“I can tell you all you need to know about diversity in just four words… everyone…is…an…individual”: Implications of understandings of diversity for teachers and teacher education

Woods, Annette F. (2008) “I can tell you all you need to know about diversity in just four words… everyone…is…an…individual”: Implications of understandings of diversity for teachers and teacher education. Iskolakultural (School Culture), 2(2), pp. 141-158.

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The quotation in the paper’s title above is a comment by one teacher educator on a colleague’s work to raise consciousness among her teacher education (TE) students regarding diversity, social justice and productive pedagogical engagement. The current widespread perception of pervasive and problematic student diversity in schools has highlighted the need for teacher educators to articulate understandings of diversity and social justice on the one hand, with effective pedagogical practices on the other. A common initial strategy in teacher education programs is to challenge prospective teacher’s reliance on individualistic deficit explanations and to offer more positive and productive ways of naming and engaging with student diversity. However as the quotation in the title reveals, in the present neo-liberal higher education context of Australia (and no doubt other western nations at least), teacher educators themselves often reduce consideration of diversity to a consideration of individual and essentialised characteristics. In this paper I investigate the talk of teachers who work within a school that services a community marked by poverty along with racial diversity as a way to consider implications of this trend to individualise diversity for teacher education. The first section of this paper is an analysis that investigates the discourses evident as influential in teachers’ common sense notions of diversity when they are asked to discuss literacy and failure to learn literacy. I ask what discourses seem to be used as potentials for teachers and school personnel to call on when explaining diversity and literacy learning and failure in the early years of school. An investigation of the teacher’s talk about literacy uncovers an uptake of potentials that individualise diversity in a way that competes with an understanding of diversity as socially and institutionally constructed. The analysis was undertaken at Jesstown State School – a small school located within the sprawling satellite landscape of one Australian state’s capital city. The teacher’s talk is related to discussions of diversity and literacy learning and failure to learn, as recorded in interviews with myself as researcher. The analysis reveals that the Jesstown teachers called upon deficit explanations to explain diversity, with students being ‘othered’ according to the values held as normal and central by the teachers. After a discussion of the resilience of these deficit accounts, I move to demonstrate how a reliance on progressive notions of teaching and learning make it difficult for teachers to represent literacy learning and failure, and student diversity in other ways. I suggest that attempts to start where students are at, and to take account of student backgrounds by calling on progressive understandings, result in an individualisation of diversity that places ‘blame’ for difference squarely at the doorstep of children and families. The paper then moves to an analysis of how one Jesstown teacher, Dianne, represents diversity, literacy and the teacher and student roles within the first few years of schooling very differently. I conclude by posing the question of how TE can work productively to provide TE students with the understandings, skills, practices and processes to engage with diversity as a collective and collaboratively constructed representation rather than an individual, essentialised characteristic.

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ID Code: 20188
Item Type: Journal Article
Refereed: No
Keywords: Diversity, Teachers, Pedagogical practices
ISSN: 1789-5170
Divisions: Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > Schools > School of Early Childhood & Inclusive Education
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2008 Iskolakultúra :: Minden jog fenntartva
Deposited On: 29 Apr 2009 05:29
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 13:37

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