Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Gerald M. Mager


Racial and/or Ethnic Minority Teacher Candidates, Strengths Application, Strengths Awareness

Subject Categories



There is a consensus among researchers that teachers from diverse linguistic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds contribute to American education (Dee, 2004; Easton-Brooks, Lewis, & Yang, 2010; Irvine, 2003; Irvine & Fenwick, 2011; Ladson-Billings, 2005; Lu, 2005; Talbert-Johnson, 2001). There is also a call for teacher educators to recognize what racial and/or ethnic minority teacher candidates bring to the teaching profession (Galindo & Olguin, 1996; Kohli, 2009; Lu, 2005; Montecinos, 2004; Oling Ottoo, 2005). Yet our knowledge about how this unique group of prospective teachers interprets and works with their own strengths is very limited. It is necessary to explore the strengths awareness of racial and/or ethnic minority teacher candidates as well as their strengths application to add to the sporadic studies in this field.

The purpose of this study was to provide empirical data about how teacher candidates from diverse racial and/or ethnic minority backgrounds perceive and utilize their own strengths. Guided by the theoretical framework of the strengths-based perspective and the analytical framework of symbolic interaction, I employed semi-structured individual interviews and document analysis to collect data. The interviews reflected the personal experience and perspective of each individual participant; the document analysis provided concrete and authentic examples of how they utilized their strengths in teaching and non-teaching venues.

The participants were eight minority and international pre-service teachers enrolled in formal teacher education programs from four higher education institutions in the Northeast regions in the U.S. All participants had had some field experiences by the time of their participation in this study in the summer 2010. The participants included six females and two males. Four were graduate students and four were undergraduate students. One was an international student and seven were minority students.

This study uncovered a wide range of participant-identified strengths, suggesting that the participants took a "me as a whole person" perspective when talking about their own strengths. This study found that seven participants were able to name and describe some of their strengths without probing and one was able to do so with probing. All participants reported having applied strengths in a variety of ways professionally, and they were able to use their existing professional work samples to support their arguments. The ability to articulate their strengths seemed to relate to their strengths awareness levels. Participants who were able to name and explain their strengths in words more clearly were those who had thought about their strengths. Strengths application also seemed related to their strengths awareness levels. Those who exhibited strong strengths awareness used their strengths more consciously and consistently than those who were less aware of and/or less articulate about their strengths.

This study also found the origins of some of the participants' self-identified strengths, and identified some beginnings that may lead the participants to become aware of their strengths. This study discovered several external influences and internal qualities that may encourage or discourage the participants' awareness and utilization of their strengths

Limitations of this study include the selection of the participants in formal programs in the Northeast regions only, limits inherent in the methodology and data analysis, and the possible influence of my "insider" status.

Implications for K-12 educators, teacher preparation programs, and future research are offered.


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