Pass or Fail: Preparing Teachers for At-Risk Students
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
In classrooms with traditionally at-risk students – like minority, English-language learners and those from low socio-economic brackets – teachers can feel overwhelmed at the amount of work it takes to adequately teach students who have less advantages than others.
Preparing teachers to meet the needs of a diverse student base is absolutely necessary to student success long-term.
In an article targeting the importance of experiences and training on effective teaching to meet the needs of diverse learners, Edwards, Carr, and Siegel outline a specific component of an ongoing project to explore differentiated instruction (DI) as an approach for meeting the academic and related needs diverse learners in schools.
The 3 Dimensions (3D) of Diversity for Inclusion, as the project was known, emerged as a result of a September 2001 faculty meeting of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Southeastern Louisiana University. In the meeting, it came to light that the results from the prior academic year’s annual student teacher exit survey indicated teacher candidates wanted more intensive preparation to be able to work more effectively with diverse learners in schools.
A core problem within the teaching profession, as these findings suggest, is that few professionals have the knowledge, skills, or even basic training to determine the best pedagogical practices for many typical classroom scenarios. In fact, the survey conducted by Edwards et al. concentrated initially on ascertaining how regularly teachers were using specific strategies or techniques to plan for and accommodate individual differences in the classroom.
When interviewers asked about how often candidates’ strategies related to diversity, inclusion, differentiated instruction, accommodations, and modifications in the classroom, most indicated that they rarely employed instructional strategies to differentiate instruction, use tiered assessments, differentiate lessons using major concepts and generalizations, or use instructional materials to promote diversity. Rather, the focus was on using teaching materials rather than standard texts, allowing for a relatively wide range of product alternatives, including oral, visual, musical, and spatial; using cooperative and flexible grouping strategies, and varying questions based on student readiness, interest, and learning styles.
While these strategies go some way toward supporting students with atypical needs, the lack of focus on instructional strategies to differentiate instruction supports the idea that most teachers do not go far enough in their instructional approach. That is, they do not use instructional strategies to specifically and thus effectively target students with diverse needs. Their cut-and-paste, plug-the-hole solution is to use a range of learning materials to try to make up the difference. The transference of actual knowledge and skills to students falls by the wayside.
More than this, it appears that most teachers do not have an adequate range of experience before undertaking a formal teaching position. Edwards et al. touch on this issue at some length in their study. Indeed, they cite the educational and training background of survey respondents. The majority was female, Caucasian, and university-educated via a traditional undergraduate program. Most had no prior teaching experience, and only 40 percent of respondents said they had any kind of specific teacher training.
This tells us that teachers simply aren’t getting enough training before they enter classrooms and certainly not enough support when they are there. Further, diverse student bodies do not identify with the people influencing their educations, which is certainly not the fault of the teachers, but should be a wake-up call to all educators to recruit a more diverse teacher population that better reflects the students sitting at the desks.