“You may find some superficial changes in terms of science books where you see more Black kids or Native American kids in the chapters, but there is not a real effort to change the narrative.”– Prentice Baptiste, professor of teacher education, New Mexico State University
For years, colleges of education have been grappling with how to position issues of race, equity, and social justice within the larger programmatic and institutional framework of teacher education. Despite widespread attempts to attract a more diverse pool of teacher candidates and to expose candidates to a more multicultural experience, at the institutional level many of these initiatives remain at the discretion of individual professors, are tokenized, or are incohesive. In practice this means that issues of systemic racism, educational inequity, and cultural diversity are lumped together in one foundation course, viewed as a specialty or add-on to core teaching practices, and/or positioned as something that only teacher educators and teacher candidates of color need to be proficient in. As a result, many teacher education programs remain “centered in Whiteness.”1 Given that over 50% of the US student population is now students of color, this is not acceptable.
By contrast, our study of teacher education programs at four minority-serving institutions (MSIs) illustrates new institutional methods and models for preparing teachers that embed diversity and equity as core components of quality teacher preparation. These strategies include:
- integrating culturally relevant pedagogy across the teacher education curriculum;
- providing opportunities for teacher candidates to engage in guided practice in diverse school settings from the outset of their degree programs; and
- increasing opportunities for meaningful engagement with local communities, including parent engagement, community service, and action research.
While we are not suggesting that MSIs are the only institutions that are adopting these kinds of practices, we did find that by their very nature as minority-serving institutions, MSIs are primed to reimagine teacher education, effectively uncentering Whiteness and changing the narrative. We argue that MSIs have been at the forefront of creating teacher education programs where complex and critical issues of race and cultural diversity are foundational across all coursework, theory, and practice, creating a more compelling and cohesive experience for candidates who strive for social justice. In this article, we provide an overview of some of the ways that MSIs are accomplishing this wor
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in Action
As previously noted, many teacher education programs lump all issues having to do with students of color into one single course, typically called Multicultural Education or School and Society. One major criticism of these courses is that they teach candidates to respect or celebrate diversity, but they fail to provide candidates with a more critical analysis of systemic racism and educational inequity based on issues of socio-economic class, gender, language, and other differences among students. Moreover, the history and experiences of all students of color and underserved groups are too complex to condense into a single course. These courses tend to suffer from a Black/White dichotomy that minimizes the experiences of other racial groups and fails to take an intersectional approach to understanding diversity and social justice. The teacher education programs we studied were intentional in integrating culturally relevant pedagogy across the curriculum. Stone Child College (SCC), a Tribal college in Montana, for example, modeled its entire curriculum around the Chippewa Cree culture, aligning the phases of the program with the four seasons depicted on the Cree medicine wheel. Teacher educators at SCC also sought to provide a wholistic, relevant experience for candidates by creating culturally inviting community spaces where all candidates feel welcome, such as weekly drum ceremonies; honoring and preserving Tribal languages; and engaging Tribal elders in the education program.
Homegrown: Teacher Residencies and University–School Partnerships
Another way that MSIs have sought to provide candidates with a more authentic and cohesive experience working with diverse groups of students has been to create teacher residencies and university–school partnerships. This model allows candidates to spend their entire day at a local K–12 school, alternating between taking their courses and engaging in clinical practice at the same site. The BLOCKS program at New Mexico State University is an excellent example of this model, as faculty are willing to teach their content and methods courses on the school site, working in close collaboration with classroom teachers. The result is that candidates can learn about a topic or method in the morning, practice it in the afternoon, and reflect on it later that day.
In contrast to traditional models of student teaching—where candidates typically don’t enter the classroom until they have finished all their coursework—the residency model allows them to exponentially expand the amount of time they spend practicing their craft.
As one professor in the program noted: “You see that they are practicing what they are learning in theory. They’re applying it well.” It is important to note, however, that what makes programs such as BLOCKS successful is not simply a change in venue or the timing of school-based practice. Such programs require major structural changes, which readdress issues of authority, time, power, and perspective. Specifically, professors, teacher supervisors, and mentor teachers must work more closely together and must respect the relative knowledge that each brings to the table.
Where Wisdom Sits: Teacher Preparation and Community Engagement
One of the defining features of MSIs is that they tend to be predominantly community-based and community-centered. This means that many of their students are drawn from the local community and plan to stay in that community upon graduation. It also means that larger issues of community justice, sustainability, and empowerment become part of the mission of MSIs. Many MSI teacher education programs—such as those at Jackson State University (HBCU) and California State University, Fresno (HSI and AANAPISI)—thus require candidates to volunteer at community sites and events, including library book drives, health fairs, homeless shelters, and food banks.
Other programs include candidates in direct parent engagement, such as serving as translators for parents who don’t speak English and doing home visits to migrant families who work long hours and live in rural areas. At New Mexico State University, candidates engaged in collaborative action research with local families on literacy learning, used their findings to develop new teaching units, and planned joint family engagement activities for parents and children, such as a read-aloud with discussion. These projects helped candidates to recognize the wealth of knowledge in local communities that students bring with them to the classroom and to approach teaching from an asset-based perspective.
Call to Action
These examples are just a small sampling of the innovative practices we found in MSI teacher education programs. Our research provides data that leads us to a call to action in which we emphasize the importance of integrating culturally relevant pedagogy across the curriculum, expanding opportunities for candidates to practice teaching in diverse school settings, recruiting former K–12 teachers to the faculty, promoting cohort models, fostering community engagement, communicating messages of success and belonging to teacher candidates from diverse backgrounds, and lastly considering the importance of love. Many of the candidates we interviewed for our research—the majority of whom were people of color from low-income and first-generation backgrounds—shared with us how their prior experiences in the classroom influenced their decision to join the profession.
Those candidates who found school to be alienating and dismissive were eager to bring inclusion and change to the next generation. Likewise, those candidates who could recall a mentor or role model in the classroom, someone who encouraged them to be resilient and to believe in their ability to succeed academically, wanted to give back to the next generation. Nurturing a love of teaching, teachers’ love of students, and students’ love of teachers is an essential component of teacher education at MSIs and foundational to good teaching and effective learning for all students. From MSIs we can learn the promising practices that can teach us what a love of teaching looks like when racial equity is front and center in the way we prepare future generations of educators.
Alice Ginsberg serves as senior research specialist at the Samuel D. Proctor Institute for Leadership, Equity, and Justice.
Marybeth Gasman is the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Endowed Chair and a distinguished university professor at Rutgers University.
Andrés Castro Samayoa is an associate professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.
Alice Ginsberg, Marybeth Gasman, and Andrés Castro Samayoa are the authors of For the Love of Teaching: How Minority-Serving Institutions are Diversifying and Transforming the Profession (Teachers College Press, 2023).
This article was originally published as Changing the Narrative in August 2023 Print Edition.