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VOLUME 24, NUMBERS 1 & 2, 2014

Nurturing the Way We Teach: Exploring
own level of cultural understanding. The course also is designed to teach cultural competence
Reflecting on these questions more closely can challengeus to examine our beliefs and
change our me...
the following prompt:
Based on the class notes regarding subjectivities, what areyour subjective “I...
proud of what they had in them or what seemed like to me be ashamed of what my
grandmother was. But...

Reflective experience refers to the ability to learn from the past so as to improve one’s
life; th...
Trent, S.C.,&Artiles, A.J. (2007).Today’s multicultural, bilingual, and diverse schools. In R.
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National FORUM of Teacher Education Journal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Editor,, NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS, Founded 1982


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National FORUM of Teacher Education Journal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Editor,, NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS, Founded 1982

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National FORUM of Teacher Education Journal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Editor,, NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS, Founded 1982

  1. 1. NATIONAL FORUM OF TEACHER EDUCATION JOURNAL VOLUME 24, NUMBERS 1 & 2, 2014 Nurturing the Way We Teach: Exploring Subjectivities Among Pre-Service Teachers Theresa Garfield Dorel, EdD Assistant Professor in Special Education Program Coordinator of Special Education Program Department of Curriculum &Kinesiology Texas A&M University-San Antonio ABSTRACT Teacher education programs have only one chance to get things right when it comes to preparing future teachers. Teachers must know how to create culturally sensitive classrooms where the diverse learning needs for all children are met. This article presents one professor’s approach to developing teachers’ self-awareness, helping them see and understand the subjectivities and prejudices that they will carry into the classroom. More importantly they must see the harms. The premise of this article is that students must acknowledge their prejudices, biases, and subjectivities before they are able to construct a new frame of reference. Each teacher must contemplate how to neutralize their prejudices so that they can truly address the learning needs of each child to whom they will be entrusted. A conceptual framework is introduced, the assignment given to students is explored, and recurring themes in student responses are examined. All too often, many of us perceive difference as a way of dividing people into two groups, those who are typical (similar to me), and those who are atypical (different from me), rather than seeing human variation along a continuum (Baglieri& Knopf, 2004). According to McLeskey, Rosenberg, &Westling (2012), suspending judgment in the classroom is one way to constantly question reactions to determine when cultural difference may be a factor in interactions with students. Subjectivities are those judgments that are modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background. They are perceived realities as opposed to factual accounts. They are based in belief structures and manifest themselves in behavior. It is essential to examine those subjectivities to remove bias from the way teachers interact with students. The subjective lens, or subjective “I”, provides the impetus for everyday interaction, but particularly manifests itself in the way we interact with students in the classroom. The purpose of this article is to explore the writings of pre-service students enrolled in undergraduate courses in multiculturalism and special education. These courses were designed to help them develop an appreciation of diversity in the classroom. During these classes prospective teaching candidates are pressed to become aware of the subjectivities and thought processes that they employ each day in forming judgments of others, confronting the stereotypes and prejudices that they may possess prior to entering classroom. This activity is structured for pre-service teachers,providing a structured and safe setting for students to become aware of their 37
  2. 2. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL own level of cultural understanding. The course also is designed to teach cultural competence skills and differentiated instruction methods that they will be expected to employ as future classroom teachers. Conceptual Framework Students in today’s classrooms are more diverse. It is estimated, that by the year 2015, over half of all students in schools will be culturally, socioeconomically, and linguistically diverse. This can cause a cultural disconnect between teachers, who are predominantly White, female, and middle class (Trent &Artiles, 2007). To address this disconnect, or cultural divide, Trent, Kea and Oh (2008) report three recommendations for teacher preparation programs: (a) increase the diversity among teacher educator program faculty, (b) recruit more culturally and linguistically diverse students into teacher educator programs, and (c) prepare White preservice and inservice