Elementary teachers and multicultural education: Teachers of color and white teachers' attitudes toward multicultural education

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph B. Shedd


Elementary teachers, Multicultural education, Teachers of color, White teachers, Attitudes toward multicultural education

Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Elementary Education and Teaching


There are estimates that children of color will comprise one-third of the school age children in the United States by the year 2020. For most children schools are society's second most important institution of socialization after the family. Educational anthropologists discuss the need for students to validate their connection to historical ancestral roots. Research suggests that not only do students need to know their ancestry, but teachers also need to understand their own attitudes and beliefs about the children's background if they are to teach them effectively.

The purpose of this qualitative study was to investigate ten elementary teachers' attitudes about and understanding of multicultural education in a magnet school environment, and what relationship, if any, these teachers perceive between the content of multicultural education and their approach to instruction for a diverse student population. The subjects included five (5) white female teachers and five (5) female teachers of color. The ten teachers were all recommended as expert teachers who use a variety of strategies to meet the needs of a culturally diverse student population.

A review of literature indicated that most studies on magnet schools were done by researchers outside of the field of education and no studies were found that specifically addressed magnet school teachers' perspectives on multicultural education. This study, therefore, explored issues with teachers directly involved in classroom instruction for insight into these specific areas. The focus was on magnet school teachers, because given magnets' mission of eliminating, reducing, or preventing racial isolation, these teachers' reactions were likely to be especially important in such a setting where the issue of promoting multicultural understanding is close to the purpose of the school itself.

The findings of the study indicate that the teachers were generally responsive to students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds. However, there was quite a discrepancy between the white teachers and the teachers of color in regard to their understanding of the meaning of multicultural education and their thinking about the issues of prejudice and discrimination. Further results indicate that the subjects were generally positive about the purpose of magnet schools but the degree to which their school met that purpose was questionable.

From the data collected, five themes emerged which were: (a) teachers' awareness of self, (b) the meaning of multicultural education, (c) learning about their students, (d) using strategies, and (e) the school culture.

Implications of the study included: (a) the importance of helping teachers understand the research foundation for using a variety of strategies that address the needs of students from diverse cultural backgrounds, and (b) how these strategies impact the teaching and learning process for all students' success. Conclusions point to the need for the district to consider on-going staff development to address cultural issues with teachers for a more in-depth understanding of the meaning and goals of multicultural education. There is also a need to establish a network of communication for disseminating educational research to guide teachers to an awareness and understanding of the need to continue their professional development in this ever-changing school environment.


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