Pre-Service Teachers’ Critical Dispositions towards Language: Transforming Taken-for-Granted Assumptions About Racially, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Learners through Teacher Education

Andrea Sterzuk

While Canadian classrooms are made up of children from a broad range of linguistic, racial, and religious backgrounds, Canadian teachers are predominantly English monolingual and white settler (Ryan et al.,2009; Dandala,2018). Current educational programs also do not have equitable representation of preservice teachers (Childs & Ferguson, 2016; Holden & Kitchen, 2018; Marom, 2019). This mismatch between teacher and student identity has implications for teacher practices and student experiences. While schools are sites of linguistic pluralism, taken-for-granted assumptions about what constitutes legitimate academic English can lead teachers to see English-language variation and multilingualism as something that gets in the way of acquiring literacy skills and mastering subject material (Delpit & Dowdy, 2008; Pettit, 2011; Baecher, 2012; Polat & Mahalingappa, 2013; Ennser-Kanane & Leider, 2018). Teacher education programs require a readjustment in terms of problematizing deficit views of language and reinforcing critical dispositions towards language (Sterzuk, in press; Stille & Cummins, 2013; Ennser-Kanane & Leider, 2018).

This chapter shares findings from a 3-year, mixed-methods study exploring 24 white, settler, preservice educators’ dispositions towards racially, culturally and linguistically diverse learners. As a teacher educator in the area of language and literacy education, my ultimate goal is to support preservice teachers in pluralistic understandings of language (Canagarajah, 2007); critical multilingual language awareness (Garcia, 2016) and assets-based pedagogical practices (Ennser-Kanane & Leider, 2018).Yet, teacher preparation programs are unlikely to influence preservice teachers’critical understandings of language and eventual practice as fully as intended because of preservice teachers’ K-12 learning experiences (Britzman, 1991) and field experiences which include the influence of the cooperating teacher (Rozelle & Wilson, 2012; Clarke et al., 2014). In light of these potential constraints, it is important to investigate influences on preservice educators’ views of language to better understand how teacher education can support preservice teachers in addressing the needs of culturally, linguistically and racially diverse students and their families.

Critical Understandings of Language and School

This chapter investigates preservice teachers views of language—or socially constructed views about languages, in terms of how, where, when, and with whom they should and should not be spoken and written—and implications for education.These types of views about what constitutes legitimate language, particularly when held by teachers and other educators including administrators, curriculum designers, teachers, and speech and language pathologists, can negatively impact speakers of “illegitimate” languages and language varieties (Bourdieu, 1991). In schools, English-language variation can often be viewed as a detriment, as something that gets in the way of acquiring literacy skills and mastering subject material (Nero, 2006). Biased language beliefs legitimatize discriminatory school practices and traditional teaching practices in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms can consign linguistically and culturally diverse students to failure. Educational research links teacher expectations of students who are speakers of English-language varieties not sanctioned by schools to lower levels of literacy development as well as academic failure (see Labov, 1972;Delpit & Dowdy, 2008; Prendergast, 2003; Lee, 2006; Nero, 2006; Sterzuk, 2011). When teachers view English language variation as evidence of deficiency or delays in language development, it is important to examine the nature of teacher views of language.

Literature in the area of preservice to in-school teacher transition also informs this research. This period is sometimes referred to as “the induction years” and includes the final practicum or internship in a teacher education program, as well as the early years of full-time in-service teaching. This literature includes inquiry into beginning teachers’ beliefs during socialization into the school systems. Teacher preparation programs may be unlikely to influence preservice teachers’ eventual practice as fully as intended (Britzman, 1991; Frykholm, 1996; Ball, 1997) for two reasons: preservice teachers’ K-12 learning experiences and the influences of field experiences (Zeichner & Tabachnick, 1981; Guyton & McIntyre, 1990; Guyton & Wesche, 1996; Odell & Hiding, 2000). Blankenship and Coleman (2009) explain that isolated from their teacher education programs and working closely with their mentor teachers, “the beliefs and skills beginning teachers have learned from their teacher education program are actually ‘washed out’” by the circumstances they encounter during their teaching internship (p. 97). The first year of teaching brings about other changes and influences for preservice educators. In addition to the necessary reorientation of their roles (from student teacher to teacher) this transition also requires the development of a teacher identity (Alsup, 2006) and professional practice (Wanzare, 2007). School influences during this transition phase include beliefs of school administrators as well as those of other teachers.

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