Classrooms are now much more ethnically diverse than they ever have been in the past, and some states throughout the West have experienced dramatic increases in Hispanic and Asian populations over the last decade. Second-language services have become imperative because of the recent wave of immigrants from Southeast Asia as well as Latin America. Few realize that the Tacoma School District, for example, has students from 36 different language backgrounds, and even fewer would guess that Russian is just after Spanish as the most common native language in the district.
It is only natural that the state of Washington is placing an even greater emphasis on a teacher’s ability to connect with a wide range of students in his or her classroom. It would be easy for us in the School of Education to respond to this call by simply adding another class to our program or possibly inserting a few workshops on the topic somewhere in the curriculum. We believe that the problem is more intricate than this.
Recently, our faculty have been focusing on the complexities of secondary education and ways to help our students develop higher levels of cultural competence as part of its ongoing program evaluation. Beginning in the fall of 2010, we are expanding one of our fall classes to include a field component that will enable our teacher education candidates to tutor low income students in afternoon programs in Tacoma. Many of these students are also second language students. We are working closely with Lincoln High School and the Peace Community Center in this effort. Lincoln High School and Peace are a natural fit, as we have worked with both locations in the past, and many of the faculty and administrators in both locations are graduates of the University of Puget Sound.
Our secondary candidates will be tutoring at least one day a week in their after school programs. This tutoring is an opportunity to work intimately with students who are likely to be different from our candidates, at least in terms of life experiences and cultural backgrounds. This experience enables our candidates to practice teaching skills on a small scale and more importantly, to learn how to connect to students in meaningful ways. Naturally, our program faculty supervise these experiences and connect them directly to their courses at the university.
We look forward to a deepening relationship with Lincoln High School and Peace Community Center. We see this change as one that is consistent with the Japanese word kaizen, which refers to the philosophy of continuous improvement or “change for the better.” And along those lines, each year we send three of our MAT students to Naruto University for 10 days as part of a longstanding cross-cultural connection. Our students teach a lesson in the public schools and interact with university educators. Every other year, Japanese preservice students come to the University of Puget Sound for a comparable experience. Our commitment to cultural competence and cultural connections is both local and global.
Dean, School of Education