A Cultural Divide:
An Ethnographical Approach for Heightened Cultural Awareness for Preservice Teachers
Dana E. K. Bjornson (nee Allingham)
The University of British Columbia
In the article, “Preparing Preservice Teachers in a Diverse World”, researchers Susan Davis Lenski, Kathleen Crawford and Thomas Crumpler assert that by incorporating enthnographical practices into predominantly White, preservice teachers’ education, that they will in turn become more attune to the cultural differences that often exist between themselves and their future students. In an attempt to foster what they coined as “habits of mind”, the researchers wanted the student teachers to shift their knowledge base from simply identifying what the cultural differences were to being genuinely sensitive towards these differences (Lenski, Crawford, & Crumpler, 2005). Aptly named the Beyond Awareness Project, the researchers systematically trained preservice teachers as enthnographical researchers, with the hope they would eventually metamorphosis into “culturally responsive teachers” (Lenski et al., p. 393). Although utilising teachers who are about to enter the field would not be my first choice of participants, I found this article to reflect my own ideal of teacher education. That is, understanding cultural differences between people cannot be taught from a book or from a teacher; rather, it must be from direct interaction and personalized experience from within that foreign context.
In the first of the five-year study, researchers took an enthnographical approach, observing and collecting data on 28 preservice elementary teachers. This observational period served to mould the direction of the study for the remaining four years, during which time the preservice teachers were also taught preliminary ethnographical tools, such as observation practices and how to take field notes. After the indoctrination into the field of ethnographical research, researchers collected data from a variety of sources, such as observations from neighbourhood walks, bus rides, school sites, formal and informal interviews from six of the preservice teachers, and reflection assignments from the participants. Initially, researchers discovered that the observational process was leading students to impetuous conclusions. As well, researchers learned that some of the preservice teachers had a narrow view of what diversity even meant, as they failed to “include issues of religion, gender, and socio-economic status” (Lenski et al., p. 395) in their definition of diversity. The researchers concluded that not only did the participants move beyond simply identifying cultural differences, but they had a heightened awareness of how to be an effective teacher for those students who share such differences.
Overall, I see real value in pursuing research that better equips teachers to inspire and educate their students, and this study succeeds in doing such. The participants that they chose to include, however, took away some of the impact that their results may have been able to create. As this study involved elementary preservice teachers, 26 out of the 28 participants were female. Gender differences should rarely be ignored when conducting research and I feel that more effort should have been made to have more male participants. As well, the decision to work with preservice teachers was short sighted in that teachers without classroom experience tend to want to be told what to do in concrete terms. In my experience, preservice teachers will want to focus more on lesson planning and the mechanics of the actual lesson, as opposed to the esthetics and nuances of the craft itself. Should they have used teachers with two or more years of classroom experience, I would predict that some of the obstacles they encountered, such participants feeling burdened by the writing components, would have been minimized. I am also curious why the researchers opted to not include any of the acquired data, but instead chose to report its findings in broad statements. Did the participants not go into enough detail in their final ethnographical reports? Was participating in this study too much of a hardship on an already overwhelmed group of preservice teachers? That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with the spirit of this study. The six weeks of observational time I received as a student teacher allowed for many valuable opportunities to reflect on other teachers’ practices and their interactions with students. Lenski et al. (2005) also provided ample opportunities for reflection and discussion, which in turn enabled at least one preservice teacher “to see [their students] as individuals” (p. 395). Lastly, I believe that the researchers’ desire to reform the teacher education program is a worthwhile endeavour, as all aspects of society stand to benefit from mutually understanding and being more sensitive to our cultural differences.
Lenski, S. D., Crawford, K., & Crumpler, T. (2005). Preparing preservice teachers in a diverse world. In Gay, L. R., Mills, G. E., & Airasian, P. W., Educational research: Competencies for analysis and applications (10th ed., pp. 392-397). Harlow, Essex: Pearson.
Lenski, S. D., Crawford, K., & Crumpler, T. (2005). Preparing preservice teachers in a diverse world. Action in Teacher Education, 27(3), 3-12. doi: 10.1080/01626620.2005.10463386