affecting student achievement: racial segregation was still occurring, there were evident divisions within racial groups and school support varied by race (p.101).

Howard (2003) claims that it is essential for teachers to be self aware of their cultural knowledge and understandings. He states, “one of the most fundamental elements of cultural competence is the development of ongoing critical self reflection” (p. 200). He goes on to say, “being able to effectively initiate and facilitate reflection about race and race-related issues requires the ability to critically examine one’s own personal beliefs, opinions, and values about racial identity, and the race of others; and the ramifications of these intersecting and colliding values” (p. 200). Palmer (1998) echoes this notion of self-assessment and recommends that teachers ask themselves, “does who I am contribute to the underachievement of students who are not like me?” (p. 114).

I think these biases go even further than just racial differences. Gould, (1981) in “The Mismeasure of a Man” presents data charts (written in the 1800s) of brain differences, including cranial capacities and abilities. After studying this summary data, he concludes, “Morton’s summaries are a patchwork of fudging and finagling in the clear interest of controlling a priori convictions” (p. 54). Many of these early beliefs, however, are still with us whether we recognize them or not.

From my experiences as an educator and an educational leader, eliciting reflection that gets at the heart of our biases would be extremely powerful and revealing. I don’t think any teacher intentionally elicits bias; however, I think through systematic reflection, many teachers would discover that they do have biases and that they are prevalent in their teaching practices. Freire (1973) states that this critical self-reflection might be difficult for white teachers if they come from “racially privileged or dominant positions” (p. 115). Moreover, he asserts that white teachers, “bring virtually no conceptual framework for understanding visible inequalities rather than the dominant deficit of framework…generally ignorant of color, fear them and fear discussing race and racism” (p. 115). Although it might take some time, nurturing an environment where teachers could fearlessly talk about racism and biases could yield tremendous benefits for our students. Because of this, one might argue that self-reflection and critical self-analysis would be the first step in preparing teachers to work in racially diverse schools.

Another important idea that Howard (2010) asserts is focused on a teacher’s mindset and beliefs about learning. He states, “A teacher’s ability to know and understand students is not restricted by his or her race; it is tied to a willingness of educators to know and understand the complexities of race and culture, develop a healthy sense of their own racial identity and privilege, develop a skill set of instructional practices that tap into cultural knowledge, reject deficit views of students of color, and have an authentic sense of students’ ability to be academically successful” (p.74). Instilling a belief that all students can achieve at high levels will prepare teachers to work in diverse schools.

Finally, once teachers understand who their students are, this understanding should influence teaching practices. Howard refers to these teaching practices as culturally relevant pedagogy. Howard (2003) emphasizes that it’s “based on the inclusion of cultural referents that students bring from home” (p.201). Howard explains that culturally responsive teaching encourages students to share viewpoints and perspectives, connects curriculum to students’ lives and experiences, teaches students to think critically as well as engages students in conversations. Furthermore, teachers need to teach through the strengths of the students, making learning more relevant for them as well as making them feel successful.

In conclusion, we have begun to touch the surface of our question, “How do we best prepare teachers to work in racially diverse schools?” To start, we need to engage our pre-service teachers in critical self reflection about their own experiences, beliefs, and biases. Secondly, we need to instill a belief that all students can learn, regardless of their race. Finally, we need to teach them how to respond through relevant pedagogical practices.


 Conchas, G.Q. (2006). The color of success: Race and high achieving urban youth. New York: Teachers College Press.

Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013) Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2), 32-47.

Gay, G. (2000) Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gould, S.J. (1981). The mismeasure of a man. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Freire, Paulo. Education for critical consciousness. [1st American ] ed. A Continuum    book. New York,: Seabury Press, 1973.

Howard, T.C. (2003) Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection, 42(3), 195-202.

Howard, T.C. (2010). Why race and culture matter in schools: closing the achievement gap in America’s classrooms. New York, N.Y.: Teachers College Press.

Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Paufler, N.A. & Amrein-Beardsley, A. (2013). The random assignment of students into    elementary classrooms: Implications for value-added analyses and interpretations.   American Education Research Journal, 51(2), 328-362.




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