teachers to provide culturally responsive instruction for all learners (p. 329). These recommendations are particularly important in the field of preservice training of students entering today’s classrooms. According to Holloway and Gouthro (2011), novice educators must develop an understanding of social, cultural, racial, religious, political, and economic structures that impact their teaching. Further, all educators need to take risks and critical reflection is a risk that is worth taking. Middleton, Abrams, and Seaman (2011) explore the construct of resistance in relation to reflective practice. In their study, they examined how students perceive reflective practice as being an assignment and not being a meaningful activity towards professional growth. This can cause disconnect when trying to get students to actively engage in reflection that can lead to positive growth. Lin and Bates (2010) state that “teachers’ beliefs have a great impact on their practices in classrooms; teachers’ beliefs affect various aspects of teaching and the way they interact with their students” (p. 180). Therefore, if a preservice has beliefs that may be skewed by experiences and those experiences are not identified and worked through; it directly impacts the teacher’s behavior in the classroom setting. In order for teachers to be unprejudiced in the classroom, they must first reflect upon their own racial beliefs and prejudices. D’Angelo and Dixey (2001) state, Teachers need to evaluate themselves by usingself-awareness skills to interpret their own feelings andattitudes about race. Self-reflection is often difficult andrequires brutal honesty by the individual. Once teachersare conscious and candid about their own prejudices,they can begin to search for methods to change theirviews and prevent those prejudices from being communicated to their students. There are three important questions teachers can employ to assess their racial views: 1. Do I believe some races are more capable of learning and/or have greater intelligence than other races? 2. Do I model respectful and positive attitudes in the classroomfor all races and ethnic groups? 3. Do I integrate race and ethnic issues in the curriculum exclusively through thematic units, holidays, and celebrations? 38
  3. 3. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL Reflecting on these questions more closely can challengeus to examine our beliefs and change our methodsof teaching to increase accurate portrayal of all ethnicgroups.(p. 84). Methodology To be most effective at introducing the concept of unexamined biases and prejudices, professors of teacher education should be willing to share their own narrative about the prejudices that they personally have held and possibly some that still possess. More important is the honesty in admitting their own biases as well as sharing the strategies they employ to minimize harms to students in the classroom. This approach sets the tone for students to become more transparent and honest in their reflections about subjectivities and prejudices. This deep self-reflection in turn leads to true self-transformation. The writings that are included in this study were selected from hundreds of writings over the past ten years that this teaching method has been in use. Student writings have been read and coded. The writings selected for this article are provide examples of student self-discovery as they write personal narratives about their own experiences with prejudice and bias. Context of the Writing Assignment During the first week of class,students are introduced to the concept of subjectivities and how they shape our perceptions of life and people. The following original script has been used consistently to set the stage for students to think and reflect. We all see life differently based on our experiences. If you are bitten by a yellow dog as a young child, you will likely associate yellow dogs with fear or pain. Therefore, when you see a yellow dog later in life, you will take pause. You may even go as far as crossing the street to avoid the dog at all costs. You may not be consciously aware of what you are doing, but that experience has shaped your view of life. If you are a mother or father, the way you view life is also greatly influenced by your role. You undoubtedly see life much differently as a parent than you did when you were in the role of a child. As a student, you will see life differently with every new class you participate in and process. New information means new views of life. These experiences are called subjectivities. We see life with our subjective "I"s. They shape our beliefs, our patterns of behavior and our interactions with other people. Much of prejudice and stereotypes stem from these subjectivities. If you get into an altercation with someone who is purple and you only see bad things about purple people on television, then you will most likely have negative feelings towards purple people. Therefore, if you encounter a purple person, you are more likely to act with malice, indifference or hostility. This is what prejudice is. We must honestly examine our subjectivities in order to fully understand why we act the way we do in life. This is especially important for teachers as we will encounter all kinds of students from all walks of life. If you were that person who has problems with purple people, and you have purple children in your class, how would you treat them?We must understand before we can effectively address these issues. Once students are given the background information to internalize and examine, they are given 39
