Faculty in the School of Education believe programs must promote and value diversity within the faculty, candidates, and curricula.
The issue of diversity has become a central theme in the preparation of professional education candidates within the United States (Cochran-Smith, 1995). Professionally, diversity “communicates the need to understand universals and differences in the human species, as well as the translation of understanding into behavior respectful of people and their many forms of understanding” (Arvizu, 1994). James Banks (1993) maintains that “an effective teacher education policy for the 21st century must include, as a major focus, the education of all teachers….in ways that will help them receive the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to work effectively with students from diverse racial, ethnic, and social class groups” (135-136). Howey (1996) asserts that professional education programs are bound by national and state accreditation agencies to take into account issues revolving around gender, ethnicity, religion, language, regional characteristics, [exceptionalities], and most recently, sexual orientation. The UAB School of Education faculty concur with Darling-Hammond, Wise, and Klein (1997) who assert that:
This new mission for education requires substantially more knowledge and radically different skills for teachers…. If all children are to be effectively taught, teachers must be prepared to address the substantial diversity in experiences children bring with them to school—the wide range of languages, cultures, exceptionalities, learning styles, talents, and intelligences that in turn requires an equally rich and varied repertoire of teaching strategies. (p.2) To do this, the SOE commits itself to the recruitment and retention of both minority university faculty and pre-service teacher candidates, and the development of a meaningful teacher education curriculum that addresses both diversity and multiculturalism (Banks, 1993; Howey, 1996; Cochran-Smith, 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1995).
Traditionally, professional educators involved in preparing pre-service professional education candidates for the classroom have been overwhelmingly white, monocultural, and culturally insular (Melnick & Zeichner, 1997). At the same time, P-12 schools throughout our nation have become increasingly diverse. It is vitally important that the composition of current faculty in the School of Education become more reflective of the composition of the general population served by P-12 schools in an effort to better prepare teacher candidates to address the learning needs of a diverse student population. The UAB School of Education regards the recruitment and retention of faculty of color to be “both a critical need and a moral responsibility” (Melnick and Zeichner, 1997).
Along with the recruitment of minority faculty at the university level, the SOE faculty is committed to the recruitment and retention of minority teacher education candidates who reflect the diversity of P-12 student bodies. Peter Loehr (1998) reports research findings supporting the assumption that as the proportion of minority teachers falls, minority students’ perception of the importance of academic achievement also declines. Reports from the American Associate of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) indicate a significant decline in the number of minority candidates entering schools of education. In order to provide more highly qualified minority teachers for urban schools in the Birmingham area, the UAB School of Education recruits outstanding minority students to enter its programs.
Darling-Hammond, Wise, and Klein (1997) identify attributes that must be in a curriculum to prepare teachers to address the diversity found in the contemporary classroom. “Teaching for universal learning demands a highly developed ability to discover what children know and can do, as well as how they think and how they learn, and to match learning and performance opportunities to the needs of individual children” (p.2) Shaw (1993) maintains that the teacher education curriculum should strive for equity of opportunity to learn, largely through the convergence of three practices: heterogeneous grouping, highly interactive instruction that appeals to a wide variety of learning styles, and inclusive curricula. He further supports the notion that a constructivist understanding of education, in which learners are active architects of meaning, permeates this collaborative vision of education. Grant (1993) expands the vision regarding teaching by professing that a multicultural perspective assumes that teachers will hold high expectations for all students and that they will challenge those students who are trapped in the cycle of poverty and despair to rise above it. (p.41)
Such a curriculum requires that pre-service teacher candidates be immersed in the context of diversity. This requires a field-based program. However, there is growing evidence (McIntyre et al., 1996) that simply gaining experiences will not produce more complex learning, nor will it help pre-service teachers contextualilze information presented in a university setting. Clinical experiences must be carefully monitored, supported, and crafted in such a way as to attend directly to the prior knowledge and preconceptions of pre-service teachers (Florio-Ruane & Lensmire, 1990; McDiarmid, 1990). Such experiences should be accompanied with discussion and critique of observations and experiences.