Today’s classrooms are increasingly divers in ethnicity, sexual orientation, cultural, religious and social-economic background, and gender-related differences. Beside these characteristics, students differ in talents, interests and cognitive capacities. Although there have been differences between children as long as we have schools; new is that all differences have to be recognized and challenged by teachers. Applying to the needs of each child and doing it immediately is an important competence of nowadays’ teachers. It is obvious that novice teachers must be prepared as professionals that take responsibility for the learning and achievement of all students and it is therefore generally maintained that inclusive education should be a crucial part of the teacher education curriculum.
Recognizing and challenging the needs, talents and interests of all students in schools would be more successful if we had teachers representing the different kids. More diversity within the teaching staff offers more opportunities for optimal development of everyone’s talents and abilities. We face the opposite. Schools show relatively homogeneously composed teams.
The homogeneity within the professional teams of schools is a consequence of traditional educational and professional choices of young people. The 'average' student teacher in primary teacher education in the Netherlands: is a woman; is indigenous; prefers arts above science, technology and mathematics; wants a professionally interesting profession in which communication with human beings is on the forehand; lacks career wishes; wants to care for vulnerable children; finds that family is more important than political and social developments and; and likes to spend free time with friends and (mostly) boyfriends (Vermijs, Geerdink, Hölsgens, De Beer, & Voortjes, 2018).
The homogeneity of the student population as described, appears to be strengthened by teacher education itself. Content and pedagogical and didactic approaches within institutes for teacher education fit better with these ‘average and normal’ students than for students of minority groups. Formally, higher education is accessible to anyone who meets the entry requirements, regardless of for example gender, socio-economic background, ethnicity and talents. In practice it is shown that unintentionally certain target groups are excluded and are challenged less or not appropriately so that they ultimately do not reach the intended professional practice.
Institutes for teacher education seem not to be prepared to inclusive teacher education. There is empirical evidence about the causes of lagging study success in, for example, male students (Geerdink, Bergen, & Dekkers, 2011) and students with a migrant background (Severiens, Wolff, Meeuwisse, Rezai, & De Vos, 2007) at primary teacher education in the Netherlands (. Teachers educators themselves confirm that they lose other ‘special and deviant students’. Teacher educators do not know how to deal with these students and how to keep them on board. There seems to be a hidden curriculum that focusses on the average student. Inclusive teacher education becomes extra difficult because the teacher educators represent their ‘average’ student teachers. They are also white, female, interested in human beings above politics, predominantly educated in arts of social studies. And they teach for the existing, foremost traditional schools not for the future.
Institutes for teacher education have to become more accessible for a diverse student population. Differences between students have to be nurtured and challenged, and seen as enriching for schools in general and inclusive education in particular. Special interests and input from students who are ‘different from average’ is too often seen as shortcoming instead of using it to enrich teacher education.
Institutes for teacher education can investigate with what qualities and characteristics student teachers distinguish themselves from the average student population, and how these differences and characteristics can be challenged within teacher education. ‘Non-average’ student teachers can teach teacher educators about the needs and talents of different students in schools. They represent the divers school population better than teacher educators do. Listening to their stories and challenging their special interests, talents, and the belonging knowledge and skills makes these students better and especially ‘different’ teachers, very important for inclusive education. Homogeneity in school teams must be broken. Instead of reinforcement, teachers educators can work on a breakthrough by acting as role models.
Geerdink, G., Bergen, T., & Dekkers, H. (2011). Diversity in Primary Teacher Education. Gender differences in Student Factors and Curriculum perception. Teachers & Teaching: theory & practice, 17 (5). 575-596.
Severiens, S., Wolff, R., Meeuwisse, M., Rezai, S., & De Vos, W. (2007). Waarom stoppen zoveel allochtone studenten met de Pabo? Rotterdam: Risbo, Erasmus Universiteit. [Why do ethnic minority students drop out without graduation at institutes for primary teacher education ]
Vermijs, A., Geerdink. G., Hölsgens, R., De Beer, F., & Voortjes, N. (2018). Diversiteit op de Pabo. Tijdschrift voor Lerarenopleiders, 39 (2). 31-46. [Diversity in Primary Teacher Education. In Journal for Teacher Educators]