  4. 4. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL the following prompt: Based on the class notes regarding subjectivities, what areyour subjective “I’s” and how do you feel they may impact your classroom? How do you view various abilities? What are some things you might do to address these issues? Make sure to be honest in your reflection. These will not be shared with anyone other than the professor. Recurrent Themes in Student Responses Throughout the ten years of reading student responses to the prompt, several themes have emerged. Many students discuss deep seeded issues, such as sexual and physical abuse, selfesteem issues and difficulties with social adjustment. On the level of prejudice, there are reports of being raised a certain way to believe in stereotypes and racism of those different than themselves. One student writes about how her family was able to compartmentalize their lives, maintaining long-held racial views which understanding the importance of maintaining political correctness and hiding rather that openly revealing their prejudices: I use to have issues with several 'types' of people. Mainly in regards to race, and less towards the cultural up-bringing of a majority in specific races [sic]. I can honestly say, I don’t have these issue anymore [sic]. I grew up with a very old fashioned family (more so extended than immediate) that constantly seemed to 'acknowledge' gender differences, ethnic differences, religious differences and overall cultural differences in everybody around us. For a long time, I began to fall into the close minded mentality of racial opinions and gender specific roles. The only thing I can say about my family is they tended to be tactful about not making 'outsiders' aware of these prejudice opinions. Consequently, I also knew how to hide my opinions formulated by ignorance of my up-bringing. (S1) Another writes of her family’s influence in her life: At first I really didn’t understand the whole subjective thing, or more so of how to put it into my own words but now I think I might know what you mean. From reading chapter 1 as well as the PowerPoint it is about trying not to take it out on the students about what my personal feelings are towards certain types of people. For example what you said about the purple people thing, I really get that and understand that completely. In all honesty I try my very best not to look at people that way because I wouldn’t want it done to me. My grandmother is full Hispanic was born and raised in the Valley but my father and his brothers don’t really look Hispanic at all because my grandfather is full Caucasian. Well growing up I always thought it was so cool to have two different races but of course I was more Caucasian than anything because with my dad being half Hispanic and my mother being full Caucasian, but I still thought it was pretty neat. So being the youngest in my family with 2 older brothers I would always hear them say that they never would broadcast the information that they did have Hispanic in them to their friends because they didn’t want to be associated with Hispanics because they were different. But I did. I never understood why they would be so cruel like that and not be 40
  5. 5. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL proud of what they had in them or what seemed like to me be ashamed of what my grandmother was. But as I started to get older I started to understand why they were like that. Some Hispanics were just plain mean and didn’t care about their surroundings or the people around them as well. They would just act like they were better than everyone and that no one else mattered. But also what I started to notice was that not all Hispanics were like that and quite honestly the more Hispanics I would talk to there would be very few like that. What it comes down to is not the child of that household but the parents or their parent’s parents. It all starts from the roots and that maybe growing up their parents had a hard time growing up or had to grow up fast and take care of their family. Or that maybe their parents were never really around because they were out trying to provide for their families so there was never any parental guidance. But you can’t take it out on the child or every single Hispanic child because not all are the same. (S2) The cultural and generational differences are evident in the students’ writings throughout the ten year duration of this assignment. Many report having to overcome the underlying prejudices their family belief structure was built upon. But the most important part of this writing is that there is reflection and self-awareness. There subjectivities are revealed and compared to societal norms related to racial prejudice. This is a critical beginning on the journey toward becoming a culturally responsive teacher. Taking her awareness of subjectivities to another level on the journey to cultural competence, another student wrote about how she will overcome the obstacles of prejudice in her classroom. She