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Chapter 3: Teaching Is Adapting to Student Diversity - page 5 / 16





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Let’s consider this last observation in more detail.  It is important to recognize at the outset that not all teachers behave identically and that some may be quite successful at optimizing the development of all students, including those who are members of ethnic minorities.  Moreover, it is fair to say that some teacher behavior is elicited by ethnic minority students, some of whom may be poorly prepared for school because of poverty and may be distrustful of the school, which is perceived as an institution of the oppressive dominant culture (Santrock, 2008).  Nevertheless, the simple fact remains that many teachers are not prepared to create a classroom that accommodates appropriately to the background, needs, and strengths of the ethnic minority student.  Santrock (2008) has reviewed research on ethnicity in the classroom and reports on the problematic teacher behaviors that have been identified.  Here are but a few examples from Santrock (2008):

1.  Teachers engage in fewer instructional interactions with ethnic minority students than with White students.

2.  Teachers are more likely to reinforce White students than African-American students for behavior focused on academic achievement.

3.  Teachers are more apt to criticize academically gifted students who are African American than those who are White.

4.  Teachers often fail to challenge African-American students academically or to hold them to high academic standards because of concerns about the economic hardships and discriminatory practices so many of these students endure.

Many of these problematic teacher behaviors reflect not an unwillingness to help ethnic minority students, but rather a lack of knowledge of the cultural backgrounds of these students and of how to adapt their instruction to those backgrounds.  Teachers must be more knowledgeable about the cultural backgrounds of their students, more aware of their own biases and stereotypes, more appreciative of the impact of their own cultural background on the classroom, and more willing to devise flexible instructional strategies that include all students.  Later in this chapter we suggest some strategies to help teachers do so.


One of every five children in the U.S. live in poverty, and more than 100,000 children are homeless on any given day (Elliott et al., 1996).  Poverty is associated with a number of chronic, pernicious stresses that negatively impact many aspects of human development, including academic performance.  For example, children who live in poverty score 10 to 15 points lower on standardized tests of intelligence and achieve less academically than do their more affluent peers throughout the school years (DeAngelis, 1994; Elliott et al., 2000).  Poor children, especially those who are homeless, experience less support from peers and are more likely to be malnourished, have sleep disturbances, and lag behind in their physical and social-emotional development compared to more affluent children (DeAngelis, 1994).  The conditions under which poor children and their families live are unimaginable to most of us.  These conditions have been eloquently, but painfully, described by Kozol (1996). Kozol writes about Mott Haven, which is located in the South Bronx in New York:

Virtually every child at St Ann’s knows someone, a relative or neighbor, who has died of AIDS . . . roaches crawl on virtually every surface of the houses . . . Rats emerge from holes in bedroom walls . . . In 1991, 84 people, more than half of whom were 21 or younger, were murdered in the precinct (pp. 4-5).

Unfortunately, our schools often contribute to, rather than alleviate, the problems of students living in poverty.  Because the resources made available to school reflects the economic wealth of the district in which it is located, children who are poor attend the most dilapidated schools with the fewest material and personnel resources (Kozol, 1991).  Not surprisingly, student achievement, especially for ethnic minority

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