Teacher diversity and socio-economic status

Year: 2013

Author: Saltmarsh, David

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Education, and teaching in particular, has long been considered a vehicle for social mobility. In the past it was not uncommon to hear from teachers who commented that they were the first in their family to go to university. Whether this method of improving one’s socio-economic status (SES) is still the case or not, SES has considerable importance for academics working in programs of teacher education. This paper reports on a sample of 149 pre-service teachers who contributed to an online survey about attitudes to diversity in teaching, 15 of these participants were also interviewed for this study. To establish the SES position for each participant, the parental occupation information noted on the survey was used to assign a ranking according to the AUSEI06 (McMillan, Beavis, & Jones, 2009). The AUSEI06 is a ranking scale that draws on occupation, education and income to create a scale of occupations with the highest occupations ranked 100. Participants were then assigned a ranking out of 100.
As an occupational grouping, school teachers have an average SES ranking of 85.3 with a range from 75.8, for early childhood teachers, to 87.6 for secondary school teachers. Sixty-nine of the participants in the study, or 46.3%, came from families with a similar SES ranking to that of teachers. This suggests that almost half of the participants were aiming to replicate their family situations, while for nine (6%) teaching would be a lower SES occupation that that of their family, and for 71 (47.7%) aspiring to teach would be an improvement on their family’s SES standing. Interestingly, as a group these pre-service teachers revealed attitudes to diversity that were less idealistic than we had imagined. Past studies have indicated that students came into teacher education programs wanting to ‘make a difference’ in the lives of the students they would teach (see Richardson & Watt, 2006), and while this desire was not absent, a more pragmatic approach seemed to prevail. For example, these pre-service teachers had been instructed in methods of curriculum differentiation, a strategy that would be necessary in diverse classrooms, but generally found it difficult to implement and not widely supported by teachers supervising their practicum experience placements. They also remarked that an emphasis on NAPLAN in the daily practice of the school, made much of their preparation at university seem irrelevant.