writes from the perspective of her experience as a waitress: As a waitress I encounter a lot of different people everyday and it is really easy to walk up to a table with preconceived ideas of whether or not they will tip well, or if they look like rude people, so on and so forth. There is a stereotype that black people don't tip well at all and I hate to say it, but it's kind of true. When I first started out as a waitress I thought that people who didn't tip well were either cheap or simply mean but now I see things differently. I understand that people can't give me what they don't have as not everyone can afford to be excellent tippers. I also understand that many people have never worked in the service industry and are unaware of what a decent tip is. Either way, whatever they give me I should be grateful for as it comes out of their own pocket. Now instead of having preconceived ideas of people when I first approach a table I try to remain open minded and give everyone friendly service. I'm guessing it could be really easy to judge how a student will perform solely on his appearance on the first day of school. However, I'm pretty sure I would be setting myself up for a difficult school year. Hopefully I can use some of what I learn as a server and apply it to my students. I'll have to try to think a little about what drives them to act as they do which will require me to be open minded and to give each student the same quality of attention as the others. (S3) Snap judgments that come from an uninformed place, can be harmful or dangerous. The writer learned that preconceived ideas provide a false platform from which to launch oneself in any human endeavor. But the classroom is the one place where the greatest harms can accrue when a child is placed in a classroom of a teacher who has predetermined that she cannot learn or that she is predestined to be a dropout because of family, socioeconomic, racial, or ethnic origins. Implications for Educational Practice 41
  6. 6. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL Reflective experience refers to the ability to learn from the past so as to improve one’s life; this ability is unique to mankind. Great thinkers from the past and present have made the following observations about the instructive value of experience. They frame the qualities openness, transparency, and self-reflection as critical to self-improvement as well as improvement of society in general. Diana Ravitch wrote: What should we think of someone who never admits error, never entertains doubt but adheres unflinchingly to the same ideas all his life, regardless of new evidence? Doubt and skepticism are signs of rationality. When we are too certain of our opinions, we run the risk of ignoring any evidence that conflicts with our views. It is doubt that shows we are still thinking, still willing to reexamine hardened beliefs when confronted with new facts and new evidence. (2011, p. 1) Harvard professor George Santayana wrote, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness…and when experience is not retained…infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (1905-1906, p. 1).It is, therefore, critical for future teachers to know that even if individuals grow up in an extremely prejudicial household, there remains hope that structured learning activities in the teacher preparation program can lead them to examinethe roots of their beliefs, understanding what makes them who they are. If university classrooms can provide the context and the catalyst for reflection, then it is hopeful that positive change will occur in the hearts and minds of prospective teachers. University classrooms, accordingly can model more culturally responsive contexts that future teaching can create in their own classrooms. References Baglieri, S.,& Knopf, J.H. (2004).Normalizing differences in inclusive settings.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(6), 525-529. D’Angelo, A.M.,&Dixey, B.P. (2001).Using multicultural resources for teachers to combat racial prejudice in the classroom.Early Childhood Education Journal, 29(2), 83-87. Lin, M.,& Bates, A.B. (2010). Home visits: How do they affect teachers’ beliefs about teaching and diversity? Early Childhood Education Journal, 38,179-185. Middleton, M., Abrams, E., & Seaman, J. (2011).Resistance and disidentification in reflective practice with preservice teaching interns.New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 126, 67-75. McLeskey, J., Rosenberg, M.S., &Westling, D. L. (2012).Inclusion: Effective practices for all students. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Ravitch, D. (2011). The death and life of the great American school system: How testing and choice are undermining education. Retrieved from Santayana, G. (1905-1906). The life of reason.Retrieved from med_to_repeat_it 42
  7. 7. THERESA GARFIELD DOREL Trent, S.C.,&Artiles, A.J. (2007).Today’s multicultural, bilingual, and diverse schools. In R. Turnbull, A. Turnbull, M. Shank, & J. Smith (Eds.), Exceptional lives: Special education in today’s schools (5th ed.; pp. 56-79). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. Trent, S.C., Kea, C.D., & Oh, K. (2008). Preparing preservice educators for cultural diversity: How far have we come? Exceptional Children, 74(3), 328-350. 43