National FORUM of Teacher Education Journal, Dr. William Allan Kritsonis, Editor, www.nationalforum.com, NATIONAL FORUM JOURNALS, Founded 1982
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
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
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
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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
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
3. Do I integrate race and ethnic issues in the curriculum exclusively through thematic
units, holidays, and celebrations?
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).
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
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
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
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.
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Lin, M.,& Bates, A.B. (2010). Home visits: How do they affect teachers’ beliefs about teaching
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