In this podcast episode (link above), I talk with Dr Amy Kavanaugh, Dr Andrea Kitomary, and Dr Lindsay Stoetzel from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan, USA about their work preparing rural teacher candidates to work with diverse student populations.
This is very much an international conversation that will benefit teacher educators, those currently in teacher training and education, as well as parents, families and community members concerned with implicit bias training for fair, inclusive, and diverse practices in the classroom.
This trio, keen social justice advocates, takes their teacher candidates through a series of professional conversations and workshops that require them to interrogate their own implicit (unconscious) biases and to think deeply about how their words and actions impact the teacher student relationship.
This project was born out of a need identified by their accrediting body to strengthen the teacher candidates’ awareness and ability to work with diverse populations. This is no easy task when the university itself, and the schools that teacher candidates will be teaching in, are largely rural. Traditionally, the teaching body in Michigan is predominately white, middle class, and female, so the problem of practice was how to teach these teacher candidates to become culturally responsive teachers. We discussed the difficulties they faced designing and implementing a programme that would be transformative and impactful for the teacher candidates in such a homogenous environment.
They recruited Ferris alumni, teaching in several different states, to come together with their teacher candidates in a series of professional conversation workshops. They felt that practicing educators who have been where their teacher candidates are, and are now in the field experiencing the reality of teaching first hand, would reinforce and enhance what the professors are currently instructing, providing a richer learning experience for the teacher candidates. They specifically chose early career (newly qualified teachers) because they wanted their teacher candidates to see that you don’t have to have 20 years of expertise to be ready… and that this is a learning journey that all educators are on together.
We talk about immigration, the black lives matter movement, the recent election, and other hot-button issues across the country that push educators and their choices of what they bring into their lessons in the classroom. We discuss the similarities and crossovers in teacher education, in the US context, the Irish context and other countries as well. They discuss bias through the lens of racism which is historical and prevalent in the US, whereas in the Irish context bias is more likely to be discussed from a class or socio-economic lens. There is a discussion on how implicit bias is very damaging to children through microaggressions and actions in the classroom, often without realizing we are even doing it. We share stories, nationally and internationally, about cultural norms and biases, and practicing awareness of difference in diverse classrooms.
Research supports that the biggest indicator for future student success is the classroom teacher. Teacher educators have a responsibility to help teacher candidates see that you have the power to make a significant difference in every student’s life and their success. It is more important than how much money the school has or the student’s family has. Rather, finding an awareness of the power the classroom teacher has and the expectation for success of ALL their students. Teachers make more of a difference than they know, and words and actions matter. Interrogating our own implicit bias and embedding collaborative and reflective bias training in teacher education programmes is essential.