Diverse teachers, diverse learners: How students perceive approaches to teaching diversity in teacher education

Year: 2013

Author: Harrison, Neil

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Classroom teachers in NSW government schools are responsible for the educational program of all students in their classes. This requires teachers to interpret and differentiate the curriculum to enable the participation of all students, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, Indigenous students, and students with special educational needs and/or a disability. However, these categories do not necessarily represent independent groups. For example, an Indigenous student may have hearing impairment and speak English as a second or third language. Alternatively, a student with language impairment may not be identified for appropriate support services if teachers assume that their learning difficulties result from their English language learner status, rather than a primary language disorder. Despite this, the organisation of Directorates within DECs Student Equity & Welfare portfolio (incorporating Disability Programs, Student Welfare & Equity Programs, and Aboriginal Education and Training directorates), and most university teacher education programs, reflect traditional or “siloed” approaches to teaching diversity in schools, which can leave preservice teachers not only confused but disempowered (Graham, 2010). Recent analysis of enrolment trends suggest that approaches developed decades ago may be now insufficient to adequately support and equip teachers entering significantly more diverse schools than graduates in the past (Sweller et al., 2012).
This paper is based on data collected from a survey of 149 pre-service teachers studying at a University in Sydney, and on subsequent interviews with 15 of the survey respondents. The interviews provide us with valuable insights into how a very diverse body of students from a range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds perceive courses offered in secondary and primary education at this university. Whilst much of the previous research has focused on the effects of diverse populations of teachers and students on education delivery, the interview data obtained through this research reveal perceptions of contemporary teacher education as being embedded more in a culture of accountability than in the cultural and linguistic needs of students. There is a suggestion that diversity is being tacked-on to courses as a measure of compliance. A thriving audit culture, now being promoted nationally, is functioning to further anchor a predominantly Anglo tradition in the delivery of teacher education programs. The presentation explores some of the interventions that might make a difference to the historical and cultural inertia currently facing teacher education.