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Teaching in Diverse Classrooms

College of Education, Health and Human Sciences Undergraduates Use Self-study to Impact Perceptions of Equity Among Pre-service Teachers and Teacher Education

Breeanna Gibson believes teaching is the career that starts every other career, and that’s what makes her group’s research on diversity in education so important.

The goal of the research is to understand how changes to course content, field experiences and exposure to new conversations about diversity impact perceptions of equity among pre-service teachers and teacher education. Gibson has worked on this research for two years, with three other College of Education, Health and Human Sciences students and Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction.

“You need to know your students, because they’re not all going to be like you,” said Gibson, who is from Joseph, Oregon. “The thought of how this is going to help me become a better teacher and help me accommodate all my students is something that has driven me to continue with this group.”

Anthony-Stevens, who taught all four students in her “Teaching Culturally Diverse Learners” course, helped the women connect, and the students started their research in fall 2015. In fact, it was Anthony-Stevens’ class where the students realized the deficits in diversity training for teachers.

Turning the Mirror on Themselves

Alex Lasure from Meridian, Idaho, said the women started a cohort where they reflected on their experiences with diversity in the classroom up to that point. Lasure realized that she didn’t understand what underrepresented people deal with in education systems, despite having friends of different backgrounds in high school.

“I started feeling the importance of this topic because if my friends didn’t tell me about issues that they were having, then, of course, they didn’t tell their teachers that they were feeling underrepresented or not communicated with appropriately,” Lasure said.

Chelsea Jones, from Okinawa, Japan, said that Anthony-Stevens’ course was the first time she had been taught to reflect on personal bias. Jones admits that self-reflection was hard for her to do. The students found themselves needing to acknowledge their own unintentional bias.

For Jaya Gundy, from Idaho City, Idaho, joining in the research was a way to connect with other students and learn from each other’s experiences.

“I really like surrounding myself with like-minded people, and this was a way to be in a group where you could talk about these topics,” Gundy said. “We all had a like-minded vision.”

Jones and Gibson said that an example for why they believe their research is necessary came as Anthony-Stevens’ class prepared to conduct classroom observations during a visit to Lapwai, a town on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. One of their teachers had given out a list of Native American stereotypes, such as “they won’t make eye contact” and “they don’t like physical touch.” The two women felt that it wasn’t appropriate for the professor to hand out a list like that to the class.

“Who knows how many of the students in our class would believe that list? We were given no context for the stereotypes on the list,” Jones said. “You’re going to keep those fake stereotypes in your mind.”

Gathering Data on Teaching Diversity

Their experiences in the classroom helped lead the women to develop their qualitative research focus. They started to question how classroom diversity is taught to pre-service teachers, including their exposure to diversity, experiences that shape their understanding of classroom diversity, and how teacher preparation can alter their views of diversity in the classroom.

Currently, the four students are using professional development field experiences, audio recorded reflections and interviews, field notes from educational interactions, and personal reflections to explore answers to their questions.

The women plan to leave their research setup for future students to add their experiences and continue the conversation about classroom diversity.

Teaching in the same district where she grew up, Lasure said she has now come full circle. She said she sees a lot of the diversity issues she discussed in college come up in her classrooms. The difference, she said, is now she has diversity training and can advocate effectively for her students.

The students would like to get their research published so people can see they are passionate about their work and are taking action.

“There’s four of us, really, but we’re going to impact hundreds of students during our careers, so I want people to see that it’s an important topic in education that kind of gets overlooked right now,” Gibson said.

  • Breeanna Gibson, 22: Majoring in elementary education. Student teaching at West Park Elementary in Moscow, Idaho.
  • Chelsea Jones, 22: Graduated in December with her degree in elementary education. Currently teaching at Riverstone International School in Boise, Idaho.
  • Jaya Gundy, 23: Majoring in math and secondary education. Student teaching at Idaho City High School in Idaho City, Idaho. Gundy plans to teach mathematics in Liberia through the Peace Corps.
  • Alex Lasure, 22: Secondary education degree with endorsements in English and mathematics. Student taught at Pathways Middle School during fall 2017. Currently teaches full time at Heritage Middle School in Meridian, Idaho.
Headshot of Breeanna Gibson.
Breeanna Gibson
Headshot of Chelsea Jones.
Chelsea Jones
Headshot of Jaya Gundy.
Jaya Gundy, credit Dellray Baker
Headshot of Alex Lasure.
Alex Lasure

Breeanna Gibson, Chelsea Jones and Jaya Gundy are OUR Travel Grant award recipients.

Article and photos by Diamond Koloski, a senior from Boise, Idaho, studying broadcasting and digital media with an emphasis in multimedia communications.

Published in July 2018.

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